Maria Krichker – My Grandmother, My Hero

By Julia Feldman

My grandmother, Maria, is 86 year’s young. She has the energy level of someone in her 30s. She has always led an amazing life and I’d like to share one of her life stories.

Maria was born and lived in the Soviet Union–though the Soviet Union had its myriad of problems, the one thing they were pretty good at, was offering equal opportunities to men and women to work their butts off! My grandmother took that opportunity to the extreme–she became a cardiologist and spent a long career working 12-14 hour days and helping as many people as she could.

Because my family is Jewish, although she excelled in school and her practice, she could not get a job within the center of the city where she lived-Kiev. Many would have given up their dreams because of this, but my grandmother pleaded for a job and she was given one–one that was about 2 hours from her home! She accepted, and she spent about the next [8] years making the long trek too and from work, until she was finally permitted to switch to a clinic that was closer to her home. And unlike these days, she couldn’t get in a car and drive the two hours-she had to take 3 modes of transport each way–first a tram, then a bus, then she would walk/hitchhike the rest of the way! It was grueling, but she did it without many complaints-because she loved to help people and she had a tremendous work ethic and sense of pride in her work.

On top of her job, she also had a husband and two little girls to raise, which she also did beautifully.

Today, she continues to apply that work ethic to everything she does-whether it is cleaning her home or helping to give preliminary diagnoses of ailments to her friends that seek out her opinion. She is a real hero to me and our entire family.

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.

They Called Her Maddie (Madeline Jacobelli)

By Lou Jacobelli

They called her Maddie.

In February,1937, my Mom was 17. She married my Dad and I arrived in April,1938. Her name was Madeline but she preferred to be called Maddie.

As you would suspect, there are many, many family stories to be told but I would like to relate just two concerning my Mom. I was present on both occasions but have no memory of them as I was a newborn for the first story and 8 months old for the second one.

I was born at 7 months and weighed 2 1/2 pounds. In those days, that was basically a death sentence and the doctors told my mother that I would die if she took me home. Mom was being discharged and refused to leave me alone in the hospital. She signed all the necessary release papers, to protect the hospital, and home we went. “Home”, in 1938, was a small apartment with a gas stove.

The gas stove, if you will picture it, looked like a four-legged table with an oven on the left side and four gas burners on the right side with a drawer underneath for pots and pans. I specifically mention our gas stove because the “pot and pan drawer” is where I lived for the initial weeks of my life as it was the warmest spot in the flat. Mom said that because of my tiny size, she was able to wrap me in soft blankets and place me in a shoe box (my first bed!) and then into the stove drawer to sleep. Mom also said that whenever she would unwrap me to change my diaper, my lips would start to turn blue from the temperature difference even though she would turn up the steam heat till the kitchen was over 80 degrees. One last thing she did to protect me: I had very dry skin so after she cleaned me, she would wipe me down with olive oil to soften my skin. To this day, my wife attributes my especially soft skin to those olive oil treatments 71 years ago.

A few months after I was born, my Dad was diagnosed with TB and sent to Seaview hospital on Staten Island as a terminal patient. He survived that ordeal but did not return home for 18 months. In the interim, it was just me and my mother (both sides of the family had disowned us; an account for another day) which leads me to my next story.

By the time I was 8 months old, Mom’s situation had hit rock bottom. No family support, no available husband, no rent money, no food for her or me. To add to her isolation, a huge snow storm blanketed New York City. I guess she viewed the storm as the final straw; even Mother Nature had turned against her.

She put on her coat, bundled me up, left the apartment and just started walking. The snow-covered streets were deserted. It was very cold and the hour was late. Mom walked until she was exhausted and then just laid us down in a snow bank and we went to sleep. That should have been the end for both of us but Fate intervened in the guise of a kind Irish policeman patrolling his beat. (I’ll bet he spent the rest of his career relating how he found a young girl and her baby just a week before Christmas and rescued them from a snow bank.)

He brought us to a nearby Church and between him and the priest my Mom was given enough money for rent and food. They gave her another chance and lifted her spirits tremendously; she never forgot the kindness of strangers. A great bond was established between Mom and me in that first year. And we went on to enjoy each others company for many more years.

Mom passed a while back but I feel that she still protects me; just like she did way back when.

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.

The Kansas Hoosier

By Ryan Malone

Most boys have sports memories with their fathers. It’s one of the early bonding opportunities a dad has with his son. And my dad was no different. And basketball was one of the earliest memories I have of my dad, Virgil Malone. My dad died when I was 17 – in fact, it was 20 years ago June 28, 2009 that he passed. Seems like yesterday. So for the majority of my life, my relationship with my father has been based on memories.

