The Karen Files, revisited

Today marks a year since the passing of our mom. She was a grand gal and we miss her terribly, especially, as you might expect, over the past day or so.

Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s, so in a very real sense, we lost her before she finally left us. And as so many of you have no doubt experienced, it’s easy, when seeing a loved one through a debilitating illness, to nearly forget what they were like when they were healthy.

It’s that vibrant, vital woman we remember now, though; memories of her years of of suffering, while not erased, have given way to much sweeter recollections.

In the weeks following Mom’s passing, as longtime readers of this site may remember, we posted a weekly reminiscence of Mom in a series we called the Karen Files. We shared photographs from throughout her life and mused upon the woman we recall so dearly.

We thought, on this occasion, we’d provide links to the entire series in one post, for those who may have missed these small tributes the first time around. If you knew Karen, we trust they’ll be bring back warm memories; if you didn’t, well, they just might make you wish you had.

The Karen Files, Pt. 1 The Karen Files, Pt. 8
The Karen Files, Pt. 2 The Karen Files, Pt. 9
The Karen Files, Pt. 3 The Karen Files, Pt. 10
The Karen Files, Pt. 4 The Karen Files, Pt. 11
The Karen Files, Pt. 5 The Karen Files, Pt. 12
The Karen Files, Pt. 6 The Karen Files, Pt. 13
The Karen Files, Pt. 7 The Karen Files, Pt. 14

The Karen Files, pt. 14

Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:

This photo of Karen and her two siblings, Cecil Jr. and Linda, is from November 1952. Mom was 19 years old, Cecil was 22, and Linda was 12.

Hi-res view

We suspect this was taken over the Thanksgiving break of Mom’s sophomore year at Oklahoma A&M. She and her siblings seem happy and content together.

But it’s odd the turns that even happy families can take. I remember my uncle Cecil fondly from my early childood. He was fun and kind of goofy, but mostly he was a tickler. Man, did he love to tickle us kids.

Now we know that tickling is viewed as marginal behavior today. A little tickling of a child is fine, perhaps, but one must really be careful not to cross a line. Otherwise, it’s viewed as sadistic by many, and not unreasonably, we think.

But we have no bad memories of Cecil from those years, so if he crossed the line—if he overdid it with the tickling—we don’t recall it.

But Cecil and Mom had a falling out when we were five or six years old, and he’s been a shadowy presence in our life ever since. We don’t think we’ve seen him in person more than once or twice in the past forty years. There have been very occasional reports of his doings, but basically, he’s just a distant memory to us.

Aunt Linda and Mom remained close and in contact over the years. Linda lived in Kansas near their parents, and was the sibling who played the largest role in watching over them in their declining years, and we know that Karen appreciated that.

We’d not seen Linda in some years, but that it is one of the few high points of losing a loved one: You reconnect with friends and famliy you’ve not seen in some years. As sad as it was to lose Mom, it was a treat to get to spend some time with Linda, of whom we’ve always been very fond.

So we were happy to come across this photograph, which was in a small folder of photographs that Mom’s father, Cecil, Sr., carried with him. It’s heartening to recall there were happier times for Cecil, Linda, and Karen.

The Karen Files, pt. 13

Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:

Hi-res view

We don’t have any deep insights to offer about this week’s snapshot of Karen and Lloyd. It’s just a picture that pleases us. They’re so young, and they look so happy.

This photo probably dates from the mid-1950s (note Lloyd’s Lyle Lovett-esque hair and Karen’s brown, not blond, hair), but we don’t know any more about it.

We are tickled by the fac that that both our falks are dressed a bit flashier than usual, Mom in a casually glamorous sleeveless dress, with a noticeable sheen to it (silk? satin? Your guess is no doubt better than ours) and Dad in a loud sport shirt with a pair of cuffed trousers that we darned sure wish he’d saved and passed on to us!

(Did your parents hand down their now-vintage clothes to you? Ours surely didn’t—we suspect Karen made a regular practice of cleaning out the closets and shipping stuff off to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Why oh why couldn’t she have been a pack rat?)

But best of all are Lloyd’s very sharp two-toned shoes, paired with impressively sheer and ribbed socks (those socks could be a bit longer, though, Dad).

Again, why weren’t those shoes saved and passed down to us? Perhaps one of our sisters would ask the same about Karen’s sharp dress.

There’s just no justice.

The Karen Files, pt. 12

Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:

In this week’s edition of The Karen Files, we’re offering contrasting photos of Mom. The first is a professionally done, nicely lit portait, taken on Karen’s wedding day. She looks lovely and happy as can be.

The other is a casual snapshot of Karen and Lloyd. We’re not sure where or when the picture was taken (the mid-late 1950s, probably, as Mom’s not yet blonde, but Dad has his crewcut), and there’s arguably not that much to recommend this photo. But we’re suckers for candid photographs of people we know and love. In a very real sense, they’re so much more accurate in capturing the person as we remember them than the most adept and skilled of professional portraits.

