Charlie: A Word Portrait – 1932-2002
All good stories begin – “Once upon a time” – so should this one.
My beautiful Aunt Helen and her handsome husband – my Uncle Dyp – want very much to have family. There were a series of sad happenings and at lat it looked as if there hopes were to be rewarded. They lived in Chicago at this time, and Aunt Helen was in the care of rather famous “Baby Doctor” – Dr. De Lee, and she had been assured the little one would appear. Sure enough, with much wishing, praying and family support, a tiny baby boy appeared: Charlie!
From the beginning every conceivable effort was made to do everything RIGHT. Some deal! But, Charlie managed to survive the constant attention – somehow – and at 10 weeks old Charlie and his mother come to visit Ava, Illinois.
Since I was an only child and my mother and dad didn’t have close friends with babies, one the highlights of my life was about to occur. Aunt Helen was my mama’s sister and I was going to have a real live baby to adore! I was a very mature seven-year old (or at least I thought so). My parents and I lived in Ava with my grandparents who had four daughters. They were always called “The Girls.” My mother was the youngest, Margaret, but she was called “Honey” by her sisters and close friends.
Well, Aunt Helen and Charlie arrived by train and I was allowed to hold the baby’s feet on the way home the car. What a thrill! The visit was for a least a month and in that time I was allowed to touch the baby often. Of course, I didn’t know there was a term for it then, but Charlie and I certainly “bonded.”
There is one tale that I remember of Charlie’s “diaper days.” I remember what a big deal it was to be sure the diapers were clean. I overheard two of the women discussing how many times the diapers had to rinsed, and the answer was, “Until you can drink the water!” I really thought this directive was to be taken seriously, but who knows?
The details of baby care were endless, but I was only concerned with touching this precious baby!
When Charlie got on his feet, he only had one speed – fast. Needless to say, he was eager to investigate everything at once and raced from one object to the next. He managed to leave mayhem in his path! One of our favorite stories was the A. Helen had a wonderful maid who tried to coral Charlie at times, and one day Allah, the maid, was picking up an unbelievable amount of “stuff,” she saw Charlie had another appealing target and she said, “Oh, Challie, Challie – ain’t you did enough!!!” Aunt Helen loved the remark – so accurate of Charlie’s ceaseless activities that it was quoted often.
One time when Aunt Helen and Charlie visited in Ava, which they did often, I peeked through the crack in the door into the sun porch where Charlie’s bed had been placed (since it was summer). Actually the bed had been mine, but had a new coat of bright white paint for his little fellow. Charlie has a bed full of toys and pillows and I watched him systematically chew them, pull them apart (if possible) and throw them out of the bed. It was big job and when he had made a clean sweep of everything he fell into a heap and slept soundly.
The house in Ava had two marvelous swings. One was a big swing on the front porch that hung by long chains that squeaked with a special sound all its own. Charlie and I played a lot on the swing. It was good for all seasons – even when taking boots off in the winter! That swing, actually, was a most favorite spot whenever we were in Ava over all of the years.
There was a swing that our grandfather had put up for “The Girls” on a huge oak tree behind the house. The rope that held it was big and rough and the swing went high so you had to hang on. Charlie loved to swing and as he grew bigger he always begged, “Higher, Sal, higher!!!” The big oak tree was over one-hundred years old, so our grandfather said, and it was sad when a terrific storm took it down – finally.
When Charlie was four or five and the family moved to Battle Creek, Mich., it was a happy experience for everyone. The summer before the Warners could move into their home, they rented a cottage at Gull Lake. To live on a lake was an unusual treat for Midwesterners and everyone was terribly excited. The day came when Aunt Helen and Uncle Dyp and Charlie arrived at the lake house. There was a big front yard that faced the lake and a wooden pier that extended into Gull Lake. Charlie ran out the door, across the yard, down the dock and jumped into the lake!! The water was well over his head and he couldn’t swim, so Dyp raced after him and jumped in – fully clothed – and pulled Charlie out on the dock. It didn’t seem to bother Charlie but it made a wreck of Dyp and Helen.
