It was the second marriage for both of them. Each had lost their spouse. Hyle was a bit older than Gini. Actually I met them first socially. As Parish Visitor I was visiting Charlie and Opal (blog post, October 2014). Hyle and Gini were friends of theirs, plus members of our church. So I added them to my regular visiting list. They lived in North Muskegon, a couple miles from me.
|Gini and Hyle, 2008…|
Almost a half century before, Charlie and Hyle had worked together for the same company, in different departments. Living about 10 miles from each other, they had remained friends and in touch with each other over the years since they had retired. Now Charlie and Opal were in their upper-90’s, Hyle about 5 years behind them, and Gini a few years younger than the rest. They had not seen each other for a few months, so John and I invited the four of them over for a barbecue. Ribs, potato salad, baked beans and apple pie. John and I didn’t have much to say all night. Honestly, I was tickled pink just listening to their stories. And boy could they eat! Nothing wrong with any of their appetites. Well, Opal was only about as big as my pinkie finger, so she didn’t break any records. But they all packed away the meal pretty good.
|Opal and Charlie, 2005…|
So Hyle and Gini were now on my list. Hyle had some physical health issues, but was razor sharp. And how he loved to talk. He grew up with a learning disability. Had trouble reading. I don’t know if it was dyslexia. He never said. One of his aunts came over every day after school. She read Hyle’s assignments to him, then he completed his homework. She kept this up even when he was in college. Hyle was brilliant. Graduating from Kansas State with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. On the side he liked buy homes that needed remodeling. He never made a big deal about his reading issues and was rather nonchalant. Which I found amazing, and uplifting. What a story of perseverance and determination.
John thought it would be a neat idea if he could take Hyle and Charlie through their old factory, which was still open. Couple of problems with that idea. First issue were both sets of their 90 plus year old legs. Neither could manage to walk any distance at all. Liability of them in the building was dicey too. But John knew a guy. Mike was the head of their maintenance department. Mike cajoled the owners into allowing Charlie and Hyle to tour the factory. At a quiet time towards the end of the day. John lined up a golf cart for the old gents to get around. Had a few hand picked employees at certain work stations ready to meet and greet. Then explain their various job descriptions. Showed them around, made them feel welcome and important. As they were. They probably knew more about what was going on than the young whippersnappers. Mike and John gave them the grand tour.
|Holding Opal’s hand at her 100th birthday party, 2010…|
Mike and John brought them back here for supper. I picked up Opal, Gini drove her own car. That night was almost magical. John, Mike and I kept our lips pretty much zipped. Charlie and Hyle were still awestruck. Maybe that’s not the right word. One of them would start telling a story. Something they’d seen or someone they had met and talked to earlier in the day. Something that brought back so many flooding memories. Then they’d both start crying. Just get past those strong emotions, and soon they would be overcome again. How incredible it had been to go through the place. Those young guys who knew their names. It was such a touching night. I’m really not coming up with a very precise description. John, Mike, Opal, Gini and me. All crying because Charlie and Hyle were completely overwhelmed with emotion. About a simple factory tour. It was just the best night for all of us. Everyone was emotionally spent by the end of the night. Buoyant. A nearly euphoric feeling.
Gini and I were great friends. She had suffered through a lot of heartache in her life. Lost her first husband, plus her only daughter from cancer when Sherilyn was a young adult. Gini also had 4 sons, and several grandchildren. For years she had owned a daycare called Gramma’s House, before she retired and married Hyle. And she was an expert knitter. Every bit as as good my Mom. She knit a one-piece, lined snowsuit for a great grandson a few years ago. It was sky blue with kites in the pattern. The little kite strings were attached to the snowsuit, but hanging loose. It was about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Why did I not think to take a picture of it? She made me a couple of sweaters too. She’d have 3 or 4 complicated projects going at the same time, lying around the living room.
|One of the sweaters Gini made for me, 2008…|
Until he was physically unable, Hyle was putzing in the house. He always found something that needed to be re-done. And he was pretty much an expert on anything concerning the house. His mind had all the right answers, but his body was not in any condition to do this kind of physical labor anymore. Hyle just couldn’t and wouldn’t accept that. Or stop. When Gini ran to the grocery store for a half hour, God only knew where Hyle would be when she got back home. His usual spot? Up the ladder in the garage to the attic. Re-wiring the house. He was over 90 years old. Gini had to call the fire department at least twice to help get him down. She ended up removing all the ladders from their house so he’d stop climbing and doing electrical work. Then he wanted new trim for a doorway. Sawed off a good hunk of a finger. During another home improvement episode he fell, tearing his Achilles tendon. Which required surgery, a cast, later a boot and physical therapy. (By this time, Hyle was proving to be Gini’s Achilles heel)
Hyle and Gini had a huge cabin cruiser named Hy C’s. Clever. He just couldn’t get enough of being on the water. Captain duties for a guy past 90, taking friends out to cruise around Lake Michigan just had to stop. He was unsteady, his legs were getting so weak. Location of where his boat was docked was quite a hike too at the marina. For a couple years they still had Hyle’s birthday party on the boat. But tied at their own slip. Finally Gini convinced Hyle to sell the boat. For his safety and her sanity. He remained skeptical. And longed for that boat the rest of his life.
|Another sweater Gini’s constant needles produced for me…|
This caregiving slowed down Gini’s works of art projects. She was now a full time care giver. She and I actually took a 6 week series on caregiving and burnout together about 8 years ago. Helping me to understand what spouses and family go through when caregiving is all consuming in their lives. (Something I was witnessing first hand with them) Gini, for her new role in caring for Hyle.
Gini was an excellent cook, baker and canner. She loved to entertain. They both enjoyed my potato salad so much, I think there was only a time or 2 in almost a decade when I made it without bringing them a quart. She actually ordered a gallon a time or 2 when she was entertaining their large, extended family.
I brought Hyle and Gini Communion once a month for several years. Hyle always made me move my chair very close to his. He’d hold my hand the entire time. There he sat, smiling, nodding as I read the familiar liturgy. He was quite hard of hearing by then. But I like to think he felt better connected to God and the church when it was a little more intimate.
|About 3 yrs. ago, Gini brought me the Bamboo plant on the right…|
After a while, Gini’s health wasn’t very good either. She had been in a car accident years before. Had lingering back and ankle issues. And now a bad heart. But when Hyle was nearing the end of his earthly life, Gini refused to move him to a Hospice facility. I sat in Hyle’s bedroom many times, quietly visiting with Gini while she took care of him. Hyle passed away a few months after his dear friend Charlie, in 2011. Gini had couple good years after that. Took a rare vacation cruise with one of her nieces. But her heart was in pretty bad shape. She was watching her 2-1/2 year old great granddaughter for a few minutes while Gini’s son and daughter picked up a bushel of apples they were going to make into pies and sauce. Gini collapsed before they got back home. I wish I had that newspaper article, reporting what happened that day. I’m a little sketchy on the details. I know the toddler was 2-1/2 because she’s the same as our grandson, Graham. And he would not say one word on the phone yet then. This little girl actually dialed 911 and said her granny was sleeping and wouldn’t wake up. Ambulance service traced the call, and saved Gini’s life. Her newly installed pacemaker helped for a awhile. But Gini joined Sheri, Hyle, Charlie and Opal in heaven last summer at age 79. I miss watching her knitting needles fly as we’d sit together visiting…