Early last Saturday morning, my grandmother passed away. She'd been admitted two weeks earlier for a fairly minor illness that had been the only real hiccup in a long spell of fairly good health. At the time, I didn't know that she'd already spoken her last words to me. I left the hospital at about one in the morning. Heidi and I had been there since mid-afternoon, and we'd gone to dinner with my Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Mike. My mom took the night shift, and I'd gone back up to keep her company. A few hours later I got the text.
I'd seen this woman toss hay bales down from creaky barn lofts and wrangle young steers into the bed of her pickup. She'd gardened and danced until she was 83 or 84. And when I saw her in that hospital bed, frail and gasping, I felt as if I'd lost something substantial, and I realized that being an adult meant having a painful awareness of every single event that got you there.
As a writer, I often get approached by people at signings or workshops who tell me their grandmother--or aunt, or brother--has the most amazing life story, and that I should write it. That it would be a bestseller, like ANGELA'S AHSES. And I never tell them that a lot of people think the exact same thing, and that in the end, the story is probably only meaningful to the people who knew their loved one. Instead, I suggest that they are the best person to write that story, that they be the one to sort through the personal anecdotes and details that made that person special, and organize them into a narrative that they'd like to share with family members. I stand by that always--writing the story is for you. Children and siblings and friends and cousins should never feel that if somebody else has done it, they shouldn't attempt to write their own version. Do it selfishly and generously, filled with joy and sadness, because in the end, you are the one who grows from the experience of shaping a penultimate version of a loved one.
And until I did it myself--until I stopped and considered how I'd describe my grandma in three-hundred words or less--I never realized that until I put it on paper, I'd never really known her. How she was a single-mom before that was even a thing. How she went toe-to-toe with the kind of men who'd wring the last penny from a less savvy woman. How she hid a lot of hardship from a lot of people who were close to her, to save them from having to worry themselves. When my aunt asked me to write down a few ideas for the obituary, I didn't know my perceptions of her would change so completely, or that I'd only finally realize what I'd lost. What follows is the version that ran in the Herald last Monday, which is slightly different than my original version.
Catherine Adams, 91, of Smithfield, passed peacefully on the morning of Saturday, August 8, 2015, reluctantly leaving the family she so loved.
Catherine measured her life not in years, but in an abundance of experiences many would’ve thought unimaginable for the daughter of Croatian immigrants, born and raised on a small farm with a sister and five brothers in Little Summit, just outside of Connellsville.
The Muchnoks maintained a strong Croatian identity through the food they ate, the music of the Tamburitza, and their faith.
But knowing that opportunities for strong, smart women were rare, Catherine joined the thousands of girls who answered Franklin Roosevelt’s request for all citizens to serve in the war effort, and found employment withthe Social Security Administration in Baltimore.
Catherine sent money home--minus what she needed for odds and ends--and received little reminders from the farm in the packages her mother sent.
And when the war ended, she married a returning soldier, Francis Adams, and started a family of her own. As a wife, she tended to the home and family, which had grown to seven children, while her husband worked as a local coal operator. After becoming a widow all too early, she was left to raise the family on her own, a role she lovingly embraced.
As a mother, she encouraged her children to explore athletics, music and dance, and academics as a way to seize the opportunities that she couldn’t, and was rewarded by seeing her family's values of hard work, unwavering tenacity, and maternal love reflected in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She did all of this while maintaining a and other commercial properties, leveraging her resources as a way to provide the stability and comfort she desired for her children.
Her legacy continues in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who she taught to eat well and to cook more than needed, to never stop dancing, that a little whiskey is good for a cold, and that a little wine every now is more medicinal than recreational, that travel completes a person, that a mother’s love is always unconditional, even in hard times, and that there is no such thing as ‘hard times’ when you are surrounded by people that you love, as Catherine was during her final bout with the unexpected illness.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Charles and Anna (Bukovac) Muchnok; her beloved husband, Francis Adams; her son, Phillip Adams; and her brother, John Muchnok. She is survived by her loving son, Francis Adams Jr., of Connellsville; and loving daughters, Sandra Miller, of Uniontown, Marilyn Moncheck and husband, Leonard, of Uniontown, Cheryl Rega and husband, Mike, of Mt. Pleasant, Joanne DiCristofaro and husband, Dean, of Latrobe, and Lisa Gibson and husband, Paul, of Georgia; ; loving grandchildren, Jason Miller and wife, Heidi, Michael Miller and wife, Crystal, Ryan Moncheck and wife, Maria, Staci Moncheck Hiles, Skyler Moncheck and fiancee, Melani, Alysa DiCristofaro, Michael Rega Jr. and fiancee, Samantha, Lindsay Rega and fiance, William, Jessica Gibson and Benjamin Gibson; loving great-grandchildren, Caileigh and Macy Hiles, Levi, Evan and Vince Moncheck and Zayne Moncheck; brothers and sisters, Mike Muchnok, Helen Puzak, Charles Muchnok and wife, Barbara, Daniel Muchnok and wife, Nary Gladys, and Joe Mucheck and wife, Kathleen. As an animal lover, she also leaves behind her loyal beagle, Scout, and feisty feline, Snookie.
Life has been way too quiet for Tor Maddox since her fifteen minutes of
CNN fame. Then agent-in-training Rick Turner reappears with what sounds
like a simple assignment—to embed herself as his eyes and ears in her
own high school. When she agrees to keep tabs on high school state swim
champ Hamilton Parker for the Feds, she is plunged into the deep end of a
sinister plot. Knowing that freedom, justice, and lives are at stake
again, Tor jumps in feet first, but has she gotten in over her head this
When observe and report becomes kiss and tell, Tor’s first mission may blow up in her face.
has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more
than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and
several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary
Kisses, Strange Worlds, Flights of Fiction and Winter's Regret.
In 2013, psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 was released by
HarperCollins in the US and UK. Foreign translations have been published
in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian,
Czech, Slovakian, and Chinese (simplified and traditional).
Her independent publications include alternate history/time
travel/romance Out of Xibalba and teen thrillers in the new Tor Maddox
Liz lives in Ohio, where she is surrounded by a fantastic community of
writers, beaten regularly by better tennis players, uplifted by her
choir, supported by her husband, teased by her teenaged daughter,
cheered from afar by her two older sons, and adorned with hair by her
cats Tiger, Pippin, and Merry.
“I know that one day, I’m going to have to live in the real world. I’d like it to be a decent one.” - Tor
Book I Tor Maddox: Unleashed
When sixteen-year old Torrance Olivia Maddox, self-confessed news junkie, figures out that the mysterious and deadly New Flu is being spread by dogs, she has one question—if the danger is that obvious to her, why hasn’t the government revealed the truth and taken action?
Her search for the answer will take her farther than she ever imagined. But then again, she never imagined that man’s best friend could become public enemy number one, that men in black might show up in her cozy suburban neighborhood, that she’d spend her sixteenth birthday as a teenaged runaway, and that her effort to save one dog would become a mission to save them all.
Liz Coley’s internationally best-selling psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 has been published in 12 languages on 5 continents and been recognized by the American Library Association on two select lists for 2014 including Best Fiction for Young Adults.
Liz’s other publications include alternate history/time travel/romance Out of Xibalba and teen thrillers in the new Tor Maddox series. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and numerous anthologies.
Liz invites you to follow her as LizColeyBooks on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and visit her website at LizColeyBooks.blogspot.com.