Tag Archives: finishing well

Keeper of History

finishing_well_in_life_evelyn
Evelyn Elsbury

Not much happens in my friend Evelyn Elsbury’s world that she doesn’t note, jot, type and photograph. Her closets shelves display binder after binder chalked-full of photographs, letters, cards, clippings, and love. She has worked tirelessly to make sure she has collected and cataloged not only her life and history but has also created individualized binders for all her family members – including great grandchildren.

Born in Cook, Nebraska, on June 22, 1913, when Woodrow Wilson was President, Evelyn was the oldest of six children, three girls, and three boys. For the first 100 years of her life, she believed that her birthday was June 23, but one day while filling a prescription, it came to light that it might actually be June 22. After sending off for a certified copy of her birth certificate, she was surprised to learn that she was indeed born on June 22, 1913. It may be hard to imagine how it didn’t come up earlier, but it seems that there just wasn’t a lot of need to produce birth certificates during the previous century. Her Mother broke her leg just prior to giving birth to Evelyn, so the record-keeping may have had occasion to slip.

Her formative years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska, but in 1927, her Father packed up the whole family and headed to California. The journey would take them almost three months as roads were rough and they experienced many breakdowns and flat tires.  The California destination was triggered by her mother’s asthma and the doctor had suggested they try living in a dryer climate.

Her father saw an advertisement that said, “Come to Rio Linda, raise chickens and get rich!”  So they tried to make a go of it, but the ground was too hard to grow anything.  Her Father had driven a street car in Nebraska, and in California became a streetcar driver for PG&E.

Her mother passed away when Evelyn was 22 leaving several young children to care for. Even though she had already met the man she was going to marry, Evelyn spent the next four years caring for her younger siblings. With so many mouths to feed, Evelyn did what she could to supplement the family’s income with a variety of jobs including babysitting and ironing. Her mother had been a housekeeper for a local doctor, and after the death of her mother, she took over that responsibility as well.

She married Bill Ensbury, the love of her life on Oct. 15, 1939, and was married 52 years until Bill passed away in 1991. They had one son, Richard who lives in Northern California.

Bill was a forest ranger. They lived in Sterling City while young Richard was in elementary school, but when he graduated the 8th grade, they moved to Chico.  Evelyn was a housewife when they lived in Sterling City, but after they moved to Chico, she went to work capping toothpaste tubes to earn enough money to buy a Television Set. She also worked at Grants Department Store. After Chico, they moved north to Yreka, where she worked for the Welfare Department.

Evelyn has always been involved in church. While in Sterling City, they became acquainted with a pastor and his wife Bernard and Doris Johnson who were planning to go to Brazil as missionaries. Evelyn spent the next several decades creating hundreds of beautiful placemats out of recycled Christmas cards each year to send to the Johnson’s to brighten up their holidays.

Evelyn has shown that same industrious spirit in everything she turns her attention to. The history she has kept and preserved will continue to bless family and friends for countless generations to come.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

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Finishing well – but way too soon

Andy Jon

My brother Andy was born early – he was due in November, but was born October 26, 1965. We had just moved to Red Bluff and Mama always said that it was all the packing and unpacking that brought on those early labor pains. Andy was the youngest of four children and also the smallest child they had.

Even though he was little, he was quick and very curious about everything. Somehow when he was really little, he heard there was candy available at a new store (Shortstop) that had been built up the street and around the corner. He snuck out of the house and attempted to get to the store but was hit by a car. Thankfully, Joe Parker, a Highway Patrolman on his way home was right behind the car that hit Andy. Joe saved Andy’s life, got him breathing again and called for an ambulance. He was rushed up to Mercy Hospital where our Mama had worked prior to our move to Red Bluff. It took some time, but he gradually improved and eventually was released.

Even though Andy recovered from the accident, it marked him in such a way as to be his definition of who he was. (If he couldn’t do something, it was because of ‘The Accident’). That, however, was never able to dampen his curious and impulsive spirit which remained with him throughout his life – as well as his ability to do large math calculations in his head and retain an enormous amount of baseball stats – he loved stats.

Our family did quite a bit of traveling – which included camping. Somehow due to his curious nature, Andy usually managed to sneak off and get lost on a regular basis. These incidents were the origin of one of my earliest beliefs as a child – it was: “The way you know that you really love someone is that you miss them terribly when they are gone.”

