There are good days and bad, the kind all couples go through, but after 70 years of marriage Robert McCoy finds the line between those days easier to identify.
A good day is when his wife Vera can talk to him, when she recognizes names of old friends, when she is happy to see him.
All the rest are bad days.
“Vera’s memory is bad, her communication skills aren’t the best,” Robert said. “Her decline got worse in July. She fell once in the shower. Another time she came out of the shower and passed out.
“I’m 95 years old, Vera is 89. At my age, I couldn’t become a full-time caretaker.”
So Vera lives in Spring Ridge Assisted Living and Memory Care in Tacoma, while Robert remains in the Tacoma home they’ve owned since 1991.
The love story for Robert and Vera was one of an American era – World War II. He joined the Washington National Guard in 1939, was transferred to the Army and spent 43 months away from his Spokane roots.
When he came home, his sister introduced him to a fellow roller-skater, Vera.
I was a lonely soldier, I fell in love and we got married. We met in September, went to a football game, had a few other dates, and then I said ‘Why don’t we get married?’ She said OK ….
“I was a lonely soldier, I fell in love and we got married,” Robert said, holding a wedding photo. “We met in September, went to a football game, had a few other dates and then I said, ‘Why don’t we get married?’ She said OK. ...”
Vera was 19, Robert 25. Even the bad days were good.
“I had a 1941 Oldsmobile convertible I’d bought for $2,300,” he said. “Vera rolled it in Oregon and I wound up with cracked ribs. She was fine.”
Robert got his high school GED but never went to college, a decision he still regrets. For years, as the family grew to include four sons, he worked jobs rather than had a career.
“I worked in a bakery, drove a cab, sold shoes,” Robert said. “I was a carpenter, worked for Boeing for nine years and retired with Tacoma Boat.
“As they used to say back home, ‘I’ve around the Horn a few times — two county fairs and a pig hollerin’.”
As years spun decades, the four McCoy boys produced 11 grandchildren. And those grandchildren?
“We’ve got 30 great-great grandchildren,” Robert said with a laugh. “We haven’t even met all of them. Last summer we were planning a trip to take care of that.”
They were part of an RV group, loved driving the country. Then Vera began having issues, fell and things escalated. Today, Robert and Vera are living another American story.
One without a happy ending.
By the numbers, one in three Americans will face dementia before they die, about 60 percent of those cases caused by Alzheimer’s disease. It strikes most often at the more vulnerable.
Vera, for instance, always recognizes Robert when he visits.
“She knows the boys, too, and our little dog, Coco, who I’ll take in to see her,” Robert said. “I’ll try to keep her updated on things going on at church or with friends, and she’ll say, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about …’”
Strangers make her uncomfortable. She was not interviewed for this column.
“She knows I didn’t want to get rid of her, that I didn’t want to put her in a home,” he said. “It’s pretty lonesome at home. Sometimes I wish I could hear my wife’s voice here again, but that doesn’t look too likely.”
Vera knew which way she wanted to go, had her own mind, her own opinions. She could stand up for what was right and wrong. When we talk, I’ll remind her of things we’ve done. Sometimes when I arrive, she’s tired and wants to nap.
Robert eats TV dinners and watches sports. He has had some heart problems, he said, but most days he “slaps on a nitroglycerin patch and off I go.”
For their 70th anniversary last Tuesday, he was asked if he’d made any special plans.
“Vera always loved that Mexican pizza at Taco Bell,” Robert said.
Asked to describe the woman he married, Robert’s eyes lit up.
“Vera knew which way she wanted to go, had her own mind, her own opinions. She could stand up for what was right and wrong,” he said. “When we talk, I’ll remind her of things we’ve done. Sometimes when I arrive, she’s tired and wants to nap.”
Robert’s eyes dropped.
“What I probably need is a good cry,” he said. “I haven’t had one, yet.”