Tabletops were filled with toffee, buckeyes, chocolate-covered cherries, coconut-chocolate Martha Washingtons, fudge, and caramel-chocolate-peanut clusters shaped in the design of an actual turtle.
Thousands of pieces of candy covered tables at Bev Carney’s Greenwood home. It was a scene that would make Willy Wonka jealous.
More than a dozen people had come to Carney’s house for her annual holiday candy making — her friends, her daughters, her grandchildren and anyone who could make it. It was one of her favorite traditions.
“She learned it from her mom, and my mom taught it to me, and my daughter was coming. You had four generations of that knowledge carrying on,” said Kathy Harris, Carney’s daughter.
Carney died in July, just three months after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. Her death was a shock to the people who loved her, who had come to count on her with a spirit of welcoming that she was known for.
But in the traditions she created, her memory will carry on. Those who knew her best will make sure of it.
“She was all about people and traditions and family,” said Sue Hanrahan, one of Carney’s closest friends. “She was one of the best people you would ever want to meet. There is nothing that she wouldn’t do for her kids, for her husband, for her friends, if they needed it.”
Carney had been experiencing a lot of pain in her back and had been trying to work through that with ibuprofen and other over-the-counter pain medication.
When her stomach started hurting, she went to the hospital for an endoscopy. Doctors diagnosed her with a bleeding ulcer and prescribed medication to treat it.
But two weeks later, the pain was still intense. In April, a second endoscopy showed that a tumor had formed in her stomach.
‘One-of-a-kind … amazing’
The hope was to remove a portion of her stomach, ridding her body of the tumor. Further examination proved that the cancer was too far spread and had reached Stage 4. There was nothing that doctors could do to treat her.Carney died on July 18.
“She handled it well, with the chemotherapy and all of the other things that came with it. Until the last two weeks — you could tell it was changing,” said Rich Carney, her husband.
The abruptness of Bev Carney’s death rippled throughout the family and their community of friends. So it has been helpful gathering together and telling stories of what made her so special.
“She was one-of-a-kind, an amazing person,” Hanrahan said. “If she knew we were sitting here talking like this, she would just be appalled. That wasn’t what she wanted.”
The candy-making gatherings of the Carneys were some of the family’s happiest times. Bev Carney’s daughters lived throughout the country and often couldn’t get together throughout the year. Jenny Kim lives in Fishers, Julie Carney is in Franklin, and Harris lives outside Dallas.
So the candy-making weekend turned into a de facto family reunion — a chance to catch up over powdered sugar, chocolate and other sweets.
“Being together, sharing stories about what had happened over our year, that was special,” Kim said.
Dressed in her “Candy Queen” apron, Bev Carney directed the madness with a smile until every piece of candy had cooled and was packaged.
Like a good grandmother, she walked her granddaughters through the candy-making process — mixing the ingredients, forming balls or patties, and dipping them carefully in the chocolate.
“It was fun to watch her with my girls. She had a lot more patience than I did,” Kim said.
The candy was destined to be given away as gifts each year. Bev Carney kept a list of people to give to, with nearly 40 recipients lucky enough to get a tin.“A lot of people tried to get her to sell it,” Hanrahan said. “But that wasn’t why she made it. She wanted to share it with people.”The tireless energy Bev Carney put into planning the weekend applied to most things in her life.
Every day had to be filled with activities, Rich Carney said. She walked four times a week, took aerobics classes during the week, played golf and bowled.
“She didn’t want to be stuck sitting down when she was old. She wanted to keep doing stuff,” Rich Carney said.
To go along with her everyday activities, Bev Carney had a “bucket list” that she had hoped to check off as she got older. One was to go on a hot-air balloon ride. Another was to ride a zip line.
For her 70th birthday, Hanrahan and Bev Carney decided to check that off the list. Driving down to Brown County in a borrowed 1979 Mercedes Benz roadster convertible, they cruised along the back roads with the top down.
When it came time to take their zip line ride, nothing but the biggest, fastest one on the track would do.
“It was just incredible. The whole day was really special,” Hanrahan said.
Some days, she and Hanrahan would drive to Lake Monroe to rent a pontoon boat for the day. They would putter around the lake, enjoying the sunshine and splashing in the water until it was time to leave.
Throughout her life, Bev Carney went on a half-dozen cruises. But it wasn’t the ocean that she loved.
“She didn’t know how to swim,” Rich Carney said. “She loved the fine dining, the formality, how everything was right there.”
‘We were just together’
Rich and Bev Carney celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August 2014. Their children and family offered to throw them a big party, but Bev Carney wanted something different. She wanted the family together to do something fun.They spent a weekend at Rawhide Ranch, a Gnaw Bone camp, where they rode horses, zoomed down zip lines, took hayrides and sat around campfires together.“It was great fun. We were just together,” Rich Carney said.
Bev Carney lived for the state fair, which always started just after her annual family reunion so they could go to the fairgrounds together.
“They would all go up to the fair, stay all day, and eat and eat and eat,” Rich Carney said.
Candy-making was a tradition that Bev Carney learned from her own mother, who used to bring the family together to make sweet treats for neighbors, friends and far-flung family members.
When her mother died in 2002, Bev Carney offered to take up hosting duties the following year.
“People would come on Thursday and stay until Sunday or Monday. And Bev fed them all — she had food prepared for every meal,” Hanrahan said.
Those kinds of big events were always part of Bev Carney’s life. For Easter and Thanksgiving, everyone could come to their home to eat. Christmas in particular was an important meal, with homemade noodles, ham, roast beef and plenty of other dishes.
“Every Christmas since our oldest daughter was 1, we’ve had my family and anyone who wanted to come at our house,” Rich Carney said.
She found a perfect way to remember each of those meals with a keepsake. On the fancy tablecloths that she laid out for each meal, she asked her guests to sign their names in permanent marker. Once the meal was over, Bev Carney would stitch over the marker with colored thread. Each year had a different color, creating a lasting record of who had come to dine with them.“They always left the day after Christmas to drive to Texas. Rich would drive, and Bev would embroider,” Hanrahan said. “She could get one done on the trip, there and back.”Examining the cloths now, the names and dates jump out — a record of the happy times they had all been together.
“I’m glad we have that now that she’s gone. None of us saw that coming,” Harris said.
As difficult as it has been, the Carney family has tried to keep the traditions going.
This summer, Kim took her kids to the state fair. She enjoyed a tenderloin sandwich in her mom’s honor and posed beneath the Indiana State Fair sign.
In the fall, Bev Carney would meet Kim and her children to pick apples. Once they had the base ingredient, they’d return home to make apple pies, applesauce and other fall-flavored treats. This year, Kim’s family went out to the orchard for the first time without her.
“The kid’s loved being out there with her,” Kim said.
Her daughters are making plans to host the candy-making weekend. Kim has offered to provide a space in her home and is working through the many details of lining up recipes, figuring out how to feed everyone and where everything should go.
“Somebody has to keep it going,” she said.