His childhood years were typical, although as a sister, I thought that he was a bit spoiled. Andy was only eight years old when Wayne and I got married. We moved away and began living a new life separate from the day-to-day of the family life in Red Bluff. Life went on; Andy grew up, married, had a family and moved away as well.

Our lives moved on and for a time we were connected by family but separated by distance and differences. We reconnected again when difficult circumstances and aging parents required more of our time.

When Andy returned to Red Bluff he was not at a good place in his head. He was angry with God as well as everyone else around. He felt as if he was a victim and the world owed him a great debt.

Wayne and I reconnected with him and began the process of loving, mentoring, and supporting him through the most difficult times of re-adjustment. In some ways, it was easy… Andy was fun to hang out with; he simply had issues. Wayne and Andy became best buds – they hung out all the time – going to movies, working on projects and discussing life issues. My job was usually to try to improve his housework habits.

Through our time together, Andy’s world steadily improved. Although Andy made progress on several fronts, ultimately, his turning point came after he finally embraced the truth that God was not his enemy. In fact, once he began to realize how much God loved him, his faith grew stronger. Andy became a better decision-maker in his daily life; he also became more social with a broader circle of people. His housing conditions became more stable as well.

Andy left this life the same as he entered it – too soon. My childhood belief still holds true:The way you know that you really love someone is that you miss them terribly when they are gone.”

Though my heart is broken, the Lord gave me Isaiah 57:1&2 to help with the grief:

“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”

We know that Andy had many struggles in life but over the past several years he experienced many victories and was in a good place – he finished well.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Change happens.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, a philosopher born in 535 BC, stated: “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change –”. Heraclitus was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as stated in the famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice

Over the past few years, our family has experienced a bucket-load of change; sickness, job loss, new job, death of family member, sale of home, retirement, and move across country. I’m sure we are not alone – every family, couple and individual experiences change on a constant basis.

Change can be challenging – it is not always optional – or welcome.

Butterflies know all about change.

There are a myriad of reasons why change occurs or has to take place. Even planned changes can be a bit unsettling while trying to find your way in new circumstances. If it is at all possible, it’s best to have a proactive plan in place before change occurs.

When we moved to the east coast from the west coast, we also changed three time zones. It turned out that by driving instead of flying, our internal clocks could adjust a bit more slowly. Keeping in touch with those at home was another way to keep our bearings while finding our way-we discovered Instagram and posted photos of interesting things we saw along the way.

During any season of change, it is vitality important to try to get enough sleep each night. Sleep is not only essential physically but a good night’s sleep can strengthen memories and promote creative thinking.

Change is not always bad – in fact, it seems we are designed for change – it happens whenever we break routines. Even when there isn’t a big change in our life, we can still get a benefit by doing something called ‘Neurobic exercises’. Neurobics is the science of brain exercise. They are, in a nutshell: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways—in other words—change. A few examples are using your non-dominate hand to brush your teeth, unlock a door or try to read something upside down. These activities help to increase brain connections and develop new brain pathways.

According to ‘Healthy Living Magazine‘, just as with a physical workout, you will need resistance to grow stronger, just like going to the gym to lift weights; only in this case, the weights are mental.

If the change is going to happen to a loved one who is already experiencing cognitive issues, it can be unwelcome and can trigger something called  Transfer Trauma.

Plan to have your loved one do as much as is normal for them such as making coffee, watering plants, listening to music or watching familiar movies – keep the same routines as much as possible. If old routines are not possible, try to establish new ones as soon as your situation allows. Finding any type of balance is the key to a smoother transition.

Change is going to happen. Our only option is to look for and embrace as much joy as we can in the process.

A Time to Mourn

I somehow assumed that since Mama had been slipping away bit by bit for over a decade, that I would have said all my goodbyes and experience her passing with a minimal of grief. I don’t know if I ever said any of that out loud, or whether it was just a vague idea, but either way, as it turned out this was not true. After her passing, I experienced sudden bouts of crying and waves of sadness would wash over me at unexpected times.