We like that Lloyd is tending to Karen, perhaps removing a bit of lint or a small twig caught on the fabric of her coat, as she turns her attention toward the photographer, whoever he or she is.

Hi-res view

It’s a telling detail, as Lloyd lovingly tended to Karen (and she to him) for more than 55 years, but never so much as over the final decade of her life, as Alzheimer’s slowly robbed us all of the wife and mother we loved. Lloyd cared for Karen almost singlehandly until the very end—Karen spent only a few short months in fulltime care when her condition worsened beyond the point that allowed Lloyd—or any nonprofessional—to deal with it.

Those final ten years of loving care and devotion on Lloyd’s part qualify him for sainthood in our eyes.

But it’s worth remembering—and sharing—that even this wonderful marriage that was such an inspiration to all who knew Lloyd and Karen was not without its rough patches.

We were in our twenties or thirties when Lloyd shared with us for the first time that there had been a period relatively early in their marriage when Karen wasn’t sure she’d done the right thing in settling down with Lloyd.

Dad and Mom were 25 and 21, respectively, when they married, and in those early years, Mom worked the night shift at the newspaper. We can remember her coming home in the middle of the night (or so it seemed to us at that toddler stage—it may well have only been 10 or 11 p.m.). She would slip into our bedroom and wake us gently, in order to kiss us goodnight. One might well view this practice as counterproductive, but those brief late-night encounters have long been a treasured memory for us.

Hi-res view

There was a woman who worked with Mom at the newspaper, a young divorcee who was living the high life—handsome men taking her to fancy resturants, parties, cocktails, the whole shebang—and she relished regaling the gang at the paper with (perhaps embellished) accounts of her nights on the town.

Karen, now in her mid-twenties and with two or three (it might even have been four) kids at home, began to feel that she was missing out, that the days of her youth were rapidly dwindling and she hadn’t made the most of them. She even told Lloyd that she wasn’t sure she loved him any more.

There was no separation; they spent no time apart. Lloyd and Karen went about the business of watching over us kids and putting in their time at their respective jobs, but there was suddenly a wall between them. They were in limbo, and neither could be certain how the situation might work itself out.

We can only assume that Karen spent those weeks trying to decide what sort of life she wanted, and how—and whether—a husband and children fit into it. The tension grew between Mom and Dad, though they were never prone to fight. Things finally came to a head, and Lloyd used the word “divorce” in one of their discussions. It was the last thing he wanted, but he knew they couldn’t go on as they were.

Dad taking that stand somehow snapped Mom out of her fog. Her priorities were suddenly clarified, and as Dad tells it, things were quickly back to normal. And from that day forward, for the next half-century, they remained devoted to one another.

It was a jarring tale to hear when Lloyd first shared it with us, and perhaps it’s unsettling for you, gentle reader, to encounter it here. But it’s also heartening to realize that even a marriage widely viewed as ideal wasn’t without its difficulties, its bumps in the road. But Lloyd and Karen found their way past those early obstacles (and would make their way around or over a few others still to come in the ensuing decades) to forge the strongest of bonds, one that ended only when death did part them, as that familiar nuptial phrase describes.

So while I’m very fond of that wedding portrait of Karen, it’s the candid snapshoot that really tells the tale of what was a great life partnership, not because Lloyd and Karen experienced only smooth sailing, but because they weathered their share of storms, always finding a way to see other through them safely.

The Karen Files, pt. 11

Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:

It’s kind of intriguing, as one rifles through old photos of a loved one, especially a parent, to see that person slowly but surely become the person you remember.

We’ve not presented the photos of Karen that we’ve shared with you in any chronological order, but if you go back through the previous ten editions of The Karen Files, you’ll see what we mean, even if you never met her.

Hi-res view

There’s a hint of the Mom we recall from our childhood and adolescence in this photo, though she’s not quite there yet. Perhaps, if we were to put this into anthropological terms, this photo might be called the “missing link” between Karen as a youth (she was only 21 when she got married, 22 when she gave birth to our older brother, and 25 when we came along) and her years as a settled-in (but never staid) wife and mother.

We love the red lipstick Mom’s wearing here and the casually saucy flair she’s exhibiting, with that great 1950s blouse she’s sporting and the plaid pants. (What do you want to bet they were Capri pants?)

This picture was probably taken in the late 1950s, but the precise year is uncertain. We think it must be the house our family lived in until 1964, and that’s probably my parents’ bedroom, which was in the southeast corner of the house (none of this is of even remote interest, dear reader, but we’re just stretching our memory muscles here).

Anyway, there’s a confidence in this picture that sets it apart from some of the others we’ve shown you. Mom never lost her sweet and gentle side, but she was a strong woman, too, and you can see that quality starting to show in this picture.