With Valentine’s Day near at hand, while out on my porch I can’t help but gaze at the porch next door.
It’s not the porch of the neighbors who live in that house now that I see. It’s the porch of the elderly couple who lived there when I first moved into my house that I see.
It is a love story to share.
I would while away countless evenings on their porch listening as Jess Nelson told stories about running a store in not the best part of Evansville and later his store in Winslow. I listened as Virginia Nelson told about trying to help the kids that they knew were having a hard time. When they ran their store in Winslow my dad was one of those kids. He said at every store in town sandwiches cost a nickel but at Jess’s store they were free. Virginia would tell of working at Browns Grocery and how she enjoyed the high school kids coming in. She would lay out rows of bread and start smearing on the ham salad at lunch hour.
They were so proud of their children and grandchildren. Virginia would bring out what she was sewing for this one or that one. Jess would proudly wear a tshirt sent to him by his daughter from her work. They had many stories to tell. Virginia tatted while sitting on the porch. She offered to teach me that lost art, but we never got around to it.
I used to drive Virginia to the doctor often. She would say life had not always been easy. But things always worked out.
Then came the days Virginia became ill. She had to move to the nursing home. After all of their years together Jess was lost without her. When the kids were not available, we neighbors tried to take him over to Petersburg to visit with her.
It ended up I started a delivery to a drugstore in Washington about this time. Each weekday I could pick Jess up around 11:00. He could visit with Virginia and eat lunch with her. Then I would pick him up on my way back. I came to look forward to those rides with Jess and listening to more of his stories.
When I asked their daughter if she would approve of my writing this, she shared a sweet story with me.
“Toward the end of Virginia’s life and her stay at Amber Manor, Jess was beginning to have some intestinal problems and was taken to the hospital one night. The next day he was unable to go with Rose on the daily trip to the nursing home to visit Virginia. This set off panic in both Jess and Virginia!! The doctor thought Jess would be able to come home after another day in the hospital and Virginia was distraught at the nursing home and complained loudly about not being able to see her ‘Sunshine Boy’. Jess was becoming more agitated at the hospital where he was finally given a ‘substantial’ sedative. In checking with the nurse, his daughter was told that he finally had gone to sleep – for five minutes – and she then caught him walking down the hall carrying his shoes. He was on his way to see Virginia.
The next day Jess was released from the hospital and his daughter took him directly to Amber Manor to see Virginia. When they entered the nursing home, a couple of the attendants saw them and accompanied her and Jess to Virginia’s room so they could see Virginia welcome her ‘Sunshine Boy’. With her eyes not even open she knew Jess was there and sat upright with outstretched arms to hold him. It was quite a sight.”
Those were bittersweet days as Virginia faded more and more.
My heart would break a little each time we left there as Jess would lean over to give her a kiss. He would smile for her and pat her cheek, saying “I love you, sweetheart.” He never once failed to do that.
Some days on the way home he would cry. Some days I would cry along with him.
Virginia passed in June of 1999. Jess soon joined her in January of 2000.
Jess’ birthday was on Valentine’s Day and he was never bashful about telling this to everyone and reminding them to send him a birthday card on Valentine’s Day.
I hope you all have a Happy Valentine’s Day with your loved one.
Jess & Virginia Nelson on their wedding day.