Two of our children watching the memorial service on iPads
Two of our children watching the memorial service on iPads

Another assumption I had made was that since Mama had been ‘out of social circulation’ for over a decade, and several of her friends had already passed, it would be better to hold a quiet, family gathering to remember her rather than a more formal memorial at a church. Again, my assumption turned out to be mistaken. I quickly came to realize that not only did I need to have a memorial for Mama, other family members, friends, church friends and previous co-workers also needed to have the closure that a memorial service provides.

We wanted to keep it on the simple side. The first thing my sister and I needed to decide was: who would perform the service and secondly, where would it take place?  We decided to hold it at the church where my sister teaches a class. It made sense as there would be built-in support from others who attend there. Mama had been an Episcopalian but had stopped attending a number of years ago due to health issues. We felt it would be okay with her to be remembered at a Baptist church.

We also wanted the service to be performed by the same person who had performed our daddy’s memorial service a decade ago. It was slightly more complicated—not only had he and his lovely wife moved to Portland, Oregon, but they were also dealing with the grief of losing a son in a very unexpected and tragic circumstance. Nevertheless, he agreed to perform the service and we set a date.

The next item on our to-do list was to write an obituary. I wrote up a preliminary draft, and my niece, Christi who is our family historian filled it out in a way that wonderfully captured Mama’s personality. Obituaries can be expensive to place in the newspaper, but it helps to let others know about the passing and memorial details, as well as a useful record for future generations. Costs can be kept to a minimum by only submitting basic information.

Due to this modern, mobile age, much of our family—like so many others are living in other states and countries. But also due to the modern age, we now have technology that helps overcome these distances. Some of our children were able to attend the memorial service through the use of Facetime. We set up two iPads on the front pew and everyone could see and hear quite well. Technology is great!

And finally, a memorial service is also one more way to show honor to a parent. As God’s word tells us in Ecclesiastes, there is “A time to mourn.” I have come to the conclusion that memorial services – no matter how simple or elaborate, are an essential piece of the grieving process.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

The Messenger

Muriel Aasve Blankenship (Mama)

Over the past decade or so, my Mama’s communication skills progressively deteriorated throughout the entire journey of the disease called dementia (perhaps Alzheimer’s).  The first indicators that something was wrong began to manifest as seemingly normal conversations included statements that were repeated over and over (We referred to those incidents as her loop).

As time went on, her conversation skills melted slowly away as her ability to string sentences together decreased.  At first it was a back and forth thing – there were good days and bad. The good days gave us hope, while the bad days confirmed we were still on the same downhill path.

For a period of time, Mama retained what I called ‘Muscle Memory responses’. For example, if you asked her how she was doing, she would respond, “Fine.” Or, “Would you like something to drink?” her answer might be “No”, but then she would proceed to pick up the glass and drink it right down.

Mama’s ability to sing remained long after her ability to speak went silent. We knew a lot of songs and so the majority of our visits were spent singing. Eventually, her ability to sing left as well, so I sang all the songs for both of us.

In spite of the fact that her voice was silenced, Mama still had the ability to communicate with her eyes. Quite often when I was singing, reading or praying, her eyes would fill and tears would roll down her cheeks. I found a few Psalms, such as Psalm 23 and 71 that seemed to fit her so I read them to her over and over. I knew they would minister to her spirit so it felt as if I could still ‘do’ something for her.

Over the course of this extraordinarily long journey, various folks would comment that it seemed such a shame about her condition. I had more than one conversation with the Lord regarding it as well. Early on, our family was determined that we would do everything possible to help Mama finish well, but there were times that I wondered just what could be the purpose for this lingering a little longer.

Then one day while reading Psalm 71 to her, I noticed something. Verse 18 says, “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.

I wondered how Mama, who couldn’t even speak, be able to declare anything about God to anyone? I gave it some thought. I pondered it. I wondered.  Revelation came to me over time. I learned that the word ‘declare’ could also mean ‘messenger’.

Mama was a messenger. Her life was a message that didn’t need words. She silently communicated that God did not forsake her.  In spite of the long, downward journey into the valley of the “Shadow of Death” that lasted over a decade, Mama’s sweet quietness steadily declared God’s strength to everyone around her.

