I'm an orphan. At least I had the privilege of not be parentless for almost 55 years, but not having Mom or Dad around still really hurts. My mother passed away this past week at the age of 92, but did have a long, mostly healthy, life.
A little bit about Mom; Carol Small was born April 13, 1926 to Alan and Gertrude Small in New York City. Three and a half years later, she would get her only sibling when brother Martin Small was born October 9, 1929. Neither child was given a middle name, and were told they could pick their own if they wanted someday. Little Marty never would choose one, and never seemed to need it. Mom chose Ann, just saying that she liked it, and liked how it sounded with her first name.
Mom also loved the movies. After her parents moved the family to Los Angeles when she was nine years old, she and Marty, when they were old enough, could go to a double feature for only a dime, often walking to the theaters in the Exposition Park area. One of her early favorite movie stars was Carole Lombard—probably because not only was she glamorous, but they shared the same first name. Carol Small liked Carole Lombard so much, that she added the 'e' to the end of her first name, and spelled it that way from that day forward.
Sometime soon after graduating from Dorsey High School in 1944 (I think I got that right), she went to nurse's training. Everyone was somehow involved during World War II, and mom was no different. She never did become a nurse, but would work in the medical field years later at Lancaster Community Hospital's clinical laboratory. Before that, though, she worked at the Veteran's Administration, and at the Federal Aviation Administration in their Public Relations Department.
She was married very briefly sometime around 1960, but then met a former Marine Corps pilot turned air traffic controller. Carole married Francis Leo Flynn (who went by Frank) March 28, 1962. They would only have one child, and the brat who is writing this column, Geoffrey Adam Flynn, was born February 2, 1964.
Carole was a city girl through and through, and never liked the idea of living anywhere else. Eight months pregnant, Carole and Frank moved to Palmdale, where the FAA was opening its new Air Route Traffic Control Center. Other controllers who worked at “The Center” continued to live in Los Angeles, but Frank didn't want to make the drive every day. He promised her, though, that they would continue to go “down below” to shop, and kept that promise, especially to San Fernando Valley department stores.
The street where they purchased their house in late 1963, also included a bunch of other 'FAA-ers' and their wives, so Mom was not alone. A neighbor once counted that in about a dozen homes that made up the top half of Desert View Drive, there were well over 20 kids—many close in age. Being one of those kids, I can tell you it was a great street to live on, but long before the days of internet and cell phones, parents still knew where you were. If mom or dad didn't reach you at one house, that parent still likely knew where you were, and a second call was all that was needed. Some dads on the street even could just whistle loudly, and if their child didn't appear almost instantaneously, punishment would be the result.
The street and environment made Palmdale livable for Carole, and eventually, even enjoyable, which is hard to believe for someone who had such a phobia for snakes. Not only could mom not even look at one, live or on screen, but the word was completely omitted from her vocabulary. Growing up, if someone saw a good movie, mom would ask if there were any “you know whats” in it. If the answer was yes, then her answer was no, and she'd never see the movie. If she was watching a movie, and a “you know what” appeared, it was followed by a shriek and a quick head-turn.
The “you know what” thing was not something that Dad nor I messed with. Dad loved teasing and playing pranks, but this was serious. There were a couple of times, living in Palmdale, when Dad had to yell to Mom, “Don't come out here!” Mom knew what that meant.
We lost Dad in 1981, one month after his 50th birthday, and about two months after air traffic controllers went on strike. Dad was management by this time, and had to work extra shifts. He also did everything he could to bring the controllers back, which included neighbors and friends. The strike killed my dad. It added extra stress. He dropped dead of a heart attack.
With Dad gone, Mom had to deal with a 17 year-old, that not only knew everything (teenagers know it all right around then), but also had no disciplinary powers against her son whatsoever. Geoff figured that out early in life, but Dad was there to interfere. The next few years were tough for Carole, but she was still known as the very kind and sweet person she always was—even her son's friends would often take her side when they heard the two argue.
Sending the kid to college 500 miles away was about the best thing that happened for that relationship. Geoff went to Chico State, and, when he checked in every week or so, there wasn't a lot to fight about on the phone, and more for both to appreciate when they were together. It wasn't a perfect relationship, but it was better.
