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 excelled 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.

Cracker Barrel

Ice cream cones from McDonald's

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. Probably 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.

Fit to be tied

Someone who is extremely angry. Basically, so full of wrath that they need to be put in a straitjacket for their own good and the good of everyone around them.

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.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride

A very old saying, apparently traced to Scotland in 162. She usually used it in the sense of "stop your wishful thinking and start dealing with reality."

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.

Pick your poison

Suggesting that all options are equally bad. Sometimes used ironically when all options are equally good.


Sarcastically indicating that things have just taken a turn for the 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.

Cackles with their eyes open

Her term for sunny-side-up eggs. Never heard "sunny side up" outside of a restaurant. "Dippy eggs" is apparently popular in some parts of this area, mostly in the Lehigh Valley, I think.


A childhood term for garbage trucks. I don't know if she came up with this or one of us did.

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.

"Hooray for me and the hell with you."

A misquote of a not-uncommon phrase "Hooray for me, and to hell with you." A criticism of selfish and narcissistic attitudes.

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."

That's just peachy Jim Dandy

An old expression that means everything is going great. Used ironically to indicate that a situation is absolutely not great. Also used as a nickname for our peach-colored cat Peaches.

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.

Famous last words

Said whenever someone has made a statement that will probably turn out to be wildly, ironically wrong when viewed against subsequent events. An example from my November 14, 2022 post:

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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Fiction: The Lamentation of Cats

My mom is dying. She is in palliative care in the hospital right now. Unless a miracle takes place, if she lives through the night, she will go into hospice care in the morning.

Ten years ago I wrote this story about cats trying to prepare for the coming death of their owner. It was a challenge story: in my writing group I had a reputation for writing stories where people died. I was challenged to write a story to the prompt "The fluffy gray kitten played with the ball of yarn" where no one died. I came up with this.

The story is based on a projection of how I might feel in such a situation. My mom was 79 when I wrote this. The cats are not based on any of our cats. Sugar was a real cat who lived across the street and would wander over to get petted; we have had one of her grandchildren for the last fourteen years. The rules of cat seniority are real, at least in our house. The title comes from something I half-remember my father telling me about, how his mother had volunteered in the 1960s in an institution for children born with severe developmental issues, how some children would simply yowl through the night making a sound dubbed the lamentation of cats. My father was long dead when I wrote this, and had passed into the forgetting of dementia years before, so I could not verify the memory with him.

The cat poisoner next door was real. He died a few years after I wrote this, alone and unloved.

I forgot about this story for a long time, then came across it a few weeks ago while looking for something else, and it made me cry.

The lamentation of cats

The fluffy gray kitten played with the ball of yarn. She rolled in ecstasy, purring away with the pure joy of being a cat. She planned to play with her ball of yarn for a long time, and then maybe take a nap. Maybe two naps.

"Princess," said a voice. "We need to talk."

Princess stopped playing and looked up. It was Sugar, the Senior Cat. She had a very serious look on her face.

"Am I in trouble?" Princess asked.

Princess wasn't a kitten, not anymore. But at nearly fifteen months she was the youngest cat in the house, and she had chosen to hold onto her kittenhood as long as she could.

"No, you're not in trouble," Sugar said. "Though I do want you to stop pooping so much by the front door. You need to use the litter box."

"But I like pooping there," Princess protested. "And besides, Mom doesn't mind."

"Yes, she does. And you're making a lot of extra work for her, work she shouldn't be doing. But let's wait for Slinky before we discuss more."

"Here I am," came a muffled voice from the hallway. A young tabby padded out of the dark with the stealth that had inspired his name. He held something in his mouth, but set it down before he approached the other cats. "I was just checking on Mom," he said. "She's taking a nap."

"She sure takes a lot of naps lately," Princess said.

"Yes, she does," Sugar said.  "That's something I wanted to talk about today."

Princess cocked her head and looked at Sugar. Why would she want to have a meeting about Mom taking naps?

"Princess," said Sugar, "Mom is getting old and tired. She's taken care of us all our lives, but someday - maybe soon, maybe not for a while - she won't be around anymore. We have to talk about what we're going to do when that happens."

Princess looked back and forth between the two other cats, confused. Sugar sat there, dignified as always, while Slinky chose that moment to start licking at his leg.

"What do you mean, 'won't be around anymore?'" Princess asked. "Where would she go? Maybe out to the country to visit Tommy and the kids?"

Slinky stopped licking and shook his head as if he had a bug in his ear.

"No, Princess," Sugar said. "I mean Mom's getting old and tired and is eventually going to die. Then she won't be around anymore to take care of us."

