Sunday, March 19, 2023

On making meatballs

I used to stay awake for hours listening to my mother breathe as she slept. Sometimes she would scare me by stopping breathing for seconds at a time, seconds that seemed to last an eternity. Sometimes I would hear her breathing take on a deep, sonorous, growling tone, before I realized it was one of our cats snoring. Now it's just me and the cats. And the cats don't snore as much.

I haven't had spaghetti in months. This is because I ran out of meatballs long ago. I don't remember the last time I made them. Ten years ago my mom got on a kick of getting meatballs from Sam's Club instead of making her own. These weren't a bad alternative, but I always preferred homemade. She hadn't made meatballs or anything else in several years, so it was up to me to make them. And after our supply ran out a few months ago, I didn't have time to make more.

Yesterday afternoon, on the way back from the comic book store, the pet supply store, and the cemetery, I stopped to buy some half-and-half - a package of equal portions of ground beef and ground pork. I decided I would make meatballs this afternoon. I chopped a small onion and added it to the half-and-half, along with eggs, salt, pepper, and a generous portion of oatmeal. I mixed everything by hand, then fried it in two batches on the largest iron frying pan I have, all while watching Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames try to outmaneuver a reedy-voiced Sean Harris in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

I ate half a dozen meatballs as soon as they were cool enough, then tossed another half dozen in some Ragu sauce and simmered them to eat later with spaghetti. Later, I would package up the rest into two-serving size baggies and put them in the freezer for future meals.

They didn't taste as good as when I made them for my mother, possibly because I used a less generous hand with the salt - she did like her salt. I don't know if they were up to my mother's standards. On some level - maybe the most realistic level - I realize it doesn't matter. 

But I will keep trying.

Sausage for breakfast

With my mom gone, I am having to learn meal prep all over again.

She ate the same thing for breakfast every day: oatmeal with coffee. I tried to get her to eat other things for breakfast, but that was all she wanted. She would prepare the oatmeal by herself, mostly, though in the last few months she found the half-gallon jug of milk too heavy to handle when she would add about two tablespoons of it to her microwave-cooked oatmeal. For a while I was pouring smaller, easier-to-handle portions of milk into jelly and relish jars so she could pour it herself, but in the end I was pouring the milk for her every morning.

My goal with her for dinner was always to serve her a varied diet of things she liked. One day she might get smoked sausage with eggs, another spaghetti or lasagna, another fried sausage, another chili. Sometimes she had meatless meals, pierogies or macaroni and cheese or fried fish. She would take breakfast around 10:00 AM and dinner around 4:00 PM and - that was it. Usually just two meals a day. What she ate, I ate. I would generally have dinner prepared by noon, so sometimes I could persuade her to eat a smaller portion for lunch, but most of the time she preferred just having her two meals.

(I was put to shame by the generous and balanced meals she was served while in the rehab center, and I tried to replicate them during her brief time back at home with yogurt and Jell-o and salads and meals three times a day.)

Now she's not here anymore, and I only have myself (and the cats) to worry about feeding.

When we were kids, we had a Sunday morning tradition: go across town to 9:00 AM Mass, then go to my grandmother's with all my cousins and my uncle and aunt for a breakfast of kielbasa, Polish sausage. Sausage needs to be boiled at least an hour before it can be eaten, and we developed a taste for it being fried after it was boiled. My grandmother would walk up the hill from her house for 7:00 Mass, come home, and prepare the sausage while we were at church so it would be almost ready by the time we tumbled in around 10:00. We devoured it greedily and then retreated to another room to watch Sunday morning TV - Sesame Street, The Electric Company, later 3-2-1 Contact and Big Blue Marble, Marlo and the Magic Movie Machine, sometimes retro showings of The Lone Ranger on the local PBS channel* - while the adults sat around the kitchen table and shared news and gossip from the previous week. 

One Sunday morning we all gathered at that table for the last time and didn't realize it.

I still enjoy sausage from time to time, and so did my mom. A trip to Jerry & Son market in West Nanticoke three or four times a year was sufficient to keep us supplied. While the Sunday morning feasts featured rings and rings of sausage, a single ring for the two of us would supply four or five meals. We would have sausage every three or four weeks. I would start it boiling around 11:00 AM or so, get it on the frying pan around noon, and when it was ready I would take my pre-work shower.

Today I decided to have a Sunday morning sausage breakfast for myself. I got the sausage in a pot of boiling water a little after 9:00 AM. The water started to boil out after about 45 minutes, so I added more and let the pot boil a little longer. Around 10:15 AM I got it out of the pot and into the frying pan, set on medium with water from the pot added to the pan. Frying sausage is a delicate operation: too low and it never browns, too high and it burns. The trick is to let the water boil away and let the sausage almost burn, then add water to start the process over, turning it once it begins to visibly brown. It was ready for eating around 10:45 AM.

It was a total pain in the ass for someone used to having yogurt or eggs for breakfast.

Nostalgia is fine. But I think as long as it is just me doing the cooking and eating, I will stick to having sausage as a dinner item.

*There was also a Jewish-themed children's TV show whose name escapes me. I don't think it was "The Magic Door." It was hosted by a jolly fellow with a big mustache whose voice reminded me of Gene Shalit.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Roses and crocuses

I won't be going to visit my mom's grave at the cemetery today. The journey home last night, as well as dealing with some things at home today, have left me drained. It's too bad, because today would have been a chance to solve a mystery.

My sister ordered a beautiful vase full of roses for my mom to be displayed at the funeral home. After the funeral there was a question as to what to do with them. I didn't want to take them, since the cats would probably eat the roses and baby's breath and would vomit all over the place. My brother and sister also have cats. In the end we decided to take them to the cemetery, where they could be displayed until they withered, and then I would retrieve the vase. My sister placed them on the edge of our marker where my brother's stillborn twin is buried.

Since that time the vase has been knocked over every day.

OK, the vase is top-heavy. I've taken steps to secure it, including creating a depression about 3/4" deep to put it in, surrounding it with rocks, and making a fence of sticks around the rocks. Every day, I find it knocked down again. Every day I prop it back up.

Yesterday I noticed that several of the rose blooms are missing. Gone. The stems appear to have been cut clean, as you can see in the photo above. Is some animal knocking over the vase and eating the blooms? If I had gone out early enough today I might have been able to see rabbit or deer tracks. My mom would have really enjoyed seeing the animals steal a treat.

From another angle, Friday, March 3, 2023.

She also would have enjoyed seeing the crocuses make their annual appearance. She missed them last year - we went to the cemetery in late February, before they bloomed, and then again in mid-March, after they were spent. This year she's there just in time for them.


Currently at my workplace we are working one day a week in the office and four days working from home. After several weeks spent mostly on FMLA and Bereavement Leave, yesterday was my first day in the office in over a month.

