By Arthur H. Gunther III
I had a friend named Ginny, who was a fellow trustee at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, N.Y. A very effective communicator, she was particular about doing things right, to a standard, and she spoke her mind in polite but underscored words. Ginny was outgoing, quite sociable and gathered lifelong friends wherever she lived — in New York, Boston, Chicago, elsewhere. To the individual, she was all ears, as if you were the only one she ever spoke to. She was a feisty debater, even playing the devil’s advocate when she was in argument over similar beliefs.
That all this, her lifestyle, brought smiles to Ginny’s face, especially in her last years in South Nyack, N.Y., was a blessing for her and the people she touched.
A vital part of that picture was her beautiful 1850s home on Clinton Avenue, a gracious structure not unlike Ginny’s own bearing. She bought the timeworn but well-constructed house from the Deed family, which was appropriate because it had been owned by Bob, once a journalist and then a book writer. Ginny could not live anywhere where words were not well spoken, read, written. This house was a sure fit.
In her particular ways, Ginny redid the structure so that it became her home, one that would host parties, family gatherings, trustee occasions and a local historic house tour. She
assembled just the right tradesmen, almost adopting each fellow who came into her circle. In turn, these people learned that mother wanted things done her way, and that meant realigning molding if it was off level or not mitered exactly. It meant replacing and redoing work. In the end, the house became a home and quite beautiful at that.
Ginny also depended on a few people who volunteered repair work, but she held these men and women to the same standards as the paid tradesmen. I was privileged to be in that volunteer group, installing such things as deadbolts, electrical fixtures and radiator valves.
The last time I saw Ginny Garbers was on a repair job, which by then had become an excuse for conversation and some wine, for debates on government, for talks about art and Hopper House, for quiet, mutual pause, for the slightest mention of an illness that would soon take her life.
On that last day, Ginny greeted me at the door, this beautifully restored original entrance that had opened to visitors long before automobiles and electric lights. She had a shiny brass knob in her hand, meant to replace the original, which would pull off its shank from wear. Ginny had searched far and wide for just the right knob, sending back one that was too small. The proper handle arrived, she called me, and when I got to the house, Ginny met me with a huge smile as she held the shiny knob in her hand. I set out to install it, Ginny hovering in her usual foreman’s stance. Install not once but four times, so that the feel was just right, just right for Particular Ginny.
I did get it right, and then we sat down in her well-finished living room to conversation that ran all over the place and some red wine labeled “Menage à Trois,” a French reference that Francophile Ginny laughed about. At some point, the usual-of-late, delicate, not prying but concerned question came up: “How is it going?” Ginny, though she kept health and other private matters in limited conversation, as was her upbringing, did mention her nighttime pain, her rejection of another chemotherapy round and wondered out loud, “I just don’t know how long …” We dropped the subject and shared more words on this and that.
It was time to leave, and Ginny, with another huge smile on her face, went to the door, took the polished brass knob in hand and grandly opened it. It was almost as if she had yet another beautiful child to glow about.
So full of life Ginny was that day, just weeks before her passing, that you could not have expected it. Maybe six months, I thought, maybe a year. I’ll be here again. But I did not return. Nor did the many friends Ginny had.
Now, the door knob, the final capping of her home, so appropriately placed at the entrance to her grand achievement, will serve to welcome other life, as Ginny Garbers would have it. Job completed, in her particular way.
But I did not return. Nor did the many friends Ginny had. Now, the door knob, the final capping of her home, so appropriately placed at the entrance to her grand achievement, will serve to welcome other life, as Ginny Garbers would have it. Job completed, in her particular way.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.