Hugh met Virginia right after coming home from the end of the Second World War; it was a wonderfully vibrant time. The boys were home, the Nazis would be defeated, and it was only a matter of time before the President announced it (which Truman later did in December of 1946). Hugh had been at the front lines over a year now. It had been hell, but he managed to stay clear of harm’s way with his keen skills and “one hell of a platoon” as he would often relay to his veteran friends down at the civic center. (They met occasionally, there were just of handful of them left now.) He also spent long hours reading books by some of the greatest authors at that time; John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler. The Philip Marlowe serial novels were popular among his platoon; the books got tossed back and forth in the evenings when it was leisure time in the tents and had long since become tattered, stained, burned by cigarettes and occasionally missing a page or two, but they read them anyway, it did help pass time. Hemingway was his (and every other soldier’s) hero at the time. His favorites being Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises; in fact he was carrying a very battered copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls in his pack when they lost six members of their crew when the Germans found them. He read that book particularly fiercely that evening as the death, physical and mental fatigue of the day’s activities took grip on the men. They ended up losing one more man by the end of their time there and Hugh hoped he never had to see that kind of death staring him in the face ever again.
He had put in his time and even received his commendation of the silver oak leaf that he proudly displayed on his uniform at Remembrance Day celebrations. In 1946, Hugh was 23, he had money in his pocket and was feeling relieved to be home. A lot of had happened in his 82 year old life, but he’d never forget the day he walked in to the Thrift Mart to purchase some sandwich fixings and milk. He spotted this tiny little brunette working the cash register like she could do it in her sleep. Hugh thought he had never seen a prettier smile as she checked out the patron in front of him. Once it was his turn, he felt his palms sweating madly. Well it took several more trips back to that market to finally strike up the nerve to ask her out and when she accepted with the slightest of blushes, well Hugh felt like dancing right there in the aisle.
Over the course of the next few months, they became very much in love with each other as well as best friends. One passion they shared, were books; and even though she preferred the works of Agatha Christie, Margaret Mitchell and Virginia Woolf over Hemingway, he simply loved how she lit up and her speech sped up as she excitedly explained a new plot twist in the latest Christie novel. He just always felt good and exceptionally lucky to be with her, no matter the reason. They spent hours strolling through parks, visiting museums, shopping and their favorite, the bookstores.
They married the following spring. They had danced all night until the sun came up, three times alone to the song, “Surrender” by Perry Como which would become, “their song”. Life had been kind to them over the years; Hugh got a job at the new B.F Goodrich Company producing tires and other valuable rubber products earning a decent wage, while Virginia stayed home to raise their new son, David. Virginia had been an exceptional mother to David and less than two years later, they welcomed their second son, Daniel to the family and one year after that their youngest son, Anthony was born. Those were the good years and Hugh looked back upon them now fondly. The vacations they took together, the family breakfasts, Christmas’s past, the boys’ high school graduations, and then the not so happy memories leaked in. When their middle son Daniel had turned twenty he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps like his father and when Uncle Sam called his boys to fight in Vietnam, he followed orders. He never made it home, in his place came a letter certified by President Nixon and a commemorative flag that remained on their mantelpiece for decades. Virginia had taken that hard and so did Hugh but he tried to remain strong for his family. That’s when they began reading the Bible together. It started with services held on Sundays at their local parish but their faith flowered from there. It was routine for them to spend a little time before bed each night taking turns reading the Bible out loud to one another. It was therapeutic for them and kept them strong during those hard times.
As the years went on, Anthony had moved out years prior to that and now had his own family, Hugh and Virginia decided it was long overdue that they take time for themselves. They began purchasing atlases and books about different states and countries they wanted to visit. Virginia had even begun a poster board in the study with pictures and images of places they were going to see. They read all about the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Alaska and New Mexico. Hugh had always been a big fan of the old western novels and had a stack of them in their study which was actually more of a library with some comfortable chairs and a desk where Virginia organized her coupons, recipes and letters. They visited ALL these places together. Had saved up for years and gotten themselves a small RV and the two just drove for a good two years exploring and experiencing all the places they read about firsthand.
Five years ago they were planning another trip; the books they were reading at the time were about New Orleans. Virginia’s all time favorite book was Gone with the Wind so this was a particularly exciting trip for her, when Hugh noticed some odd behavior in his wife that caused him concern. First it was little things like forgetting to pick up some item at the store while she was out, forgetting she had started a load of laundry or overcooking dinner. Hugh suggested she see a doctor, she said she would but she merely chalked it up to getting older and not getting enough sleep or perhaps lacking a certain vitamin in her body. Tests were done and it was determined that Alzheimer’s disease had been the cause of her memory lapses and recent fatigue. For three hard years he watched his beloved wife’s health and mind decline. He had some help caring for her but it was difficult. Some days, all she did was lie there with her eyes open seemingly unaware of his presence. He tried to keep her comfortable and he read to her constantly. He read all her old favorites, including Gone With the Wind. She sometimes had days where she was lucid and it seemed like the other days simply never happened but these days were getting fewer and farther between. It got to the point where she needed far more care than her immediate family could provide and it was decided she would go in to a facility where there were doctors and nurses on hand at all times. Hugh would return home from visiting Virginia and lie on top of his half empty bed knowing it wouldn’t be long before she was gone. His best friend, his lovely lovely wife was slipping away from him. On her nightstand sat the last book he had been reading to her, it was a John Grisham novel that took place in New Orleans. He wept.
Virginia passed away on a Tuesday and she was buried on a Saturday. Hugh used a quote from one of Virginia’s favorite books, “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen as an epitaph; “My Heart is and Always Will be Yours”
Hugh passed away only two months after his wife. He had been found resting peacefully in the study he and his wife had shared with a book on his lap while a photo of he and Virginia standing by the Grand Canyon sat propped up against the lamp next to him. He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
Live Humbly, Be Charitable, Live Graciously,