Carole continued to work at Lancaster Community, but decided in 1995 to retire after working there for 22 years. Geoff worried that mom wouldn't do anything, and for the most part he was right. There were no cruises, trips to Europe, or 'old folk' stuff. Mom just liked to stay home.She kept in touch with people she worked with, but also had friends come to her. Carole was the type that could meet someone in a train station, and either invite them to lunch, or get invited (that actually happened, and more than once).
People who actually worked for her became her best friends (as someone who hated to be told what to do by Mom, that was something I could never figure out). Carole's landscaper Janina became a shopping and lunch buddy. Marco and Maria, who clean for her, were also guests at her 90th birthday bash, and would do more for her than just clean the house. And then there's Ana, the caregiver that Carole had to have after rolling out of bed in 2014, and the convalescent facility wouldn't let her live alone unless someone was there to look after her. Carole lived to be 92, but that couldn't have happened without Ana.
Then, for Carole, there was family. She only had one son who hasn't married and doesn't have kids of his own, so for family focus, it was her three nieces and nephew. Mom doted on Gayle, Korey, Andy, and Diane while they were growing up anyway, and with their now-combined nine children and four stepchildren, Mom got to treat them like she was a grandma. Mom didn't go completely overboard with that, but there were birthday cards and money on the holidays.
The holidays were the greatest example. Mom decided she was too ill, and her legs were bothering her too much, to attend a family event in early November, but she was determined to make it to Thanksgiving, which she did. When I was home for a week for Christmas, the only visitors we got were from three generations of the Keigwin family that Mom had known for all of the kids and grandkids lives. Mom barely moved for four of the five days I was here, but 20 minutes before they were scheduled to arrive, she decided to get up and get dressed. It was an extreme effort, but one she accomplished, almost all on her own (I helped her finish getting dressed).
Just over a week later, being in her own home where she wanted to be, Mom couldn't do it herself anymore. She fell, or dropped, but while it wasn't a hard fall, it was awhile before she was found. After a short hospital stay, and her son now there by her side, Carole decided that was it. She lived 92 years and got to do it her way. Her brother and father were both the same—staying in their own homes until the end, and living a long time (87 and 91 years) and the lifestyle they wanted.
If you were asked to describe Carole in one word, most people would probably say “sweet”. Sometimes, “sweet” meant talking to her son like a three-year old, and let's face it, that seems to part of the territory that comes with being an only child. It could be irritating at times to have a parent that did that, but it was still meant having a parent. I'm now an orphan, but I wasn't for just shy of 55 years. Mom liked saying and signing her cards, “Love you oodles and oodles.” Right back at you, Mom, and I'll miss you oodles and oodles too.
The Desert View Drive neighborhood mentioned above also had another loss. Bruce Hickert, another one of those 'FAA-ers', passed away the same day as Mom, January 9, at the age of 85. The Flynns and Hickerts lived directly across the street for 55 years. Mom's service is Wednesday, Mr. Hickert's will be on Sunday January 20.
Also, after writing this blog every Monday for eight years, this is likely the last regular entry. It started as a New Year's resolution in 2011, and an excuse for content on this website. It was an enjoyable experience, but sometimes the same stories keep repeating themselves. I was thinking about not continuing into 2019, but this seems like a fitting end. Thanks so much for reading, and maybe in the next seven days, I'll decide to keep going. This isn't a final decision, but 420 consecutive Mondays is a long time.
Mom was never a nurse, but did go through nurse's training after high school. This picture
is a family favorite, taken sometime just after or right before the end of World War II
Mommy with Daddy and baby Geoffy. You gotta love Mom's poofy 'Marge Simpson' hair!
Dad and I look like we're watching a ball game, but Mom knows where the camera is.
Mom (right) with "Cousin Rose". I chose this picture of her looking elegant because it's
one of the few I have from the 80s, and looks here the way I most remember her.
Mom at her most adventurous. Her brother (left) went skydiving, so she wanted a hot air
balloon ride for her 85th. I'm behind Mom, with my cousin Korey, and pilot Don.
Mom blowing out the candles for her 90th birthday. We had a nice party for her with family
and friends. Her health wasn't great, but got a little better, and we had her for two more years.
Thanksgiving 2016 with her brother in the hospital, Mom and oldest niece Gayle reading a
children's book that Gayle illustrated. Both seem proud and should be. Mom loved all of us.