Snow was in the forecast. Predictions kept fluctuating, suggesting we would either dodge the worst of it or take a solid hit. During my final break at 8:00 PM nothing had started yet, and it looked like we might be spared. But the snow was coming down hard when I left around 10:40 PM. 

It kept coming down, harder and harder. Flakes the size of goose down, then the size of feather duster feathers. Thick flakes that made the windshield wipers work hard to scrub the windshield clean. My normal commute runs along the south rim of the Wyoming Valley, but I decided to drop down to a lower elevation and come in through Wilkes-Barre. It helped, a little. Still, a drive of 20 minutes wound up taking nearly an hour.

My mother would have been worried sick. I'm glad she was spared that.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

A day indoors

I had plans for yesterday. Plans! I would sleep in a bit, get up, take a shower, sort through the sympathy cards we had received, get started on writing Thank You Notes, meed with my sister before she went back to Maryland, go out to the comic book store, stop at the cemetery, then watch 4:00 Mass from the Cathedral in Scranton.

It didn't go that way.

I was up late Friday night, watching a friend live-stream "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" for her followers. She and her puppet lion ended the night with a sweet lullaby, which hit me hard. I finally rolled into bed at 4:00 in the morning. I woke up at 6:00 AM and was unable to go back to sleep.

All that time to work with. Plenty of time. My sister wouldn't be by until after 1:00. And I did...nothing. Didn't even reheat the coffee I had made the day before. I picked at a rotisserie chicken I had bought on Wednesday. I gathered together the things my sister would be looking to pick up when she came over. Sat down with an album of old photos my cousin had put together for the wake and scanned them with the scanner I bought a few days before my mom died and posted them to my blog.

My sister came as scheduled. She dropped off a few things for me, picked up the things I had for her. We spoke. I feel like I was half asleep. I didn't even get out of my chair the whole while she was here.

I got up after she left. Watched some of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle." Despite their comic book pedigree, outstanding cast, and preposterous action scenes, I don't really like the Kingsman movies that much - though this movie is highly recommended just for Elton John stealing every scene he's in. 

The movie ended as Mass began. My mom never missed Mass - I made sure it was on while she was in hospice, and the week before we had watched it in her hospital room, the day before she returned, briefly, to Allied Rehab. My mom's funeral was the second time I've been at Mass since the pandemic started - the first was for my uncle's funeral. I don't know if I'll be returning to Mass in person. Maybe sometime after COVID is over. 

Then I slept. Took a nap. When I was with my mom at the hospice, as she lay there in deathless slumber, I took a lot of naps, sleeping lightly and waking up to monitor her breathing. (If you read this story, you'll understand the significance of naps.) I woke up several hours later when the phone rang once and went silent. I picked it up to hear my sister calling for me; something had happened to make it seem that calls were being answered with a dead line. She had called earlier when she got home, received no answer, and now was getting panicky.

I napped some more. Woke up at 12:30. Realized I hadn't fed the cats all day. "If you love me, feed my cats," I tell the cats she said to me. Not exactly, but it was certainly implied. I laid out plenty of food. "Be sure to give the cats extra treats," she really did say to me. I did. 

I went to bed at about 1:15.

I haven't dreamt of her. Last night I had a long, complex dream. Some friends of mine - some real, some I didn't recognize - were trying to help me go on a road trip, which first involved locating and securing a car. Eventually we did, and then we were on our way - to a mall in New Jersey, where in a store on the second floor there was a pop-up remaindered book store. (These used to be quite common back in the 1990s and 2000s, and I have only just today realized that they were probably selling the remaining stock of independent bookstores that were put out of business when Barnes & Noble and the now-defunct Borders moved into town. Since that time, these megabookstores have been getting put out of business by Amazon, and the remaindered books have been getting sold by third parties through Amazon and eBay.) I had $170 on a credit card to spend. I bought a large coffee table book by Penn & Teller, a paperback by Joyce Carol Oates, and several other books.

I woke up, washed dishes, watched Stephan Pastis talk about Charles Schulz on CBS Sunday Morning, ate some yogurt, washed dishes including the cat bowls, set out some food for the cats, and sat down to write this. Soon I'll put in some laundry, take a shower, stop by the cemetery (my sister went there yesterday before she came here,) and get a thank-you card for the priest who conducted my mom's funeral.

Then maybe I'll take another nap.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Old photos of my mom

My cousin located a trove of old family photos and selected the ones that featured my mom prominently. These photos are from shortly after she was born in 1933 to her marriage in 1955.

Tozia Benus (a Polish diminutive of my uncle's name Benedict) Eleanor      39

Eleanor Benus Tozia 1939

Caption on back:
(First permanent)

Unsure of who the woman on the left is. I thought that was my grandmother's sister Mamie, but the caption seems to say "Marie." 

Check out my grandmother's funky sunglasses!

Tozia Eleanor
Benus (Benedict, the youngest at the time) Pop Mom

This one says El, Cioci, Toz. The "Cioci" is likely Alice, my grandmother's sister, who lived next door to her with her brother Stephen

This is a trimmed-down photo, with much of the caption on the back cut off.

The back of the photo:
Aunt Frances
Mom (my great-grandmother, most likely)
Cut off is what might be "Tozia," which would be my mom's older sister, who I think is sitting next to her, which would make Aunt Frances the obscured figure to the left of the other figure in the background.
The date is cut off so we don't know what month this was (likely June or July) but it was the 25th of that month in 1948.

Buddy (my father), El, Joe, Mom, Melissa, Marie, Pop
Front porch of my grandparent's house, July 1957

Note the isolated bit of  color in this picture, on the flowers in the bouquet. At first I thought that it was a stain. 

Turns out this was actually a color photo. Perhaps all the other colors have faded over the last 67 years, leaving only the violet flowers.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Eleanor Jenkins, 1933 - 2023


Our mom Eleanor Jenkins took her final breath at 8:44 PM on Friday, February 24, 2023.

The funeral will be on Thursday, March 2. Service will be at Lohman's funeral home (14 W. Green St., Nanticoke) at 9:30, with Mass at St. Faustina Kowalska church (formerly Holy Trinity, 520 S. Hanover St., Nanticoke) at 10:00 AM. Viewing will be at Lohman's on the evening of Wednesday, March 1 from 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM. 

Interment will be at St. Mary's Cemetery on Middle Road (1594 S. Main Street Hanover Township.) 

A celebration of Eleanor's life will be held at the Huntington Valley Volunteer Fire Company (1013 PA-239, Shickshinny, PA 18655) following the interment.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

A holiday frozen in time


My mom's leg broke on December 27, 2022. She had hardly gotten a chance to enjoy the full Christmas decorations before she had to go to the hospital. (Almost full; there are still a few bags and boxes of decorations that had yet to be put out.) As the weeks ground on we agreed I should take down the decorations at some point. But I never had the time, and we later agreed I would take them down once she was safely back from Allied Rehab on February 3. Maybe the weekend of February 11, a week after she returned home.

