February 17, 2012 marks the one year anniversary of the passing of my beloved Bernice. This post will begin with Bernice Remembered, a collection of love notes celebrating her life. After the love notes comes the latest Bernice and Garry episode, Love Finds a Home
From Zach Perry, grandson
I hope you are doing well today on such an emotional day. I wanted to just share a small blurb about our grand canyon trip. I really enjoyed it very much and have indelible memories of not only Grammy but of you as well. I’m glad we all were able to spend so much time together as a family and am truly glad that we are able to still have an awesome relationship even through her passing. I hope today is not just a day of sadness but also another celebration of our time with Grammy here. I love you very much.
From Garrett Winters, grandson
Many, and maybe even most, of the best memories in my life so far
involve Grammy. If I were to go to my happy place in my mind, I
undoubtedly go to where I feel most at home: 4303 E Cactus Rd, 148B
#8, sitting on the porch in the sun with Grammy. The smell of freshly
cut grass and coffee is in the air, and we are watching hummingbirds
darting around the yard, and drinking from the feeder. In the
mornings, whether she was visiting us, or we were visiting there, I
would always climb into bed with her in the mornings, and we’d cuddle
and talk, or watch the sun rise over the golf course. Even in my
teens, when I felt that I was too ‘mature’ to do the same with my
parents, I never thought twice about cuddling up with Grammy in the
morning. I was always welcome, and always loved. I love you and miss
you Grammy. You will be in my heart forever.
From John Koze, brother-in-law
Here’s my words for Bernice:
“What a stellar sister-in-law. I always felt comfortable talking and being with her and thoroughly enjoyed her calm demeanour and strength.”
From Karen Koze, sister
My sister was such a wonderful person and such a great sister! I think of her every day and remember her laughter and her great sense of humor. She was like a mother to me and a sister and a friend all in one. She left behind such wonderful children and grandchildren and a loving partner who adored her. She was my inspiration for keeping in shape and working out to Jane Fonda back in the day!!! I love her and miss her.
From Sandi Hill, daughter
Mom – I miss you everyday – I think of you often – I want call you when I’m having a bad day and equally when I’m having a good day. You’ve inspired me to be a better person, mom and friend. I LOVE YOU!
From Ellen Perry, daughter
So many things run through my mind when I think of Mom.
Little things I miss; Sunday morning in her bed with coffee watching Money Talk
Tuna sandwiches for lunch
reading the paper on the back patio
Friday nights at Eli’s
The way she would rub my back and my hair when I layed in her lap while she read her book
Hearing her say “hi babe how ya doing?” when I was traveling
A lazy week in the Florida Keys on the beach with her drinking rum runners at the tiki bar
walking the golf course in the days when she was faster than me
Having her try to explain the stock market to me, and I never did get it.
Her brilliant mind, even near the end, when she wasnt sure what year it was, she could still ask how the market was doing.
I miss her every day. The piercing pain is gone and in its place is an empty space. I try to fill that space with good memories.
I love you Mom.
From Patti Winters, daughter
I miss you
Charles Tait, brother (as told by Garry Cox)
I first met Charles (Chuck) back in Southfield, MI. This may have been the first time I was introduced at a family gathering. Of course I was nervous. Especially about meeting Chuck. Maybe because he was so much taller than me. I was much relieved that Chuck turned out to be an amiable, witty guy whose company I came to enjoy. However, I did get one admonishment from Chuck, one that would last the rest of Bernice’s life. As he was leaving he shook my hand, looked me directly in the eye, and said, “Take care of my sister.”
Over the years Chuck visited us often in our home in Phoenix. Not once did he leave without saying, “Take care of my sister.”
I did the very best I could, Chuck. Thank you for your friendship.
Love finds a home
Dialogue for a long distance Love Affair
Bernice: How was your day?
Garry: A day. How was yours?
Bernice: Same. What you got up tonight?
Garry: Boozing. Trolling for women. You?
Bernice: My boyfriend’s coming over.
Garry: Don’t let him drink my beer. (Pause) Miss me Sweetie?
Bernice: Sweetie? From Mr. Romantic, Mr. Shakespeare I get Sweety?
Garry: Is that a yes or a no?
Bernice: It’s a yes but you don’t deserve it.
Garry: So tell me how you’re going to miss me.
Bernice: You serious?
