As with all families in the military, the family was without the father part of the time and Melody was a strong woman dealing with doing everything at home when needed without the aid of family. The other military wives became her surrogate family. After coming back from a combat zone, Gary was never the same and their marriage would eventually fall apart.
Melody moved herself and her 2 young children back to Buckeye Lake, Ohio to be close to her family and to find a fresh start. Melody settled back into life in Ohio and her old stomping grounds, reconnecting with family and friends. Melody even joined a Christian singles club and on May 26th, 1974 she met William Sherman Hardwick Sr. at one of their events. He saw her from across the room and asked her to dance. Bill was also divorced and had 3 children from a previous marriage, ranging in age from 10 to 13.
Bill and Melody had a fast and furious courtship and before they knew it they were talking about making a life together. Melody had always wanted a big family so she was up for the challenge. Less than three months after they met on the dance floor of a Christian single’s club event, Bill and Melody were saying their “‘I do’s”. Melody’s children, now ages 5 and 6, served as the flower girl and the ring bearer in a small, mostly family, ceremony.
At this point, only Melody’s children were living with the newlyweds, but that would all change one night when Bill’s ex-wife, who had primary physical custody of their three children, would show up on their doorstep one night and ask Bill and Melody to take the children. Melody opened her heart and her home to this new family unit, her very own version of the tv show, The Brady Bunch.
Blending two families together isn’t always the easiest thing, and it certainly presented a unique set of challenges with such a large family, but together Bill and Melody navigated these uncharted waters. Life was busy raising a newly created family of 5 kids, 3 boys and 2 girls, but that didn’t stop Bill and Melody from wanting their own child as well. It wasn’t long before they found out that their family of 5 would expand yet again to include a new child of their very own. In the summer of 1975, Bill and Melody welcomed a little girl into the world, rounding out their family to three boys and three girls, ranging in age from newborn to 15.
As their family expanded it seemed like their living quarters shrunk so they had several moves in their first few years of marriage. Eventually they rented a mobile home in the country. Their landlord owned several mobile homes and a house on the property that he rented out and he was looking for someone to help manage his properties. This opportunity seemed to be a great fit for them and appeared to be an easy enough responsibility, but the stories they could tell you would make your hair stand up on end! There certainly was nothing boring about their new life in the country!
At this point, Melody helped supplement the family income by babysitting and eventually running a small daycare out of the family home. Even with less children at home, money was still tight and she used her extra time to help contribute to the household finances. She never really took on more than a family or two at a time, but the income helped afford incidentals and sometimes little extras.
She enjoyed many hobbies and most of them involved crafting or gardening. She loved to share these hobbies with her children. The kitchen table was often filled with ceramic projects or starter flower pots and the kids got their hands just as messy as Melody’s were. She loved to sing and enjoyed music, especially church music and the 50’s and 60’s music she grew up on. She instilled a passion for music in her daughters as well and they often sang specials in church and were members of church musicals or the children’s choir.
As Melody’s two older children entered their teenage years, her grandmother invited them down to Florida for the summer. By this time her mom, step-father and grandmother were all living in Okechobee, Florida, and sadly she had lost her grandfather who had played such a pivotal role in her early life. Bill and Melody allowed the children to go for the summer only for things to go horribly awry and be betrayed by those whom she loved when they went to a lawyer to obtain custody of her children. She wanted to fight it, but with little financial resources to even try to sneak down to Florida to pick up her children let alone hire a lawyer for a court battle, she finally acquiesced to her elders’ wishes and let the children be adopted by her mom and step-father. This was a tumultuous time in Melody’s life and something she never quite got over.
As time passed, Melody’s oldest children eventually moved back home to Ohio once or twice but moved back to Florida as they got out on their own and started their lives. Ultimately the daughter moved back to Ohio to settle down, but the son chose to create his adult life in Florida. Almost all of the children at one point or another moved back in with Melody and Bill, even if only for a short period of time to reestablish themselves.
Life continued and the glass plant that Bill worked at closed down, but luckily his seniority at the company allowed him to get a job at another plant. Unfortunately, it was not the same job and definitely not for the same pay so they packed up and moved to Lancaster to shorten Bill’s commute and cut down on expenses. They found a small rental house that was 1/2 of a duplex. It was only a small 2 bedroom, but with the youngest child the only one left at home, it was just big enough.
They continued to live in town for 2 years until the desire to move back out into the country led them to rent a house off a nice couple that also lived on the property. They would all become friends and the husband helped Bill out a lot with his cars when needed, which turned out to be a lot as by this time Bill had taken up a paper route job delivering papers in the country that really beat up the cars. However this job allowed the family to live a bit more comfortably. This new rental house also had a large yard and gave Melody the ability to have a large flower garden as well as a large vegetable garden. Although they were able to have a small garden when they lived in town, gardening was something she had greatly missed since she had to give up the green house she had at the property they lost when Bill was in essence down-sized at his job. They could also have pets again, which was another thing they had missed while living in town.