Charlie started to school in Battle Creek and the schools had adopted a new “progressive” education system. It did not dwell on the conventional 3R”s learning, but educated the “whole” child. U. Dyp’s comment after a number of months was “My God, Helen, they aren’t teaching him to read and write!!” Indeed, given plenty of freedom to explore, Charlie found interesting pursuits, but they didn’t include reading and writing! It may have been that the door was opened for Charlie to test his sense of creativity which came to the front in later years? I truly hope that U. Dyp was somehow aware that Charlie eventually gained an advanced education and taught in a university!!
Back To Being a Little Boy
By some incredible miracle, our grandmother bought property on the shores of Lake Michigan. Two of her cousins had bought cottages at Michilinda and she’d gone there for a visit while visiting Aunt Helen in Battle Creek. The cousins had build some new cottages and to our unspeakable surprise, our grandmother bought the ones they vacated – four in all. The two cottages facing Lake Michigan where for the families and he two back ones for friends. The houses were plain and simple. In fact, when my husband’s dad, Glen Brown, was bringing visitors, his description was, “It looks like HELL, but it’s heaven!” It was a golden world for all of us, especially Charlie and me – the beach offered a wealth of opportunities for play to Charlie. There were children in neighboring houses that he could talk into projects – building forts, fames the beach and in the water, unexplored dunes and an old Indian fisherman who laid his nets in the evening and pulled them in early in the morning. He was sort of scary, but shared his fish. The water was often chilly, but the kids never seemed to notice.
I did what many young girls do, I found a quiet spot under one of the few trees on the beach and the tranquility and beauty inspired me to write poetry. So, at dinner one evening, Charlie said he had “made up” a poem:”
The moon is shining
All over the land,
And I never had a
Tree to climb in
My whole life.
A family lived near us over the dunes whose father was a minister, but he didn’t seem “churchy” at all. There were three children: Margot, Kayie, and Hoddie. Charlie ran into Kayie years later in Chicago and sailed in the summer along the Northshore, and he recognized her!
One of the other near neighbors were the Guerins. The grandparents had been established in a big old cottage at While Lake (which was nearby and connected to Lake Michigan by a canal). The father of the family had succumbed to some drastic disease years before but the grandparents still had a life-size portrait of him, in full dress uniform from WWI, hanging over the fireplace. The mother of the children was not a favorite of the Guerin grandparents, but they did like having the children around in the summer, so the mother rented a cottage near us. Minerva was the oldest of the children and she was terrific!! She was pretty, in an Ingrid Bergman way, taught swimming, was a super sailor and in all was appealing. The rest of the children were liked because of their names, Michael, Mary Carmalita, Theodotta, and Diana. Doesn’t seem so unusual now, but we thought names were “different.” The last I knew of them, Minerva had married a young man from Grand Rapids, Mich. and lived there. Michael was severely wounded in WWII, but survived – barely.
By the time I could drive, Charlie and I could poke around by ourselves. We both loved movies and the movie theater in Whitehall left a little to be desired – the old wooden seats were hard — but we still went to the movies! One night we went in town to see a show and were late getting out, at least my teen-age social life was really calling – so I was possessed with getting home in a hurry!! I knew short cut that was not much more than a sandy road through some groves and I had never tried it at night, but Charlie and I bumped, slid, turned and whizzed down that old road. We made it home in short order, but we didn’t forget the wild ride! Seems awfully silly now, but it wasn’t then.
The world was changing for all of us then. Our sunny leisurely summers were coming to an end for both the adults and the children. The winds of change were blowing into all of our lives. WWII was at our doorsteps. Uncle Dyp had served in WWI and he re-enlisted and was posted near Washington, D.C. It meant the Warners giving up their Battle Creek, Mich. home which had been so satisfying to all of them and finding a new home and new school for Charlie on the post at Fort Belvoir. A new home for Aunt Helen, but nothing like Battle Creek,a new challenge for Uncle Dyp.
