Interview with Caryl Kelso

Caryl Kelso was interviewed by Elizabeth Donovan on April 8th and April 15th 2010.

Caryl Kelso is originally from New York City and she turned Southerner after she and her husband relocated to Whitsett, North Carolina in 1980 for a job opportunity.  Two short years later, her husband sadly passed away from pancreatic cancer.  A single mother with a twelve-year old son at home and two grown daughters, away from her family in New York, she is grateful for the help from her Church family at Sharon Lutheran Church.  She kept going because that’s just what she had to do and didn’t know there was any other choice.  She soon found a new life here when she created a career with a weight loss program and is now in her twenty-eighth year there.  Caryl was able to continue living in her house and now happily has one of her daughter’s families staying with her as well.  She describes her earlier years as a mother and wife as her happiest years but that she is content with her life now as a proud grandmother.  Things have not happened as she had planned but she still says she has been very fortunate and happy with the life she has lived.

On Southern Identity

Caryl had discussed some of the differences she saw between New York City and rural Whitsett, North Carolina.  When asked if she now considers herself a Southerner, she replied:

I consider myself a Southerner because my attitudes and things are different.  Yes, some things, I think, are Yankee probably but I think it’s a good mix.  I like the slower pace, I like the way of living here.  I could not go back to the traffic the way it was when I lived there.  When I go to visit I don’t want to drive.  I don’t want to drive because I still have friends up there that I’ll go to see.  They’ll drive around and I’ll go into the city with them.  That part was nice.  Go to Radio City. Go to Lincoln Center; those kinds of things.  But I wouldn’t want to live there again; much too hectic.  The pace is just too fast.  I like living more leisurely and taking time to enjoy things more.

Listen to the audio of Caryl’s response about her new Southern identity.

On Breast Cancer

In between our interviews Caryl thought of two details she felt were important to mention.  One of these details was her experience with breast cancer:

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987 and had a mastectomy and was one of the very fortunate people.  It hadn’t spread anywhere.  It was in the milk ducts and so when they did the mastectomy they got it all and I then had reconstructive surgery the next year.  That was a big influence in how things went down and all because my husband had only died five years before of cancer so it was a very traumatic time for everybody in the family.  I got into a lot of trouble with my children because I got a call from my gynecologist office telling me that they saw something in the mammogram.  He wanted me to go and see a surgeon and I waited until after I had a needle biopsy before I told any of them.  I didn’t want them all worrying and then they told me that if I ever did that to any of them again they’d never talk to me again.  But I just couldn’t see any point of all of us worrying at the same time so I did wait.  I’ve never done that since and I’d never do that to them again.  But it all worked out very well.  I was very fortunate.

Listen to the audio of Caryl’s response about breast cancer.

On Marital Relationship

Caryl and her husband had traditional family gender roles which they both wanted.  The following is an anecdote that highlights how much they enjoyed their relationship together:

He was the head of the household.  Not that I couldn’t do anything I wanted. [BD:  Mm-hmm].  He was always very proud of the stuff that I did.  I remember when I became President of this Lutheran Women’s church group, we only had one car in the family at the time.  He went out and bought me a used Cadillac because a President should ride around in a Cadillac.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Caryl’s marital relationship.

On Gender Double Standards

Caryl  felt the inability for one parent to stay with the children was hurting individuals and thinks companies that allow men to take time off for family is great.  She made a keen observation that there remains a double-standard:

I think that’s great.  I think that’s great because I think that’s important.  I think that’s important.  I really do.  I’ve often said that all this women’s lib.  Yes, women have more rights today than they had.  However, we’re still expected to do all of the things we used to do.  What we have done is we’ve given ourselves the right to work harder but we still have all of the home stuff to take care of too.  A lot of families they do very good jobs of balancing that but a lot of families don’t.

BD:  It’s still if they haven’t had a plan in place, women are still expected…

CK:  Well, I’ll give you an example.  I remember my daughter Donna saying to me the one time.  “Why is it Mom if I want to do something on the weekend, I have to say to Mark ‘Would you watch Jessica on Saturday I want to go and do’’” She said, “If Mark is doing something, he doesn’t tell me or ask me.  He just does it.” That unfortunately is very true, very true.

Listen to the audio about gender double standards.

On Proudest Accomplishments

Caryl was clearly family oriented so her answer to what her proudest accomplishments were came as no surprise:

I would probably say my children and my grandchildren.  That would be, to me, the greatest accomplishment in anybody’s life if they can say, “I’m really proud of my children.”  Yes, they’ve done and had this going on in their lives that weren’t so great at the time but basically I’m very proud of my children.  I’m extremely proud of my grandchildren.  I find that their choices are basically very good.  I think in today’s world you can’t ask for more than that.

Listen to the audio of Caryl’s response on her proudest accomplishments.

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