Onnalee Berrios was well-known for her compassion and generosity, her brother says.
Whether it was stopping to offer kids a ride to school, delivering homemade gingerbread cookies, buying extra groceries for someone in need, or spending time with family, Berrios had a kind way about her, brother Anthony Terrell said.
“She had very good instincts. My sister was wonderful,” he said by phone from his home in New York City. “I loved going to her house.”
Terrell is a native of Batavia and graduated from Batavia High School in 1967. He returned to the area after being drafted and serving in the Army for two years, though it was as a young teen when he first adored his sister for being so accessible, hospitable, and for being so easygoing with the house rules. He appreciated the little things that she did.
“She would let us watch a movie, we would still have to go to bed like around 11:30, 12 o’clock. But it was better than … watching your parents watch Ponderosa at 9:30 and telling me, ‘don’t make so much noise when you go upstairs to your bedroom,'” Terrell said. “Whenever I would go over to the house, she would always have a few bottles of cold beer and pizza.”
Onnie, as she was called, died several years ago at age 64 after a battle with cancer. Terrell — one of the five remaining siblings out of the family’s whopping 17 — plans to honor her memory with a set of six pastel paintings during a reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Haxton Memorial Library, 3 North Pearl St., Oakfield.
Why Onnie and why now? Terrell’s fondness for his sister while growing up in rural Genesee County is due to her friendly and accommodating nature. An infusion of Beatles mania encouraged kids to be independent, while adolescence brought on rebellion in wanting to break out of the small-town boredom he and his friends often experienced.
And there was Onnie — with her house full of homemade goodies, a few bottles of beer in the fridge for the taking, movies that were too risqué for their parent’s approval, and someone to talk with.
“She was pretty much my mentor,” he said. “There was nothing to do, and it was very, very boring. I would go over to my sister’s house; she had kids, and we’d play basketball and eat cookies. Boys started growing their hair long, which created problems for families. If you had someone that you could gravitate to, you did.”
Terrell had an art show at Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council last year and met up with former classmates and friends. He met Terry Kolb of Oakfield, a former art teacher — and one of the recipients of his sister’s famous gingerbread cookies — and before they knew it, the artists agreed to have a show in the western part of the county. Since Onnie had lived there, Terrell thought it fitting to commemorate the show to her.
He then completed six pieces of art as a tribute to his beloved sister.
“Each one replicates what I did when I was there,” he said.
Those activities, illustrated in muted pastels of purples, pinks and blues, include the two of them sitting in rocking chairs that Onnie had restored and refinished herself; sitting in her amethyst-laden room of window sills lined up with the purple stones that reflected the sunlight, casting a violet-flavored veil over everything; and yet another of the two of them sitting in the dark, eating pizza next to a glowing fireplace.
Terrell plans to introduce each one with what it represents and how it came about, he said.
“I’m trying to convey that it’s a very, very rich, deep and rewarding feeling. I think about my sister spiritually,” he said. “She was very well revered. When you love somebody, whether they’re here physically or they’re not here. When you love somebody, it’s continuous. It stays with you. That’s the thing about love.”
The first half hour of the reception is for mingling, with the program to begin at 7 p.m., he said.
More about Terrell will be published Friday.
Photos of artworks painted by Batavia native Anthony Terrell will be featured in an art show debuting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Haxton Memorial Library in Oakfield. Photos by Howard Owens. Submitted photo of Anthony Terrell in his studio.