We tried going to Michilinda for few more years, but the “chemsitry” wasn’t the same. Finally, our grandmother felt she could no longer make the adjustment to beach living and the cottages were sold!! Our bright, glorious, utopian, simple and soothing summer world had come to an end. There might have been other options, but our grandmother was not given to being generous or to changing her mind, so “The Girls” (minus Jo) saw the property slip away. Charlie and I went back for visits, but it wasn’t fun, really. I think we still hold our Michilinda days close to our hearts, and maybe capture the magic in our memories.
Charlie’s father, who he called Pop (at times) was offered a position in Washington at the close of WWII. U. Dyp had made valuable contacts and a Battle Creek firm who did business with the government asked him to stay on as their rep in Washington D.C. All of the family were delighted to be in Washington and they moved into a lovely older apartment in the city. Charlie was enrolled at St. Albans School. I’m not sure the school was ready for Charlie, but there was he stayed through high school. He played soccer, struggled with his studies and made life-long friends. I’m not absolutely sure this story is true, but it was told that when Charlie finally was awarded his diploma he went to his father and said, “Here, Pop, you deserve it!” and handed him the precious piece of paper!
There was a special girl somewhere in these teen years. She may not have been the first love or the last love at that time, but she made quite an impression. Her name was Kitsy – a darling girl – and one that Charlie didn’t forget easily. But, as often happens for young loves, circumstances beyond their control made them part.
In 1948 there was another family happening which added to Charlie and my close relationship. Charlie’s father has sister, Marion Brown, who had four sons. The Browns had been one of the lucky families that shared the glory of summers at Michilinda. After WWII, the youngest son of the Browns, A.G., or just plain “A” or, on occasion, “Angel” (who was Charlie’s cousin) had stayed in touch with me during the was years and he came for a family visit. In a very short time we made plans to marry and the big family “do” took place in Ava in Oct. 1949. It was an absolutely terrific party. Our grandmother was gone and our Aunt Louise (Louie) lived in the family home. The two families [the Bowers/Warners and Browns] had been fast friends for three generations so it was a family reunion, homecoming and a wedding all at the same time. One of the girls from Michilinda came to play the harp! [Joanne Gill] Charlie was the head usher, host for the reception and the most enthusiastic rice thrower.
A and I rented a cottage at Michilinda the summer after we were married from a couple where long-time friends of my mother. The cottage was in the same group as the ones all of my extended family had owned. Seemed like a good idea, but it was AWFUL. Chalrie flew to Michigan to be with us but from the beginning it was a series of goofs! Charlie’s luggage was not taken off of the plane and went on to Milwaukee. It wouldn’t be back until the next day and it was not a fun deal to get to the airport from the beach. We mastered that hurdle fairly well. Charlie hooked up with friends and went with them to see about a boat on the far side of White Lake. It was dark when he came home and it wasn’t long before he came to and announced that he thought he’d left his wallet on the boat deck where he had been that day. I’m not sure I had a fit, but I remember being more than a little fried!! We drove back to Whitehall and went on the boat deck and with a very poor flashlight, we searched. By sheer accident, one of us stumbled over wallet and grabbed it before it fell into the lake!! Charlie was totally undaunted.
It was during that visit that I attempted to talk to him about his schoolwork, which was not so hot. Charlie said it really wasn’t too much of a worry because he was sure he’d get through St. Albans eventually and he wouldn’t need to go to college because his did had lots of successful friends and he was going to have a serious talk with each of them and he’d know what to do to make money. It was probably was not the first time that a teenager had come up with a plan to skip college – it made sense to Charlie.
As I said, it was strange being at Michilinda without all of the familiar extended family group and we felt terribly out of place.
Charlie was finished with high school [in 1951] and he and two friends [Tyler Abell and Bob Alvord] decided to drive to the state of Washington to work in the “pea fields.” I’m not all that certain that there really are “pea fields” in Washington! We were living in Fremont, Ohio and then boys stopped by for some “real” food. As I remember, they got to California, but never to the “pea fields!”