The new rental house still had a decent sized yard but was heated with a wood burning stove, which meant Bill had to split a lot of wood and they had to store it up for the winter. They lived here comfortably for a couple of years before their youngest and her husband decided to move back up to Ohio in March of 1997 from North Carolina to be closer to family. They moved in with Bill and Melody temporarily and put most of their belongings in storage until they could find a place to rent. It was cramped quarters but it was great being able to reconnect and spend a lot of time together. Melody was unhappy with their landlords at this point and was looking to move. They decided that they would all try to find one house to rent that they could share and split the rent. This would save Bill and Melody some money and allow their daughter and son-in-law to start saving for a down payment on a house.
By August they were moving back into town in a older house directly across from the fairgrounds. This became an advantage at times when going to events, but parking was often a problem. The house had a small yard but Melody still found ways to plant flowers and enjoy her hobbies. In fact she started a small crafting group at her church during this time and they would spend time once or twice a month getting together and making things to give away to their families or learning new crafts from one another. The smaller yard meant less time doing yard work though and a house on traditional heating meant Bill no longer had to split wood all the time.
This was a fun time in her life spending time in the evenings often playing games together as a family and getting to know her new son-in-law on a deeper level. There was a lot of laughter in the house. During this time Melody and Bill also celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Unbeknownst to Melody, Bill and their daughter and son-in-law had cooked up a plan to surprise Melody to mark the occasion. That Sunday morning Bill had arranged for a surprise vow renewal ceremony at their church and there was an anniversary party planned for later that day. Melody and Bill and all of their family and friends celebrated, played games and danced to the music Melody and Bill grew up on.
She was no longer able to go up and down stairs easily, so a friend at church loaned her an adjustable bed and the family then turned the dining room into a bedroom as all the bedrooms were on the second floor. Although she eventually regained some of her strength, her body was never the same. In December of 2000, Bill and Melody rented an apartment in Somerset, Ohio at a retired and disabled facility. A small apartment meant she would have to get rid of a lot of things she had collected over the years, but the facility was only one floor and would make things easier for her. Their daughter and son-in-law had saved money to buy a house by this time and would be moving soon anyway so the time had come to split back apart. This new place would be the last place she ever lived in her life and although it was small, it was comfortable.
She took great pride in decorating their new place, picking out new furniture and finding ways to make the small space work. They got to know other people who lived in the building well and would spend time playing cards with others in the evenings and participating in group activities. Melody even had a chance to reconnect with someone she went to high school with while living there.
At this point in her life she enjoyed the simple things in life, like spending time with her children and grandchildren and exploring new hobbies. Her crafting had expanded to oil painting and jewelry making. In the last year of her life, the problem with her kidneys reared its ugly head. Their level of function kept going down and down due to the damage that happened during the by-pass surgery. Eventually she knew she would have to go on kidney dialysis. A shunt was put in her chest and she started going to the kidney dialysis center 2 to 3 times per week. This was something she didn’t really like doing, but doing dialysis at home just wasn’t a good option to her.
It was a scary thing but they got into a routine and this became the new normal in their lives. Around this time, Bill and Melody came into some money from a car accident settlement. This allowed them to pick out a newer car, one that wasn’t beat up from the hundred mile paper route each day. Melody fell in love with PT Cruisers, but didn’t really know if the settlement would be enough to purchase one. She was delighted when the final figures came in and not only did they find one in their price range that was a slightly used, one-owner vehicle, but that there would be money left over! Melody felt blessed that God would give her this desire of her heart.
With the money that was left over she could pursue the other new passion in her life — jewelry making! Jewelry making is not exactly a cheap hobby and when she first got interested in it she really didn’t think they would have the money for her to fully pursue this new hobby. But indeed the Lord did provide. She found a company she liked and spent hours going through their catalog to figure out what she wanted to order and what she wanted her first projects to be. She ordered all sorts of beads and tools and started making a list of things she wanted to make for family for Christmas. Her excitement was obvious to anyone who talked to her about her new hobby.
As happy as she was, Melody started to worry. She worried that something was going to happen to her now that she had gotten the desires of her heart. It wasn’t that she thought she was cursed or something, it was simply family history. See her grandfather had passed away after he was finally able to retire and get some of the things he had wanted. Although she tried not to give this family history too much credence, it was something that continued to percolate in the back of her mind.
About 2-3 months after she started the dialysis treatment, Melody experienced something in her back while performing a routine task…changing the sheets on the bed. As she bent over she thought she heard something snap. In the following weeks this would not be the only “snap” that she would experience. She learned that some of her vertebrae were cracking and breaking. The dialysis was robbing her body of much needed nutrients for strong bones and the supplement that she was on prior to dialysis she could no longer take.
As plans were made on how to deal with this new complication, Melody kept the faith that they would be able to fix the problem. She even had a new-found confidence that things would be fine and pushed the idea of any correlation between her situation and what happened to her grandfather out of her mind as they had the car for almost 6 weeks and nothing had happened to her. As her back continued to get worse she could no longer get in and out of the new car easily and she began to be taken to the dialysis center in a ambulance transport. She once again became frightened by how quickly her body was deteriorating. About a week and a half into this new routine she began to have trouble breathing while being prepared for transport. When the transport personnel tried to help her sit up and breathe, her body gave out and she passed away before they could get her to the hospital.