My Mom: Jan Nelson

With my mother’s memorial service coming up a week from Friday, I was asked to put together a few words about her for my pastor. Of course, I wrote three pages. But I wanted to share them with you, along with some of the pictures I put together for a photo slideshow which will be shown at the church. Here she is in my own words:

My mama was the sweetest, most gentle heart I’ve ever known. She got that from her mother, Marcy, and her generosity of spirit from her father, Wally. Mom was kind and loving and so accepting of others. It took a lot to make her angry, and when she did get angry it was over pretty quickly.

Underneath that sweet exterior lurked a quick and wicked sense of humor. It’s one of the reasons she loved my father so much, because they were well matched. (Obviously, there were other, major reasons as well, but the fact that they laughed together, even in serious situations, was a gift to their marriage.) She and her friends Pat and Marie could laugh themselves into fits of hysterics and often did when they got together.

Mom loved to travel. The two of us went to London for a week in 1997 – the one and only time she went overseas. She loved every minute of it. We walked everywhere and had aching feet at the end of each day, but we saw so much. We even took day trips to Oxford and Windsor Castle. She made three consecutive scrapbooks to detail our trip.

My parents and I always did a two week vacation in the summer when I was a kid. We would usually go camping somewhere out west and we were fond of the National Parks. Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Death Valley, Lassen, Sequoia and Rocky Mountain National Parks all saw us at least once, but we revisited our favorites many times. We also explored the beauty of the Canadian Rockies by visiting Banff, Lake Louise, and Waterton Lakes. Even though camping wasn’t her favorite (she didn’t like bugs or wild animals), she went along with it in good humor because it got her out to see the world.

Unfortunately, bugs and wild animals seemed to like her. Mosquitoes flocked to her arms and legs and one time when a June bug flew at her and hit her in the face she literally jumped out of her sandals. And while in Mesa Verde in Colorado, two inquisitive mule deer quietly came up behind her to investigate our campsite while we were washing up after supper. They drove Mom to the safety of the car while they innocently nosed the frying pan.

Mom also loved the North Shore of Lake Superior. She went many times as a kid, usually staying with her family in Halcyon Harbor. But we made quite a few trips ourselves when I was a child. I remember sitting on the rocky shore with her and arguing over who got to read our only copy of Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. She loved Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls, and wandering through the many gift shops that line old Highway 61, plus eating at Sven and Ole’s in Grand Marais, and Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors.

She and Dad had an absolute blast traveling around in their RV. Unfortunately, her health problems made them have to stop after just a year on the road. Her goal was to see all 50 states, and she made 47 of them, missing only Alaska, Hawaii, and West Virginia. She also collected pictures of state capitols and wrote a newsletter called the Roads Scholars that she sent out to family and friends.

She did have a multitude of health problems, but she never complained about them. She bore everything on her small shoulders with grace and fortitude. She had quiet strength that could withstand the most difficult situations. She had a fiercely strong spirit and was determined to beat the odds. In the end, her lungs gave out on her, but she fought all the way. She said she didn’t want to die because she had so many things she still wanted to do.

Mom was gifted with all creative pursuits. She decorated our home beautifully, but also loved scrapbooking, painting, cross stitch, sewing, and needlework of all kinds. Scrapbooking was a particular passion in later years, and she would spend hours slaving over pages of memories. She made two books chronicling my life, one for her sister, one for her best friends Pat and Marie, one for her mother-in-law Eileen, one for Disney, even one specifically for pictures of people wearing silly hats at Disney World. (Yes, she really had enough pictures.) She delighted in putting together colors, layout, pictures and words to create something truly eye-catching and special.

Mom had a few obsessions. Some of these included Disney, picture frames, Disney, soap dishes, Disney, scrapbooking, Disney, Department 56 houses, Disney, Christmas, Disney and Disney. She worked at Disney World for a period of several years and got to indulge that obsession as much as she wanted. She collected pins, Lilo and Stitch memorabilia and quite a few pieces of art from the local artists who worked with her at the Art of Disney. Her time spent at the Art of Disney, a high end art store where you could buy anything from a $5 keychain to a $40,000 painting she discovered she really liked helping people choose the perfect treasure and had a knack for selling.

Mom was really smart. She got very good grades in high school and had an amazing memory and was a quick learner. She loved to read and devoured books voraciously. If she wasn’t occupied with one of her obsessions, you can bet she had a book in her hand. She adored mysteries, fiction, biographies and Harry Potter. She instilled a love of reading in me, leading by example.

She loved art, especially the Impressionists, and loved museums. She liked to write and was quite accomplished at it. She always thought she would have made a good librarian, and was so pleased when I made that my career. She was a bookkeeper and would have made a fantastic accountant if she’d had the chance to go to college. She loved learning of all kinds and was always looking for ways to expand her knowledge of the world, whether it be through books or travel.

In addition to art, she loved music too. Every Easter she got excited because our church service usually ended with the Hallelujah Chorus, in which she loved to participate, and Lorie Line was her go-to Christmas music. We saw her several times in concert. She loved singing in Mount Calvary choir and joined the Disney employee choir which sang at the EPCOT Candlelight Processional. She got to be on stage with Neil Patrick Harris, John Stamos, Eartha Kitt and Phylicia Rashad.

And she was always playing music in the car. When I was still in a car seat, she would strap me in and subject me to large doses of Barry Manilow. I, being an extremely good daughter, took her to see him in Fort Myers a couple of years ago, and was surprised that I knew the words to all but one of the songs, which was in itself a little frightening. But it made her so dang happy it was hard not to enjoy it.

She loved her family. On her father’s side she was the youngest of 25 first cousins. She adored her sister, all her nieces and nephews and their children, and had a special friendship with her cousin Kay. She was proud of her Swedish and Norwegian heritage. She loved her parents fiercely and was devastated when she lost them just six months apart. Being only seven at the time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of her loss. But now I have a very keen understanding of what she went through at just thirty two years of age.

She loved animals. From her collie Chloe, when she was a girl, to my cats Shady and Fingers now, she lavished as much attention on them as they would let her. She loved the softness of fur and animals recognized the gentle spirit that lay within her, and loved her back.

Most of all, I think, she loved my Dad and me. When my husband Kosta joined the family, she gathered him right in and loved him too. We were a tight unit with inside jokes and a rubber chicken that used to get passed to unsuspecting recipients at Christmas. No one has a perfect marriage but as the years passed Mom and Dad settled into the comfortable roles of best friends and soul mates. And yet, they included me in their love so that I never doubted it for a moment.

Mom left us too soon. She didn’t want to go, she wanted to make her 50th wedding anniversary in 2019, and see me be a published author. She wanted to visit Disney again and go to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. She had books to read, and scrapbooks to finish and so much living to do and most of all: people to love. And even though her spirit was strong, her body crumbled away before our horrified eyes. She has left such a large hole in our hearts and knowing that I may have to live half of my life without her is almost too much to bear sometimes. I’ll never see her beautiful eyes again, or feel her soft hand touch my cheek. She was one of my best friends. I’ll never stop missing her and will remember her daily for the rest of my life.

My Kosta

Konstantine-George  Athanasios Karras

Konstantine-George Athanasios Karras

 

Twelve years ago this morning I met the guy above. It was my first day of work at the Naples Branch Library and my supervisor David introduced me to Kosta right by the CD racks. I still remember he wore a red-checked shirt and was very nice and funny.

Did I think immediately I was going to end up married to him? Good heavens, no.

But after about six months of working together we discovered we had things in common: we had both studied archaeology, we both loved to write, we both loved history and art and travel. When he suggested we go out for a beer to talk about writing some more I agreed. We went to McCabe’s and had a beer and talked and talked and talked. We were friends.

After that we went out once a week as friends. We laughed and drank beer and ate burgers and had a great time. We did this for about six months before I was brave enough to take things to the next level. So on January 6, 2006 I invited him over to my place for a home-cooked meal. I made spaghetti and garlic bread and he brought the wine. We watched The Thing from 1951 with James Arness as the monster. I don’t really remember anything about the movie at all because I was so nervous. When the credits rolled I leaned over and kissed him.

He didn’t run screaming, which I took as a good sign. It took him a while to figure out his mind though. At the time he was 49 years old and had pretty much decided he was going to be a permanent bachelor. He was concerned that there were eighteen years between us. But by President’s Day that year he had committed and we never looked back.

