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34 years of marriage leave a good impression

Marking their anniversary in the hospital, a Butler couple has a plaster mold made of their clasped hands

Saturday, July 03, 1999

By Brenden Sager, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Margie Davies sat with her husband yesterday on the side of his bed in the cancer ward, as the Butler couple thrust their hands, forearm-high, into the warm pinkish goo of eternity.

  Margie and Jack Davies hold hands in his hospital room at West Penn Hospital as they wait to have their hands cast in plaster. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

The Davies had a plaster mold made of their clasped hands to commemorate 34 years of marriage as of July 16. Since Jack Davies, 72, will be in the hospital, that's where the celebration will be.

Jack was diagnosed with leukemia June 25. He started chemotherapy at West Penn Hospital on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on whom you ask.

"It started Wednesday," Margie, 64, said, sitting relaxed in a chair next to her husband's bed after the mold was taken.

"It started Tuesday afternoon," Jack said, after Margie had propped his head upon a pillow.

Doctors were unavailable for comment. Either way, Jack faces at least two weeks with a tube in his chest that will infuse drugs and blood cells and remove blood samples. The situation complicated the Davies' traditional anniversary gift buying.

"I didn't see how I was going to get out to do any shopping," Jack said.

So the shopping came to Jack. While he was in the hospital, Margie stopped in at nearby Best-Made Shoes on Liberty Avenue, where she's been a customer for about 10 years.

The proprietor, Gene Rosen, not only makes orthopedic shoes but dabbles in the aesthetics of his craft.

"I've always done art projects of one sort or another," said Rosen, who counts stained-glass window making and leather work among his hobbies.

He was at a street festival in Shadyside a few years ago when he saw an artist making plaster molds of children's hands.

Since orthopedic cobbling involves making casts of feet to create custom-made shoes, Rosen said he thought making hands would be easy. Rosen first experimented with members of his own family. He has a mold of his and his wife's clasped hands in the store. Margie saw it about a year ago and was impressed.

Above is an example of what the Davies' hands will look like when their cast is finished. (John Heller, Post-Gazette) 

"I was fascinated with what I saw and I said, 'I'm going to do that someday,' " Margie said. "I told [Rosen] I wanted to have that done."

Someday turned into Wednesday when Margie visited Rosen. Jack, however, admitted he likes to take "three or four years" to make a decision on such things.

"I never spring anything like that on him," Margie said.

Jack had no idea of Margie's plan. She never mentioned it until after she had made arrangements with Rosen and received permission from the hospital. The plaster mixture is made of a fine dust, and the cancer ward has special filters to keep out dust particles.

"And it had to be quick," she said. "He wouldn't have liked it if it had been a long time."

The process lasted only a few minutes. The two giggled and squirmed on the bed for a time. They had to keep from touching the sides of the plastic container that held the mold.

"You have to stay like this until it hardens," Rosen said.

"You'll be back next Tuesday, right?" Jack joked.

Margie has a spot all picked out in their home for the plaster hands. They'll sit on the bookshelf on a wooden pedestal near pieces of glass from Butler's old Franklin Glass factory, wooden jigsaw puzzles, china and their children's old toys.

Jack still works as a pharmaceutical representative with Berlex Laboratories of Wayne, N.J., his employer for 35 years. His sales area covers Allegheny, Beaver, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Elk, Clarion, Butler, Armstrong and Jefferson counties.

His car is his office. He drives about 800 miles a week in his 1999 Dodge Intrepid. He goes through a new car about every year and a half because the company replaces them every 50,000 miles. Jack admits he's thought about retiring but hasn't done anything about it.

Jack and Margie met because of their kindred spirits and lonely hearts. Jack was originally from McKeesport and Margie from Crafton. Jack's first wife died of heart problems in 1963. Margie was divorced a year before. Both had children from their previous marriages. The were neighbors in Butler and got together because they were both in a similar situation.

"We talked about our children," Margie said. They dated for two years and then married.

After their honeymoon in St. Thomas, the Davies settled in for a married life in Butler, where they and two of their three children still live. Margie taught in school systems in Penn Hills and Butler along with holding a few other odd jobs. She's now retired and at her husband's side.

Jack's never had any serious health problems, she said. In mid-June, he went to see his doctor because he was running a temperature. He came out discovering he had a prostate infection. Doctors ran more tests, and he was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.

"I don't know how you describe it. It's the toughest [leukemia], I know that," Margie said. "Last Thursday morning, we had no notion of this and now, here we are, having this conversation."

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