They were born the same year, 1915, in different towns, three days apart, him on Aug. 16, her on Aug. 19.
When they finally met as young adults in the same town, they fell in love and married when they were 22. After the war, they had two children, a boy and a girl.
The two parents were devoted to each other, and to their son and daughter, in ways children rarely appreciate until they are older and possess valuable hindsight. They were generous, giving, loving parents who made sacrifices and provided the best they could for their children.
After many years, different family stories became well worth retelling. Here are just a few.
One Christmas holiday in the 1960s, the man walked through the door of a pet shop holding his young son’s and daughter’s hands. He was desperate and searching. Searching for a solution to a predicament of the man’s own making.
He had waited far too long to buy his wife a Christmas gift. He loved her so, and wanted her to have something very, very special. So far he hadn’t found it yet, and it was Christmas Eve. Time had run out, and he had lost all perspective.
So when the three of them laid eyes on the adorable Capuchin monkey making eyes at them in the pet store, the children swooned and begged and assured him that their mom would love it. He caved in to the lunacy, and they walked out of the pet store with a rare gift, something they were certain no one else would be getting for Christmas.
The little monkey was hidden away in the basement in his cage that night so the man could give the woman her big surprise on Christmas morning. Sure enough, he brought the creature upstairs on Dec. 25 and excitedly unveiled his unique gift to her as the children giggled and clapped. One could say she was beyond excited, more like dumbfounded, and trying very hard to feign delight for his and the children’s sakes.
But after they had all gone to bed that Christmas evening, as the man and the children slept soundly, the woman got up, troubled and in need of answers. She sat on the floor in front of the cage with a bottle of Scotch, dressed in her nightgown, talking to the monkey, wondering where she had gone wrong. The Capuchin wasn’t telling.
After a week, the monkey disappeared altogether, cage and all. “Back to the pet store,” the two parents told their children.
Ultimately, the family wasn’t especially sad to see him go, cute as he was, because once past the first infatuation and howdy-dos he wasn’t very likable, and he didn’t seem to like the family, either. He was mean, he was quite the screecher, and he bit. Also, the cage sat in the once spotless breakfast nook of the family kitchen, a location entirely unsuitable for a primate and his bathroom habits.
“Worst Christmas gift ever,” the man apologized later to his wife, shaking his head in abject shame. But the man and the woman loved each other so much he was forgiven, and time marched on. Although every holiday afterward, she issued a warning: “No monkeys.” And everyone could laugh about it by then. “How about a little m-o-n-e-y instead? And maybe a nice sweater?” she would say. The man was always delighted to oblige.
Then there was the time the man saved his little girl from disaster.
The family was visiting friends, and the little girl wanted to take a joy ride in a tricycle down their long, steep driveway. Her parents said no, but the little girl was determined. Her dad decided he could stand on the back of the tricycle for steady ballast to keep it from falling over. Convincing his wife it would be safe, he and the little girl positioned themselves at the top of the drive and let ‘er rip. As the tricycle shuddered its way down the rough asphalt at warp speed, it hit a pebble, turning them over, tricycle, legs, arms and bodies flying akimbo. It happened so fast their laughter went silent; there was no time to even scream. As the little girl’s face approached the pavement, the man swiftly moved to grab her body, using his hand to cradle and cover her face as they finally skidded to a stop.
The man’s hand was scraped bloody, to the bone, and the little girl’s face was not. She would never forget that terrifying moment and how he had valiantly spared her. Neither would he.
On Saturdays, the man took his little girl to the newspaper office where he worked. It was a marvelous place, where art directors and cartoonists had huge pots of rubber cement on their drafting tables in the art room. The smell of the rubber cement was sharp, and she liked it almost as much as the smell of the gasoline at the Phillips 66 every time they stopped to fill up the Desoto.
The girl would paint her hand over and over with wet, rubber goo, let it dry a bit, and then rub her hands together to form a round rubber ball, after which she played catch against the walls of his office. She visited the noisy press room that smelled of machines, grease, paper and ink. A hulk of a man named Tiger Flowers assembled five little metal letter blocks to form her first name, backwards. Her dad bought her an ink pad and she stamped her name inside her diary.
The little girl’s mom was a wonderful cook, a devotee of Julia Child in fact, and she taught her daughter everything she knew. The mother also kept boxes filled with scraps of fabric, yarn, thread, broken jewelry, sequins, bric-a-brac and all manner of small items. She gave her daughter full permission to use those magical boxes to make things. Anything she wanted. The girl was in heaven with all the supplies at her disposal and loved her mother for it. She made lots of homemade cards, clever signs and decorated boxes. Her mother was wise, as she knew her daughter loved making creative, artful things, and this was a way to quietly support her. She also took her daughter downtown for art lessons and drove her once a week to a woman’s house for piano lessons. The whole family went to concerts and plays. And when her daughter sang, her parents stopped parties and invited guests to listen.
One time, after the daughter was a grown, married woman, her parents’ house was hit by a tornado that broke out windows, blew trees over into houses and blocked roads. The man walked almost a mile to the nearest working pay phone to call her. When he got through to her office he was so shaken, he asked for her by her maiden name.
It was her turn to come to her parents’ aid now, and she grabbed her husband. They drove to her family home to find it heavily damaged, but her parents uninjured. They all embraced, cried and got to work. It was the least she could do for them after all they had done for her.
Years passed. The husband and wife died only one day apart, her on May 23, him on May 24. But there were 16 years between. He was only 67 when he finally let go. Cancer. She was 83. COPD.
I will be thinking fondly of them and missing them terribly this coming week on the anniversaries of their deaths.
They were my parents, and I was their little girl.
Longtime Newnan resident Susie Berta has many creative pursuits, including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife,” which is available now on Amazon and locally at Corner Arts Gallery and Gift Shop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .