Ray doesn’t remember things the way he once did. Quite understandably at 87, he finds it much more difficult to keep track. Bernice, his wife of 58 years, stands by to fill in the blanks, but at 85, she has her hands full doing it for herself some days.
They raised six children together, all a year apart. In turn, they’ve been blessed with 12 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
When they first moved to Maine many years ago, they expected the worst and found the best. The stories about having to carve through the ice-covered lakes to get fresh water in winter were greatly exaggerated, of course, and their new home in the woods just outside of town brought them immense pleasure. It had a large back deck that ran the length of the entire house. There they could spend hours looking out over the grassy fields that Ray had painstakingly transformed from weeds and scrub brush.
In his early years, Ray had excelled as an English teacher back in upstate New York. He specialized in reading, or more precisely teaching others to read. Revered by parents and students alike, he had a gift for figuring out why his students couldn’t read and finding a way through the fog for hundreds of them. He claims his secret was simply patience.
“It wasn’t about intelligence. The problem invariably was in their ability to put all the pieces together. I just took the time to help them get past it and taught to their strengths.”
Ray had his own strengths when it came to language, though. So much so that before leaving the Adirondacks for Maine he had become an authority on spelling and the English language. Eventually he authored close to 25 books to help people grasp the nuances of our language. One title, “The New Spelling: Orthographic Structuralism” requires a dictionary before most people can even crack its cover. Others had more reader-friendly titles, such as “1001 Homonyms and Their Meanings” or “101 Lessons About Language.” He gave more than 20 lectures, including one at McGill University before a scholarly audience that included world-renowned spelling reformer Sir James Pitman.
“I could write books until they were coming out of my ears.”
Ray is lucky to have captured a lot of his hard-won knowledge for all time in his books. But two hip replacements, a new knee, two eye surgeries and a defibrillator pretty much spelled out a new reality when it came down to how he lived from day to day. And Bernice has her own growing list.
So the decision to give up their dream home in the woods may not have been an easy one, but there was no question that maintaining a large household was overwhelming them with each passing day. Five years ago, they arranged to move in to a comfortable one-level studio apartment adjacent to one of their children’s homes in town, where they could live independently but still be within range of help.
“Our first home was a small apartment over a garage, and six homes later, here we are, right back where we started. We try not to think about that too much.”
They want to hold on to their life together for as long as possible. But already, simple tasks like shopping for groceries and preparing meals are starting to overtake them. Fortunately, help was just a phone call away. Now each day like clockwork the late morning knock at the door ushers in the scent of warm, home-cooked dinners from Meals on Wheels. One day it might be meatloaf and the next, chicken or the occasional pot roast. But it’s always fresh out of the oven and nutritious. Ray has even grown quite fond of the peach-flavored fruit cup desserts.
Sometimes a pretty good life gets down to a good meal in your own home.
Thanks to Meals on Wheels, Ray and Bernice are eating well in their 80s and still at home.