The next big hurdle for Charlie was Dartmouth College. Everyone felt positive that this young man was on his way to grabbing life by the horns! As it turned out, Charlie was at Dartmouth one year and was then welcomed into the U.S. Army. To say that Charlie and the Army did not see eye to eye is a gigantic understatement! He survived basic training and was eventually assigned to the European theater. I may be a bit fuzzy on this, but I believe he ended up being in Austria. He reunited with a friend [Tyler Abell] from St. Albans and skied in St. Moritz, Switzerland (not a shabby “leave.”) He also worked with the radio division and found and interest for himself, too.
It was during this time that Uncle Dyp became quite ill. Arrangements had been made for Charlie to have a leave to come home to see his father, but U. Dyp slipped away before Charlie reached Washington. It was a blow to all of our family because it was unexpected. Dyp was successful in his work in Washington, in his mid fifties, and the first of that generation to pass on. We all congregated in Ava and we truly grieved. Charlie was discharged from the Army soon afterwards.
Helen and Charlie’s way of life was completely changed. The Washington apartment was sub-let for a while (I think) and Helen and Charlie came to Ava. Charlie finished his basics [sophomore semester] at Southern Illinois University, which was quite near [in Carbondale]. He decided to go to school at Columbia University in New York because they offered a speech and drama degree which appealed to Charlie. There is no doubt that if Uncle Dyp were alive, Charlie could not have made that choice. Aunt Helen approved and she went back to Washington to be near Charlie.
A and I had been very busy producing two little girls and a feisty son. We didn’t have many opportunities to be with Charlie, but when the children were three, five, and six, my Aunt “Louie” came and drove to Washington to spend part of the Christmas holidays and New Years (A joined us for part of the time). I had been so bogged down with child care that being in A. Helen’s beautiful home and going to a New Year’s bash was sheer heaven for me! One night, Charlie had a date, as usual, and he came home, got me up, and insisted I go back to one of his haunts to hear some marvelous music. I couldn’t get ready fast enough. Getting to be out among the “in crowd” was a divine treat for me and Charlie made me feel so appreciated and not like a dragged out mama at all!! Just one of the many times over the years when Charlie made me feel very special.
It was while Charlie was attending Columbia that he lost his heart to Parrish Fort – a New Jersey girl. He brought her to meet his mother in Washington. With predictable impulsivity, Charlie and Parrish married at once!!
”The Beat Goes On”
Up until now, I’ve tried to let the story unfold as a chronology, but from now on I’ll only it a few highlights.
Charlie’s first job with TV was in Spartanburg, S.C. His first son, Perry, joined the family. Soon the Warners were in Washington and from then on they roamed – Southern California, back to New York (they lived in Conn. and spent summers at Cape Cod) and Pittsburgh.
To every job Charlie brought his creativity, his endless ideas, his unbelievable energy, his impatience, and his volatility. When Charlie was around, things happened – some good and some not – but action did take place. He could also be extremely caring, interested in others, and really fun!
Perhaps one description that applies to Charlie is that is an excellent juggler – not only was Charlie taking on new and demanding challenges in the expanding field of radio and television, but his family expanded, too. There were, in all, five babies in six years! After Perry, Chris, Crickett, Colin, and Megan arrived. Since Charlie gave his all to every commitment, it was a “strain deal.” He’s someone who wants to do it ALL and usually pulls it off!
During these years we only saw each other briefly. A and I had a family of five – not nearly so close in age – but a handful none the less. I remember when we had four children, two girls and two boys, that Charlie asked me, “Are you satisfied with two pair, or are you going for a full house?”
Once, during our years in Bowling Green, Ohio, where A worked for Bowling Green University, Charlie passed through to say hello. Our three older children were young and they found a dead bird in the yard and were quite crushed. Charlie took it right up and made a big deal of finding a box, filling it with grass, and conducting a lovely service as the all helped in burying the little bird. It made a lasting impression on the children.
In time, Parrish found the frequent moves and constant care of the children, the incessant routine of living to be beyond her endurance. Different remedies were tried. Aunt Helen took a helper from Ava and they tried valiantly to put everything in order, but it didn’t solve the underlying problems. To “tolerate” or to “stagnate” is not in Charlie’s vocabulary. So he eventually took a job in Pittsburgh and the family had a new home there. The house was big and comfortable and there was added furniture from A. Helen. Charlie continued to juggle, but in the end, he left and took a job with WGN in Chicago [WMAQ, actually].