I promised her I would light up the tree one more time so she could see it in all its glory. The cats had managed to unplug it, so it wasn't just a question of throwing a switch. I kept letting it slide, but as I took my last call before lunch on Wednesday, February 8, I made a note to plug in the lights at lunchtime. A few minutes later my mom fell. I had to abort my call, tend to her, and call 911.

She will never get to see those lights again.

At some point I have to take down the decorations. I don't know if I'll be putting them back up next year.

Monday, February 20, 2023

These are a few of her favorite things

In a previous post I am collecting all of the little aphorisms and catchphrases that my mother said throughout her life. By reading them you can hear her in her own words, and maybe her own voice. Here I will try to capture some of the foods and other things that she enjoyed in life. As with the list of Eleanorisms, this will be a work in progress indefinitely.


Poppyseed bread from Sanitary Bakery. We knew this as a holiday treat at Easter and Christmas, but recently discovered that it is available every Friday and Saturday from Nanticoke's favorite bakery. I started out buying one loaf each week, but by the end of 2022 I was buying two and even three loaves at a time. We began to worry that her heavy poppyseed habit might make some doctors think that she was addicted to opioids! Have a slice or six with butter - whipped butter is something I re-introduced her to during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, although I remember it being available at Babki's house during Sunday breakfasts, at least some of the time. 

Pork barbecues from Stookey's in West Nanticoke. I have no idea why these sandwiches - a blend of roast pork and Heinz India Relish (extra relish, please) served on a soft roll - are called "barbecues," but they are, deal with it. They're also simplicity itself to make at home: Break roast pork up into 3/4" x 1/4" slivers, mix with a roughly equal portion of Heinz India Relish (the specific brand and variety is important,) warm slightly on stovetop or (preferably) in a microwave (to avoid scorching,) and serve on a soft hamburger bun made with potato starch. 

We had a bit of a scare in the last few years when Heinz India Relish - apparently the oldest product in the Heinz family - disappeared from our usual grocery stores. I found one store that reliably carried it and would make supply runs every six months or so, but that store went completely out of business last September. Fortunately, one of the stores that used to carry it (Gerrity's) is now carrying it again. I have at least six jars in reserve at home.

Home-made cookies and cakes from her sister-in-law Jan. Jan is married to Tony, my mother's sole surviving sibling, and she has put her own spin on classic recipes for things like Rocks and blueberry cake, making them soft, creamy, and delicious. Tony and Jan would routinely send packages full of cookies and cakes and other goodies throughout the year. They sent a package just before Christmas, and while my mother tried to ration them, she quickly ate all the cookies with her meals during her stay at Allied Services. Tony and Jan sent another package that arrived February 8, the day my mom fell and went to the hospital. Once my mom went back to Allied on February 12 I took some cookies from the new box straight up to her, and she got to enjoy them Sunday and Monday.

Chicken with Broccoli. My mom hates trying new things, but once she finds something she likes she stays with it. She was not a fan of Chinese food but loved chicken with broccoli. She was sad when she was told she had to limit intake of broccoli because it would interfere with one of her medications, but eventually was advised she could have some broccoli and cabbage in moderation.

Pigs in the blanket. I learned a few years ago that there are several different foods that go by this name, but for the Polish it means ground cooked pork and beef with rice, rolled in cabbage leaves and cooked in tomato sauce. Also known as golubki, pronounced "gowoompki." My cousin Paula's husband John had cooked up a batch and sent it over at Christmastime, and the extras went in the freezer when my mom went into the hospital. She got to enjoy an additional meal of it after she came home on February 3.

Lasagna and skillet lasagna. The first meal she wanted when she came home, from an "Ace in the Hole" quart container I set aside several months ago. Lasagna is simple enough - long broad noodles layered with sauteed beef and onions, ricotta cheese, sliced mozzarella cheese, her own secret ingredient of slices of American cheese, and spaghetti sauce. The prep can be a beast, so "skllet lasagna" is often preferred. Made in a large pot - not a skillet. The beef and onions are browned first in the pot, spaghetti sauce is added, then the ricotta and mozzarella, and finally cooked noodles. Malfada noodles are the preferred type, but these proved impossible to get when I was making this recipe, so I tried to substitute other trumpet-shaped noodles with unsatisfactory results.

Beef stew. Dice London Broil, coat it with flour, and brown it with onions, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Add cubed carrots and potatoes - each in a volume at least equal to the meat* - then add enough water to cover. Sift in additional flour, salt, and pepper, add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce,  simmer on low for several hours until the vegetables are soft and the sauce is thickened, stirring frequently to avoid burning on the bottom. Allow to rest before serving. 

This was the last meal I made for her.

*In reality the proportions of vegetables to meat were much larger: for a 1.5-2 lb. London Broil, I use 1 large diced onion, 5-6 large potatoes peeled and diced, and 5-6 large carrots cleaned and diced.

Vegetable soup with beef. Essentially the same ingredients as beef stew, minus the flour and onions, plus green beans and wax beans. Boil the cubed London Broil and skim off the scum, or "shummy" - the fat that forms a gray foamy rim around the top of the soup. Once the shummy stops forming, add the diced carrots and potatoes and allow to simmer for a while before adding a small-to-medium can of sliced green beans and another of wax beans. Continue to cook for a total of at least two hours.

She had not had this for many years before I made it in November, and she greatly enjoyed it.

Pea soup/peas with barley: This used to be a regular way to dispose of the bones from our hams from holidays and throughout the year, until my mom developed a fondness for boneless hams. This year I made a point to get a spiral-cut bone-in ham, along with her usual boneless ham. She wound up in the hospital before I could make the soup, but I made sure she had some after she came back on February 3, and she loved it.

In a large pot, cook the bone of one ham with some meat left on. After the shummy stops forming, add onions, salt, and rinsed dried green peas. Cook until peas have softened and serve. 

If not serving immediately, peas will dissolve into nothingness and the soup may seem thin. Either parboil additional peas and add to simmering soup to finish cooking, or cook and add some barley. The barley creates a different taste and mouth feel, but it is still delicious. My mom commented that she had not had homemade pea soup in many years, and she loved it.

Chili. This one is hard to relate. I have been tweaking the recipe for years to get it exactly the way she likes it, and with my last pot a few months ago I finally got it there. I had planned to have some ready for her when she came home on February 3, but didn't have time. After she fell and went to the hospital on February 8, I set to work gathering the ingredients and was all ready to make chili when I got the news of her stroke.