Princess tucked back her ears and put her chin on the carpet. She began to meow plaintively. "But...if Mom's not around, what are we going to do? Who's going to feed us, and change our water bowls, and clean up our poop?"

"There'd be a lot less poop to clean up if you used the damn litter boxes," Slinky said.

"But if Mom's not there to feed us, we'll starve!" Princess howled softly. "Unless...wait! I have an idea! We'll find a bag of food, and tear it open, and eat it!" She brightened up. "We've done it before, we can do it again!"

Sugar shook her head slowly. "It doesn't work that way, Princess. Somebody needs to buy those bags of food from the store and bring them into the house. Without Mom, there won't be any new bags of food."

"Then we're doomed," Princess cried. "Mom's gonna die and we're gonna starve."

Slinky chewed at his back foot for a little bit, then looked at Princess. "Maybe, maybe not. Sugar and I talked about some scenarios here. We figure there's three ways things can go, with variations of each."

Sugar nodded. "The first possibility is that after Mom dies, Tommy will take us to live with him in the country."

Slinky scratched at his ear and let this statement settle in. "Now, we'd like to think that this is the most likely scenario. But we've got reasons to think it's not gonna happen"

"Why?" asked Princess.

"  Tommy found you when you were a newborn kitten, abandoned in his barn. From what I hear, you were darned cute as a kitten."

"I still am," replied Princess.

"The point is, he didn't keep you then. What makes us think he would take you in now? Plus an old cat like Sugar and a part-feral like me. It would be nice, but we've gotta consider that it might not happen."

"I like Tommy and the kids," said Princess.

Sugar and Slinky exchanged a glance. Sugar began again. "Scenario two is less pleasant to consider: After mom dies, we get sent away to the pound."

"What's a pound?" Princess asked.

Sugar thought a moment and responded "It's a place where unwanted dogs and cats get sent so other people can see them and adopt them."

"Well, that sounds nice," Princess said.

Slinky scoffed. "Sure, it sounds nice. Truth is, there's too many unwanted dogs and cats for them to handle. They need to free up space. If you don't get adopted in a few days, maybe a week, they put you to sleep."

"I like to sleep," said Princess.

Slinky hissed and spit. He was about to say something but Sugar interrupted. "'Put to sleep' doesn't mean what it sounds like," she said. "It means...well..."

"Dammit, it means they kill you," Slinky said. "Jab you with a needle or gas you in a box, then toss your body in a furnace with all the other cats and dogs they 'put to sleep.' And there's no waking up, not ever."

Princess began to whimper and cry. "First Mom dies, then we die? I just want to take a nap and forget about all this."

"Slinky, you've frightened her."

"Dammit, Sugar, this is frightening stuff. It scares the hell out of me. I don't want to end up stuffed in a furnace either. So that brings us to scenario three."

"Is it worse than being put to sleep?" Princess asked.

"No," Sugar said. "If Tommy isn't going to take us, we wait until people are coming and going through the doors. They'll do that when Mom...when Mom is gone. And we wait for our chance, when maybe someone has a door open a little longer than usual, and we run away."

"Run away? Where?"

"There's a stable colony of ferals in this neighborhood," Slinky said. "I used to be a part of it. There's a lot fewer left than there were before, thanks to the poisoner who lives next door. We'll take our chances with them accepting us into the colony. If not, we move on."

"What do you think our chances are of being accepted?" Sugar asked.

"I...don't know." Slinky grew somber. "I was sick and dying when I left them last year. Mom took me in, made me better. But...I think they resent me for having left them and come in here. They might be more willing to accept the two of you. Or maybe none of us. Still, it's a better option than the pound."

The three cats sat in silence for a while. Finally Sugar spoke.

"That's a lot to think about, I know. And it might not happen for months, or even years. But we have to start thinking about it now. And there's more we need to discuss."

She looked at a reflected sunbeam on the ceiling for a moment, then continued. "If Tommy comes, he might want to take just you, Princess. He might decide to send me and Slinky off to the pound."

Slinky looked at her. "Well, we'd just run away then. Let Tommy take her, but the two of us can stick together."

Sugar shook her head. "I've been with Mom for fourteen years now, but I was already a grownup cat when she took me in. See, I was a pet who belonged to the people across the street. They let me wander the neighborhood. I got knocked up. I was almost ready to have my kittens when I found out my owners had moved away and left me behind."

Princess forgot about her problems for the moment. "But, why?" she asked.

