Friday, July 8, 2011

A Daughter's View of Janet

These were the stories I told at my Mother's memorial 2 weeks ago. - Karyn

In many ways Mom led a charmed life. True, she never had major disasters in her family or close to her, but she also chose to look at the positive and to make the best of what she had.

She had two kids who were anything but what she expected - both adding challenges to her life she would not have asked for, but she loved us and accepted us for who we were, which is how she accepted most people in the world. As she never failed to remind us when times were hard "just look at it as a learning experience." David and I were HER learning experience!

On the surface, Mom was dignified, extremely conservative and traditional. But, those of us who really got to know her, knew "the other Janet".

For instance - while other kids were being raised on Winnie the Pooh, these are the words my mom read to us while tucking us in at night…..

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was the night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

I'll never forget looking for Mom at one of our family all-night New Year's Eve parties and finding her in a back room, teaching the younger kids how to play strip poker. Fortunately she had loaded them all up with hairpins, jewelry and extra clothes so things wouldn't get too out of hand.

Through college I dated a guy who made the mistake of complaining to me that the glasses she served liquid in at meals were too small. I mentioned this to Mom in passing, then forgot about it until, at one huge family function at her house, we all went to take our places at the table and found, at the boyfriend's place, an enormous terrarium which she'd cleaned out and filled with tea. He was humiliated. She just gave the famous "Janet smile".

Upon learning that the same boy had two toes on each foot that were webbed, she began cutting duck jokes out of newspapers and sending them to him. He always told me that we were NEVER getting married. I was bad enough to deal with, but having to deal with my mom, too, was just asking too much!

I remember coming home from college and laying on the living room floor in front of the fireplace, happily reading a book. Suddenly, a hailstorm began beating on me - and I looked around to find Mom sitting with a bowl of lemon drops, throwing them at me to get my attention so I'd talk with her.

She held this "dark side" pretty close to the vest and not many people saw it. One day I was telling a friend some of my "Mom" stories. She thought she knew her pretty well and complained that I was making them up. Of course, I blabbed this to Mom, too, and soon, my friend received a huge box in the mail. She opened it to find it contained just 10 lemon drops bouncing around. Mom's way of saying "be careful what you choose NOT to believe!"

For the most part, Mom chose to see things very innocently, yet she had this kind of twisted idea of gifts to give people. Once, when visiting a cousin in California, we went to a museum/art gallery and mom came out with two strange figures. Some kind of big nuts or gourds with legs hanging off of them. She proudly gave one to my cousin and myself and when we asked the people at the gallery about them, they told us they were some kind of African fertility icons. As neither of us were married, we thought this kind of odd - but it was the kind of thing Mom would stumble into.

3 years ago she visited me in Washington. It was right before Halloween and she found some candles in a store that she fell in love with. "Oh, shouldn't we get some of these for people?" "Ah, sure mom….." I said, looking at the 12" long pieces of wax, shaped like long hairy, dead fingers. She was so delighted with her purchase that she insisted I take her back for more several days later.

A couple weeks after she got home she called me totally embarrassed "I gave some of the candles away and someone said 'why Janet. Are you giving me the finger?' I didn't think about that when I saw them, did you?"

Well, I had, but knew she didn't and I just hadn't wanted to spoil her delight in the gifts.

Then, there was Sicily…

When I lived in Italy, word got around that the mother of the American was coming to visit. Mom's are the next things to God in Italy - certainly more revered even than the Pope, so her arrival was a huge deal.

In typical Sicilian fashion, neighbors rushed out of their homes when we drove up with my parents. My Sicilian mom, who lived next door to us, insisted we come into her kitchen where she proceeded to make a pot of thick black espresso. I showed mom how to load it up with sugar so the thimble of coffee would be easier to drink, and she managed to drink it down.

Leaving there, the neighbors to the other side of me grabbed us and invited us in for yet another round of coffee. I waited until their backs were turned and quickly drank mom's coffee down.

As we left their home, a third woman grabbed us and scampered us away to her home, where she offered up - yes, more coffee. By now mom was onto the drill and politely declined. I tried to warn her - she NEEDED to take the coffee here - but Ina had heard mom and quickly shifted gears. Into her cabinet she went and out came a bottle of - well, rot gut.

As I tried to explain to Ina that my parents did not drink, she happily poured the glasses and set them in front of my parents. Mom looked at the offering and before I knew what was happening, mom picked up the glass and slammed it back, drinking it down. As my father and I stared wide-eyed, she slammed the glass back to the table and in a huge voice said "YUUCK!"

"WHAT got into you?" I asked mom later…. "Well, I just remembered when your cousin was in the Peace Corps and her host family served her parents guinea pigs with the feet still on them. They HAD to eat those guinea pigs. So, I figured it was the same thing…. I drank it for World Peace!" While the thought was good, the following "YUCK" insured that no-one was coming to mom for a world diplomatic position.

Mom refused to be dependent on anyone or to ever get down. When my father died she instructed me to do anything I needed to to make sure she didn't cry at the funeral. "Watch out for people talking to me. If I seem to be getting serious, you come stop me from crying," she insisted.

With the funeral over, she set about rebuilding her life. She took on chores of banking, care of the home, and such as though she'd been doing it all her life. The one thing she never learned was how to pump gas.

When told by her doctor that she had but a week left to live, she seemed overjoyed. She didn't want to be dependent on anyone and a week gave her time to be back in her home and for those who loved her to tell her they cared.

Even in those her final days and confined to a wheelchair and her bed, when she knew people were coming to visit, she insisted on getting up, fixing her hair, putting on makeup and her bright red lipstick so she would look her best.

To the end, she was a class act.

Those final days, she would visit with callers, then I'd help her to bed for a nap. After a few hours she would wake up and the two of us would visit. She had no regrets. She said "Please tell people how important their friendship has been to my life."

And every night she'd say "You know, I realized early on that I wasn't extremely smart and didn't have a great talent, but the one thing I could excel at was to just be nice to people."

I think she underestimated herself, but the legacy of being nice was perfect.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Janet Carpenter Memorial Review

Dark clouds threatened as my group drove to set up for my mother's memorial. As we reached the park entrance, the sight of multiple American flags flying from lamp posts greeted us and a lump raised to my throat. I knew they were flying to honor my mom - a woman who, in her quiet way, worked 60 years to better little pieces of this community. Her true passion was this park, sitting atop a bluff overlooking a river and the farmland below, where, today, we were going to pay final tribute to her life.

It was kind of a freaky idea - not something these traditional, conservative Kansan's were used to - but I wanted to hold off to say these public goodbyes to my mother. 4 months would give me time to plan something fitting and to get some distance from the pain of her loss. It also gave family and friends time to learn about her passing and to plan a trip home. Best of all, it gave the park time to rise from the dead of winter. For leaves to grace the trees and flowers to shine from their beds.

I planned the event for morning to beat the ghastly Kansas summer heat - the seating area dictated by the shade of trees. My crazy friend, Sondra Torchia, who does one-woman historical performances, mc'd the event and others joined to tell their stories of the woman I called Mom. Our family created the "Missing Janet Chorus" and sang one of Mom's favorite songs - made popular by the Muppets called "Something's Missing", and by the time the hour-long program was over, people were saying "when I die, I want a send-off just like Janet had!"

Because I've had people ask for some of the details of the event, I'm listing them below and later I'll add the stories I shared - more of the funny light-hearted stories about Mom that most people probably didn't know.

Today marks 4 months that Mom has been gone. It seems like yesterday and the hole in my life isn't getting smaller with time, but she died on her terms without pain and suffering. I have no regrets.

Janet Carpenter Memorial - June 22, 2011
Arrival music - Glenn Miller
Opening song - Gandhi/Buddha, by Cheryl Wheeler
Opening remarks - A Good Life, Sondra Torchia
Reading of Editorial - Heather Brown
Janet Gets a Chainsaw - Dan Turner
Something's Missing - The Missing Janet Family Chorus
Remembering My Mother - Karyn Carpenter
The Red Studebaker - Steve Christy
Janet Made you Feel Appreciated - Annie Stromquist (Janet's favorite niece)
Missing Janet - Megan Hughes (Janet's other favorite niece)
Closing Prayer - Pete Hughes
Closing Song - Over The Rainbow, by Isreal Kamakawiwo'ole
Photo presentation of Janet - to Hero, by Mariah Carey

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Remembering Janet

The official date and time for Janet's memorial is Saturday, June 25, 9:30 am at the Riverside Park in Oswego.

Janet passed away March 2, leaving behind a lifetime of friendship, community service and positive deeds. Please join us as we celebrate her life with stories, memories and fellowship. Janet didn’t want her passing to be a sad event, so wear bright happy colors and dust off your favorite “Janet” story. As one of the quotes we found after she died says "The first 3 letters of funeral spells fun!" (From Cold Sassy Tree). We want this event to be just that!

Seating is in short supply so, if possible, please bring a lawn chair! In case of rain, we will be meeting at the Oswego Presbyterian Church - but let's keep our fingers crossed that the weather is 70 and the skies are sunny or lightly overcast.

- - - - -

"Janet inspired us with her ready smile, her listening ear and her ability to see the beauty in everyone. She lives on in our hearts and in those she encouraged along the way."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Janet Carpenter Lead So Many to the Wonderful World of Reading Books

My deepest thanks to Heather Brown for the following article which ran March 9 in the Labette Avenue. This is one of the most touching tributes I've read. Thank you, Heather!

* * * * * * * *

The reason I am able to write a book review each week has a lot to do with the people that showed the love of reading in my childhood. Janet Carpenter certainly had a great deal to do with that.

She passed away on Wednesday, March 2, so instead of a book review this week, I wanted to tell you a little about the woman who saw a reader in me when I was small and never let me forget how a book can change your life.

When I was small Mrs. Carpenter would walk by our house on her way to the library, if the weather was nice enough. I would wait patiently on the steps of my house with my books and join her for the remaining block to the library.

We chatted about family, what books I was reading and often about things that made me angry. I was very young but she was a great listener and for that entire block I had this amazing lady all to myself. She would laugh at my silly jokes and gave me sage advice many times on issues in my young life.

I loved an afternoon at the library. I would pour through books and once in a while Mrs. Carpenter would give me on an important job to do--at least she made me feel like they were important. I emptied the book drop, put up magazines, went to the post office and she even allowed me to sit behind the desk several times while she ran an errand. That was a little bit of paradise for this wanna-be librarian.

When I was very small my mom and dad took me to the library and I would find a special book and sit down at that big, round table in the kids' section and start my adventure.

I was known to "read" out loud and although my mom often tried to quiet me, concerned about my fellow library patrons, Mrs. Carpenter loved my story times and assured my mom that it was okay for me to be a little loud.

As I grew up I maintained a true love for the library and the librarian that had cultivated my love of reading all those years. She was never too busy to help me find a book for a report I was writing or to suggest a new book that was right up my alley.

Mrs. Carpenter loved books and the people that read them. Her heart and passion for books was clearly manifested in the careful care and patience she bestowed on all who entered the doors of the library.

She was so well read that she could suggest a book for anyone on the spot. If you wanted a book on reptiles, she could walk right to it. Were you looking for a fluffy romance to read on a rainy day in your cozy living room? She knew the perfect one. She knew what Chilton manual you would need if you were working on a 1980 Chevy truck and would even retrieve it for you. She would have you back on your way to the garage in no time. If you were new to the world of quilting she knew the best book for a beginner and would wish you the best of luck on your project.

To this day I love to go to the library. My favorite time to go is on Tuesday. The library is open late and the beautiful building shines like a beacon in the dark. It's warm and cozy and friendly.

Mrs. Carpenter hasn't been the librarian for many years but her kindness and love for her community lives on in the walls of the Oswego Public Library. Liz and Heather carry on the tradition of warm, helpful staff and love for books. They often have special suggestions for a new book that I might enjoy. I still love my librarians but Mrs. Carpenter will always hold a special place in my heart.

Thank you Mrs. Carpenter for letting me be your shadow even on days when it would have been easier to move alone. Thank you for showing me that books of all genres can be loved and enjoyed and thank you most of all for being a friend.

I'll end with a quote I think Mrs. Carpenter would whole heartedly agree with. "Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest. "
- Lady Bird Johnson

Janet Was Special

This sweet tribute by newspaper editor and friend, Rena Russell, ran the week after Mom's passing in the Labette Avenue. The day the paper hit the streets was "Pie Day" and I attended in Mom's honor. As soon as I opened the door to the pastry shop, the owner and her assistants rushed over "If we'd known Janet didn't like plastic, we'd have given her a REAL fork" they exclaimed!
* * * * * * * * * *

Oswego lost a pillar of the community last week in the passing of Janet Carpenter. This amazing woman always had a smile and was a regular member of the Thursday pie club. Janet preferred to eat her pie with a "real" fork - not plastic. Well Peggy Strickland would open her purse, pull out a sack and hand Janet her "real" fork. We all teased her about being so "special." And yet she was. She loved to watch the KU basketball games and often commented on the latest movement in Topeka that would attempt to save their money problems. An avid reader, former librarian and member of the book club, Janet was very knowledgeable and gave her comments. In a comment her daughter Karyn stated is so fitting in closing…"she died the way she lived - with a grace and humor." What a legacy. - - Rena Russell

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I've heard directly from two people that they were unable to post a comment to this blog. If that happens to you, please copy it and send it directly to me and I'll post for you. Let me know if I can sign your name or you want it to be anonymous. You can send to

Sorry for the inconvenience.

- Karyn

Friday, March 4, 2011

Janet Will Be Missed

I've been privileged to be at my mother's side this past week as streams of family and friends have called to pay their respects, to tell this amazing woman what she has meant to them.

Mom didn't want to be sick. She wanted to live life to the fullest, then just die. She was a no-nonsense woman, and that was the most practical way to approach the end of a productive life. While she didn't die as quickly as she would have liked, she also did not linger, and she was never in pain. Her final days were spent listening to people tell her how great she was (she noted that she was starting to get cocky from all the wonderful comments), then she quickly moved on.

She died the way she lived - with a grace and humor.

To those who called, wrote and dropped by, we thank you for making her final days very meaningful. We deeply apologize to those who wished to visit at the end when she had lost strength and were unable to do so. We want you to know we shared with her that you called and your wish to visit meant a great deal to her.

To everyone who has and will be leaving a comment on this blog, we thank you. Mom was a unique and special woman and your stories and tributes are greatly appreciated.

Again, we will remind everyone of the celebration of life which we will hold this summer at the park in Oswego. We hope you will attend.

Karyn Carpenter