In a large stock pot, saute the ground beef, onions, and black pepper. If using 90% fat free or greater, add some oil or shortening; if using 80% fat free, pour off some (but not all) of the rendered fat into a can and discard in the trash (not down the drain.) After the meat (about 2 lbs.) has browned, add two large cans of diced tomatoes, one large can of crushed tomatoes, and one large (tall) can of kidney beans, drained, plus salt and black pepper. Simmer for about two hours. For best taste, refrigerate or, ideally, freeze and thaw before serving, allowing the flavors to blend. Yes, it's not a spicy chili, it does not involve chili peppers or flakes or powder, and it has beans, but that's the way she liked it. Unfortunately, I never got to make this most recent pot for her.


Once upon a time pierogies were strictly an ethnic food, though several different ethnicities claimed them. The first time I realized they might enjoy wider appeal was when two aliens ordered them at a diner in Men In Black. I don't remember if my grandmother made these, but I do know that they're a lot of work to make. These days they come in an enormous variety of favors, but my mom always stuck to potato (or potato and cheese), farmer's cheese, and cabbage (not sauerkraut.) She liked them boiled and lightly fried. Her favorites in recent decades had been made by the ladies of St. Mary's church. Unfortunately, their recipe was no longer used after the parishes of Nanticoke consolidated. She later became fond of Rentko's in Nanticoke, but they have become notoriously difficult to get in touch with in recent years. A new business called NEPArogi recently opened in part of the former location of Janison's on the edge of Nanticoke. She enjoyed their pierogies but they also became difficult to order from in late 2022. This Christmas I threw in the towel and bought some locally-made pierogies at a supermarket, and they were, surprisingly, acceptable.


Haluski is like an exploded cabbage pierogi. I thought I had posted the recipe here before, but I cannot find it. So here it is.


- 1 large head of cabbage

- 3 large onions

- 1 bag Mrs. Weiss Kluski (a rough-cut, thick egg noodle, available from Walmart and sometimes from supermarkets) (other egg noodles can be substituted, but may not produce the desired results)

- 1 stick of butter

- 1 tablespoon salt plus additional salt

- 1 tablespoon pepper

- wok or very large frying pan

- large colander

1. Put 2 large pots of water on to boil. One will be for the noodles.

2. Chop the cabbage fine, no larger than 1/4" x 1/4". I would sometimes use a grater, but this is not really necessary. Place in large colander. Add generous amounts of salt throughout. (You will be washing this away.) Set aside over sink for about 10-15 minutes.

3. Cook noodles in one of the pots of boiling water.

4. While noodles are cooking, pour the other pot of boiling water over the salted cabbage and allow to drain. The salt and boiling water will wilt the cabbage.

5. Chop onions to roughly the same size as cabbage.

6. Melt half a stick of butter in the wok over medium heat.

7. Add half of salt and pepper to melted butter.

8. Add drained cabbage and chopped onions to wok and use wok turner to thoroughly coat with butter.

9. Add drained cooked noodles and mix thoroughly.

10. Add remaining butter, cut into pats, and sprinkle in remaining salt and pepper.

11. Continue to stir over medium heat until noodles start to turn golden-brown.

12. Remove from heat and allow to rest before serving.

Chicken soup

Homemade chicken soup is easy - one of the things she would have called an "Idiot's Delight," I guess. I enjoyed making it, and she enjoyed eating it. It tastes just like the soup my grandmother made.


- 3-6 pieces of chicken (legs, thighs, breasts) with bones included and skin removed, thawed

- 3-4 carrots, cleaned, cut into small pieces

- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

- 1 teaspoon whole allspice

- 1 tablespoon salt

- 1 sprig parsley, bruised and shredded

- Noodles (recommend Mrs. Weiss' Kluski)

1. In large stock pot bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and add chicken and some salt. Cook but do not boil for at least one hour, skimming shummy as it forms.

2. When shummy stops forming add chopped carrots, peppercorns, allspice, and salt

3. Run sprig of parsley over blade of sharp knife, bruising the parsley and breaking it up into smaller pieces. (I believe this increases the diuretic efficacy of the parsley.) Add to soup.

4. Allow to cook at least an additional hour. Chicken should cook in the pot for at least two hours.

5. Boil noodles (Mrs. Weiss' Kluski most resemble the homemade egg noodles my grandmother would make)

6. Serve, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Klupsi (aka Klupski)

A sort of Polish meatball. Rolled small, we used these as meatballs with our spaghetti. Larger ones would be served with diced potatoes and onions fried in butter. (I would routinely make just the larger ones, then break them into smaller pieces for spaghetti.) She would use exactly the same recipe to make meatloaf.


- 1 package half & half (half ground pork and half ground beef) or equal portions of ground pork and ground beef

- Large onion, chopped fine

- Oatmeal (at least 1 cup)

- 1-2 eggs

- Salt

- Pepper

Combine all ingredients by hand until smooth. Amount of each would depend on the amount of meat you're starting with, but you will be using a surprisingly large amount of oatmeal. Roll into balls - 1" for meantballs, about 2.5" for klupsi - and fry in shortening on a pan on stovetop until brown. May be finished in oven at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes. May also put blended ingredients in a loaf pan or shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Replace the meat with canned salmon to make salmon cakes. She preferred that I pick out the bones and skins, but this can be made with them included as long as you mash them with a fork (not recommended with the ground beef and pork.) Can also be made with a dash of Old Bay seasoning, but please don't tell her.

Fried Sausage

Polish sausage. or kielbasa, is a special treat that I fear much of the nation is missing out on. For many years we would traditionally have a sausage breakfast at my grandmother's house every Sunday. During the week my mom or my uncle would get rings of sausage and take them to my grandmother. She would walk the two blocks to St. Mary's of Czestochowa Church to attend 7:00 AM Mass, then come home and get started on the sausage for when her local children and grandchildren would stop down after 9:00 AM Mass. Polish sausage is made with pork and must be boiled for at least an hour. Much of it would be served straight out of the pot, but some my grandmother would put on a medium-sized frying pan and slowly fry in the juices from the cooking pot until it was brown - with a special treat being parts where the skin ruptured where the contents swelled and opened up onto the frying pan. Our primary sausage source closed down in the 1990s, so we had to shop around at various sources until we decided that Jerry & Son Market was the best. Every few months I would go on a sausage run. We would chop up the rings to smaller pieces, enough for a single meal, then individually wrap and freeze them. I tried to keep her meals varied, but I made sure she had sausage at least once every two weeks. I took mine with white bread, but she loved hers with Kosciuszko Polish mustard.

Smoked Sausage with eggs

Smoked sausage is another treat. It is Polish sausage that has been smoke-cured. You can eat it cold as-is, cooked, or my mom's favorite - sliced and fried with scrambled eggs and served with ketchup. In the last few years I have been slicing the sausage extra-thin and then chopping each piece into quarters.


Scrapple isn't Polish, but it's apparently uniquely Pennsylvanian. A gray-green loaf of pork ends mixed with cornmeal, spices, and other stuff, overall resembling a "white pudding" of British cuisine. Served fried. It is very bad for you, so I served it to her very infrequently.

Fried fish

My grandmother exceeded at making fried fish, which I would greedily devour any time she made it. Usually cod, sometimes haddock or flounder, seasoned (with those traditional Polish seasonings, salt and pepper,) floured, dipped in egg, coated in bread crumbs, and fried. Try as I might, I have never gotten it to taste exactly like hers - I suspect she was using lard. But my mom enjoyed it every time I made it, usually on Fridays.

Macaroni and cheese

Another idiot's delight, and another meatless Friday classic. Elbow macaroni, cooked, then layered with butter and American cheese, with milk added as a finishing step (since that will cause everything to firm up.) My mom liked hers with a lot of cheese. I mean, a LOT. Like eating a block of cheese with macaroni cooked into it. She also liked to have a whole can of diced tomatoes added to the pot of macaroni and cheese, resulting in a totally different food experience.

Pineapple upside-down cake

Lemon Meringue Pie

Coconut Cream Pie

Cranberry Relish


- One bag of cranberries

- One Red Delicious apple, diced

- One orange, seeds removed, diced

- The zest of one orange, finely grated

- Orange juice, about one cup

- Sugar, at least one cup

Combine ingredients in small batches in blender or food processor. Add enough orange juice to make smooth. Add enough sugar to sweeten to taste - I prefer mine quite tart, but she preferred it more like candy.

Sweet Potatoes

Boil unpeeled sweet potatoes and allow to cool. Pull off skins - they should simply fall off - slice, and arrange in single layer in skillet with lots of butter and brown sugar. Simmer on low for at least an hour, until sweet potatoes are soft. 

I see no reason why the resulting product could not then be mashed into a pudding. Maybe I will try that next time.

Boneless Ham

Easier to deal with than a bone-in ham. Generally these can be eaten as purchased, but she always liked to take them through a cooking process: Place the ham in a pot full of water, add about a cup of white sugar and a cup of white vinegar, and cook for about two hours. (Sometimes I would experiment with brown sugar, but it made no noticeable difference in taste.)

Tapioca Pudding

Tomato Basil Soup

My sister got my mom hooked on the Tomato Basil soup from la Madeleine's in Colombia, MD. She has been sending jars of the condensed version of the soup - just add milk - but sometimes my mom wanted it when the official version was unavailable. So we found a way to make it directly: Campbell's tomato soup from a can (once the tomato soup shortage of the early pandemic had passed), made with milk, with copious dried basil added, all simmered slowly. It was a more-than-adequate replacement for the real thing, in my opinion. She liked it, too.

Cole Slaw

No recipe for this - she just liked having cole slaw with a lot of things, especially fish. I would buy the smallest container possible, and usually had to throw out 2/3 of it a week or two later.


My mom got hooked on the simple salads they served with lunch and dinner at Allied Rehab. Iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, and Italian dressing. I recreated their salad when she got home - Olive Garden is her favorite Italian dressing - and stocked up on more ingredients the day she went back to the hospital. I'll probably have to put them in the compost now.

Boscov's "homemade" fudge

Boscov's is a regional chain of department stores. They took over the old Boston Store in Wilkes-Barre, which had previously been Fowler, Dick, & Walker (or maybe it was the other way around.) In their basement they have a candy shop, and a setup for making fudge in-store. My mom is fond of their fudge, and would often have me get her some when I was there. I haven't entered the building since the start of the pandemic - its ventilation system is many decades old, and badly in need of an overhaul - so she has been happy to get fudge from Michael Mootz Chocolates, not far from our house.

Other (not-food) things:

The obituary pages


Talking on the telephone

Her family, especially her grandsons

Her pets

Anyone who has known my mom in recent years might think of her as a crazy cat lady, and rightly so: while she now has only six cats - three of them nearly fifteen years old, and three just over four - her record was fourteen cats and a dog (after inheriting two cats and a dog from a neighbor.) But she, in fact, had dogs for many years before she got her first cat, and tropical fish - guppies and Neon Tetras, primarily - for many years before that. There was considerable overlap between pets, although we stopped having tropical fish after we determined one of our cats was eating them ("He deserves a treat now and then," my grandmother said when we told her about this in the nursing home.) She loved every one of her animal friends, and the death of each dog and cat brought her immense sadness. (The fish, not so much.) While we buried the first few pets, eventually we picked up the practice of having each one cremated, its ashes returned to us in a little wooden box. The boxes filled and eventually overwhelmed a section of her entertainment center, which she came to call "my mausoleum."

Worrying about people

Yard work



Once upon a time not everyone was walking around with a camera app on a phone in their pocket. Way back in the 20th century cameras were relatively big, bulky things that used film - and unless you were using a fancy 35mm camera, had a fixed focus. More often than not, your photos would turn out blurry, out of focus, or with a thumb or camera strap in the picture, but you wouldn't know about it until two weeks later after you finished your roll of film (or film cassette,) dropped it off at the drugstore or Kmart to get it developed, and then got the pictures back.

Still, my mom loved to take photos. At any family gathering she would be sure to get everyone together to say "Cheeeese!" Dozens of photo albums and hundreds of unsorted envelopes of photos fill her house. Many of these photos do not include her. Fortunately, many hundreds of photos of her exist.

Decorating with artificial flowers

Christmas lights, Autumn leaves, and Spring blossoms

The color blue and its shades, especially aqua

Fire trucks and ambulances

Sirens would turn my mom into an excited little girl, running to the front window to see which way they were going. Living up the street from a nursing home, much of the time the answer was "To Birchwood, because someone pulled an alarm so they could see all those strong young men in their fancy outfits again." For many years she kept a scanner in her bedroom so she could hear the latest police and fire calls.



We were never really into sports in my house, but my mom always had a fondness for watching football on TV on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Especially running plays. She would get a bit over-enthused at times, screaming at the TV ("GET HIM! GET HIM!!!") and I would try to convince her to cam down.

She checked into Allied Rehab on Sunday, February 12. The Super Bowl was on that night, and I made sure I had that on her TV when I left. The score was 7-7 when they took her into the bathroom to get changed for bed, and 14-14 when I left for the night. I had a feeling this would be a "basketball game," with high scores and each team taking the lead from the other. Watching the game at home, even while dozing during the second half, I worried that all the excitement might be over-stimulating for her - even, I thought with a laugh, enough to give her a stroke.

It wasn't. We spoke the next morning, and I asked if she had stayed up to watch the game. She hadn't. She made it through the first half and watched the halftime show, which she enjoyed, though she thought Rihanna's outfit was too bulky. I told her that I had seen that the outfit was a tribute to a recently-deceased designer and might also have been to hide some rigging to keep her from falling to her death, though I couldn't see the attachment points or how it allowed her to move around. (Later that day Inside Edition would show how it attached from the bottom.) She had fallen asleep during the second half and her TV was left on all night - meaning that, since the Super Bowl aired on FOX, when she awoke in the morning she was greeted by FOX News. (She was able to get the channel changed as soon as someone came in the room.)

