It’s celebration of life season.
That’s what I came to realize this past Monday, after receiving a text from a friend wanting to make sure her mom’s service was going to make it in this week’s paper.
Prior to her phone call I fondly recalled some wonderful stories shared at a Celebration of Life service I attended last Saturday.
With so many losing loved ones during COVID, what was one left to do? While some were able to host small ceremonies in church parking lots or at gravesides, several opted to wait until their loved one could be properly celebrated.
That’s what I experienced last Saturday, as family, friends and community members gathered at a local hall to rejoice in the life of a well-loved woman. I never had the opportunity to meet the person being celebrated; I was my partner’s plus one, as well as a recent friend of her son-in-law and daughter.
As I listened to the stories, peered at the tear-filled eyes and listened to the belly laughs, I quickly learned a thing or two about this treasured soul. My heart hurt for her two daughters, her partner, her siblings and extended family. Yet in that moment I could not help but think how lovely it was to have so many gather and leave the family with such wonderful stories.
That is after all the whole intent of a Celebration of Life service.
Now in my 20th year of Oakdale life, I’m always amazed at how many unique and wonderful people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. Oakdale is a special place that way.
Some say it’s because of the number of people, that we have the opportunity to cross the path of so many who impact our life. Personally, I’m not so sure, yet whatever the case may be; I’m grateful.
Several years back I penned a piece about our former neighbor Ben after his passing. Weeks following the piece it was fun to hear from readers their own personal stories about Ben.
Today I find myself in a similar situation to that time years back.
Another icon taken from this world. A full life lived, yet a void all the same.
To me she was simply “Karney,” a proud mom and regular fixture when I would pop in to shop at Alexandra’s on North Third.
A newly arrived transplant to the Oakdale area in the early 2000’s, the shop became a mainstay for me as I looked for items for my home, last minute gifts, jewelry and eventually baby items. More times than not I would find Alex (Alexandra, the shop owner), Karney and her trusty Standard Poodle Oliver behind the counter.
The notion of popping in and out of the shop quickly became simply that; a novel idea which never transpired. Conversation would always be had and time would just quickly pass.
Interestingly enough, while my age was closer to her daughter’s than hers, that never seemed to matter. As years passed I too became a mother and would often times find myself standing in the center of Moss Rose Bakery shortly after the lunch crowd had passed, deep in conversation with Karney.
Karney was 100 percent the definition of a class act. Never once do I remember crossing her with anything but a smile on her face and a story about one of her children. Each and every time asking how my own children were doing and offering parenting wisdom.
The one recurring theme to each of our conversations was always to take it all in, as it all goes so fast. She also recommended keeping a journal of the magical stories and conversations my children and I would share. Many now (I’m embarrassed to say) are now relived as Facebook memories, a true sign of the times.
Karney was more than a lady hanging out in her daughter’s shop or her son’s office, she was indeed a town treasure. Humble as they come and as loving as one might hope to be. While she was petite in stature, she had spunk which made her over six feet tall.
Yet as the opening sentence of this piece has stated, it’s Celebration of Life season. So on Thursday, June 17 that’s what we will do. Those who loved and respected this great lady will gather at Oakdale Golf and Country Club at high noon to celebrate the life of this special lady.
While the world lost Karen “Karney” O. (Roen) Conlin-Penero on March 26, 2020 now is the time to properly celebrate this one of a kind lady’s life.
There are many things I’m grateful for in this fragile life. Walking into that North Third Avenue shop 20 years ago never could I have imagined ending up here, yet I’m grateful all the same.
You were truly a one of a kind treasure, my friend. Thank you for the wisdom, the care, the hugs and the most unforgettable smile and giggle I’ll remember for my lifetime. God Bless.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 209-847-3021.