This season also gave her family something else. Time. The extra time we were given allowed us the opportunity to show her honor. Honor due a parent and honor to a fellow human being. We had time not only to care for her, but her condition opened doors that we never would have otherwise walked through.  We were able to get to know both residents and caregivers alike, and these visits were full of chats, sharing the love of Jesus, joys and concerns as well as praying and singing. Perhaps even providing hope to someone else on a journey that God will give them strength as well.

The day came and Jesus sent the angels; her work here was done. Mama finished well.

Jack Hansen re-retires (again)

55 years in the world of education just might be enough for Jack Hansen, but he’s not saying for certain that the third time for retiring will be the charm. When asked why he continued to return, he responded simply, “I missed it.”

Jack was recently recognized by the School Board for all that he has done to enhance education in California.

Todd Brose, Superintendent of Red Bluff Joint Union High said, “Jack Hansen has had a profound impact on education during his 55-year career. As an educational leader in Tehama County, he collaborated with many school districts developing leaders and finding solutions for the betterment of students. Red Bluff Joint Union High School District thanks him for his service and wishes him the best of luck. Thank you Jack.

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Jack Hansen

He came by his love for the teaching profession honestly as his mother and older sister were both teachers (his father was an attorney), and he was able to see first-hand both the rewards and challenges of the classroom. He didn’t initially plan to go into teaching, but after doing some volunteer work during college, he became hooked.

When Jack began kindergarten in 1944, his teacher might not have predicted that he would have a career in education: On the first day of school once he realized that his mother had left the room, he had a couple of tearful hours adjusting, by the end of the day, all was good.

Jack’s career began back in 1961 when he taught in Sacramento. In 1966 he was hired in Yuba City as a principle and at the age of 27 he was the youngest person on staff as well as the youngest principle in the state of California.

Jack’s vocation, which spanned from teacher, to principle, to superintendent, and school board member has taken him to a variety of counties, but Hansen believes that the 25 years he spent in Tehama County were some of the most enjoyable.

There have been many changes in the world of education over the past several decades, but Jack believes that the one thing that has not changed is the need to interact with the kids and building relationships. There are more electronics and tools for teaching, but it still comes down to interaction.

If Jack had to name his most rewarding and most challenging positions, he replied that they were both at the same time. He spent a year in a dual role as Superintendent of Red Bluff Elementary and Principle of Vista Middle School in the early 1990s.

Jack and his wife Cindy love to travel – especially enjoying river cruises, they have been fortunate to have visited a good part of the world. They have 8 children and 10 grandchildren, most live in California and one even lives in Red Bluff – they love spending as much time as possible with them.

Being an avid golfer, one thing that Jack really enjoys about retirement is that he gets to get out on the golf course about three times a week.

When asked again if he was done, he replied: “If something challenging or interesting comes up again, I’ll consider returning to the workplace.”

Only time will tell.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Avid hiker explored the world and now captures local history

Hiker, backpacker, mountain climber. These are just a few of the interests that have driven Gene Serr to explore the great outdoors. As a young man, he climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the “lower 48″ states, three times – once he even spent a very cold night on top of the mountain. He has also climbed Mt. Shasta and over 20 other 14,000-footers in California and Colorado.

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Gene holds an ice axe passed down to him by his father that he used to climb Mt. Shasta and for a winter climb of Mt. Lassen.

Born in Yuba City in 1925, where his dad was a Farm Advisor, his family moved to Stockton where he spent his formative years before moving to Davis where he graduated from high school.

Selected for the Marine College Training Program at UC Berkeley, Gene received a Civil Engineering degree as well as a commission in the USMCR as 2nd Lt.  He was called up for the Korean War, and served a few months at a supply depot in Philadelphia.

His education continued at Colorado State University – receiving a MS in Irrigation Engineering. His Master’s Thesis caught the attention of the US Geological Survey in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he worked for two years before moving back to California with the Bureau of Reclamation in Santa Barbara. While there, Gene helped plan the Casitas Dam on the Ventura River and the Twitchell Dam on the Santa Maria River.

Gene married his high school sweetheart, Nancy Wilson, in Davis in 1951. They eventually had two sons, David and Jeff, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, with another on the way.