”The Next Phase”
Charlie seemed to love Chicago. He sunk himself into numerous activities besides his work (like theater and various extra-curricular activities, including a new friendship with a stunning girl who was also in the business. [Donna La Pietra] I had a rare opportunity to visit there for a few days. The apartment was charming, some of Charlie’s artwork (yes, e was a truly terrific artist, although he never had time to pursue it). It was a rather Bohemian life and one that suited him at the time. He kept in touch with the children who were fast becoming teenagers.
A and I had a chance to see Charlie in 1970 at the Super Bowl game in New Orleans. Charlie was given some tickets and asked us to meet him. A and I hardly ever had such an opportunity for a “get away” weekend so we yelled. ”YES, YES!” It was hectic, but fun. I think Charlie and I spent most of the game talking to get caught up with each other’s lives, but it was a marvelous “freebie.”
Parrish and the children had gone to Cape Cod and Charlie went for a visit. The children were in their teens. The story I remember was that Crickett came to Charlie and said, “Daddy, please help me grow up!” Charlie knew that it meant making another change. Chris, Crickett, and Colin came with Charlie and he rented a suitable house in Wilmette in Nothshore Chicago. I attended a meeting that was in Chicago and I was able to stay a week or so putting the house together for them. Not the best of circumstances, but I loved having some time with Charlie. It was a sort of band aid arrangement, but it worked for the moment.
Charlie was a very eligible bachelor by this time and he needed to reestablish a bona fide home. Sandy came into the picture. She was a former Miss USA and was a kock-out!! They were married in a smashing wedding – all yellow and white – with all of the children in attendance. It looked like a real GO!
Before many plans could jell, Charlie made a change and in a matter of days, they headed for New York. The work was for NBC, but I think it was rather short-lived. Both Charlie and the man he for had strong personalities and the situation became abrasive. Rather quickly Charlie and Sandi found themselves in Ava taking time to breathe.
Charlie went for a visit to the Communications Department at Southern Illinois University. He was asked to teach a class, which he adored and that was a beginning of a new life.
Charlie really thrived on teaching. It might not be that the young inquiring minds matched Charlie’s great enthusiasm for finding the “whys.” He had accumulated a storehouse of knowledge and to pass that on was a ball for him. He had honed his craft of radio well and proved to be a “natural” with the students. Charlie began a master’s degree in Journalism. Two more sons were added to his brood – Chas and Sean.
One of the big pluses of Charlie’s being in Carbondale, IL, was that he was near Ava. His mother was living there with “Louie” now and they treasured every minute with Charlie and his family. It was their idea of heaven!! It was a huge comfort for “The Girls” to be able to share occasions with all of them.
Charlie was a most of a call-in radio show, sharing opinions on a variety of subjects. It was a job he relished and so did “The Girls!”
Having Charlie and company near Ava was a big plus for me, too, because it meant when I came, we could have great get-togethers. Charlie’s daughter Megan lived with them and went to SIU. [She went to Illinois State University after graduating from high school.] Perry was in the household some of the time and the other kids visited.
Sometime during these years, Charlie branched into another activity – doing seminars on radio and television sales. He is a dynamic speaker and it led him into years of training salesmen in broadcasting. He wrote a book on salesmanship which was widely used.
Charlie’s life was a bit more settled, but tranquility was never a goal for him. He always had the courage of his convictions and said so. It is the plan in Ava that Memorial Day is a homecoming happening. The format is for all the townspeople and visitors to congregate around the round house in the cemetery to hear an appropriate speech. There is a group that marches from town – former servicemen who carry flags and children on decorated bicycles and those who choose to walk. When I was young, it was the WWI veterans who marched in front and then in turn we’ve seen them replaced by our generation of WWIers and then the flag bearers change as time goes on. Charlie had been in Ava for this celebration and in later years he was asked to speak. I believe he spoke twice, but in the last speech he reminded the audience that his father, grandfather and two great grandfathers were buried there. Charlie’s speech – as I was told , for I couldn’t be there – was to awaken the people out of old habits, to accept changes in attitude towards others, and break old patterns of thinking. I’m afraid the small-towners of the Midwest don’t take to change well at all. In fact, they welcome any concepts that disturb their stodgy way of perceiving themselves or their world. Charlie’s innovative ideas were not accepted. Charlie wanted to come to speak once again after his mother was gone, but the town fathers didn’t welcome the idea. If grieved me terribly, but progress of ideas is oh, so slow.
