Stories: Who We Have Lost

The Importance of … Syrup!

Story aboutRussell Murray

A favorite holiday memory about my dad is a time we went out for brunch. After our orders were placed, the waitress served everyone except my husband, then she disappeared. My Dad also noticed that the pancakes were not served with syrup and there wasn’t any in sight. So as soon as my Dad saw the waitress, my Dad called her over. We thought for sure he was going to remind her that my husband still had not received his order. We were so wrong. The waitress wasn’t even at the table and my Dad’s finger was pointed down frantically waving around the table as he told the waitress of the urgent need for syrup. He never even mentioned my husband’s missing order! We then concluded that my husband is nothing more than chopped chicken liver compared to syrup.

We laughed so hard that every Christmas Eve when we ate at this restaurant, after our orders were placed, someone in the family would point their finger down and wave it frantically around the table saying, “syrup, syrup, syrup.”

Who We Lost: Kenneth Marlin

Story aboutKenneth Marlin

Kenneth (Kenny) Marlin was a retired Vietnam veteran and Courier-Journal worker who passed away in September 2020. He had survived a quadruple bypass surgery months prior and survived it. His death had a big impact on his family, who described a man who always put others before himself and was always there for his loved ones.

“He was my rock. He was my go-to person,” said Cindy Young, Marlin’s daughter. “Our words of encouragement were always waiting at the end of the phone line or the end of the street,” said Sarenity Young, Marlin’s granddaughter. Marlin was originally from Clarksville, TN, who went on to deliver newspapers for the Courier-Journal in Louisville after serving in the army. He retired from the paper after 30 years. When he wasn’t working, he was crafty, specifically with woodworking. “He was always working on something in his building whether it was a new bench, doggy stairs, whatever. It was always something,” said Sarenity. He also loved to help others in his spare time, like cutting yards or raking leaves. Sarenity said he always made sure that his neighbors had food to eat and tried to make someone smile at least once a day.

He also liked shopping, and Cindy remembers how sometimes when he lived just a couple houses down, he would go shopping while she was at work and would hang stuff on her door to find when she got home as a surprise. Cindy said the little things are what can mean the most. She said how she and her dad would go to flea markets a lot on the weekends and eat lunch, and how those always lead to good memories. She remembers how he took her on her first trip to Gatlinburg, and they laughed at Hillbilly Golf when a chipmunk kept stealing her ball. She said they laughed so hard about it, and her dad would say that she would try and use the chipmunk as an excuse for why she lost the game.

Sarenity said he would take her and her cousins to the zoo all the time to the different events. “I remember going to Boo at the Zoo with him many years and always having the best time with him … just overall the fun and loving grandpa that would joke about everything and anything but always knew how to help in times of need,” said Sarenity. She said he could always get her to smile. “One time when I was a bit older working at Rally’s he came through the drive through and asked to order a Whopper, I of course thought, “Who is this crazy man at my drive through?”, not realizing it was him until he got to my window. I remember the laughs we all shared and the love and support I felt from him coming to see me,” said Sarenity.

Both described Kenneth Marlin as a good man. One who always was there when you needed him, gave advice to help through the tough times, and always there to depend on. “He was a very good hard-working man. He taught us that family is the most important thing, not money or possessions,” said Cindy. “He was the description of a good southern man that never met a stranger and would take in those around him that needed more love and laughter in their lives as family,” said Sarenity. “When I was younger, he had gifted me a necklace that means the world to me then and now with a little inscription, “Wherever you go you will always be my granddaughter”. I cherish that necklace and the meaning behind it… No matter what I do in life or where I go, I will always have his love and support there for me. It has opened a lot of doors for me by realizing that I can do anything in life. It’s a message that I hope to pass down through the generations.”

Now that he’s gone, they’ve turned to each other and friends for support. Cindy said that the hardest part was not being able to be there with him when he passed away. She couldn’t be there with him in his last moments. “It’s been hard coping with his loss, but his life was so full, and his spirit was so big that I can still feel his words of advice and his love guiding me through… I loved him and I still love him.” said Sarenity.

Like It Just Happened Yesterday

Story aboutLaVern Terry

The kitchen light tends to blink when we all gather for the holidays. I’m not one for superstition, but my sister always points it out and says it’s mom just dropping by to visit and say howdy. I think it gives us comfort knowing she’s in a better place and visiting us before we take on her role of cooking the turkey with all the fixin’s. We especially miss her lumpy mashed potatoes, her broccoli casserole filled with commodity cheese, and the one dish that was mentioned the most this year, her stuffing. It wasn’t anything special and came from a Stove-Top box or whatever Save-A-Lot sold. Maybe it was the consistency, with its crusty top and soft, gooey inside or maybe it’s just memories that were decades in the making.

Since I was a kid, Mom always made two stuffings for both sides of the turkey. The stuffing on the tail end was mixed with celery and onions while around the front had none of that. The front side stuffing was mainly for eight-year-old me as I didn’t care for onions and celery. I also thought that eating stuffing out of an animal’s butt was gross. Little did I know “my stuffing” would become the running joke for the next twenty-five years as mom would tell family members about it every year like it just happened yesterday. Her other reminder was jabbing at “my stuffing” and saying “here’s my baby’s” in a low patronizing voice. Well, she’s wasn’t wrong.