Sugar shook her head. "They weren't good pet owners, and weren't ready to deal with a litter of kittens. I had my kittens next door, in the Bad Man's garden. That didn't turn out very well."

Slinky looked at her. "I didn't know. I had no idea."

"Most of them died, either from sickness or from drinking the bowls of antifreeze he put out for us. One or two got to grow up, at least survive long enough to strike out on their own. I don't know what became of them. Maybe one of them is your great-great-great-great-grandfather, Slinky."

She closed her eyes as the first traces of the afternoon sunbeam began to poke through the curtains. "My point is, I'm old. I've lived outside, until Mom took me in, and I'm not ready to live like that again. I'm too old for that sort of thing. Heck, maybe I'll die before Mom does." She looked at Princess with a steely gaze. "The thing is - if I die, or if I get taken off to the pound, you're the Senior Cat, Princess."

Princess looked shocked. "Me? But...but Slinky in older! At least nine months older, maybe more!"

"Seniority is based on years in the house, not age," said Sugar. "You've been in the house longer. Nearly a year longer. That makes you senior to Slinky. He understands this."

Slinky nodded somberly. "So the upshot is, after Sugar dies, I'm going to be looking to you for leadership and guidance."

"But...but if we have to go outside..."

"Then I'll give you whatever support and assistance I can," Slinky said. "But you'll still be the Senior Cat."

Princess meowed sadly and rested her head on her paws.

"Mom dying...all of us getting killed and burned up in a furnace, or running away and living in the wild..."

"This is all a bit much to take in all at once," said Sugar. "Let's adjourn this meeting for now. We can continue our discussion later. The sunbeam is about ready to show up. Why don't we all lay in it for the afternoon?"

Slinky turned away from the other cats and padded over to the thing he had dropped. He picked it up in his mouth and brought it back to where he he had been sitting.

"Lookee what I found in Mom's room," he said. "The catnip pillow we thought we lost last month. I thought we might need it after discussing all this heavy stuff. It's still good." He chewed and batted at it for a minute, then looked at the other two cats. "Want some?"

"No, thank you," said Sugar. "I quit that a while ago."

Princess looked at it sadly. "No, thanks," she said.

"Suit yourselves," Slinky replied, his eyes dilating.  He carried the catnip over to the spot on the floor where the sunbeam was already stretching out.

"Will you join us, Princess?" Sugar asked.

Princess stood up. "Maybe later," she said. "I think for now I'm going to go and check in on Mom. Maybe see if she needs some help taking a nap."

The story so far

As posted to Twitter and expanded on Facebook:

Well, COVID finally got my mom. After three years of keeping her a prisoner in her own home, a week in the hospital after her leg broke, a month in the rehab center, and five days back home - all without contracting COVID - she finally got it after a return trip to the hospital. She went to the hospital last Wednesday, was sent back to the rehab center on Sunday after multiple negative COVID tests, and then had one more test taken at the rehab center come back positive on Monday. Tuesday morning - Valentine's Day - she had a stroke, apparently caused by blood clots being shed by COVID while it interfered with her blood thinners. 

She is probably never coming home again.

I'm glad she got to reunite with her beloved cats, if only for a few days. I'm glad she got to see the Super Bowl - the first half plus the halftime show, at least. I'm glad I took up a bouquet of fake plastic roses and baby's breath with a "Happy Valentine's Day!" balloon on Sunday, rather than waiting until today. I'm glad I got to hear her rail against COVID last night in our final conversation. I'm glad for all the time we got to spend together, at home and on  hundreds of trips to see various doctors. But now it looks like that is all drawing to an end.

I really want to document and detail all of the above.

On Tuesday, December 27, 2022 my mom was going out with my sister to meet a friend at Red Lobster for a late lunch/early dinner. I disapproved of her leaving the house to eat in public due to COVID exposure risks, but she was OK with taking her chances. This was my first day back to work. They left the house around 1:30 PM, and I stepped into the kitchen to make myself a ham sandwich before starting work. A minute later my sister came back to tell me that my mother's leg had given out as they walked down the steps. 

My mom has had both of her knees replaced over the past few years with artificial joints. She's been very happy with her new knees. It turns out that the new knees were so strong that any stress applied to the knee was being transferred to the leg bones the knee was anchored into - causing her femur to shear, as was determined after she was rushed to the ER. She had surgery to repair her leg and replace the knee joint two days later on December 29, 2022. She was transferred to Allied Rehab (known by its old name, "John Heinz") a few days later - Tuesday, January 3, 2023 I believe. She fell out of bed a day or two later - I need to verify these dates - and wound up spending a day back in the ER on January 5. She returned to John Heinz and resumed her barely-begun physical therapy on Saturday, January 7.

