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Sam Carchidi: A tribute to a remarkable woman, a (sort of) Flyers fan who left an indelible mark

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Maryann DeChristie Hyland is shown making pizzelles that she would give to friends, relatives, and others around Christmas each year.

She became a Flyers fan because I covered the team and she wanted to be able to talk to me about them.

That’s the type of unselfish person my mother-in-law was.

Always giving. Always thinking of others. Always lighting up a room with her cheerfulness and her loving nature.

It’s difficult to write about her in the past tense, but life isn’t always fair.

My dear, sweet mother-in-law, Maryann DeChistie Hyland, 86, passed away Saturday after a courageous eight-week battle following a stroke and a long list of other medical issues that arose.

She passed away before the Flyers ended a 13-game losing streak Saturday. If she was still around, she surely would have had a wisecrack or two.

“About time,” she would have said.

Or: “I guess they finally did some practicing.”

That was her, a no-nonsense person who was highly critical of the Philly sports teams, but would go out of her way to help anybody. Neil Young once wrote a song about searching for a heart of gold. His search would have ended if he crossed paths with Mom, who years ago gave away thousands to her nieces and nephews because she wanted to be around to watch them enjoy spending the money, and didn’t want it passed on in her will.

Tougher than Lindros

She weighed maybe 115 pounds, but was tougher than Eric Lindros during her nearly two-month medical battle that included issues with her speech (most of it came back), her gall bladder, her one kidney (the other one was cancerous and had been removed a few years ago), and her lungs. She also had pneumonia, sepsis (twice) and countless blood transfusions during her grueling hospital stay, with her amazing daughter (my wife) JoAnn by her side every step of the way.

Somehow, she fought with strength and grace, never complaining, never asking “why me?”

She moved into our house about 15 years ago, a short time after her husband, Bill, had passed away. I was surprised she watched so  many sporting events, especially golf. She took pleasure rooting against Tiger Woods because she perceived him to be someone who didn’t mingle with the other golfers and was a snob. I told her he was just laser-focused on winning. She wasn’t impressed.

Dedicated fan

Later in her life, she followed the Eagles and Phillies closely. Sometimes I think she followed them because she liked to pick apart their weaknesses and what they needed to do to improve. In other words, she was like a lot of Philly fans.

To be honest, I don’t think she ever watched a Flyers game until I started covering the team 14 years ago.

She didn’t love the sport as much as football and baseball. and if Blue Bloods or a good detective show was on, that’s what she watched.

But she’d watch at least one Flyers game a week, loving it when there were fights and lots of physical play. And it didn’t take her long to figure out one of the Flyers’ long-time major weaknesses.

“When it went to a shootout,” she once said to me the morning after a game, “I knew they were going to lose.”

She was right, of course.

Great listener

Mom was someone who never took herself too seriously, someone who was a great listener, someone who people gravitated toward because she made you feel important.

She loved her family most of all, but also loved Tony Bennett, Wheel of Fortune, Sunday Morning, Judge Judy, Old Fashioned cocktails, the National Enquirer, and stories about growing up in the Fairview section of Camden and attending Camden Catholic.

She liked to complain that the Eagles didn’t run the ball outside enough, or that the Phillies struck out too much. She liked visiting dollar stores and casinos, liked cigarettes no matter how much we yelled at her, liked 1950s music, doing daily crossword puzzles, and overfeeding Brody, our irrepressible golden doodle who is king of the house — unless her three-year-old great-grandson, James, and her eight-month-old great-granddaughter, Marlowe (the queen), were visiting.

In the kitchen, she enjoyed making snacks for family parties — garlic pretzels, cheese balls with chipped beef, and the best pizzelles in U.S. culinary history.

Mom would make hundreds of pizzelles each year and give them to friends, relatives, doctors, you name it, around Christmas.

When she made this year’s humongous batch and the sweet aroma made our home smell like an Italian bakery, it dawned on me: I had never seen her eat one.

“I don’t like like them,” she said a few days before her Dec. 6 stroke. “I just like making them for other people and making them happy.”

That was the essence of Maryanne DeChristie Hyland, a woman who made people smile with her stories, a woman who was ready to be reunited with her husband, her beloved son, Jimmy, and many other family members who predeceased her, a woman who made this world a much better place.

RIP, Mom, and I wish I had told you this: Thanks for watching the Flyers for me.

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