I’m pretty much the last of my generation. I was the youngest, so that’s as it should be. Both my much elder brothers are dead, all my cousins, so far as I know. Three days ago, brother Rod’s widow, Ginny, died at age 94.
She was fading to the end, not dreadfully, but mind and body had been exiting for awhile. The funeral’s on for next Monday, Linda and my 42nd weeding anniversary. That’s OK with me, a hidden tribute.
I’m listening to Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations” while I’m writing this, and I’m crying. It’s less for Ginny than the beauty of a damned near perfect album. I’m that way with music.
Ginny wouldn’t have liked Waits (though Waits would have recognized her). She was a classical-music person, but I see them as alike in a way – both beautiful, both who they are/were without excuse or explanation.
Rod didn’t like classical music (he’d get up at 3 in the morning to sing “Danny Boy” in his upstairs room), but he loved Ginny enough to leave her off at the Academy of Music in Philly to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra while he wandered the downtown streets. And at Christmas in the early years, he’d stand beside her to sing Handel’s “Messiah” in the Powelton Episcopal church. (Rod, like me, had no religious belief or inclination, but he had an enormous loving humanity).
Ginny was a tiny woman, well under four feet, but not a small person. If there was anyone who didn’t like her I never met this emotional reprobate. When you say someone is “sweet” (especially a woman), it flashes an unfortunate mushy vision. Ginny wasn’t like that. She broadcast love without making an embarrassing mess of it, and she didn’t bother loving those who didn’t deserve it.
She was beautiful in a contained way. When Rod discovered her, I was in my early teens. You didn’t see much of women’s legs in the ‘50s, but in the summer she graced me (and everyone else) with shorts. Well.
With Rod she did all the cooking (it was the way for most back then). Rod only made chocolate milk and coffee, which he timed with extravagant attention to his watch. She cooked him kidneys and whale steaks that she would never eat but never complained, despite the smell wafted to her.
They were married for 57 years by my computation. I know of no major or extended conflict. The nearest strain came during their move from their old (1825, roughly) mill-hand house in Rose Valley to their much larger place – both house and yard – in Mendenhall (an unheralded upper middle class suburban sidetrack near Kennett Square, itself noted for mushrooms and Longwood Gardens, a Dupont estate and tourist designation).
At the time, Rod complained of Ginny never settling on any of the territories they looked at. OK, that’s because she loved the Rose Valley house and didn’t want to move. Rod wanted to grow roses without restraint. I think he wanted that more than anything else in the world (even the keeping of snakes, his first love). As they searched, he rejected any house that was not accompanied by an expanded yard that could harbor innumerable rose bushes, while Ginny rejected any house where the doors were falling off the kitchen cabinets (that never registered with Rod).
So maybe their Mendenhall house was a compromise. I have to make an aside here, and I apologize for interjecting myself too far. That house rouses the most eviscerating hatred of a structure I’ve ever reacted to… the most poorly designed, most abominably constructed house I’ve ever set foot it. I was about to go off on an architectural tear, but it’s the wrong place. Quiet!
Ginny, in the last years (13 years after Rod’s death), every evening sat in the same place, where she faced, across the room, the TV or the array of those who who had come to visit, whether on the couch to her oblique left, or the chairs and rockers dragged forward from the sliding glass doors behind her, where, when no one was there, she watched and tabulated the appearance of birds.
Rod loved birds in a way I’ve never mastered. After retiring from Sun Oil R&D, he’d sit for hours at those sliding doors and document the avians he’s seen and in what number. He and our brother Vic placed bluebird nesting boxes along trails in an arboretum near them.
About three years ago (four?), Ginny invited my daughter Morgan and Morgan’s daughter Sammy to some live with her. Morgan, an archaeologist long established in Hawaii, had become disenchanted with the “awayness” of Hawaii and now had a job that could be consummated online, so she accepted. And supported Ginny in those last, declining years.
Ginny resisted the reality of decline, which put a burden on Morgan and Sam (who picked up much of the cooking, always one of her specialties) that I don’t think Ginny quite realized.
When not doing her archaeo-related work, Morgan was trying to juggle between Ginny’s assumptions of how things should be, medically and otherwise, and the realities of a lovely woman on the way out. I don’t know how Morgan did it, how she has continued to do it (now aided by her sister Erin, who has flown in from Arizona to help settle the after-effects of death). She brought in outside support that Ginny had resisted, found relief for Ginny’s constant arthritic pain that had never been treated properly, set up in-home hospice care that I can only vaguely comprehend.
Ginny lived through much more negativity than I would hope to: the death of her parents at an early age (car crash? – I’ve been clear), being raised by a domineering grandmother (a woman who curled my toes), the death of her only child (Roddy looked and acted like Christ should have) and Rod’s death from heart failure. But she never gave up – though I’m not sure whether “not giving up” is accepting.
Morgan now has a monstrously ill-conceived house to live in (OK, I shouldn’t say that, but I will) with Sam. Lind and I will meet with those who cared most about Ginny on Monday.
Did I love Ginny? I think so. I’m not good at loving people, even those close to me. Most who know me don’t realize this, not sure why. But Ginny was as much of a wonderful human being as any of us can be and so few of us are. That should be enough.
In “Georgia Lee,” Tom Waits asks, “Why wasn’t God watching, why wasn’t God listening, why wasn’t God there for Georgia Lee?”
No, I don’t believe in God. But he was there for Ginny.

  1. #1 by on August 24, 2022 - 8:41 pm

    Derek I’m so sorry to hear that Ginny passed, I feel like I know her from your stories. I know how fond you were of her. She seemed like a very special person.

    Side note, congratulations to you and Linda on 42 years!

    Sent from my iPhone


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