By Mark Fearer, Grandson
In an era of multi-million dollar sports figures, movie, music superstars and high profile politicians, Lee Fearer led a seemingly unremarkable life. Although a strong woman with a fierce loyalty to her family, her accomplishments often went unrecognized and unrewarded - like most women of her generation.
But trying to glimpse into Fearer's life was like trying to read a water-damaged book. Most of its pages are stuck together, and one needs great patience to pry apart the pages enough to read those that are salvageable.
The beginnings of her life had somewhat exotic origins, during the fresh optimism of a new century when she was born in 1907 Paris. But that hope throughout Europe already began to fade, as she came of age during the "war to end all wars."
Many wars later, during a recent interview on a warm, humid Florida afternoon, it was clear that physically, she was a shadow of her former self. But her memories were still well intact, as she recalled her parents' rocky marriage. "Why those two married, I'll never know," she reflected. "They were not at all compatible, but then my mother was a highly neurotic person - she was yeller. Not my father - I was much closer to him."
Perhaps it was growing up with a lot of discord that resulted in her not seeing things eye to eye with others. "I was a non-conformist, and I did things my way," she said, referring to herself as "the rebel of the family." She wouldn't elaborate, except to say she was the least religious of the family.
However, she was far from a social outcast. "I was a popular kid – I had a lot of fun, a lot of dates, in groups. Life in general was so different then, as it is now." When asked how "now" was different from "then", she again refused to go into detail - a refusal that would become the hallmark of the interview.
But her resistance to talking about her life was not new. Before her body started significantly betraying her, in 1984, she could see no reason for shedding light on her life. She said she couldn't understand why it was important to be remembered. "Life has no purpose - it's boring," she argued, when challenged with the value of family history. Her attitude only hardened over the years.
Why didn't life have a purpose for Lee Fearer? Perhaps that was her response to a lifetime of caregiving, where rarely did she have a life of her own. Early in her marriage, she was simultaneously caring for her elderly sick mother, her sister and niece, and her only son - all while her husband was on the road most of the time, selling lamps.
Again she refused to further explain those experiences, saying "what's done is done." She was modest about the strength it took to raise an extended family, feeling that it was nothing to brag about. She would reiterate several times how unimportant her life was, as if trying to convince herself of that. That attitude could have easily been part of her conditioning throughout her life that women are generally not important, outside of the family.
Decades later, she would be a caregiver again, as she watched her husband of 50 years slowly and agonizingly deteriorate, and die. She often said after that she didn't want to go on, especially as her body turned against her.
Now, her dim eyes, which had lived on two continents and had seen two world wars, could easily fool one into believing her fire had receded - but that would be a mistake. Even at 84 years old, she was still a stubborn woman, easily annoyed. She could still flash her anger with a quick stab to the air, or a dismissal of the hand.
Large glasses magnified her cataracted eyes that could no longer read or watch TV - something that would contribute to her unending boredom, along with her fellow residents at a "congregate care facility" in Ft. Lauderdale. Her frail body could barely compete with gravity anymore, and it was painful to watch her struggle with the simple act of walking.
The years had neither been kind nor unkind to her - she looked her age, with wrinkled skin hanging loosely off her shrinking stature. As she hinted at some of the forces that shaped her life with a thick Boston accent, she was dressed up in a bright blue frock, one of the few types of clothes that would fit her rapidly diminishing body. Lipstick was thickly smeared on her lips, which was the only signs of color on her drawn face. Although she talked about her family growing up, it was frequently punctuated by an emphatic "I can't go into detail on any subject - there isn't much to tell."
It wasn't a lack of memory - she simply and steadfastly believed that no one cared, despite much evidence to the contrary. As she started to tell of her sister's favored status growing up, or her father's passivity, she would catch herself and quickly say "...but that's another story," as if to reinforce that no one could really be interested in such details. Her family was quite interested in such details, but they were unable to convince her otherwise. Shortly after that interview, Fearer suffered a stroke. Her ability to recognize people who loved her, and her short-term memory, drastically deteriorated. Ironically, she continually slipped into periods of regression, reliving the childhood that she had seemed so protective of. On March 15, 1993, Lee Fearer requested to be placed in a hospice, and died the next day. She took her memories and much family history and love with her.