As we all inevitably got older and took our shots at holiday turkeys and dishes, we always surprised Mom with our cooking and prepping approaches. One example that comes to mind is when my partner and I were at my parents cooking a turkey for Friendsgiving celebration. Now, you got to understand that my folks are more old-fashioned and until she picked up a roaster, she simply stuffed the bird, threw it in a bag, and put it in the oven. Here we were, stuffing our brined turkey with vegetables and fruits followed by a butter and herb rub. Mom was just perplexed by our approach, exclaiming, “well, that’s the first time I’ve seen that.” She also wanted to smell the herb mix we concocted and the smell liked to have knocked her backwards. Again, she wasn’t used to our fancy approach to cooking a turkey.

After we visit her at our local cemetery and check on her Christmas decorations that adorn her grave, I hope to see the kitchen lights blink to let us know she’s visiting us back. We miss her every day and especially around the holidays but we also cherish those memories and talk about them like they just happened yesterday.

There's No Crying in Baseball

Story aboutMichael Mantell (1 of 2)

It’s fitting that the story of my life with Mike began in college, in an accounting class at Pace University in 1981. By the following year we were married, and then had our first child, Brittany, in 1983. Throughout our 38 years of marriage, our life was dominated by the themes of family loyalty and dedication to education. Our beginning predicted everything that followed.

Mike worked as a CFO of the NY Transit Authority for 30 years, such an appropriate place for him as his mind was always in motion, and he insisted that our daughters follow his lead. He was an engaged parent, always encouraging his 5 daughters to work harder and never settle for mediocrity. He helped them with homework every night after returning from work, quizzed them before exams. If one of the kids got a 98 on a test, he’d ask “What happened to the other 2 points?” Our daughter Alexandria says that her sense of determination was instilled through his persistent drive.

However, Mike didn’t just push our children toward success – he was deeply proud of them, because the importance of education was part of his DNA, having grown up in a family of 6, raised by a single mother, in a household where money was tight. So, when it came time for our oldest child to apply for colleges, Mike threw himself into the task with his typical fervor. He packed up the station wagon and drove Brittany all over the East Coast, to visit colleges.

He did research, studied course catalogs, and learned the intricacies of the financial aid process. Soon, word got out to our friends about his talents as a self-taught college counselor, and everyone began asking him for advice. “What do you think about this school,” they’d say, “should we apply to that one?” He became an expert on the topic, collecting books about the admissions process and interpreting statistics for the neighborhood. He was so good at it that it could have been a second career, and when all our daughters were done with their educations, he helped people at work fill out their children’s FAFSA forms.

And as if all this generosity were not enough, Mike was also a lifelong athlete who coached girls softball and basketball and organized swim meets in our hometown at the River Edge Swim Club. When our daughter Mary Michael was attending Fordham, she was on the rugby team and her dad loved attending every game to cheer on the team. If there was no one able to take the team to the meet, Mike and another parent drove everyone out to make the games on Long Island.

There's No Crying in Baseball

Story aboutMichael Mantell (2 of 2)

Our lives were full – Brittany, Katarina, Alexandria, Mary Michael, and Jennie – schools, homework, family vacations to Niagara Falls and Florida. Together, we managed to do it all. And if the girls complained or whined, Mike would repeat his favorite line from “A League of Their Own”: “Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!”

But our lives changed 18 years ago, when Mike was diagnosed with leukemia, proving the strength of his positive nature. He never turned negative, despite years of chemo and all that the disease entails. He was fortunate to be able to receive a bone marrow transplant from a relative, but he recognized how many are not as lucky as he was to receive the procedure, particularly members of black and Hispanic communities. So, he designed a database for the Transit Authority to organize for bone marrow matches. And if someone was also diagnosed, he became their advocate and mentor.

We were and are beach people; it’s part of our souls. We have a house at the shore in Spring Lake, NJ and I went there sometimes after he died, to listen to the ocean and try to somehow find peace. I will never forget our treasured times there with our kids on summer days, playing in the surf. The spirit of those playful summers persisted and one Christmas years ago Mike gave each of our girls Buzz Lightyear figures though they were long past childhood. The girls were mystified at first about the meaning behind the gift but they came to see how the gesture of Buzz pointing upward was symbolic of their dad wanting them to reach for the stars, to grab the unattainable and live meaningful lives. Because of his love and passion and unfailingly deep confidence in his daughters, they will pass that part of him on to their own children.

Mike was there for everyone throughout his whole life, but when he was sick and dying of Covid in Hackensack Hospital, he was alone. After he passed, they let me in to have an hour with him. What I was struck by as I walked through the hospital was the eerie silence. All the doors were closed. It was as if an apocalypse had occurred, the hallways as deserted as the streets outside.

Prior to when I’d arrived there, twenty minutes before Mike died, he facetimed with Mary Michael and was able to see his new granddaughter Penelope. I know that connection, however brief and tragic, exemplifies who Mike Mantell was. And I know that because of him — though she will not remember that moment — Penelope will reach for the stars too.

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