Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mike Harden: City native finds love, life's work in woods

Sunday, April 5, 2009 3:35 AM
By Mike Harden

Ed Fassig, 82, has lived in the Hocking Hills for 40 years, writing about the area and making furniture. The Columbus native's life has taken big turns recently.

The Fassig family

Ed Fassig, 82, has lived in the Hocking Hills for 40 years, writing about the area and making furniture. The Columbus native's life has taken big turns recently.
ATHENS, Ohio -- Dusk had descended on the early summer day when Mimi Fassig entered the unlighted house in the Hocking Hills and called Ed's name.

"I'm glad you're here," she heard him respond. "I didn't want to die alone."

"You're not going to die," she said. "I won't let you."

Flown to Columbus, Ed Fassig spent eight hours in surgery to repair damage from an aortic aneurysm that had given way.

Mimi, cautioned by cardiovascular specialists that he might not survive his first 24 hours out of the operating room, was heartened only after the ventilator tube was removed and Ed squeezed her hand, assuring her, "I won't leave you."

The saga of Mimi and Ed began 28 years ago. She was a commercial photographer in Athens. He was a woodsman and furniture maker, a man who -- born on the fringe of Downtown Columbus -- had long yearned to be away from the crush of the city.

Ed's Logan friend Bud Simpson surmised, "Sometimes, you grow up in the city and you feel that you are missing something in life. Then, you get out in the woods and you know it. Even if you don't believe in a formal God, when you are out there in the woods -- even on a wet, cold and rainy day -- it brings peace to your life. I know it has to Ed's."

Mimi read a feature story about Ed in the Athens Messenger before meeting him and said to herself, "My God! That man has my soul."

"I stalked him," she teased.

Her ardor was rewarded with his love and with what might be the longest marriage engagement ever: 28 years.

"We're hoping it will be in the Guinness Book of World Records," Mimi joked.

She taught women's retreats on the subject of connecting with the earth. He built furniture: brawny, utilitarian, primitive masterpieces designed to outlast everything short of a nuclear winter.

"My DNA is in those woods," Mimi said Thursday, her gaze fixed on something out beyond Ed's shoulder as the two savored a pleasant lift in the April air from their screened-in porch.

For many years, Ed shared his love of the Hocking Hills' backwoods niches in a weekly column he wrote for the Logan Daily News. Eloquent and simple, he didn't use 50-cent words -- just million-dollar ones.

Having first come to the hills 40 years ago, Ed has seen his share of commercialization and gentrification. "I'm not crazy about it," he conceded last week, "but it's still better than Columbus."

His recuperation from the medical calamity that almost claimed his life has been a protracted one. He is up to a mile on his walks, although sometimes he tires easily.

His priorities are those of a man who realized early on that there is a reason a Brink's truck has never followed a hearse into a cemetery. He would be happy to enter the afterlife taking nothing from this one save the song of the wood thrush.

Ed yet struggles with aphasia, but on Feb. 22, at Christ Lutheran Church in Athens, he was finally able to put together two words that had been 28 years in arriving.

Retired columnist Mike Harden writes a Sunday Metro column.

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