So, one of the last things she got to do before her stroke was watch the Super Bowl. I'm glad she got to watch some football one last time.


Church has always been always important to my mother. Not just the experience of being a Catholic or the weekly Mass, both of which were very large parts of her life, but the community of being a member of a parish. She was baptized in St. Mary's of Czestochowa in Nanticoke, and attended Mass there her entire life. She sang in the choir, even when she was the only one there. She had memories of hiding in the cellar of the convent for air raid drills during World War II. She loved the annual church bazaar, and even after it became impossible for her to go herself, she always sent me there with specific instructions on which goodies to buy and bring home. She wanted to be buried from St. Mary's, but that is no longer an option. She attended Mass from St. Faustina Kowalska parish online from the outset of the COVID-19 Pandemic until the recent decision to discontinue the livestreaming of the weekly Mass. Even after that, she has made a point to watch the mass from the Cathedral in Scranton each week on EWTN, even from her hospital bed. Even from her room in Allied Rehab. Even from hospice.

Thursday, February 16, 2023


My mom at her 88th birthday in 2021
(photo by my sister)

In this post, you can come to know my mom through her own words. Be sure to check out These are a few of her favorite things to get to know her through the things she enjoys - and experience some of them for yourself!

My mom was constantly spouting aphorisms. To me, these were hackneyed old expressions, repeated thousands of times in my life. But others have pointed out many of them are unique, or so archaic as to be unheard of. Now that it's too late to hear them from her, my brother and sister are trying to gather together as many of them as they can. Here are a few:

Bury me with my car keys in my hand

When we were young - and even not-so-young - my mom was the primary source of transportation, constantly driving from place to place. When I was at Governor's School in Pittsburgh in 1984, when I was living in Delaware in 1989-1991, my mom thought nothing of hopping in her car and driving hundreds of miles. It is traditional for Catholics to be buried with a rosary in their hand. She felt it would be more appropriate to bury her with her car keys.

My mom, her 1990 Toyota Tercel, and our newly acquired (first-ever)
cat Josephine outside of my apartment in Newark, Delaware, 1990

For many years she used the same set of keys. I learned to recognize the specific chinging noise they made when she handled them, so I could tell when she was home just by hearing those keys outside.

(In the end - after everyone else had left the funeral home, before we closed the casket - we placed a keychain with the key from the car she drove until 2014 in her hand, alongside the rosary.)

Did I ever tell you I hate night driving?

For as much as my mom loved to drive, she hated driving at night. I suspect this was due to astigmatism, which produces star-spikes around lights at night. Later in life she would develop cataracts, which were surgically removed, but her vision became uncorrectably diminished in the last few years due to macular degeneration. In those years I have amassed a large number of magnifiers to help her read, especially the obituaries that she checked faithfully every morning for as long as I have known her. 

My favorite pages

For as long as I have known her, since at least when she was in her 30s, my mom has always been obsessed with the obituary pages. This would be the first thing she checked in the paper every morning. Even when she was in the hospital, she would have us bring in the obituary section and read her the obituaries every day. Every once in a while she would find someone she knew from school or work or from the customers she met while working at the bank. She once appeared in the obituary pages herself, sort of, when a woman with the same first and last name who lived about ten miles away died. We found this amusing until messages of condolence started coming in, particularly from her old dentist. She will finally get her chance to really and truly appear in the obituaries herself.

She would have gotten a huge kick out of being front and center on the Obituaries page, as befits an obituary superfan.

God made you upside-down - your nose runs and your feet smell

Said to my nephews when they were toddlers.

Rear: Brother-in-law John Castagna, son Jerry,
longtime parish priest and personal friend Fr. James Nash
Front: Grandsons Jeffrey and Joseph, Eleanor Jenkins

Christmas 2022

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

This one I think is fairly universal, but it's good to remember. If there's a problem, if there's an issue, make a fuss about it and demand help or additional resources. Suffering in silence won't get you any additional help.

Take a cold potato and wait

An admonition for patience. You want a baked potato? So does everyone else, and they got in line ahead of you. Wait your turn, and you will be taken care of.


Disheveled, scattered, or disorganized, in appearance or in thoughts. Also discombobulated.

At my sister's with her cat Cosmo

My mom with my sister's cat Jack

The guy it doesn't hurt it doesn't bother.

A Polish phrase about "having skin in the game," or being a "stakeholder." If you're not personally invested in an issue, it's pretty easy to not let it concern you.

They only whip the mule that pulls the load. (alternatively, "horse")

Teamwork is great, except when it isn't. Ask anyone who has ever worked on a group project or been on a team with someone who is happy to let everyone else do the work. Maybe several someones. Maybe it's everyone but one person. And when it's time to improve the performance of the group or team, it's the one person who is doing the work who gets leaned on to work harder. 

"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away"

A snippet of an old song she would sing out once in a while, usually when someone was complaining about hard work.

Blessed are they who go in circles, they shall be known as wheels

Referencing people who engage in frustrating activity. Derived from "Blessed are they who talk in circles, they shall become big wheels," which has a totally different meaning.

Par for the course

A way of expressing resigned disgust at a frustratingly typical outcome from an essentially rigged situation. No more or less than what can be reasonably expected.

With her grandson Jeffrey as the Little Drummer Boy for a church play

One is as much in the muck as the other is in the mire.

Another universal, possibly only for Polish speakers. A friend whose parents were very Polish often referred to a local law firm as Muck & Mire back when we were in college. It means that in a dispute where two people each claim the moral high ground, odds are it belongs to neither.

You have wind under your nose, use it!

A Polish saying, specific to dealing with hot soup, encouraging the hearer to cool their soup by blowing on it.

Why are there more horse's asses than there are horses?

No explanation needed, I think. Referring to human stupidity, especially in the realm of politics.

Jesus, Mary, and Josephine!

A substitute for any interjection involving the Holy Family.

God Bless America

Used in place of other interjections typically seen to take God's name in vain.

With her grandson Joseph's pit bull mix Nova. They absolutely loved each other. 

Matka Boska

Polish for "Our Lady." Another interjection - more like a prayer for intercession. Generally used in the sense "give me strength."

Jesus Maria

Another frequent prayer for strength, pronounced pretty much like it would be in Spanish (with "Jesus" being more like "Yay-zeus" than "Hey-zeus.")

Jezu kochanie (pronounced Yay-zeus kohani - go here for an audio version)

Literally "Jesus baby." It doesn't mean "Baby Jesus" but apparently translates as "Jesus, baby!"

Running around like a cat shot in the ass

A rare vulgarity, indicating that someone was behaving in a frantic manner, or was being forced to do too much in too little time.

Tables are made for glasses, not asses

And another one. When we were kids we would often sit on tables, countertops, wherever. This is what she always told us when she would shoo us off the tables.

Don't have a pot to piss in

And another. A euphemism for being poor, often for people who pretend to be well-off.

Up your nose with a rubber hose!

Yes, it's from Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979.) Yes, she was still saying it 45 years later.

Idiot's Delight

Referring to recipes that are so simple anyone could make them. I'm not sure which recipes these are.

May you boil in oil!

An old phrase of unknown provenance. I've heard an audio clip of a comedian from the 1940s saying it, I think. My mom would use it as a facetious curse, often when someone has just presented her with a particularly fattening gift.

Lord, you keep pickin' them up, and I'll keep puttin' them down

A prayer for strength while soldiering on. Seems like an old saying, but I can't find any references online.

My grandmother (lower center) and her children. Sent by cousin Marie. Her
mother Theodosia (aka Tozia, lower right) kept this photo on her nightstand.

Going to see a man about a dog (alt.: horse)

Adults sometimes have to do things they don't want children to know about. This was a catchall answer - usually originating with my grandmother - whenever any of us kids would ask too many questions about what someone was doing and where they were going. Apparently originally used "horse," but the notion of going to see a man about a horse would just be too interesting for a kid to not immediately want to know more.

My hair looks like Witchiepoo!

My mom has always had a head of curly blonde locks, even when it's been a long time since her last perm. One of the last things she had asked me to do before her stroke was locate her bag of curlers and bring them up to Allied Rehab. Whenever her hair was getting out of control she would compare her appearance to Witchiepoo, the Billy Hayes character from the 1970s children's program H.R. Pufnstuf.

This is for the birds

A dismissive statement about a situation or procedure for being needlessly complicated or bureaucratic. 

You're full of canal water!

A nicer way of saying "You're full of crap."

Doohickey with a wing-wang

Doohickey was once a common expression to vaguely reference something specific whose name and general description have been forgotten. A doohickey with a wing-wang is distinct from a garden-variety doohickey.

With her brother Tony's sons and their children

Don't know beans from baloney

A less-vulgar version of "You don't know your ass from a hole in the ground." Also "you don't know shit from shinola."

Assume everyone else is an idiot who is trying to kill you

Pennsylvania auto inspection stickers used to bear the motto "DRIVE DEFENSIVELY." I once asked her what it means, and this is what she told me. Best driving advice I've ever gotten.

The flit hit the shan

Another prettied-up version of a phrase, in this case "The shit hit the fan."


She frequently used this word for "umbrella." Wikipedia lists this as "rare, facetious American slang."

The big chicken

How she would sometimes refer to airplanes, especially when there were kids involved. One of her fondest memories of her later life was a flight she took to Disneyworld with my brother and his children about ten years ago. They had a great time, and left as massive storms entered Orlando, causing a rare shutdown of the Disney properties there.

Absotively posilutely

A recent addition to her collection. Cute when heard once or twice. Not so cute when you hear it twenty-seven times a day.

I'm standing in a hole!

My mom was shorter than most, and lost additional height as she entered her 70s and 80s. This was her explanation for her height.

My graduation from the University of Scranton, May 1989

Looks like a dog's breakfast

I picked up a piece of clothing to be part of my funeral outfit. It was slightly wrinkled from months of sitting unused, but I figured it would smooth out upon being worn. "It looks like a dog's breakfast," I heard my mom say, as she had a thousand times before when my clothes were looking rumpled or disheveled. I tossed it in the wash to smooth out the wrinkles.

This was the form when applied to clothing. When applied to the person wearing the clothing, it was You look like an unmade bed. (I remembered that when I saw myself in the mirror after spending the night at the hospice.)

There are a lot of weak links in the system.

Derived from "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link." Used to express exasperation with bureaucratic incompetence, suggesting that the problems are being cause by multiple incompetent individuals.

Those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind

I don't recall hearing this one, but my cousin said she said it to her all the time.

The dumb guy won't notice and the smart one will think that's the way it's supposed to be

Not sure if this is exactly right.

Everyone's queer except thee and me, and even thee is a little queer sometimes.

This came from her mother, and means "people are funny" - not in a "funny ha-ha" way, but in a "fundamentally irrational" sense. 

Better than a sharp stick in the eye

This is from her brother Tony, suggesting that an outcome might not be ideal, but could be worse.

My knees are talking to me

As I sat up from the soft cushy couch at the hospice I said this out loud, and then remembered the hundreds of times my mom said it before she got both knees replaced.

Tired blood and pooped arteries/Old bag of bones

Referring to herself.

Bag of beans

Referring to a baby or small child.

Making Christmas cookies with her niece Dena's daughter Lily


This is an approximate pronunciation of something she has always used as a low-level interjection of exasperation. Turns out the word that is actually being said is "Cholera!" Google Translate provides a good example of the Polish pronunciation. Often accompanied by "Psia krew!" - "Dog blood!", pronounced something like "Sha kref!"

More (whatever) than Carter's got little liver pills

Carter's Little Liver Pills were a real thing, a patent medicine first formulated in 1868. I thought this was unique to her until I saw a reference in MAD Magazine.  

I feel like a wet noodle

She used this one a lot in recent years. It indicates a feeling of listlessness and low evergy.

Who woulda thunk it?

Suggesting that something that has come as a surprise should not have.

Coxey's Army

Wrong Way Corrigan

Two things she would say to us when we were kids, references to things that were common knowledge in the 1940s. Coxey's Army was a march of unemployed men demanding assistance in 1894. She would use this to refer to a motley collection of kids, or ragamuffins. Wrong Way Corrigan was an aviator who, in 1938, "accidentally" flew a transatlantic flight from Brooklyn to Ireland instead of Long Beach, California. She would use this whenever any of us was meandering in the wrong direction.

Handsome is as handsome does

A reminder that having a good character is more important than having a good appearance, and character is expressed through deeds.

Let the baby have the peanut, and you take the shell

An admonition about sharing for older children dealing with younger children.

Enough to feed the Chinese Army

Referring to an excess of food. We always had leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer. She would refer to meals cooked ahead of time and frozen for weeks or months as her Ace in the Hole.

Like a Chinese fire drill

An archaic expression referring to a state of chaos and confusion.

You could screw up a one-car parade (or funeral)

An accusation of chaotic incompetence.

Oy gevalt 

A Yiddish or Hebrew expression of alarm or cry for help - literally "Oh, violence!" More often used by my mom as an expression of exasperation.