Charlie was offered a position with Menlo College in Palo Alto, Calif. And Calif. Certainly gave him a much more expansive arena for progressive ideas, as well as delightful surroundings.
A and I had the fun of being with them in the summer of 1987. We had taken a camper and traveled from Florida, where we lived, to Billings, Montana, where my mother and dad lived, and from there across Canada and down the coast of California to Menlo Pk.
It was such a thrill for us to have Charlie waiting for us with open arms. Charlie and the boys had put a big WELCOME A & SAL sin over the garage so could find them. What a delight!! Out daughter had been visiting friends in Seattle with the idea of staying there., but had decided to do go home to Fla., so we had two cars and where ready to be in a home-away-from-home. Charlie always created a bustle of action around him so we looked over Menlo College as well as Stanford. The Rodin sculptures were fabulous. I later had the pleasure of seeing more of his work at his home in Paris, but Charlie had introduced me to wonderful statues! We went into San Francisco and filled ourselves to the brim on Chinese food and the seafood at Fisherman’s Warf and the excitement of the city.
We even got out this slide projector and looked at beloved pictures of our Michilinda and laughed and cried over them.
During the time in Menlo Park, Colin came there and finished a degree at the college. Eventually he married a girl, Anna [Ana], that he met in S.F. and they live near-by with their two sons now.
The Midwest Again
All things change and Charlie was offered an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. A “chair” in the communications field had been set up at the University of Missouri and Charlie was asked to join that department [the School of Journalism]. Charlie wasn’t thrilled about returning to the Midwest, but, as always, he did what was in front of him to do with super vigor. To his mother’s delight, Charlie and his family were near and she lived for every minute she could be around them. There was much talk about an older home that Charlie and Sandi bought and A. Helen’s passion was decorating. So Charlie discussed all of the possibilities with her and she and “Louie” were revived with the planning and talking of it endlessly. “The Girls” only got to see the house once. They were hovering around 90 years old and Charlie urged them to come, but he only put the deal over once. He came and picked them up and it was to be a four-day visit, but after two days, “Louie” was set on going home, so, very reluctantly, Charlie drove them back to Ava. Charlie and various members of his family stopped to see them often and “The Girls” adored their close proximity. They even tried to “kid-proof” the house so the boys wouldn’t utterly destroy any of their “pretties.”
“The Girls” had an aunt, Bess, their mother’s sister who lived about sixteen miles away. We like to say that she had not one redeeming feature. Charlie was stuck with having to cope with her at times, which was to avoided if at all possible. “The Girls” thought she was the worst, but their mother’s training prevented them from cutting off contact with her. Charlie and I urged them to back off, but there was another factor involved. A. Bess by hook or crook, and I do mean crook had manipulated her parent’s estate. Our grandmother had ended up with the short end of the stick [in terms of amount of farm property], but A. Bess had lost her only child, a son, and “The Girls” being on the slim hope that as Bess’s only relatives, she would leave them sizable sums. As it turned out, A. Bess managed to take it with her. She gave each “The Girls”, including my mother and the 4th sister, Jo’s daughter) $10,000 apeice, but all the rest (some millions and valuable land, stables, etc.) in trust with the bank to be used bit by bit for town projects in Ava and Murphysboro, where she lived. Once, during Bess’s last days, Charlie was talking to his mother on the phone and she said, “By the way, honey, Bess just isn’t a bit good,” and Charlie’s reply was, “Well, mother, she never was!”