Nancy, who passed away in 2005, was a wonderful artist. A memorial exhibit of her work was held at the Tehama County Museum in 2011. She worked in a variety of media, particularly oils and watercolor, also silk screen and batik. Beautiful paintings hanging on the walls of Gene’s lovely home attest to her talents. Gene established a Nancy Serr Art Scholarship at Red Bluff High School in 2016.

Gene and Nancy loved to travel. They were able to visit many countries and continents, including Australia – with stops in New Zealand and Tahiti as well. Other trips included China and several visits to Europe. Gene was able to find the small village in Germany where his family had lived before immigrating to the United States a few generations before. Places in the U.S. also provided fun and adventure for them when they took their jeep to Alaska for a driving tour. The beautiful pieces of pottery and carvings Nancy brought from their travels adorn their lovely home.

They spent many of the hot, summer days up at a cabin they owned in Mineral, which was the ideal base camp for their numerous hikes in Lassen Park and surrounding areas.

Starting in 1957, Gene worked for the California Dept. of Water Resources in Sacramento until 1966, when he was transferred to the Northern District in Red Bluff.  Here he worked on various projects and programs, notably the Davis-Grunsky program, which provided loans to small water districts to construct water systems. He retired from the DWR in 1988.

Curiosity about the lumber flumes that came down from the mountains led Gene to discover a second career in researching and writing articles about the history of Tehama County. He became an active member of the Tehama County Genealogical and Historical Society and served as editor of the Tehama County Memories for several years. Gene also helped write Tehama County, 1856-2006; Tales from Ishi Country; and Mineral-Mill Creek Place Names. He served as Regional VP, Conference of California Historical Societies.

A member of the Red Bluff Presbyterian Church, he is also involved in Kiwanis, Sons in Retirement, Nature Conservancy and several historical organizations.

Gene usually has several history projects going at the same time. He said, I enjoy the research and try to fit the puzzle together . You’re always missing pieces, but you do the best you can to fit the pieces together.

One of his current projects is Mary Ellen Place and Trail, about 20 miles west of Red Bluff.  It is a remote area that will require some serious hiking to reach. He is considering the use of an ATV to get there, assuming he can get permission from the property owner.

Gene intends to keep working his history puzzles as long as he can.

 



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Still the life of the party at 105

Even at the age of 105, Babe Gow isn’t the oldest living member of her family. That distinction is held by her brother, Larry Matthews. At 110, he is currently the oldest living man in the United States.

Born in Oakland on Aug. 22, 1911, she was the seventh of nine children. Her given name is Clairbel, but you’ll get ‘the look’ if you call her that – she prefers to go by the name ‘Babe’.finishing_well_in_life_babe

Babe married Andrew Gow, now deceased, in the early 1930s. They moved to Red Bluff in 1944. Having the opportunity to go into business, they opened “Andy Gow’s Donut Kitchen”.  Every morning the delightful scent of the doughnuts cooking drew folks in from nearby business – it was common for the line to reach down the block.

Later, they became the managers of the “Tremont Hotel” on Main Street. It was told that they never turned anyone away. During the busy rodeo season, even if they were completely booked, Babe was known to allow out-of-town cowboys to find a corner to get some much-needed sleep.

Babe’s managerial abilities were also put to good use as the manager of the Hope Chest on Grant Street – a position she held for many years.  Never one to sit still, she was also the secretary of the Auction Yard. If that wasn’t enough, she spent some time working in Rasco’s Variety Store and Sprouse Ritz on Walnut Street as well as selling Avon and Home Interiors.

Babe loved to be on the go. A full blooded Portuguese, she was pleased to have the opportunity to travel to Portugal for a trip of a lifetime with her family after the death of her husband.

In spite of her busy schedule, Babe always found time for her two favorite sports; Bowling and Golf. She was on a bowling league for several decades, and continued to play golf well into her late 80s. Ever spry, she was still climbing up on the house at the age of 90, but hiding her ladder put a stop to that.

Loving people is a skill that comes naturally to Babe, and she shines the brightest when she is with her family – especially the babies. Anytime the little ones arrive at Brookdale to visit, her whole face lights up. Babe’s speech is becoming limited, but her ability to communicate is still quite strong.

Andrew and Babe’s three daughters still live in Northern California, as do many of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.

