Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Love, devotion of a lifetime

Hamilton couple persevere despite Alzheimer's

        This is the love story of George and Marge Stricker.

        They're both 87. In love for 72 years. Married going on 65.

        They know love is more than hearts and flowers on Feb. 14. They know the true meaning of love.

        To George, each day is Valentine's Day.

        “Because,” as he says fondly, “I've got my Marge. She's my baby.”

        Marge has Alzheimer's. She lives in Hamilton's Westover Retirement Community.

[photo] George and Marge Stricker celebrate Mrs. Stricker's 80th birthday on Sept. 20, 1993.
(Family photos)
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        George visits her every day — 10, 11, 12 hours a day. He talks. She listens.

        He straightens up her room. She watches.

        “Sometimes she'll tell me, "You're cute.' Things like that keep me going.”

        She falls asleep. He sits by her side.

        She dreams. He remembers.

        How he worked as a salesman.

        “Sold everything from soft bread to hard iron.”

        How Marge raised their family.

        “I was on the road a lot. She raised our two kids. Brought sandwiches to our boy so he could eat lunch in the old soft maple that's still in our front yard.

        “Should have that tree taken down. But as long as Marge is here, that tree stays.

        “She loved that tree. Loved our kids. Loved me.”

        At meal times, he cuts her food and puts little bite-size pieces on a spoon.

        He feeds her. Marge looks up at him with big brown eyes.

        “Those eyes,” George said, “were what first attracted me to her.”

[photo] George and Marge Stricker's wedding day Sept. 5, 1936
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        They met on George's 16th birthday, Oct. 26, 1929. He sat at the soda fountain where Marge worked and asked:

        “What's a sweet-lookin' thing like you workin' in a place like this?”

        Up until two years ago, Marge could repeat that story word for word.

        Since then, Alzheimer's has stolen her memories. Happy or sad, they're all gone. The cruel disease she has suffered from for nearly 12 years has robbed her of the ability to remember the first time she met the man she loved to call “Strick.”

        Still, some days Marge knows George.

        “She'll pucker up and give me a kiss. We'll pitch a little woo.”

        Other days she doesn't know George from Adam.

        “And she won't say a word.”

        George's heart belongs to Marge. But she isn't his only Valentine.

        He calls his neighbors “my Valentines.” They drop off meals to the tidy white home he's lived in since 1940 in the Lindenwald area of Hamilton.

        “They say it's just leftovers,” George told me. “The other night "leftovers' was a porterhouse steak.”

        George's list of Valentines also includes “the girls in the trenches at Westover,” as well as the neighbors, church members and friends who take him to and from the nursing home.

        “I don't drive at night,” he said. “The eyes — and the ears — aren't what they used to be. But what do you expect? I'm 87.”

        Family and friends constantly remind George of his age. Even though he's quite spry, “they tell me to slow down, ease up. I can't. I have to take care of Marge.

        “She'd do the same for me. In fact, she did.”

        George was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 1984. “Marge was there for me every day. God spared me to take care of Marge.”

        And take care of her he does. The loving way he cares for her, touches her cheek, pats her hand recalls a seldom-used word: devotion.

        “Sure, I'm devoted to her,” George said. “But I'm doing this for me, too. Without Marge, I would go home, sit down and, like so many old men, turn on the boob tube and die.”

        Instead, he's up early. “At quarter of 5 in the morning.” And early to bed. “Under the covers by 10 p.m. I've got my love to keep me warm.”

        Today, he plans to give Marge what he's given her for nearly three-quarters of a century's worth of Valentine's Days.

        “One dozen roses for my baby. Used to be all red. Now, I mix 'em up. The different colors catch her eye.”

        For anyone giving flowers and hearts today, George offered this advice:

        “If you give flowers, please take time to stop and smell them.”

        “And don't just say, "I love you.' Give a real Valentine.

        “Do something to show your love every day.”

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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