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Posted March 2, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Roger Barbee: A valley couple

Roger Barbee

By Roger Barbee

Hugh Morrison took their photograph in May 1949 when they were young and just married. They stand side by side, looking into his camera with faces full of intent and hope.

Both are well dressed. Reaching to her calves, the pleated skirt and its matching jacket has the fit of being carefully made. No wrinkles mar her stockinged legs, and she stands erect in her heels. His tweed, three-piece suit has cuffs that correctly glaze the laces of his shined wing tips, and his young jaw is squared to face the camera and life.

A young married couple of the valley, their expressions for the camera hold their dreams of a shared future and all that is, at that moment, unknown but anticipated. Their shared life lasted 65 years if you count the courting ones when he would ride his bicycle from Buck Hill to Bowman's Crossing to see his sweetheart and help her father on the 13-acre family farm.

Mary Ann and I met them when we were just weekend occupants. No weekend went by without a visit to their home that sits just a bit past ours next to the same road. The first time I met him, I was riding my bike up and down the road and on one return cycle, I saw this elderly figure in clean, patched clothes standing next to the road. As I approached, he asked, "How long you gonna' do that?"

Our friendship was made and sealed with his wide-open face that matched his style. For medical reasons, she did not leave their house, so each weekend Mary Ann would visit her while he helped me with various projects at our house.

Born and reared at Buck Hill, he knew how to work and do most anything required around a house or barn. While he and I were busy, she would entertain Mary Ann with stories of growing up on the Pike, walking behind her older brother to the old Edinburgh School and climbing "those awful steps" to the hilltop school, and the horror of the flu epidemic that killed her mother when she was a young girl.

She proudly showed her collection of African violets, clothes and quilts that she had made, and the home that she and her husband had improved together. A lover of cats, she once gladly sat our kitten when we had to travel. But the youth and vitality of the photograph faded from the toil of years, and 4 1/2 years ago she became too ill to safely stay in the home they had shared since 1956. His only choice was a local nursing home. It was on that day that I saw him cry for the first time.

Every day for those 4 ½ years he drove to her as he had done when a young man going from Buck Hill to Bowman's Crossing. He would arrive at the home mid-morning, after his visit to a feed store in Mt. Jackson, sit and talk with her, have lunch with her, and visit some more before returning to their home. Often on his way home he would stop at our house and chat, telling us how she was, what they ate for lunch, how she was being treated at the home, and sharing whatever else was on his mind. However, no matter was else was talked about. She was always the center of his conversation and concern.

We would visit her at times, but as she became less aware, we stopped going, but not him. His long drives south on the Pike to her were as dependable as the light of each day. A few weeks ago, he told us how she had become less aware, and that the doctors were no longer giving her medication. Before long, Hospice was called in and that organization did its caring work. This past Monday morning, when he entered her room, he touched her to let her know he was there like always, but her skin was cold. The summoned nurse had to tell him that his love of 65 years was dead.

Today, after a service in their church, he will walk with her for the last time as she is buried in the tidy church cemetery. Her grandson is buried there, and her life, which began on the Pike, closes next to it. But this is not what she was. This is merely the end, for her life was full of intricate stitches, beautiful violets, a loving family, kittens in and around the barn, fresh vegetables from their garden, jar upon jar of canned beans and tomatoes put up for winter, and the belief that you saved until you paid cash for what you wanted. But most of all, it was a life filled with his devotion.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.

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