In his later years, Charles Rippey had lovingly begun to call his wife his queen.
“Here comes the queen,” he used to say, as Sara approached in her wheelchair.
He was 100 and she was 98, and the two had been inseparable since they were children in grade school. This week, both died when a wildfire in Napa engulfed their home.
The couple lived in a nice ranch-style house in the Silverado Resort. It had a deck and a pool and a big hill out back.
In the 1980s, Sara brought her eldest son, Mike, to Westgate Drive and asked him to buy this house for her.
“It’ll be the best investment you’ll ever make,” she told him.
Mike, 71, said his mother was right. This was the place where his parents lived the longest — about 35 years.
The Rippeys grew up in the small town of Hartford, Wis. They went to high school together, to prom, then studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Soon after they married in 1942, Charles, better known as “Peach” — a nickname his mother gave him as a child because of his rosy cheeks — went off to war. His deployments took him to North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, leading a company of 200 black soldiers.
When he returned home, he was hired as an engineer at Firestone in Akron, Ohio. The company promoted him over the years and assigned him to posts in distant places, such as Sweden and Argentina.
Sara stayed home and raised five children.
“She used to make us the best eggs,” Mike said. “Each kid liked theirs a different way — scrambled, over medium, poached.”
When Mike moved out to Northern California after college, his siblings and parents eventually followed. This summer, the family gathered to celebrate the Rippeys’ 75th wedding anniversary.
His father doted on his mother, Mike said. He bought her jewelry, took her dancing and told her he could not live without her.
Sara was not as affectionate, but “everywhere he went, she went,” he said.
The night of the fire, the couple were home with their caretaker, Maria Sandovar. Strong winds made the lights flicker. Maria looked out the back window at some point and saw that the home’s fence was on fire.
She ran to lift Sara out of bed onto her wheelchair. Peach was in the hallway.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
In a matter of minutes, black smoke had filled the entire house.
Maria called out to Peach, but there was no response. Without electricity, she could not open the garage door to get Sara out.
She jumped over a collapsed fence and escaped, just before the roof crashed down.
Mike, who was flying in from London, heard about the fire from relatives. He knew his parents had not survived.
He said the family was struggling with the tragedy, but they also felt a sense of peace.
Sara’s health had severely declined since she suffered a stroke five years ago. Peach never left her side, not even to grab dinner with Mike who visited two to three times a week.
“I can safely say for my father that if he’d gotten out,” Mike said, “there would have been no way to console him.”