The Passing of a Matriarch
A TRIP TO ST. LUCIA IN 2011--- Patsy and Guy Geller travelled the world together. Here they are on a family trip to St. Lucia in the Caribbean in 2011. This week Guy celebrates the life of his beloved wife of 66 years, Patsy, who passed away on Sept. 7. A memorial service will be held at Silver Springs Baptist Church on Sept. 23, 2023 at 2 pm.
This is not only intended to chronicle the passing of a matriarch; it is also the celebration of the wonderful life we had together for sixty-six years.
Dalton and Wilda Alford ushered 1939 in, with a double celebration. Not only was it the beginning of a New Year, it was also the birth of their first child in the hospital of Tylertown, Mississippi. Baby Patsy just a couple of hours after midnight did not make them the first parents of the New Year, but the second, that entitled them to be the recipients of two dozen diapers. What a new adventure this would be.
Her early years were like other young girls; with dancing and acrobatics lessons,then beauty pageants which she won frequently. Trips a few miles to the country where both grandmothers’ houses were something to look forward to in the summers. The family moved to McComb so dad would be closer to his work as a railroad engineer ending up as engineer on the City of New Orleans of Arlo Guthrie fame.
Fate would come in to play. In the summer of 1955, she agreed to sit with her uncle’s two daughters on a weekend trip to the beach in Biloxi. Walking along the beach with the girls she spotted a young man walking toward them. He was close to her age, tanned and handsome. They stopped to talk when he asked her to get something to eat later; but he was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base and she had been warned to stay away from “those” airmen. Regardless; they met, ate, and boarded a Biloxi schooner that took guests on evening sails. They agreed to meet the next morning.
One of the girls became ill and the parents decided to pack up and go home. Patsy implored them to stay long enough to go meet the young airman whose name was Guy, to say goodbye. They met briefly, long enough for him to get her address. He was being sent to Naha AFB in Okinawa three weeks later and not having anything to write down her address, he said that he would commit it to memory.
A cross-country bus trip and twenty-two days aboard the MSTS Breckenridge later, he was able to mail a couple letters that he had written on the ship. They were the first of many exchanged over the period of eighteen months. Time for him to come back, he and his roommate were to fly from Naha to Tachikawa, Japan for a flight back to Seattle. Since rank has its privileges, they were “bumped off” their flight by two senior officers. Their trip would have to be rescheduled. As military scuttlebutt goes, word came back that the airplane had crashed a few hours out, killing everyone on board. Hearing that; Guy and his roommate Frank declined the next available flight and selected another sea voyage taking them to Inchon, Korea and Yokohama, Japan before the trans-Pacific voyage to Bremerton, Washington.
A transcontinental bus trip to his home in Connecticut, the purchase of a used car, and a short week visiting high-school friends with two movie dates, he hit the road south heading to a new adventure in Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Since his pen-pal Patsy, was in McComb, Mississippi he decided to detour and go visit. An expensive speeding ticket in York, Alabama that depleted the funds in his wallet except for the magnanimous gesture of the Justice of the Peace, “keep five dollars, never let it be said that I would send someone on the road without money in his pocket.”
Reaching Mc-Comb, I stopped at a Gulf Service Station asking for directions. It turned out that was the station the family used. Undergoing a third degree, who, what, where and why the answers must have satisfied him. He gave me the directions. The house was white stucco with a dog pen in the back. An attractive woman with jet black hair and high cheekbones and a quizzical smile opened the door. I introduced myself and she said she had been expecting me. We made small talk for an hour when she told me that Patsy was at a senior class party. Traditionally I had never waited for anyone for an hour, so I excused myself, got in my 1954 Lincoln and started to leave, when a car came to a screeching stop in the driveway. A girl even more beautiful than I remembered came running up. That year-and-a-half had been very kind to her. Of course, the many aunts who lived anywhere within thirty miles had to come take a look at this Yankee foreigner that Patsy had told them she was going to marry. That was unbeknown to me.
One childless Aunt Lois, insisted that I should stay in their guest room, at least for the night. I was exhausted and welcomed the invitation. That night turned into three. I was treated to good Southern food that I had not experienced since my seven months at Keesler AFB. The next weekend I drove back from Eglin for a date to meet more family at a country cookout. I wore a pale green suit that had been tailor-made in Hong Kong. Come to find out that Dad had seven brothers and sisters, and Mom had seven brothers and sisters also with spouses. Curmudgeon like, uncle Doy decided he was going to show up this Yankee. He pointed to a large branch, high up an oak tree in his yard, saying “my little granddaughter wants a swing from that limb.”
I realized that this was a test. I took off the tailor-made jacket, slipped off my loafers and socks, balanced walked on the limb, did a couple of clove hitches with his rope, slid down the rope and headed for my shoes. He looked up at Patsy with a sage “he’ll do!” Not wanting to sound disrespectful I said, “we have trees where I come from too.” He laughed, and we became instant friends.
Patsy and I found that we had a lot in common. Would it be enough for a marriage?
Dad had already paid for the first semester of nursing school in Jackson. Plus, I had heard him tell a friend that his little girl was not going to marry, “a damn, Yankee, Catholic, foreigner. It wouldn’t last six months anyway!” That was sixty-six years ago, last June 22nd. There was one daughter born in McComb, another daughter born in Semoutier, France; and a son born in Mildenhall, England. Then, six grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild, some with spouses. Plus, others by second marriage of one daughter.
One day, a few months ago, sixty-six years of marriage later we dubbed Patsy the matriarch of the Geller clan. It totaled 36 progenies. Not bad for a marriage that reputedly would not last six months.
Sadly, four days after our anniversary, Patsy suffered a debilitating stroke. I had suffered a heart-attack four months prior. I tried to take good care of my life-long partner but after three days I realized that it would not be possible to take care of her as she deserved. The answer had to be Billdora Senior Care in Tylertown, MS.
Living only twelve miles away, I visited her twice a day. I watched the painful decline of her mind, but also of the great and affectionate care she was receiving from the staff. I dropped my visits to the afternoons when she knew me and we could carry-on somewhat of a conversation about early memories, mostly about trips, some with our children and about river cruises. We reminisced about a many of the friends we had made together, all over the country and some in Europe.
Two of those weeks were pretty good. Then the decline became more rapid. A trip to the hospital aided her comfort for three days. Our son Rusty, his wife Helen and I visited her again on the afternoon of September seventh. That night at 9:41 that dreaded call came. Two months to the day after entering Billdora.
We had lost the matriarch of five generations, the mother of two girls, Karoyl in McComb, Mississippi, Therese known as Teri in Semoutier, France and Guy W. R. known as Rusty in Mildenhall, England; and my lifelong friend, mate, partner, wife, and lover.
She had been right in 1955. She did meet the man she was going to marry and what a wonderful life we have had together for those sixty-six years after June 22, 1957.
For twenty-five years, she proofread my eight hundred or so Armchair Ponderings before forwarding it to the Magnolia Gazette. Automatically, I looked at her chair to give her this column. I realized; she would never be there again!
PATSY AND GUY WITH THE FIFTH GENERATION--- Here is a photograph of Patsy with Guy holding their great-great grandchild Nevaeh. Patsy and Guy emphasized family in their marriage and have 36 progenies: kids, grandkids, great grandkids, and great-great grandkids.