My dad came from a tiny little Kansas town named Medicine Lodge. His graduating high school class had 26 people in 1952. For those of you who have seen the movie Hoosiers, it was set in fictitious Hickory, Indiana in 1951. And from what I remember of the stories my dad told me, his team was the Kansas version of Hoosiers.

In the picture, Dad is the one on the left.

The team has six players – a third of the team consisting of my dad and his brother, Richard. Dad played small forward and was a little undersized for his position, even back then. He was 5?9? and rail thin. But he was a fierce rebounder and had one of the most fundamentally sound jumpshots I have yet to see – think Jimmy Chipwood. He led his team in rebounding and was a frequent scorer. But unlike Hoosiers, Dad’s team didn’t have an Ollie to make two big free throws to make the state tournament. They missed the tournament by a few points after a great season.

Despite the numbers Dad put up and the heart of a lion, he was just too small to play at Kansas State. So he joined the Navy, which is another story yet to come.

With Basketball, Dad’s Memory Lives

I have two early and distinct memories of my Dad. And both of these memories involve basketball. The first is the Lakers. We loved the Lakers (and I still do!). If you followed the Lakers/Celtics rivalry, you will know the shot I am talking about. It’s the one that was on the commercials this year during the NBA finals. Magic Johnson drives across the lane, steals a page from Kareem’s bag of tricks, and knocks down a running skyhook to seal the game for the Lakers. Clear as I day, I remember my dad and I jumping off the couch when he hit that shot. We’d never seen Magic even try that shot, much less introduce you in the heat of the playoffs. And to have it happen against the Celtics, who could have asked anything better for a small boy!

The second memory? Dad finally decided it was time to show me how to shoot a basketball correctly. I have a feeling he was probably pretty tired of me just throwing it up toward the basket. I remember the words to this day:

“Your left hand is only a guide hand. Your right hand is the shooter, and the ball needs to rotate of your pointer and middle fingers. Snap your wrist. Follow through. Put your hand in the basket.”

We practice that day for what seemed like hours. Not because he was a dominant dad, but because I wanted to get better. He had the patience to sit out there with me for hours and well after dark.

A Basketball Closeness

From that day forward, I played basketball almost every day as a kid. And all through college, I played basketball. And I still do, although a knee surgery, back surgery and a strong desire to tie my own shows have slowed me a bit.

It seemed like many times, even though Dad was gone, playing basketball made me feel close to him. I could still hear his words, see the smile on his face when we played and wondered whether I even really got that jumpshot completely right.

It’s strange but also empowering to know that a single, solitary memory can have such a dramatic impact on your life. But I was lucky enough to grow up with the Kansas Hoosier.


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Just Practicing…

By Kristine Ejercito

I was lucky enough to grow up with my “Lolo” (which means grandfather). He was a smart guy, very practical, with a dry sense of humor. When I went away to college, I came home and visited him on weekends. At some point he fell and injured his hip, such that he was bed ridden. He also lost most of his sight, leaving him with just pin point vision. I came to visit him one weekend and the t.v. was turned on. We caught up a bit and then I turned to look at the t.v. during a lull in our conversation. When I turned back, he was laying very, very still with his eyes closed. Naturally I had a rush of panic, so I shook his shoulder and called his name. He opened his eyes, looked in my direction, and just very casually said, “Oh, just practicing.”

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.

Saying Goodbye

A story about Goggy by Mary O’Loughlin

My grandmother, or Goggy as we called her, knew her time was coming and she was trying to have one-on-one conversations with everyone. We had this great conversation about life, love and the future and we laughed (and sometimes blushed – she had lost her filter years ago). A few days later, she stopped speaking and passed away shortly after that. I will always treasure that last conversation.

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.

My Grandmother’s 3-Second Gift

A story about Anna Brennan by Jo-Ann Downey

My grandmother, Anna Brennan, was both tough and soft – in almost equal amounts. Born in 1916, I am sure she experienced a lot in her life. Funny thing though, she never spoke of the past. In fact, I don’t recall her speaking of the future. She lived very much in the present moment. I guess she was “conscious” before it was hip! I often played at my grandmother’s house. She had a basement with a crawlspace which I thought was haunted. I was never too scared because I knew she was always upstairs in the kitchen. Growing up, my grandmother bought me ice cream cones and joyfully prepared the food that I liked – butter and peanut button on toast was a favorite!

My grandmother made me feel special, unique and watched over. When I was 21 years old, my grandmother gave me a 3 second “gift” that changed my life. I was packing up for my senior year in college. I was so excited because I was getting my first apartment. I was working extra hours that summer to buy items such as dishes, sheets and silverware. One day we were talking about my apartment and she said “I want you to have my rocking chair for you first apartment.” Her comment lasted a total of 3 seconds. I knew she really meant it; I knew deep inside of me that she truly wanted me to have the rocking chair.

My grandmother didn’t do anything that she didn’t want to do- and you knew it. Her offer was unconditional. In those 3 seconds, I took in “I want to be with you while you are away, I want to give you something significant, you are going to be great, I want to honor your adulthood and I trust you”. The feelings of self-confidence and support I felt filled every cell in my body. I believe my life was forever changed in those 3 seconds. Thank you Anna Brennan, my maternal grandmother.

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.

The Arrival

by Judy Sparanese

She arrived in San Angelo, Texas, after a long, hot, dusty and crowded journey by train. It was early summer and she was eager to join her husband, an army air corps pilot stationed at Goodfellow Field. After months of following him to several bases, it was good to think about settling down for awhile. Initially, she had no appetite due to the hot weather. It was weeks before she was able to eat a decent meal and that turned out to be a bowl of chili con carne. This Irish girl from Brooklyn, used to overcooked meats and vegetables, found the chili to be the only thing she could enjoy eating. Shortly after arriving, she landed a secretarial job for an executive of a local company. Jobs were easy to get in a country turned topsy-turvy by war.

They rented rooms in a big white frame house with a huge porch. Housing was in short supply in those days what with all the military arriving and looking for places to live. They considered themselves lucky to be with a hospitable family, even though they had to sacrifice some privacy by living and sharing common areas with strangers. A few months later, she found herself pregnant for the first time. The nausea caused by the heat was replaced with another kind of nausea which lasted a few months. But the joy of the expected child overcame any temporary discomfort. He was ecstatic in his usual way, dancing around the room at the announcement, lifting her up in the air in his strong arms and falling more in love with her than ever, telling everyone he knew about this exciting event about to happen. In fact, he was ecstatic about everything in his life right now. They had met at a church dance in Brooklyn on the evening of the attack at Pearl Harbor. Shortly after, he enlisted in the army.

They were married January 9, 1943. Children of the Depression, and now faced with the reality of World War II, they were always ready to have a good time, to live for the moment. There was not much planning for the future when the present seemed so nebulous. And they danced their way through time, always on beat, to the music of the “Swing Era.” After basic training, officer candidate school and pilot training, this high school dropout had finally earned his wings and was a full fledged pilot. He was assigned to Goodfellow Field which was an advanced air training base where San Angelo Air Corps Basic Flying School was established in 1940. He spent the duration of the war training men as pilots and carrying out other stateside assignments.

Even though he applied many times to be sent overseas, he was valued as a trainer and was never re-assigned. The child, a healthy baby girl, was born at 4:11 a.m. at Shannon Hospital in San Angelo four days before D-Day. At the time he was 25 years old and she was 24. There was nothing unusual or significant to remember about the birth. It must have been lonely for her to give birth away from her family but there was a community of other army wives in the same circumstances and there was a tight bonding among them. One can only speculate on their hopes and dreams for their future individually and as a family. What was in store for this tiny family with no home and no wealth and a war that seemed to go on forever? In fact, it would be another year or so before victory was declared, first in Europe on May 8, 1945 and then in Japan on August 15, 1945.

No one of their generation was untouched by the war and it changed them forever as they marched forward into the oblivion of the 1950s.

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.

The Personal Side of Aging: Don’t Be a Turkey

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am sure that many of you have things to be thankful for.

But I want to take a different approach.  I would like you to actually thank someone. Thank a senior for living the rich lives they’ve lives and for being themselves.

Today’s seniors have lived through more than any generation in history.  Through our biggest triumphs, our biggest atrocities and everything in between, they’ve seen it all – cars, planes, world wars, world peace, civil rights, computers, cell phones and the Internet.

But for some strange reason, because they are old, we forget about the richness of their lives.  We forgot that they were once the war hero, the sports legend, the family man, the politician and the teacher.  We forget that they are the moms, dads, aunts and uncles who made us who we are today.

Where am I going with this?

We’ve created a new feature on the site called Portrait of Our Parents.  This section was created to celebrate the unique and vibrant memories that define our seniors’ lives and the way we remember them.

How it Works?

Portrait of Our Parents is your storyteller to the masses.

It’s your easel to share the memories of your parents and grandparents you don’t want forgotten.  It can be about your aunts, your uncles or any elder friend you admire.

Whether it is a life story, an individual memory or a fireside chat you remember as a child, Portrait of Our Parents can help you share it, celebrate and be proud of it.

So as you think about the holidays, I encourage you to spend a few minutes and write down a story of a loved one that makes you smile.  Share some thoughts of a senior who inspires you because of who they are.  Send us the story–and a photo ideally (it makes it human!)–and we’ll share it with the world.

What are you waiting for?  Share a story today.

My Own Piano Man

By Kenneth E. Strong, Jr.

The dog woke me in the usual way by blowing air in my face followed by two heavy front paws draped over my side. There was no way he was going to let me sleep for just five more minutes. This morning he was unusually early, around 5:30 a.m. I stumbled down the stairs, rubbing my eyes in a determined effort to focus my vision to avoid falling over the dog or down the stairs.

On my way through the kitchen I stopped at the kitchen sink, ran cold water and splashed my face to clear my thoughts. I looked across the sink out the double pane window, into the garden below where the sun’s rays were shining through the trees above like fingers flooding the ground with a warm glow. The top of the blooming dogwood caught my eye; there was just one flower as bright as could be against the others in pre-dawn shadows. Seeing the single white blossom in the sun reminded me of a man I haven’t thought of in thirty-two years.

Henry and I first met on a hot summer day. Henry was sitting in a lawn chair on the front patio of our family nursing home looking at the traffic on Main Street. In one hand he held a small radio up against his ear and the other hand was tapping very methodically on the arm rest of the chair. I stopped the lawn mower and asked him if he thought he was playing a piano and he said,” Yeah.” I responded, “Good for you,” and continued to mow the lawn.

A week or so went by and I happened to be walking by the activities room and sure enough there was Henry with his transistor radio beside him playing the piano. I couldn’t believe it. He could hear a song on the radio and then play it on the piano. Henry had never had one single piano lesson in his life. I was fascinated. Henry Diamond was a Native American from Martha’s Vineyard with jet black curly hair, eyes black as coal and hands the size of a first baseman’s mitt. He stood about six foot five inches tall and was solidly built. To me he looked like a skyscraper.

I was told that Henry was a loner, mentally retarded, withdrawn and very shy. For a while we didn’t talk very much but I noticed that if Henry had difficulty hearing the radio he would become agitated and uncooperative with staff. So I bought him a new transistor radio with an ear plug. I put the plug in his ear, turned on the radio and watched his eyes light up. He was like a kid in a candy store. Immediately I became Henry’s new best friend. And then the fun started. In school I found myself constantly talking about Henry’s uncanny ability to play any song he heard on the piano. I suppose my friends got sick and tired of me raving about Henry.

Finally someone said, “I’ll bet you ten dollars he can’t.” That’s all I needed to hear. That Saturday Henry and I rolled the piano out of the activities room, down the hall into the elevator and out into the back parking lot of the nursing home. We set both radios to the same station. I put in the ear plug and Henry began to play. Henry and I split the money and returned the piano. That first concert began a summer of Saturday afternoon entertainment in the parking lot. On a few occasions we had as many as twenty students listening in awe to Henry play. You should have seen the look on Henry’s face as they cheered and applauded his performance. I made more money that summer at Henry’s concerts that I did working at the nursing home. Henry was happy because he had more money that he thought possible. In those days patient needs monthly payment was just under twenty dollars. Life was good until my father arrived in the back parking lot during one of Henry’s concerts. You should know that my father was the owner and administrator of the nursing home.

Needless to say my career as a concert promoter came to an abrupt halt. After my father expressed his disappointment and how it was wrong to take advantage of a patient I had to put the money I’d won from the bets in the collection plate on Sunday. Henry got to keep his share which I was happy about because it helped him buy more things he wanted and needed. Somehow seeing Henry’s face light up and the kids paying attention to him, showing him their pleasure, admiration and awe didn’t seem like taking advantage of him in any way. Every Saturday afternoon Henry was a star. When he played he was giving me a gift, the only gift he had. When I look at my music CD collection today and see that the vast majority of it is piano related, I think of Henry. To me he was as unique as the solitary white dogwood blossom, one of a kind.

That summer with Henry taught me two things. First, Henry taught me to look beyond what I think I see. The phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” comes to mind. Each person we encounter has a musical score in them that can make all the difference in your life if you look diligently for it, beyond their physical appearance, ethnic background, education, religion, where they live, or the color of their skin. The music is there and worth discovering. You may find you’ve got a hit song on your hands. The second thing I learned was to block off the back parking lot. I’ll bet Henry could have paid for a private room if I had blocked that driveway.

If you would like to honor a parent or loved one, we’d love to hear and publish their story. Contact us for more guidelines on what we need.