Final kiss sparks book years later for Superior, Wis., woman
A kiss goodbye became the final memory Linda Berg had of her husband Gene. After sharing five and a half years of marriage and two children, he died unexpectedly at the age of 35. But a tradition the pair began lives on in the pages of "The Kissing Pot."
Berg's self-published book challenges couples to invest in their love - with kisses or cash.
"Don't take your partner for granted," she wrote. Berg didn't. Encouraged by a family member's example, she and her husband made a promise.
"We laughed about it and decided we could become that cute old couple who always kissed hello and goodbye," Berg said. To make it more of a challenge, if one of them forgot the kiss, they owed their spouse a dollar.
The last time she saw her husband alive, he was driving off to hang out with friends at his hunting shack. Not wanting to owe a dollar, he gave his wife a kiss before he got in the truck. He never returned.
Berg's life moved on. She cared for her daughters and continued to teach in the Superior School District. She married Dick Berg and they recently celebrated 17 years together. They, too, share a kiss when they part.
While preparing for her oldest daughter's wedding, Berg decided to write down the story of "The Kissing Pot" to pass on to the next generation. Originally, it was just for her children.
Andy Wolfe heard the story for the first time at the wedding.
"It was a part of her," he said. "A part of her experience, a part of her life she wanted to pass on to Nicole."
Everyone who heard the tale was touched, Wolfe said.
"I think that her heart's in it," he said. "I think that's what makes it so beautiful, both the words and the pictures."
When retired Northern Lights Librarian Kay Winek heard Berg's story, it left her in tears. The librarian encouraged Berg to publish her words.
"She's an amazing person," Winek said. "I'm just so glad this story is out, that she was able to tell it."
Gene's mother, Irene Kulig, agreed.
"I'm very, very proud of her," she said.
To take such a painful experience and turn it into something positive takes strength, Winek said.
"When you read it, all that comes out, the emotion, the love," she said. "It's a cautionary tale in some ways."
The book challenges partners to share a kiss whenever they part, or pay a forfeit into their kissing pot. The money collected can only be spent on time together. If there is just enough for a movie it's a good thing. If there is enough for a long vacation, Berg wrote with a flash of humor, that couple obviously needs to spend time with each other.
"It tells a much greater story than if you just read the book," said Wolfe, who helped edit "The Kissing Pot." It's about love, life and family.
"I love how you can read through and no matter where you live, what your religion, what your beliefs, who you love, you can find something to connect with," Wolfe said. "There's something in here for everybody."
The narrative is brief, but holds a wealth of emotion.
"The book is only 28 pages long," Berg said. "It takes less than five minutes to read and yet I have watched many people laugh and cry in that short time.
"I laughed and cried as I wrote it."
Beyond the words, each illustration carries meaning. The hands of the pocket watch, for example are set to 6:20 to represent June 20, the date Berg and Gene were married. On another page, an antique lamp Gene bought Berg for their fifth anniversary sits on a roll top desk belonging to her husband Dick.
"There are many stories in this one story," Winek said. And there's room for one more. Spots in the book leave space for couples to write in their vows and place their own pictures.
The path to publication was a learning process. Berg first wrote down the story in 2007. The hardcover books finally arrived less than a month ago. Along the way Berg leaned on artistic help from her son-in-law, Jason Ahistus. When his chalk drawings didn't transfer well, Berg tapped Superior graphic artist Justin Flores to redo the illustrations.
To complete the local connection, Duluth potter Penny Clark creates the pots - each handmade original from her wheel. Attached to every pot is a metal heart that can be engraved with a couple's names.
Books and pots have already traveled as far as Ireland and the Czech Republic as wedding gifts. Berg received orders long before her book was published; some from complete strangers who handed her cash and addresses after hearing her tale.
Most importantly, say those who know her, Berg's story is being told.
"It was inside; it had to come out," Winek said. "Anybody who's read the book is touched by it. She had the guts to write it down."
Hardcover books sell for $20; the price for a book and a pot is $49. Tax is included.
For more information on ordering, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Soft cover books are available on Amazon.com. Berg will also be selling copies of her book from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 3 at Wessman Arena during the Central All Class Reunion.
Maria Lockwood is a reporter for the Superior (Wis.) Telegram, which is owned by Forum Communications Co., as is the Bemidji Pioneer.