Barbara walks slowly but steadily toward the flagpole just outside of Denison University’s Slayter Marketplace in October. She apologizes again and again for being four minutes late to our 2 p.m. meeting, even though our “meeting” is really just an informal conversation that covers everything from whether Denison has gotten better at retaining Black professors to her unofficially planned trip to Brazil. She’s wearing a red floral button-down over black slacks and a new-looking pair of maroon shades.

After a busy few months, Barbara feels relieved, because as of this afternoon, she is done with doctor’s appointments until November, scratch for needing to get a COVID-19 booster later that afternoon.

“So I am free, and my brain is free,” she said.

Not to be mistaken, though: She’ll be using the month off to make up for lost time. She has a lot of books on her reading list, and she needs to write a letter to all of her friends, updating them on how she is doing now that she knows the state of her amyloidosis, an organ condition. She also plans on attending more events around campus. And she will continue to cook her own food– “lots and lots of stuff that I like,” she specifies.


When Barbara was a child in New Amsterdam, Guyana, she went on walks with her mother. Her mother greeted everyone she passed by, even those occupied with physical labor, like street sweeping or cleaning gutters.

At 22, Barbara married a man named Desmond of Georgetown, Guyana. A week later, the couple headed to Canada, because Desmond was in seminary studying to become a minister.

Guyana was the “melting pot” that the United States has always pretended to be. Barbara grew up across the street from an Indian girl. When she went to the girl’s house, she would call the girl’s mother “Balaji.” When the girl went to Barbara’s house, she called Barbara’s mother “Mommy.”

Much was different then. Guyana was actually spelled “Guiana,” as the country wouldn’t gain independence until six years later. Hamlet, who would go on to live in four different countries and Puerto Rico throughout her lifetime, had never been on an airplane before.

Yet, much remains the same. She still practices her Lutheran faith, despite what conflicting worldviews many of the parishioners at her church may hold. Much to the dismay of her son and grandson, she often stays up later than any of her neighbors in Granville – sometimes as late as 5 a.m., just as she did in Guyana. And she still greets everyone she sees on walks – familiar faces and strangers alike – a norm in mid-20th century Guyana but a rarity in modern-day Granville, Ohio.

Barbara knows that some think of Granville as a “stuffy, New England area.” But for her, it checks all the simple boxes. It is safe. She has friends that she’s known since she moved to Granville in the 1980s. And she is still making new friends, like Nevaeh, the Granville High School student she met at Ross Granville Market. 

More than a month after meeting Nevaeh, Barbara can recall both her name, because spelled backward it would be “Heaven,” and also that she thinks they met on Aug. 28, because it marked her 63rd wedding anniversary. 

She still says hello to everyone she passes by on walks. Most respond. But not all.

“You don’t have to know somebody to say good morning, hello or good afternoon,” she says.


Barbara breaks the silence in the Common Grounds coffee shop at 1 p.m. in an urgent search for ginger tea. She had just checked Slayter Marketplace, on the opposite side of the noisy Denison student center, but to no avail.

She approaches the cashier who stands alongside tall stacks of paper coffee cups and a half-dozen small pastry trays, Hamlet peruses the descriptions that accompany three little plastic tea bag boxes. Furthest left is “The Red Tea,” which Hamlet had already seen in the market across the hall. Same goes with the bags to its right, labeled “Zesty Green Tea.”

The last box, though, has an unfamiliar label: “Total Detox.” Its first ingredient is red clover. Its second ingredient is burdock. Next is – bingo – ginger.

Relieved, Hamlet hands the cashier two dollar bills in exchange for a cup of the “Total Detox” tea. Then she reaches back in her purse and pulls out a third bill.

“You got me my ginger tea,” she cheers. The embarrassed cashier thanks her for the overly generous tip.


Barbara loves going to campus events because she learns whenever she goes to them. The “fun of learning,” as she phrases it, has been a lifelong driver. 

When she went to Canada after marrying Desmond, she took university courses while he was in seminary. She also sat in on some of the seminary courses, just because. 

When she worked in admissions and registrar’s offices in Puerto Rico, she took a Spanish class. She got a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from SUNY-Buffalo in 1976, at the age of 36, while Desmond was teaching there.

“Wherever I went, I took courses,” she said.

The pursuit of knowledge was a shared passion for Barbara and Desmond. The couple moved to Granville in 1984 so he could teach literature at Denison, which he ended up doing for over 22 years. In between his tenures at SUNY–Buffalo and Denison, he taught at the University of Ife in Nigeria for seven years.


In youth when I did love, did love,

Methought it was very sweet

To contract–O–the time for–a—my behove,

O, methought there–a–was nothing–a–meet.

Act 5, Scene 1, Hamlet

Barbara and I stand beside a tree that was planted behind Denison’s Fellows Hall in Desmond’s memory. The tree, called a Chinese dogwood, looks thin and short in comparison to the brick building in its backdrop. Little red berries rest between its leaves.

A plaque lies in front of the tree.

I read it aloud: “A passionate advocate for cross-cultural literature and a voice for justice with inspiration and grace.” 

“That’s how he was,” Barbara says, with slivers of both awe and longing in her voice.

From the tree, we begin our westward trek toward Desmond’s grave, also on the Denison campus. Along the way, we sit down on a wooden bench outside of the school library so Barbara can catch her breath. We had to walk up a lot of steps.

The break ends up being merely for her legs, though, and not her lungs. Even out of breath, she continues to talk. She adores the flowers around us, which are about as diverse in color as her purse, which she got in Costa Rica.

Hamlet regularly switches out the flowers at her husband’s grave on Denison’s campus. Credit: Julia Lerner

We cut through a residence hall to reach our final destination. The graveyard is about as long and wide as a football field. Trees much taller than the residence hall are scattered between and around tombstones. Desmond’s grave sits in the front row of them, furthest to our left.

A small bouquet of red and white flowers accompany his tombstone. Barbara put them there. She’ll switch them out with different flowers soon enough.

Both sides of the tombstone have the same heading: “HAMLET.” That’s because one day, Barbara will be buried next to her husband. It would only make sense, after all. Desmond passed away in 2007, and yet, he has remained with Barbara ever since.

“I don’t know if you dream, but I dream a lot, and I dream of Desmond often. All the time, it doesn’t matter where I am–when I am flying across the Atlantic–he’s there all the time.”

Jack Nimesheim writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is supported by generous donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.