Now we write together. We talk about history and art. We travel as much as we can afford. We laugh every day. And yes, there are eighteen years between us but it doesn’t make one whit of difference. We are best friends and that is that.

The only thing I would change about my relationship with my husband would be that I had met him sooner.  I love you, honey. You’re the one for me.

What I Did for Love

This story starts way back here:

Mom and me at about 4 years old

Mom and me at about 4 years old

My mom and I have had a very close relationship for my whole life, and I know how lucky I am in this. She and I have been good friends for as long as I can remember. My Mom is one of the sweetest ladies on this earth (besides her mother). Don’t get me wrong, she can be salty and curse if the need warrants. But to me she is soft, loving, and a super cuddler.

Mom has had some health problems in the past few years that has left her unable to drive, walk very far, and otherwise do a lot of stuff she used to do herself. But she keeps on going, a tough woman for sure–especially after all she’s had to endure.

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow

When I was young (still in a car seat) Mom took me everywhere with her–shopping, to see my cousins, and to preschool. And all the time I was strapped into that car seat I was listening to the tapes she played of her favorite music. This was the late 70s folks, and that includes Billy Joel, Rita Coolidge, Crystal Gayle, and her all-time favorite: Barry Manilow.

As a teenager I got into heavy metal and hard rock and shunned and teased my mother for her musical tastes. (What can I say? Sometimes teenagers can be assholes.) As I grew up I didn’t bug her about it so much but I never saw the attraction.

Fast forward to this Christmas this year. I heard Barry was coming to town on his final tour. The man is 72 after all.  And as easy it would have been to buy my mom “stuff” for Christmas, I think you can imagine where this is headed. I opted to give my mom the experience of one final Barry Manilow concert. With me.

barry manilow one last timeShe was rendered speechless when she opened her gift. Not that my mother is a constant talker (I’m married to that) but it was wonderful to see her so excited.

The concert was this last Monday, February 1 at the Germain Arena in Estero. And if you think Barry Manilow isn’t popular, think again. They actually added a second show this Saturday to accommodate the call for tickets in the Southwest Florida area.

The traffic was a nightmare getting in. I certainly hadn’t anticipated the amount of cars once we got off the freeway. Usually it would take five minutes to get to Germain Arena but it took us nearly forty minutes that night. And there was no handicapped parking left, so I had to park out in the sticks. Mom can’t walk very far so we used her wheelchair, thank goodness. It was a hike into the venue.

2016-02-01 19.52.38

Let it go, let it go…

Our seats were great. We were up on the top right next to the box suites and had a terrific view of the stage. As we came in the opening act, Dave Koz was wailing on his saxophone. Playing “Let it Go,” I might add.

Waiting for the main event!

Waiting for the main event!

All right, so let me be the first to admit it. Barry Manilow puts on a pretty good show. I can’t believe the pipes on this guy, and his energy levels.

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It’s a miracle… A true blue spectacle.

Have you ever heard that your brain stores the memories of all the moments of your entire life? It’s your recall that isn’t quite as developed. Well let me tell you that all of those songs I was forced to listen to at a tender age came back to me. I was astonished to realize I knew almost all the words to all the songs. There were only a couple I didn’t know.

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I think the most amazing thing about Barry Manilow is his enthusiasm. He really REALLY loves performing and it shines through in each moment. And seeing Mom so happy made it very easy to sit through the concert and even (gasp!) enjoy it.

I’m not a convert, sorry. My musical tastes have not changed. But I can say that I can appreciate why so many people love this guy. He may write the songs that make the whole world sing, corny as some may think they are, but his appeal lies in his positivity, his love of what he does, and his lovely voice.

When my husband reads this he’ll think I’ve gone over to the dark side. But he didn’t get to see the look on my mom’s face when she clasped her hands and sang along to “Weekend in New England.” Sometimes we do things we don’t necessarily like to do for the ones we love. I surprised myself. I had a good time.

My mom did tell me that the concert tickets were the best Christmas present she’d ever received. I think that’s a win for all of us.  As far as I know, she’s still basking in the Maniglow.