GIBSONTON — After Girlie Morehouse's husband died, a friend asked whether she might agree to be a caregiver for a dying woman. The woman couldn't walk or speak. Doctors said she would live six months at the most.
Mrs. Morehouse brought the woman into her home and attended to her every need. The woman lived 16 more years, with Mrs. Morehouse almost constantly at her bedside.
"She never went anywhere except to church," said Melissa Morehouse, the wife of Mrs. Morehouse's grandson Bernard.
It wasn't the kind of life she would have chosen for herself, sitting quietly at home. Mrs. Morehouse had grown up on a farm, and if she had a choice she would have spent her days outdoors, working in the soil, planting vegetables and pulling weeds. But she never complained that her six-month commitment turned into a 16-year, 24-hour-a-day career, and she never tried to find another caregiver to take over or even give her a break.
"When Girlie said 'I'll take care of it,' it was taken care of," Bernard Morehouse said. "You didn't have to worry about it. She dedicated her life to that woman, tended to her every need for 16 years."
Mrs. Morehouse died on June 13 after several months of declining health. She was 92.
For those 16 years she stayed at home, Mrs. Morehouse kept busy. She devoted herself to creating what her family calls "lap quilts" or "lap robes" with ornate and artistic fabrics that she'd donate to the American Legion, which gave them to veterans who had had legs amputated.
She made hundreds of them over the years. So many, in fact, that the American Legion wrote her a letter asking her to stop. She had donated so many lap quilts that they didn't have anyone to give them to or any place to store them.
Mrs. Morehouse was born Girlie Hawk in Goochville, Va. If there was a story about why her parents gave her such an unusual first name, she never shared it.
When she was a young woman, maybe about 20 years old, she was traveling on a train and met a man named Hawley Morehouse who was selling apples. He was 24 years her senior, but they fell in love and married.
He later began a career working as an executive with a carnival, and she took a job selling tickets. They bought some land in Gibsonton, and they called it home. But they spent most of their time traveling around the country in a motor home.
They had two children together, including a mentally disabled daughter. It wasn't an easy life, but Mrs. Morehouse never felt she was lacking anything.
"One thing she'd always say," her grandson said, "was 'We'll get by with what we've got. And if we don't have it, we don't need it.' "
Her life was devoted to caring for others: first her daughter, then her grandchildren after her only son died while he was still a young man, then her husband who was ill for several years before he died in 1982, and then the woman who shared her home for 16 years.
"She was a very caring woman," her grandson said.
It was the late 1990s before she finally, perhaps for the first time in her life, had the opportunity to spend her days exactly as she chose. She didn't relax. She worked in her yard and mowed her own grass until she was 87 years old, when age and a broken hip finally started to slow her down.
Mrs. Morehouse is survived by her daughter Ona, her sister Myrtle Murie, three grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories about local residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.