A party was held a few weeks ago to mark Babe’s 105th birthday. One of the cards on display said, “Happy Birthday to one hot Babe”. At the age of 105, she’s still the life of the party.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

My new friend


I made a new friend today. She was in the activity room where I visited with my Mama after work. I spotted her right away – a new face. I noticed her watching us while I was chatting with Mama.

Looking her way, I smiled. She smiled back, and softly asked, “Are you her daughter?”  Nodding, I resumed my ritual of applying Mama’s lipstick and folding a tiny, minty breath strip as small as possible and popping it into Mama’s open mouth. Mama enjoys her teeny-tiny minty treats, and since they dissolve quickly I can offer her something that I don’t have to worry about her choking on.

My new friend stuck her hand out towards me and told me her name. We talked for a moment as she shared with me that her son lives in the bay area but he’s busy and they don’t get along well, and finishing_well_in_life_senior_computershe has a daughter who is a doctor and lives on the east coast. She was hoping that her daughter might be out to visit this weekend.

Since she was talkative, I ventured to ask if she would mind telling me why she was in the care home. She smiled sadly and said she was having some memory troubles so she called 911. I must admit, I was a bit surprised as she had a laptop and seemed to quite ‘in the moment’.

She looked at Mama – who loves a good conversation as much as anyone, but is at the stage where everyone else has to do the talking, and then back at me. Hesitating, she asked me if Mama had dementia. I nodded. She said she couldn’t remember the exact term her doctor gave her, but it was something like dementia.

With a troubled countenance, she quietly asked me what happens next, and if she would know that she was remembering less and less. Big questions that I have no answers for. I replied that everyone is different, but there might be things she could do to strengthen what remains.  Since she had a pretty pink laptop with her, I suggested that she use it as much as possible. Also, I’ve read that being social and visiting with others is good for the brain. 

My heart was sad for my new friend when we said our goodbyes today. The knowledge that you are losing bits and pieces of yourself throughout each day could be quite the struggle.

While reading through various news and research articles tonight, I came across a bright spot of hope for my friend and others in the same situation. It was an article in Science World Report that reported on a new vaccine: “Scientists in the US and Australia are now testing a new vaccine that can supposedly prevent and in some cases, reverse the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases related to it.”

Wouldn’t that be fantastic! In the meantime, I will be praying for my new friend and hope to see her again during future visits with Mama.

The “Piano Man” keeps rolling

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John Gonsalves, left discusses a song with his wife Saralu and Becky Huskey.

The monthly birthday celebration at Red Bluff Health Care got jazzed up when the piano man, otherwise known as John Gonsalves rolled up to the piano to play along.

The band, “Loosely Strung” comes by every month to help celebrate birthdays, but this month John Gonsalves, who is a short-term resident while recovering from surgery delighted the residents and musicians alike by playing a few favorites on the piano.

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Tony Mayr, left, plays the harmonica in a duet with John Gonsalves.

John was accompanied by another resident, Tony Mayr, a fabulous harmonica player, who has been hooked on the harmonica ever since he came across a toy one as a young lad. That one got destroyed and was replaced by a better instrument. Since each harmonica only has one key, Tony carries a box of harmonicas in various keys with him.

Since the age of 15, John has been playing a variety of instruments. He occasionally played piano with local bands such as Jr. Lesher and Dale  Twiggs band. He played his part in the military as a member of the US Army’s “Screamin’ Eagles Band”. The band traveled throughout the United States and Canada, performing in parades and revues.

After the Army, John attained a Master’s degree in composition and jazz arranging.  He put those skills to good use throughout his 33-year career as a music teacher in Tehama County. One of the members of “Loosely Strung”, Becky Huskey, was offered the opportunity to become Antelope School District’s full-time music instructor when John retired from his position.

He also played with a variety of well-known performing artists, such as the Smothers Brothers, Bobby Vinton, Donnie Brooks and The Drifters as well as every casino in the area. A great honor came to him by way of being chosen to serve a term as assistant grand organist for the Masons of California – a position that took him and his wife, Saralu all over the state.

John is a quiet soul, who prefers to stay in the background – usually at a piano and let his music do the talking.

Ironically, they ended the birthday party with the old Beatles song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Many of the residents in attendance were smiling and singing along–perhaps remembering back when they were 64.

 



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook