Life Stories

George was a cousin to my grandpa Howard Berry. Growing up, I knew George only through his work at the funeral home. When my sister and I bought what was his mother’s childhood home on Fairchild Street in Iowa City in 2002, a small photo album came with the purchase. In that album were a few pictures of George. I was quite taken with one of these—an old black-and-white showing George as a young man with his grandma (my great-great grandma) Nettie Lake. In the picture, George and Grandma Lake are in the kitchen—the kitchen that I use today. George is forking meat onto a platter that Grandma holds. The two have genuine smiles on their faces. I’m sure George’s attire has something to do with those smiles. Over George’s white collared shirt and necktie is a small ruffled floral-print apron, likely one of Grandma Lake’s or Aunt Doris's that he just happened to throw on for the occasion! After studying this picture, I was sure George was a helpful, caring, and lighthearted guy who enjoyed time with family.

I had the great pleasure to discover that George indeed did possess these wonderful qualities when he invited me, my aunt Linda, and Linda’s fiancé, Stan, to his house in November. In his 91st year, George visited enthusiastically with us, talking about his past professions, family members that I never met, as well as his upcoming plans to travel to Texas for the winter. He graciously gave us a tour of his neat home, which, on that day, was bathed in yellow light from the autumn canopy outside the house. He showed us his artwork—stained glass, ceramic figurines, candle holders—and even opened his bedroom closet to show us how tidy he kept his belongings. George’s daughter, Anita, followed behind, turning off lights as we exited one room and then another. “Are you getting the lights?” George called back to Anita.

George was so full of life and vigor that day. And we were all excited to make plans for some family heirlooms to return to the Lake house—my home on Fairchild Street. George agreed to visit the old house next spring when he returned to Iowa to see how the space had changed and—for the most part—had not changed. I let him know I was very fond of the house and its antique charm. He seemed pleased.

I do regret that George will not be able to visit my home, our family’s home, after all. Our time, unfortunately, started late and was cut too short. I do know that the Lake house on Fairchild Street will continue to carry George's spirit with it as well as those of our ancestors and the many memories they made. More than anything, I’m grateful to have learned a bit more about the handsome young man in the pretty floral apron who once stood in my kitchen.