Garry: Like a starched shirt on Sunday.
Bernice: I don’t know. Ok, so maybe I can’t stop thinking about you and I toss and turn all night.
Garry: Now you’re talking!
Bernice: You’d better be doing some tossing and turning yourself, babe. Alone.
Garry: You got it kid.
Bernice: You better! (Pause) Hey, call me if you can’t sleep.
According to the online almanac, Michigan is not a sunshine state. Witness Detroit in March. The almanac credits Detroit and Wayne County with thirteen days “with sun” and eighteen days “with cloud”. I had never paid much attention to the weather until the KISS that turned me into a zealous Week-end Warrior, living and working in the city and spending weekends with Bernice at her place.
Detroit in March, 1992 featured an inexplicable symmetry consisting of a most curious ratio of sunny to cloudy days. In any given week the “days with sun” began promptly at noon on Friday and ended at dusk on Sunday. Monday thru Thursday however, were not “days with clouds”, they were flat out cloudy. And wet and gloomy to boot.
But weather, like real estate, is all about location, location, location. I spent the sunny days with Bernice at her home in Southfield, and I languished in Clyde’s closet over the cloudy days.
Friday’s, any time after we both got home from work, were most satisfying. Seeing her smile. Re-uniting after an interminable separation. Hugs. Home cooked meals. Watching re-runs of Northern Exposure. A Pistons game if I got lucky. Later getting very lucky.
But Saturday’s took the weekend sweepstakes hands down. For openers, we made it a point to never get out of bed before 10:00 am. And then just to get our first cup of coffee and bring it back to bed. It was no easy task, hiding under the covers as the sun flooded our bedroom in vain attempt to ferret us out. We would spend the last half hour in oxygen debt brought on by poking, tickling and giggling.
Upon the final shucking of covers we would head for the kitchen for our ritual team breakfast. Team Bagel was our moniker. Running and power walking was our game. We even had matching warm-up suits, nylon-polyester, black with green trim. Very smart. As you might expect our training table restricted us to bagels, orange juice and additional coffee as needed.
Despite our lollygagging, we usually hit the Kensington Park about noon. By the first March of our relationship, we had already adopted the park as our personal playground. Although over time we drove, ran, or walked around the entire Park, we were especially keen on the lake path that circumscribed Lake Kensington in a precisely measured 8-mile loop. The two salient features of the path were its hills and its well-defined mile markers. The hills ranged from moderate to extreme with overlooks that allowed for observations of path traffic below. The mile markers, including corresponding half mile marks, were well maintained, always easy to read.
Both of us were more free, more our true selves on that path than either of us had ever been before. The only fly in the soup was the time factor. Although later, after we moved to Phoenix, we both became avid hikers and runners, the Kensington days found us totally compartmentalized. I ran and Bernice power walked and never the twain did meet.
The challenge: how did we both do our thing and still complete our workouts at the same time in the same place, neither of us left waiting too long? I didn’t have a clue. All I knew was that I wanted every inch of that 8 mile loop every time I set foot on the path. With my intractable position in mind Bernice came up with a plan.
She had already observed that I ran approximately twice as fast as she power walked. That’s with both of us operating at peak efficiency. She concluded that she could stride out two miles and then back, giving her a four-mile workout. Given our 2:1 speed ratio, I could run the eight miles around the lake, arriving at our starting point within a few minutes of Bernice. At least that’s what we told ourselves. In hindsight, I don’t remember ever getting back first. Bernice was always sitting there waiting on me. And she was always coy about how long she may have been sitting there. I never doubted that she had done her miles. I just wondered, how fast is she?
The say timing is everything, but I believe without the aide of location, not so much. It was the convergence of these two elements, a sunny Saturday in March and a specific point on the Kensington running path, that produced the visual that became my all-time signature image of Bernice.
As per Bernice’s plan, we attacked the path together. Me leading, not expecting to see Bernice again for another hour. I’m running freely, climbing easily. Feeling maybe a tad superior to anyone who can’t match my pace. I had just climbed a long, steep but gradually curved section when I hit a switchback that caused me to corkscrew towards the direction I had come from. Had to be somewhere in the first mile. As I was turning back I glanced down at a figure attacking the long slope with a vengeance. I slowed for a refocus and almost tripped at what I saw. It was Bernice. Shoulders back, head up, hands pumping high, elbows swinging back and deep. Long legs eating real estate like their lives depended on it. A woman having a blast with her own strength and mobility.
And that was only her body. Her apparel totally matched her physical efforts. Still wearing her blonde Fro, she sported a bright blue headband, wide and ribbed, sweeping from her forehead, over her ears, and knotted stylishly in the back. Form fitting running slacks. And then there was the jacket. Nylon. Tight on the body, a bit puffy in the sleeves, tucked tightly around the waist. The colors? To be honest I have never been able to account for all the swatches of vibrant colors. The closest I can come is from my six year old imagination of what the biblical Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors looked like. What a wondrous coat that must have been!
I got lost in her for a time. In fact, the moment I turned to hightail it on to the next hill, I was in danger of being run down by a power walker. But also in that moment I heard myself say, “I can’t believe she’s my girlfriend. This beautiful, absolute force of nature is my girlfriend.”
Post Kensington, back at Bernice’s spacious condo. Almost as soon as I started commuting and staying over for weekends, I was afforded luxuries I was not used to. I had my own bathroom, which I used. My own bed, which I did not use. My own spot in the attached two-car garage. My own garage door opener. My own computer located in a little office Bernice set up fore me in her full basement. She claimed she had clipped the computer from one of her Doctors. I liked the idea of clipping it more than I liked the computer. Doss was so not my thing.
I’ll never know now whether Bernice was thinking maybe I was taking these things too much for granted, or whether she just wanted a relationship upgrade. Either way it was probably a good thing she asked me to sit down with the beer I had just helped myself to. Usually I don’t care to be asked to sit since I can pretty much do so without being bid. This time I didn’t mind. My danger antennae didn’t register any eminent discomfort. So I’m sitting and Bernice is standing and I can see her wheels turning. Then abruptly she opens the refrigerator door and uncharacteristically fetches a beer out for herself. She squares her chair off with mine. Sits and just looks at me for a moment. Did I tell you at one time she had sat a mean chair in her poker club? What happened to the folded hands on the table gambit, I wondered. This was before I learned that she never made the same move twice, in anything.
Bernice: I’m just wondering about something.
Garry: (to self) WHAAAAT????
Bernice: Well, I’ve just been thinking…
Garry: (to self) I’m not jumping this pause for all the rice in China.
Bernice: Ok, you know you’ve been staying here every weekend for, what, a month or two.
Garry: (To self) Not good.
Bernice: You already have access to the house whether I’m here or not.
Believe it or not, at that moment I actually shot past Bernice. I knew exactly where she was going with this. Not more than a week ago my friend/landlord Clyde and I were sitting around…sharing…ok we were doing what most ex hippies back in the early nineties did on a slow night.
Clyde: So what do you and Bernice have up for this weekend?
Garry: Not much. You know, Kensington, maybe a movie. I think we might be starting ballroom dancing.
Clyde: So when are you leaving?
Garry: Friday, like usual.
Clyde: No, I mean when are you leaving here?
I must have given him a puzzled look because he didn’t wait very long for me to answer.
Clyde: Don’t play innocent. You know what I’m talking about.
Garry: Ok, I know what you’re talking about but I don’t want you to know I know.
Clyde: I swear to God, you’re just like all the rest of them. (ordinarily Clyde is not one to be cute or beat around the bush-?)
Garry: Who all the rest?
Clyde: Roommates. You think I don’t see the signs.
Garry: The signs?
Clyde: The signs that tell me I’m losing another roommate. The signs that tell me you are moving in with Bernice.
Garry: Why do you say that?
Clyde: Why is your business. I just know you’re about to do it.
I had barely cycled the event byte through when Bernice popped her beer open and took a quick swig.
Bernice: I’m just thinking you might as well move in full time. You’re already here. You clothes are in the closet. Your oil slick waiting-to-happen is parked in my garage.
I don’t know how many swigs either of us took before I answered.
Garry: Have to admit, you’ve made me very comfortable here. (slight pause) I could do that. Matter of fact, I would like very much to live with you. (slighter pause) I feel like, I don’t know…I feel like it’s an honor you asked me. Thank you.”
Since that day I have never said an unkind word about either the month of March or the city of Detroit. For the same reason I’ve always known that almanacs are a bunch of hooey.
The sun shines when and where you want it to. Trust me on that.