Tag Archives: grandpa

The Parting Glass: R.E.K.

It’s no secret that my grandpa was one of the most important people in my life, and laying him to rest today was emotional. I had the honor of writing his biography for the funeral program, and giving the short eulogy during Mass. The ceremony was beautiful and, just as the bagpipes began to play after the recession, it started to rain and thunder. The sun came out again as we all surrounded his grave and the honor guard played Taps. He had 94 and a half great years and died last week knowing the Cubs won the World Series, surrounded by family. We sent him off with a graveside toast of whiskey, naturally. We played “The Parting Glass,” had a good cry and poured one out.

Robert Emmett Kelley was born May 3, 1922, and raised in a two-flat on Chicago’s West Side by Eileen and Daniel. Bob grew up with his brother, Fran, during a time when if you had enough, you were rich and you fed those who didn’t on your door stoop. The “waste not, want not” ethos of the Great Depression inspired a lifetime of frugality and generosity. He was the kind of guy who gave the shirt off his back and never let a rebate opportunity go unfulfilled.

Bob’s first job, as a youngster earning 10 cents for helping the milkman fulfill his route, provided him with a lifetime of stories about the milk horse Boots and a work ethic that would see him through 40 years in the education field. Bob was revered as a counselor at Kennedy High School and beloved by his staff at the Board of Education, not just for the Irish coffee he was known to serve on St. Patrick’s Day.

Known as “Abbey” among his friends at St. Mel’s high school and by his baseball teammates on the Redwings, Bob had a good-natured charisma and gift of gab that drew people to him – and earned him flight upgrades on occasion. The most notable of his admirers was Kathleen “Kay” Foley, whom he married in March of 1946.


They met at the Chicago Teacher’s College and like many in their generation, were kept apart by the Second World War. From 1942-46, Bob served as Recognition officer in the United States Navy. He fought in the Pacific theater, notably in the Battle of Okinawa. More than once, his quick wit and good instincts served him well there and throughout his life.

Bob and Kay built a life together in Westchester, Illinois, where they joined Divine Infant Parish. They brought up their five children: Bob, Carol Ann, Kathy, Mary Lee and Dan, in a too-small house where – as the kids tell it – a single steak fed seven. As a young family, they spent summer vacations at the lake in Northern Wisconsin and loved to visit and play Bridge with friends.

The Kelleys moved to LaGrange, where Bob would love to read on the porch, while simultaneously watching the Cubs game and listening to classical music. Soon, that house filled with ten grandchildren and eventually five great-grandchildren who would sit at his lap to hear stories, enjoy a meal and maybe a game of Scrabble or Boggle. All can trace their love of language back to years of hearing Sloppy Joes referred to as “Untidy Josephs” and trying to maximize the triple word score.

But those are just the biographical details of a man who was rare even among “The Greatest Generation.” To feel the warmth of his love – in the form of a newspaper clipping and a $2 bill to let you know he was thinking about you, or a home cooked dinner with cookies for the road – leaves us with so many warm and happy memories.


I still can’t believe he’s gone. But in a lot of ways, he never will be. Listen to his StoryCorps, watch us make Irish Soda Bread and his family-famous Beef Stew.

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My mom did a brave thing last month. After decades as a dedicated dental hygienist, she finally left a practice where she felt under-valued. She walked out the door without any acknowledgement and closed a chapter that — despite its struggles, also defined her as a professional. Her patients loved her, although I have no idea how they forged such strong bonds when her hands were in their mouths the majority of a visit.

I can’t say my mom’s retired, because she’s still working a few hours a week at another practice and dedicating full-time hours to be there for my grandpa, who just turned 94 and needs help staying in his own home. But she definitely took a leap.

My mom and I joke a bit about our daily parallels — getting up in the night to tend to someone else’s needs, or how the surprise appearance of bodily fluids can derail a day. The physical nature of caretaking the very young or elderly. On this mother’s day, I want to send her — and all of those who are reprising the role of mother for their own parent, a special thanks.

What you are doing takes courage, grace, a sense of humor and compassion.

This woman who is child, mother, grandmother – selfless, selfless, selfless.



Interesting Smithsonian article – “New Evidence that Grandmothers were Crucial for Evolution.” 



Filed under Life lessons

A Storycorps interview about my grandpa’s WWII Service

This summer, at our family reunion, I recorded an interview with my grandpa about his service in WWII. I had some trouble uploading it to the StoryCorps app initially, but in honor of Veteran’s Day, I thought I would try again this morning, and it worked!

The interview is about 23 minutes long, and I’m grateful to have been able to record and share it. It’s interesting to hear the turn of events that dictated my grandpa’s time in the service. He served in the Pacific, and some of his extra training beforehand probably kept him safe — which resulted in my own life more than 40 years later!

Listen here. 


Thank you, grandpa – and all veterans – for your service!

P.S. This is my post about my first StoryCorps interview with my grandpa. He really wanted to talk about his war experience!

Perhaps at a family Thanksgiving, you can collect stories of your own!

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NPR in everyday life

Iowa Public Radio is the first preset in my car (don’t worry, I’m a sustaining member!) and so shows like All Things Considered and segments like StoryCorps are part of my everyday life.

I went a step further this week: In pursuit of headway on my 30 before 30 list (less than a month to go! totally not going to cross off the majority!), I convinced my dear friend Arin to stay up late after our kiddos had gone to bed and bake a multi-layer cake. I’m not a confident baker, but I do love All Cakes Considered, by NPR producer Melissa Gray. We set out to make Aunt Di’s Bittersweet Chocolate Frosted Layer Cake.


Once upon a time, in the beginning of my Des Moines life, Arin and Karen (co-owner of the stationery store Ephemera) were the cake queens. They used to bake a weekly cake from scratch and a big group of us used to come over to eat it. Those are some of my favorite memories.

So Monday night, I poured some fake, pregnant lady wine and unpacked armloads of supplies in Arin’s kitchen.  Her children slept through the sounds of our giggling and the amazing aroma. It was lovely. The cake, well, let’s just say it wasn’t going to win any beauty contests. (We frosted it while it was still hot.) But with two cups of freshly whipped cream (a delightful chore on a mint KitchenAid Mixer) in the batter and the frosting calling for enough confectioner’s sugar to swim in, it tasted delish. My coworkers graciously overlooked its ugliness and helped devour it at our Tuesday staff meeting.


Nailed it. Maybe I should set my sights on the Iowa State Fair ugliest cake contest. I really can’t take myself too seriously.

And over the weekend, when I was home for a wedding, I downloaded the StoryCorps app to my phone.



I love doing videos and interviews with my grandpa (he just turned 93 last week!) and this is a really great format. We talked about his mom, or at least tried to, in honor of Mother’s Day. The app gives you question prompts and it’s easy to upload the finished interview. Plus, any reason to get these two hangout time:


We have a family reunion in June and I hope to record a longer StoryCorps about his experience in the Navy during WWII. It takes him a bit to get warmed up, but once he gets going, the stories start to flow. I think it would be fun for us to interview aunts and uncles, too! We don’t get together as much as I would like.


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Grandpa’s Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I celebrated a bit early because Emmett and I were lucky enough to go to Chicago this past week and revel in our Irish heritage. It was great to spend time at home and with my grandpa, who is recovering from pneumonia. Luckily, he was well enough to bake his famous Irish Soda Bread with me and ham it up for the camera.


He starred in our second cooking video as a duo, walking me (and Emmett) through his Irish Soda Bread recipe. Making the video together is a memory (and taste) I’ll treasure forever. 

I’m so excited to share the recipe – which is written in my grandpa’s handwriting and was part of a book my family put together for me for my wedding.


Soda Bread 1

Soda Bread 2

We had the fam over to my mom’s for corned beef and cabbage (which I cooked using this recipe), lots of dessert and all-you-can-eat soda bread (of course). I got to meet my cousin’s new baby, Caitlin, and my childhood friend’s new baby, Hazel, too! The tiny babies made Emmett seem like a giganotosaurus. I can’t believe his 9-month checkup is tomorrow.


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WWII wedding

I know you all love my Grandpa stories, and since it was just Veterans Day, I thought it would be sweet to post this.

R.E. Kelley — I’ll need to add my grandma’s photo from their wedding day to this post, too!

My mom found a newspaper clipping from a letter my grandpa wrote into the Santa Barbara newspaper (I think) about 10 years ago and typed it out because she thought it might be fun to share:

Our wedding day, March 2, 1946 was a day never to be forgotten. After receiving a telegram from the Navy ordering me back to the ship in two days instead of 10, I spent most of the evening at the reception trying to determine if these orders were official or my friend’s idea of a prank.
They were official. Alternate honeymoon plans were made. A luxury hotel on Chicago’s lakefront had a suite available (at $11.50 / night) However, what awaited us that evening was not the honeymoon suite, but a smoke-filled conference room with 100 chairs stacked against the wall. Room service was kind enough to deliver a bed and chest.
Wedding plans made hastily in three weeks are fuel for fond memories. At the rehearsal, the priest asked my bride-to-be and me separately who was going  to be the best man. I told him one name, she another, when in fact, a third person actually did the honors. We signed our marriage license not realizing it was dated incorrectly.
Regardless of this confusion, the wedding and marriage was a success as five children and 10 grandchildren will attest. My wife passed away 10 months prior to our 50th wedding anniversary, but she will always be with us.

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Balloons for the birthday boy

My dear grandpa turned the big 9-0 last week, and we decided to throw him a card shower instead of having a big party. Grandpa got more than 100 cards (my best friend even had her second class make them!) to help him celebrate:

I wanted to do something a little special, since I wouldn’t be there to share the day with him. I decided on a variation of this birthday balloon idea I saw on Pinterest. Instead of filling the balloons with money, I wrote reasons I love my grandpa (silly and serious) on slips of patterned paper.

I rolled them up, stuffed them in the balloons and blew them up. Then I made this card to go in the box. Clearly, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to incorporate a pun:

with a pin taped to the inside for ease of popping, of course!

Soon, everything was ready to be shipped off.

Shipping a box full of balloons is pretty inexpensive, because they weigh next to nothing. Unless, like me, you need to overnight it to make sure it gets there on time! (We embrace the Last Minute Rush — aka L.M.R. — in our family.) Totally worth it. They arrived in time and grandpa got to pop them (with the characteristic sticking-out-his-tongue move he does when he’s concentrating on something.)

Ours were just from people we know, but I love that there are often “card shower” opportunities on the Milestones page of The Des Moines Register. It always struck me as odd and awfully trusting of Iowans to print addresses in the paper with an open invite to send cards. I sometimes write to strangers celebrating 80th birthdays and whatnot! Anyone else familiar with this phenomenon? Do you send cards to people you don’t know?

Here’s a roundup of a few other balloon birthday ideas — although did you know there is currently a nationwide helium shortage? Crazy!

Floating photos via Lovely Green Lifestyle

Ombre balloons via Little Green Notebooks

Giant Balloon Awesomeness via Oh, Joy!


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