Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Legacy of Love

My parents will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary this month. That’s right – 50 years. Fifty. Five-O. To put it bluntly, that just don’t happen much these days, so pardon me if I’m a little proud of them.

When I try to describe my parents’ relationship, I usually tell people that they would be perfectly content if they were the only two people on earth. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is true that they would rather hang out with each other than with anyone else. My brother and I always knew growing up that we were not the center of the universe.  We knew that we were fortunate to be along on their ride. We were the products of their life together – not the purpose of it.

I always loved the story of their meeting. In 1959, Dad was a sophomore at Georgia Southern College, and Mom had transferred there after spending a year at “the Baptist Convent,” otherwise known as Tift College, an all-girls’ school. (What was she thinking?) When she got to Statesboro, her dorm room was not finished being remodeled, so she had to stay for the first month in the school’s infirmary.

The Baptist Student Union was hosting a Fall Welcome Social, and my dad had volunteered to drive all the girls home in the bus. (He was no dummy!) He had noticed this dark-haired, big-eyed girl with the big smile who looked a lot like his favorite actress, Natalie Wood. But how to separate her from the group of girls she was with? He quickly devised a plan. The infirmary was in the middle of the bus route home, but he drove past it. When the girl saw that he missed her stop, she let him know.

“Oops, sorry,” he said. “And the bus doesn’t have a reverse gear, so I’ll just have to take everybody else and come back.” Like I said – no dummy. So he dropped off everyone else, leaving her as the last one on the bus. Opportunity created – opportunity taken.

He also worked in the cafeteria, and every day at lunch, he would save the biggest, prettiest fried chicken breast for her. Funny thing was, she didn’t like white meat. She was a drumstick girl. But she couldn’t fault him for trying. They began spending time together, mostly going to church and BSU functions, as there wasn’t much money for extravagant dates.

The path to true love did have a bump or two. Dad sort of still had a girlfriend from high school, and when Mom found out about that, she put her foot down. He was going home for a weekend, and Mom told him to either end things with her, or she would end things with him. He came back to school on Sunday evening and old girlfriend was no more.

It didn’t take long for them to find they had much in common. Dad was attracted to Mom’s sense of fun, and he liked that “she was a Christian and serious about it.” Mom liked Dad’s sense of humor and the way he made her laugh. Things progressed, and by the start of the next school year, they were both pretty sure they had found the person they wanted to grow old with.

As children of parents who had come through the Great Depression, they both had a wide practical streak. It wasn’t that they didn’t have dreams – they just had a way of assessing the reality of the situation without a lot of fluff. The story of Dad’s proposal lacks a little bit in the romance department, but knowing the two of them, it fits.

Sitting in the coffee shop one night in the fall of 1960, they were discussing the possibility of getting married. Money was tight, so they were trying to figure out how they could make it financially.

“She told me that we couldn’t get married if we didn’t have enough money to tithe,” Dad recalled. “So I got a napkin and started working out all the numbers and figured out how we could make it happen.”

Evidently they found enough money to cover expenses -- and a tithe --and set the wedding date for December 17 of that year. They decided to get married in the break between quarters, making for less than three months of engagement. Why so fast?

Why not?” Mom replied when I asked. “When you know, you know.” She said at least one person in her hometown speculated that there might be a shotgun involved, since it was happening so fast. (If so, that was the longest pregnancy on record – one week shy of four years later, I was born!)

So in a borrowed dress, using the Christmas decorations already in the church, Mom and Dad exchanged vows on December 17, 1960. I’ve always loved looking at their wedding pictures, especially the one where Mom is looking at Dad instead of at the camera. You can see the love on their faces. Fifty years later, they still look at each other that way.

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