Married 63 years, Finksburg man still courts his love

February 28, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

It's Feb. 22, Monday. So says the calendar on the dining room wall at the Golden Age Guest Home near Sykesville.

Tomorrow someone will rip off the top sheet, and the calendar will say it's Feb. 23, Tuesday. That's one measure of seemingly timeless life inside this Carroll County nursing home.

Another is the little white Honda Civic that motors into the parking lot every day after noon, and the 90-year-old man who steps out of the car without a grunt and walks into the home without a groan.

This is the sprightly Melvin Kay, here to visit his wife of 63 years, Philena, who is 87. The victim of a stroke, she has lived at the home for four years. And for four years, every single day, her husband has driven 20 minutes from Finksburg to visit.

Every single day, that is, except when his car was in the shop after an accident. Then his son drove him every other day. But as soon as he got his car back, he resumed his pilgrimage, every single day.

On this day, after pushing his wife's wheelchair to a window overlooking a snow-covered field, he bends down close to her and says: "You get prettier every day you live, I know that."

The aides dressed her this morning in a pretty pink dress. She can't talk, and her right side is paralyzed. She smiles and waves to everybody and everything with her left hand.

"She's a wonderful lady," Mr. Kay says. "People get tired of hearing me say it. I tell them I'm still in love with her. I'm still courting her now."

When he met her around 1910 she was a farm girl, a Fenby from the hill just above Route 140 in eastern Carroll County near Reisterstown. He was the son of a mill owner in the valley just below 140, the mill for which Kay's Mill Road is named.

Mr. Kay grew up around the mill -- built in 1813, it was originally called Comet Roller Mills -- and after 34 years preaching in Methodist churches on the Eastern Shore, he came home about 1970. The mill was torn down by then, but he and his wife moved into the tenement house on the site that mill workers once leased for $3 a month.

Now Mr. Kay, who skinny-dipped in the mill stream nearly a century ago, awakens daily to the same alluring swoosh as Beaver Run swishes its way toward Liberty Reservoir.

"I can still hear my mother out on the porch calling my dad for dinner: 'Char-lieeeeee,' " he says.

His mother could identify farmers hauling grain to the mill by the horses and wagons they drove. She lost that knack after they began driving trucks; she couldn't tell one from the other.

Mr. Kay, despite his age, is as agile as a cat. He lives alone, cooks for himself and steps lightly across the snow and ice.

His oldest son, Jim, soon to be 60, retired early from his job as a commercial pilot in Michigan to move back and look after him. Jim Kay lives in an A-frame next to his father's house.

Both homes are on the far side of Beaver Run. You get there one of two ways: Splash through six or seven inches of rushing water, or bounce across the springy foot bridge.

Mr. Kay chooses either option boldly.

"When people tell me I'm 90, I think they're pulling a joke on me," he says. "I thought 90 was something that happened to other people."

Mr. Kay built two working replicas of the old mill into the slopes on either side of his front porch. He also built a Dutch windmill that stands about chest high in the meadow between his house and the stream.

He hasn't used his workshop in a few years, but during the summer he still mows the meadow with his John Deere tractor, the same meadow he cut years ago with a scythe. And after winter snowstorms he shovels himself out so he can go visit his wife.

At the nursing home, watching the residents finish their cake and ice cream, he sinks into a chair and is silent.

After a while he says, "Every day I grow older, I feel a little more like a boy who needs his mother."

He smiles sweetly, but says no more. Then he stands up and goes to Philena, who needs a steady hand to wipe the crumbs from her chin.

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