And Then Came the Hard Part
In the spring of 1985 I went for a visit to Ava and found Aunt Helen to be “poorly.” After I returned to Florida, I decided to go back and take her to a hospital to get help. “Louie” and I stayed at the Holiday Inn, for we were in Cape Girardeau, MO. And the news wasn’t very encouraging. Charlie came to get a first-hand look at the situation. [She had suffered a stroke in the right side of her face and in her throat.] I realized that Aunt Helen was just plain discouraged and willing to give up, but Charlie wasn’t going to have it that way. I was outside the room and I hear his big booming voice talking to Aunt Helen (she was quite deaf). I peeked in and Charlie was up one his knees leaning over A. Helen saying, “But I’m NOT ready for you to die – you have to buck up!!!” Well, that’s she did. I had the job of finding help. Charlie talked the doctor into releasing her and we brought her home, along with all of the necessary equipment. After we had the daily routine licked, Charlie’s children (most of the older ones) came and it gave Aunt Helen a real boost – how she prized each of them. Colin stayed on after everyone else, including Charlie, had left and his daily devotion to his Gramma was tender and dear beyond belief. The outpouring of love pulled Aunt Helen up and she surprised everyone by staying with us five more years. She was frail, but she followed her usual routine and kept busy making the most stunning coverlets. Her coverlets were made of wool squares and then put together. They were truly masterpieces and Charlie insisted she stay with the program!
In 1990 my little mother (and I do mean little – she was 4’10”) was fading and I came at the end of the summer to give her some love and attention. It didn’t take long to realize that she was slipping away. My children came, one at a time, for a week (or sometimes less) to lift Momma’s spirits and A came to keep me sustained. But, what really was my anchor was Charlie. Somehow his calling every day and giving me positive assurance took the sting away and the end was easy. We all gathered and Charlie and Sandi even brought Will, then a few months old, and the baby was everyone’s focus and delight. “The Girls” were grieved that they couldn’t be there, but Charlie assured the it was best and later a marker was placed in the Ava cemetery and Charlie and “The Girls” and a few others paid their respects. We had a service in Billings and Charlie gave the tribute to Momma based on the song “You’re the Top.” In his remarks, Charlie shared he had caught my mother’s soaring spirit, her verve for life, her contradictory qualities which made her so unique and attractive. Charlie did this with tenderness, humor, poignancy and direction. He repeated his eulogy when he and “The Girls” put a final period to Momma’s earthly experience.
Two years later we were called to Ava as Aunt Helen finally decided to go on her journey. Charlie and I arrived in Ava at almost the same moment and hurried to the hospital. Louie and some friends were there waiting. I think the hardest part of those dark moments is the waiting. Charlie was so brave. When he realized there was no real hope, he gave the order to stop all artificial means and let her go. I was so very proud of him and grateful beyond words. Many family members gathered and the service was in the church our great grandfather had built and where “The Girls” were brought up and where A’s and my marriage had taken place. I prepared some readings and Charlie’s eulogy was superb!! Different friends and relatives spoke of Helen who been deeply appreciated and treasured. We make our trek to the cemetery and Aunt Helen joined Uncle Dyp.
I might mention that the cemetery had a special place in our hearts. It may seem a bit macabre, but we had always enjoyed the cemetery. We played in it as children, decorated the grass on Memorial Day and always paid the cemetery a visit when we came to Ava. A chapter had closed in our lives when we there this time.
Amazingly, the pendulum swung in Charlie’s direction in the fall of 1995. I seemed sudden to me, but Charlie had not been well and when he entered the hospital and it was uncovered that he was gravely ill. This time his vivacity and staunch will just wasn’t enough. He had the very best of care, but it was a long scary road. This family was his strong foundation. His children came one by one. I called often, sent cards every day and prayed as much I ever had before! He was in the hospital for six months, but very slowly, he began to win the battle. My daughter, Becky, and I saw in Columbia in April of 1996. He was pitiful looking, thin and drawn, but he was smiling had broken through all of the predicted imitations. He was a super survivor!!
The experience had taken it toll in many ways. Charlie and Sandy’s relationship had become strained for some time and after Charlie, the fine thread that held them together broke. As Charlie was making the necessary provisions for Sandi and the boys, a new door opened for him. Charlie had some strong ties with AOL and he was approached about joining that organization. The timing was absolutely perfect. He left New York almost at once.