Rehab was a long, slow process. My mom went through three roommates during her time there. The first was released just a few days after my mom arrived. The second one was there about two weeks before being discharged. The third, an avid FOX News watcher, was there for the end of January and into February.

My mom was in rehab for my birthday. A bunch of food milestones were piling up: we traditionally had lobster tail on New Year's Eve, and a dinner of pork on New Year's Day, and a cake for my birthday. Now we had lobster tails in the freezer, along with 2/3 of a long pork loin cut into thirds. I made a note to order a cake for her homecoming.

She was finally cleared to come home on Friday, February 3, 2023.

Unfortunately things were not ideal as soon as she came home. The cats took most of a day to forgive her for being away so long, and she was happy to have meals cooked by me, but she was showing signs of difficulty walking. Every morning she would get up and make her way to the bathroom with  her walker, and get dressed and out to the breakfast table without a problem. But as the day went on she had a harder and harder time walking without assistance. (We later learned this was because she was drinking far less than she had been at rehab, so she was getting dehydrated throughout the day.) The first weekend was bad, but after Monday I felt comfortable resuming my work-from-home shift. 

Tuesday, February 7 she had an issue minutes before I was to start work, so I called in an emergency FMLA day. Wednesday February 8 looked more promising. We coordinated her day better: breakfast around 8:00, lunch (a stew I had just made, one of her favorites) at noon, bathroom time at 1:00, then going down for a nap as I began work at 2:00. I woke her at my first break at 4:00 and asked if she wanted something to eat, and she said yes. I set her up at the table and served her a partial dinner before I returned to work at 4:15.

I don't know why she got up from the table at 5:50, but she did, and was about two steps from the table with her walker when the phone rang. For her, the phone is always the top priority, and this time was no different as she stopped to turn and answer it. She lost her balance, fell in slow motion, and hit the back of her head off the wooden chair at the dinner table.

I called 911. They advised me not to try to sit her up. She was cognizant and coherent the whole time. The ambulance crew arrived a few minutes later - unmasked - and they quickly raised her into a seated position on the chair, then got her on a gurney and out of the house.

At the hospital they determined she had no head injury from the fall - no neck fracture, no internal bleeding - but also determined she was dehydrated. They got her into a room and, based on poor performance on tests of her walking ability, made plans for her to return to John Heinz. I packed up the necessities we had just brought home a few days before, along with a week's worth of clothing, and got it to my brother. I was unable to visit her in the hospital until Saturday, February 11, 2023. We watched the Mass together, something we have done since the beginning of the pandemic. By this time she had tested negative for COVID once, and her return to Heinz was dependent on negative results on another test.

I left her on Saturday night at about 7:30 and stopped at a dollar store where everything costs $1.25. I have come to be amazed at the quality and detail of the artificial flowers available at this store, and had assembled several household decorations for her previous homecoming from flowers purchased there. I decided to assemble a Valentine's Day bouquet: roses, baby's breath, some onion grass as a background, a vase, some glass pebbles for weight, and a balloon on a stick.

Sunday morning, February 12, 2023 the results of her COVID test came back clean, and my brother transported her to Heinz. She was back in her old unit, and everyone was happy to see her again, though not entirely happy she was back. I went to see her that afternoon and presented her with her early Valentine's Day present. She looked fantastic. A nurse checked her temperature and found it to be slightly elevated - 100-101 degrees. She ate dinner and we watched the opening of the Super Bowl. Before she got out of the bathroom and ready for bed, the score was tied, 7-7. By the time I left it was 14-14. My mom is a huge football fan, and I hoped such an evenly-matched game wouldn't overstimulate her.

I called her Monday morning, February 13, 2023. Mondays are my day to work from the office, and I had preemptively taken it as an FMLA day. I asked her about her therapy schedule, and she told me that, because of her elevated temperature, they were isolating her until they got the results of another COVID test.

That test came back positive.

Now everything changed. My brother recommended that no one visit her until they released her from COVID isolation. I confirmed with the desk that I could visit but would have to follow COVID protocols - in addition to the standard mask requirement, I would need a gown, gloves, and face shield. I visited her for a shorter time, just a half hour. She looked absolutely fine. I called her that night after she was in bed and she was cursing out the bad luck of having avoided COVID for so long and then finally catching it. As I ended the call I told her I loved her and she returned the sentiment, as we always do.

The next morning, Tuesday, February 14, 2023, at about 7:00 AM, she had a massive stroke.