She also used "Oy vey" from time to time, and occasional other Yiddish phrases. That, coupled with the fact that there was a large home-made Star of David in my grandmother's basement, made me wonder if we might be crypto-Jews. This was not the case, however: My mother's Uncle Jack was caretaker at a local orphanage, and one Christmas was tasked with making a Star of Bethlehem for a school celebration. Five-pointed stars are hard to make, harder than a six-pointed star that is just two overlapping triangles. So that's what he made, and that year the children of the orphanage had a Star of David hanging over their Christmas festivities. 

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

From the Latin Mass: "My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault." Used to facetiously accept responsibility for some disaster that was in no way her responsibility.

That's not even nice

Said to express disapproval at something someone has said or done, usually something incomprehensibly rude or offensive, with that someone usually being me.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar

A fairly common phrase that she repeated a lot, admonishing you to be nice if you are trying to win people over to your way of thinking. I formulated my own response, based on observations of the Fox News Channel: if you really want to catch flies, you need a rotting corpse or a big pile of manure.

Jewish penicillin

A not-uncommon term for chicken soup. She loved chicken soup, and I made it as often as I could.

Take, tatoes, and balls

This might have come from my sister. Ground round steak served with mashed potatoes and canned peas.

Good night and God bless you

Her nightly statement as we all went to bed. Used in other contexts, like the closing of a phone conversation at the end of the night. My sister told me that she was the one who was taught this as a goodnight statement by nuns in first grade, and in turn taught it to my mom.

Showing Lily the eclipse of 2017

Zostań z bogiem (Remain with God)

Idź z Bogiem (Go with God)

A Polish call-and-response for departing from a visit. The first line is said by the departing visitor, the second by the host. We always said this, or a phonetic approximation of it, when we left my grandmother's house - later, when we left my grandmother's room at the nursing home. Each Polish phrase above has a link to the pronunciation.

Bozie Amen

A childhood term for nighttime prayers. Often applied to our chihuahua Chico, who would sometimes sit with his paws folded as in prayer. "Are you saying your Bozie Amen?"

Make plans and God laughs

Another common phrase, but one that I particularly hate, because it implies that God is a sadist, cackling as he thwarts the plans of his pathetic playthings. But I guess that's what's going on right now: for three years I fanatically protected her from COVID - until one day, God laughed and said, nope, bang, you've got COVID, and blood clots, and a stroke, and now you die.

Most of my life she used a gentler formulation of this sentiment: "Man proposes, God disposes."

Accidental capture of my mom coming out of Christmas Eve mass in 2015.
I was trying to get an image of the Full Moon next to the church steeple.

Nothing stays the same

I was her chauffeur wherever she needed to go the last ten years or so. As we drove along well-traveled routes I often commented on the changing landscape, on places that had closed and been torn down, empty lots and culm banks and tracts of wildlife-filled wilderness that had been turned into warehouses, call centers, and distribution centers. I could see these places as vividly as they once were as they now are. She would chide me not to dwell in the past. "Nothing stays the same," she would say, recognizing that both nature and human enterprise grind on, whether we like it or not.

"If" is a king

She would attribute this to my father. An admonition not to get lost in and filled with despair by counterfactuals. IF I hadn't allowed her to get dehydrated. IF she hadn't gotten up from the table five minutes before I could have helped her. IF she hadn't fallen and hit her head - not badly, but seriously enough to require me to call 911. IF the ambulance crew that showed up had been wearing masks. IF she hadn't contracted COVID during that trip to the hospital. IF COVID hadn't caused clots to form. IF the surgeon had been able to clear the obstruction and restore normal functioning as he hoped. If. If. If. 

What's done 'tis done and cannot be undone

Often said to us as kids when we were railing about some action that had resulted in an outcome we didn't like, usually outcomes of the permanent sort. In time I would learn how to do resets and other tricks to rock things back so "permanent" outcomes were not necessarily permanent, but at the time this seemed like a very harsh statement.

Man's inhumanity to man

My mom loved to watch CNN. It didn't matter if she was getting the same eight or ten stories on infinite repeat, she wanted to see them. But anytime she saw a story involving violations of human dignity she would utter this phrase. In a world of police brutality and Russian crimes against humanity, she used this phrase quite a bit.

Money, money, money (pronounced "Munn-ee munn-ee munn-ee")

Another response to the news, in this case to someone (often a politician or business) screwing others for profit.

If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit

Advice my sister received at a special summer course for speech and debate. My mom used it...a lot. Apparently derived from a W.C. Fields quote.

Old age isn't for sissies - and it doesn't come alone!

Even when she didn't show it, the burdens of old age wore heavy on her. Bad knees (eventually both were replaced,) spinal issues, dental issues, sciatica, cataracts (surgically removed,) macular degeneration, arthritis, loss of manual dexterity, difficulty standing for extended periods... She loved to cook and bake, but hadn't been able to do either in years. She loved to drive (except at night) and hadn't been able to do that in years, either. I was able to give her the illusion of independence, but she hadn't been truly independent in well over a decade. She had been a hard worker all her life, and saw old age as another burden to shoulder.

The advice that she would leave everyone with: "Don't get old." Which always led me to ask, "What's the alternative?"  

February 3, 2023, after she came home from Allied Rehabilitation

Dynamite comes in small packages - and so does TNT!

This is just a flat-out malapropism that makes no sense. I believe it is derived from the common phrase "Good things come in small packages," referring to her short stature, with the addendum "and so does TNT" which...I guess is true? I've never seen TNT outside of cartoons, as far as I know. Meant to imply that small people are metaphorical firecrackers, which is true, in my experience.

What can I say?

My mom's version of "It is what it is." Don't recall hearing it much, but my brother says she said it all the time.

OK, poopsie baby?

A way of getting confirmation for any statement. Also "poopsiekins."

The Last of the Mohicans

My mom had three brothers and a sister. Now she only has a single brother left. She would call the two of them "The Last of the Mohicans."

I woke up on the right side of the grass this morning!

Used in response to "Hi, how are you," meaning "I'm not dead and buried yet."

One foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel

Another response to questions about how she is doing.

I don't buy any green bananas

Yet another response to questions about how she is feeling, implying she won't live long enough to let green bananas ripen. Ironically, she always insisted on buying green bananas that would keep as long as possible. I last bought her bananas on February 2, 2023, the day before she came home from the rehabilitation center. They're in the refrigerator, their skins brown, but the fruit within creamy and delicious.

What are you doing on that computer all day?

OK, maybe that was just me.

Yeah, baloney

After my mom was found exhibiting the symptoms of a massive stroke in bed at the rehab center, she was rushed to the ER and given a "clotbuster" drug in an effort to reverse the effects of the stroke and begin the recovery. It worked - briefly, maybe a half hour. My brother was already at the ER when this was happening, and he attempted to engage her in conversation. Seeing how messed-up her hair was, he joked that her hair looked beautiful. "Yeah, baloney'' she responded. Shortly afterwards she again lost  the ability to talk. "Yeah, baloney" were her last coherent words.