BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - I lost my mom yesterday, and I'm crying & smiling all at the same time. I'm thinking of how sad I am that I will no longer hear her wit and her passion, but I'm thinking of how blessed I am to have had her for sixty years. Diane Karle lived ninety years, and those nine decades were full of pain and joy, sorrow and laughs.
Diane Gantley of Syracuse, N.Y. was born of modest means - her father, a cranky Irishman, was not easy to live with. Her mother encouraged her but left her much too soon, suffering a heart attack. My mom was 21 years old and was married just months before in the year of 1949.
Dick and Diane Karle were an item in high school, and when dad went off to serve in the Navy, mom welcomed her first child into the world. After Debbie came Kathy, Rick, Betsy, and Paul. While dad's career rose in the grocery business, my mom became a registered nurse. My dad always told us that he took a turn for the nurse (corny but funny). My parents were married 64 years before my dad died in 2013, and now, after five years of missing her husband, mom and dad are getting reunited.
When I think about mom, my mind fills with joy and I smile, as she was such a character. Think of Bea Arthur in "Golden Girls" with a bit more heart, and there you have Diane. And oh, what a supportive mom she was:
Like the time she chased me around the dinner table when I was in 4th grade after I misbehaved. Desperately trying to make any kind of statement that she was upset, she attempted a swift kick- she missed, connected with the table leg and broke her toe. Yet she laughed about that for years.
Like the time as a high school sophomore, I decided to break out in a Led Zeppelin-like drum solo in the middle of a black-tie ballroom concert, getting confused when my band director pointed at me. As I cried on the way home from embarrassment, mom simply said, "I thought you sounded great, Ricky - you really showed them how talented you are!"
Like the time I went parking with Darlene in high school, found the car stuck in a snow bank, and soon watched as a tow truck yanked off the back end of my mom's Pontiac. Mom went easy on me as the Darlene relationship was pretty much over.
Like when I returned from dates during the summer while in college, putting the car in neutral, turning the headlights off and cruising into the garage so as not to be heard arriving home at 1 a.m. As I would tip-toe past her room toward mine, her voice could always be heard saying, "Welcome home, Rick.. good night."
Like in 1987 when I contracted cancer, mom flying down to Jacksonville, Fla from western New York to surprise me. She stayed for weeks, sleeping in the hospital room.
Like the times she spent sitting in the bleachers watching me play high school soccer, never complaining about the pouring rain, all the while likely bored to tears and wondering why these kids couldn't use their hands.
And like the time in 1976 when she allowed her high school senior to join a rock band with a bunch of Dartmouth College seniors. I asked her why she let me play at frat houses and bars. "Because I trust you," she said.
Along with support came the lessons she taught, and they all came our way with humor, delivered at just the right time. Here are ten of mom's favorite sayings and favorite advice:
"Make the right decisions - If one of your friends jumps off a cliff, are you going to follow him?"
"Everything in moderation."
"Pull up your big boy pants and deal with it."
"Chores before fun!"
"Who are we to judge?"
"I don't mean to be unkind, but…"
"You know how difficult it is to give birth, Rick? Try squeezing a bowling ball out of your nostril."
"Whatever Daddy thinks."
"Do I look as bad as these old bags in this assisted living place?"
"Do you know how many things that vinegar can cure?"
A big fan of her kids, mom encouraged all us. One funny story comes to mind: A number of years ago, mom was attending a fancy party in Lady Lake, Florida, as a handsome older man played a baby grand piano. During a break, mom and the man started talking about their kids. Mom told the man that she had a famous son who is a TV sportscaster in Birmingham- she really laid it on thick. My mom then asked the man, "Do you have children and what do they do?" The man replied, "Yes, Diane, I have a son and he plays in a rock band. You may have heard of him. His name is Steven Tyler and the group is called 'Aerosmith'." Without hesitation, mom responded, "My son Rick plays the drums and he was in a band called 'Breakfast Of Champions'." The next day mom called me to ask if I have ever heard of a band called Aerostar. Because of how much she loved me, mom never once figured out that comparing the musical talents of Steven Tyler and Rick Karle was not quite fair.
Mom died in her sleep on Thursday afternoon after fighting a number of issues. Yet even last week while being driven by ambulance back to her assisted living facility where the Hospice people would make her comfortable, mom, only days from passing, had to entertain the young medic inside the ambulance. As I held her hand during the ride, mom opened her eyes, looked at the young medic and blurted out, "Son, did you know that Rick is on TV?"
Diane Karle has always thought of her kids as the stars of the house. But my parents were what drove us and entertained us. For decades, my dad would crack the same joke as we gathered for family dinners. In the middle of dinner, dad would look up and say, "Rick, I'd like another roll- will you please pass me the dice?" Mom, hearing the joke for 1272nd time, would grin while seeing her children share laughs and fellowship.
I miss my mom, but I'm so happy that she is now experiencing the ride of her life, meeting the Lord and greeting my dad. She had a wonderful run as her family enjoyed love and laughs. I couldn't have asked for a better mother, and I can confidently say that heaven couldn't ask for a more entertaining new tenant.