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.