When stepping into the living room of the Lewis-Fowler family, one is immediately greeted by the inviting scent of old books and flourishing vegetation. Were it not for the couches, the forest of houseplants, and a tumbled collection of shoes beneath a side table, their living room could double as an old curio shop, packed to the rafters with relics from their history: the broom they jumped during their handfasting in 1999 and the framed quilling heart Deb, 44, made for Gail, 59, after the ceremony; two tri-folded American flags from both of Gail’s parent’s funerals and an antique thread spinning wheel belonging to Gail’s grandmother; a wooden carving of a woman in the moon they picked up on a trip to Lincolnwood and a bench, filled with family photo albums. In the corner sits an antique chair given to Deb by her mother after leaving for college with a bright pink backpack belonging to their 9 year old girl, Mollie, plopped unceremoniously on the seat.
The walls are lined with book cases, crammed to capacity after having been painstakingly assembled by Deb, a writer and college professor, whose work has appeared in a number of publications. Generally she is reserved and quiet in most social situations, but has an insight and uncommon empathy that cuts to the core of whatever she views that she channels into her writing. Her even-tempered, methodical nature lends itself to her chosen craft, but she also serves as the bestower of structure in their little family. In recent years she has also worked with the Goodman Theatre, helping older individuals write the stories of their lives, and as a writer, director, and performer with 2nd Story, a theatre/literary hybrid artist collective.
Two years ago, Gail suffered a serious head injury while on duty as a nurse, and was forced to retire. Her recovery has been gradual, but her infectious southern charm has proven irrepressible. A lot of her time is spent shuttling Mollie to her marathon of extracurricular activities, but Gail makes friends wherever she goes. Her warmth and loving nature offers a safe haven for stray individuals that cross her path, and she’s been known to stay up late into the night telling sometimes hair-raising stories from her past.
Communication is essential, they’ve learned, and outspokenness is a trait Gail and Deb also encourage in their little girl to their occasional regret. Mollie will freely tell you all about the books she’s reading, the injustices perpetrated by the administration at her school, or the imaginative games she creates. She’s a happy child with a sharp mind and quick smile, a far cry from when they took custody of her as a failure-to-thrive nine-month old from Gail’s oldest daughter in 2004. “She’s absolutely brilliant,” says Deb of Mollie, “but she reflects me back to me, and I see some [things] I’d rather not see.”
Their house is a lively one, with Mollie thundering up and down the stairs frequently, and her friends and theirs coming over regularly for a bonfire or to sit and visit on their porch swing. No matter what life seems to hurl their direction, their bond only grows stronger. After sixteen years together, Deb & Gail have settled into a sometimes chaotic pattern of domestic bliss, but it wasn’t always this way.