The whole new world of communication had fascinated Charlie and he was ready for the 21st Century. He relocated himself in New York. With Chas in school at the U. of Mass, three of the older children –Chris, Perry and Crickett – in Cape Cod, Charlie’s view was fresh and he went after it all with total expectancy!
Only one tie lingered – our aunt “Louie” was holding on to a thread of life. She lived in the Ava house, which was exquisite, as it had always had been and with help she was maintaining her life. Some of my children and A and I had spent Christmas and Mother’s Day with her since Aunt Helen was gone. Charlie had spent a few days in Ava the Christmas of 1997. Charlie was alone that year. He carried Louise downstairs to be with us at the Christmas table, but too much was missing. She could no longer play the piano and that had been her great gift to all of us. She had filled the house with joy because of her divine playing. She had instilled in us a craving for music, but it was her music that made the house swing. I wonder why we’re never ever prepared for the music to stop? But, in May 1998 it did.
A and I had come to stay in March and Charlie had joined us when he could for a hello-goodbye. “Louie” had vehemently insisted that there be no service. Being absent, Charlie, A and I and one of my sons went to the cemetery one last time. Charlie spoke in his inimitable way. It was a challenge for me to hold on and I think the Charlie felt the same. It was time for us to part Ava and [leave] all that it meant to us behind us. “Louie” was ninety-nine years old. We needed to leave her, our beloved one, the house, our tree home, and the farm with its stretches of golden grain and move on. It was done.
P.S. When we went to Ava in March to see about “Louie,” Charlie joined us and once again made it possible for us to bring “Louie” home. He carried her in his arms to the car and up to her bedroom at home. I was room she was born in and she died in.
Charlie definitely bloomed in his N. Y. environment. He loved N. Y.; he loved being close to many of the children – Megan lived in N.Y. too – and he loved the marvelous challenge of AOL. He as in the thick of what happenin’ and he reveled in it. He told me that after his severe illness it was as it he had died and when he came back everything had come up ROSES! One of the most beautiful roses that had come into Charlie’s new life was Julia. He was smitten almost immediately. It may be that his years of experience had finally taught him to realize LOVE when he saw it. In any case, he is a true romantic and having Julia to share his glittering new world with him as all he had dreamed. When he called me about his and Julia’s elegant wedding plans, I had to let the tears of joy roll!
Charlie was wonderfully inclusive in wanting everyone to share his Julia’s love. I had been quite ill and the prospect of my going to N.Y. looked pretty slim. Of course, Charlie wouldn’t have it that way, and I promised to leave the door open to the possibility of coming. Knowing of his life-long devotion and wanting so to take my place with him, I began to mend quickly. It seemed a minor miracle at the time, but two of our girls, Becky and Sarah were eager to go with me and at the last moment, we made out plans to go. The wedding was glorious from start to finish. Somehow it bathed all it touched with love and beauty. I was a huge family affair. At that time, Charlie had six sons, one son-in-law, two daughters, and three daughters-in-law. Julia had two adorable children, a college-age son and a sixteen year-old daughter. They were everywhere and many took part in the wedding. One family affair bursting with happiness!! The image stays with me of Charlie’s shining face as he looked down the aisle if the handsome church and watched Julia walk toward him. It went deep into my very soul.
All in all, it was the very best party I’ve ever been to – and a crown brilliant success for Charlie.
No more memories here, only a wide uncharted sea before you. It reminds me of standing in a high observatory tower in Canada. There was a sign that read, “Before you stretches 500 miles of uncharted and undeveloped land.” We don’t measure ideas in acres, fortunately, but you have won your freedom to go as far as your wonderfully creative thought can take you! If we were choosing a song to use here we might say, “The Best Is Yet to Come!” Your uniqueness can expand in many different directions, and with Julia at your side, you’re ready for the unfolding adventure. Your ceaseless expectancy will speed your progress. I be so eager to here what road you’re traveling.
My love and devotion for you knows no bounds of distance or time. We have been highly blessed to have taken this journey together.
You are so dear to me.