A New Chapter in My Life So Far

My first post in nearly six weeks. I look at this blank post box, take a deep sip of tea, get up get up and turn on the old revolving Westinghouse fan that belonged to my grandfather, and watch it revolve with satisfaction. Back to the chair and this post box. Check the date of my last post and count on the calendar. Nearly six weeks since I have been here. It is amazing how much can happen in six weeks. My life is radically changed. I have turned the page to a new chapter entitled Widowhood.

I’m fortunate in that I have a number of people who need me and many things that need my attention. I’m kept busy and facing forward, doing the next thing, and the next. This is the first morning that I’ve had alone and quiet, and when the pieces fell together for me to come to the page and explain my absence to my blogging friends. The act of writing reminds me of who I am.

I remembered suddenly a short story I wrote many years ago and that I had the honor of publishing in The Raleigh News and Observer. It is the story of my wedding. I changed certain facts to make it easier to understand, but basically it is truth. I find fiction helps me to see things straight. I smiled when I re-read it. I choose to share it here now. I’ll remove it in a week or so, because I might want to include it in an anthology. Let me say, there are a lot of stories in 44 years of marriage.

* * * * *

Getting Married
© Curtiss Ann Matlock

People often appear shocked when they learn my young age of marrying. Looking me over carefully, possibly wondering why I am not dragging a pickup load of kids behind me, they settle for asking: “What did your parents have to say about you getting married at that age?”

My reply is to say that there wasn’t anything my parents could say to me. My parents had not guided me about anything in years. My father seemed barely to notice me, his eyes being clouded by Jack Daniels, and my mother being preoccupied with trying to survive his drinking by losing herself in novels. I imagine that my mother glanced up from one of the novels, settled one eye on Johnny, whose daddy ran several Winn-Dixies over in Raleigh and was a deacon in the Baptist Church, and said to herself, “Hallehujah, my daughter’s prince is here!”

I was an intelligent girl, and had I sat down and thought out in a logical manner the ramifications of it all, I’m sure I would have turned down Johnny’s proposal at once. I could have gone to college, my grades getting me a scholarship, but in that era and my family, women were raised to grow up and get married and have a family. Also in that time there was no logical thought in me. Logic never ran strong in my family. We ran on emotion. My father, in a fit of passion about the earth, had left his secure job as a county agent and spent his days with experimental organic soybean farming and drinking; my mother spent hers reading such varied authors as Carl Jung and Harold Robbins.

So there I was at seventeen, in my senior year of school, with blond hair like corn silk to the middle of my back and dresses up above my knees, and crazy in love. Johnny, just turned nineteen, was bare faced and cock-sure–a young man on the edge of the world, facing either college or the draft.

Of course there was much speculation on everyone’s part that I, to use the accepted term of the day, had to get married. From the time I unwrapped that special Christmas present Johnny put in my hand and found a diamond solitaire, and said irreverently, “Ohmygod,” I balanced precariously between agitation and joy. Both emotions caused me to eat a whole lot. By two months before my high school graduation, I had outgrown all my clothes and went to sewing up these cheap, quick-made cotton shifts, the sack style with little Peter-Pan collars popular at that time.

One day at school I was called into the principal’s office. A large man, he reared back in his oak chair and asked in the manner of God, “Are you pregnant?”

Well, no, I wasn’t, I told him in a voice that croaked. I was an extremely shy girl; being singled out to go to the principal’s office had me frightened enough to about pee my pants. However, I suddenly went on to tell him (surely to the surprise of both of us) that I didn’t see that it was any of his business. Shy people just generally don’t like to be messed with.

“We couldn’t let you go to school if you were pregnant,” he said, hard and righteous.

Having exhausted my bit of rebellion, I wilted and left red faced. I spent the rest of the day thinking of things I wished to have said, things like: “So you would push me into being a high-school dropout?” and “Just tell me what other chubby girls you’ve hauled in here today.” I had always known I was different. I was most probably the last living virgin of the ‘60s, and right then I questioned why.

When I reported the story at home, my mother wanted to go down there and talk to that principal. I told her not to, that I had handled the matter, and such was our relationship and her nature that she did not.

Johnny arrived three days before the wedding, in time to attend my high-school graduation ceremonies. He came driving over in his Galaxie 500 convertible, wearing his  bell-bottom slacks, crimson silk shirt and Beatle boots, to our rural area of Pasquotank County, where the guys still wore white starched shirts, narrow black trousers, and penny loafers. I was so proud of the way others looked at Johnny, the girls as if they wanted to run away with him, and the guys as if they wanted to punch him.

I also looked at him. I thought: I don’t even know him.

That night while the object of my crazy desire slept in what could loosely be called our guest room—an enclosed side porch with a pull out sofa-bed—I tossed and turned upstairs. The following morning my panic reached sufficient proportions for me to run to my mother for help, which clearly shows my desperation.

I found my mother in the laundry room. She wore her customary large flannel shirt and dark slacks, held an open book in one hand and pulled wet clothes from the washer with the other. Flicking me a glance, she put down neither the book nor the clothes. I gathered breath, then blurted out that I didn’t think I wanted to get married after all. Another flicker of a glance, and she chuckled, saying something about it being natural to have nerves at this time.

I stood there. After a moment, my mother again spared me a glance. Clearly she was surprised to see me still there. She then shut the book, dropped the wet clothes into the basket, and braced herself on the rusty old washer. “You don’t want to get married?”

I shook my head, and a jumble of nearly incoherent words tumbled out. It is much to my mother’s credit that she could follow any of it. The gist of what I said was: “I’m terrified, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and this is all a big mistake.” Then I broke out sobbing.

My mother said, “You don’t have to get married, Rebecca Ann.”

I blinked, thinking of it. “But we have it all planned! There’s the church and the reception and ev-ery-thing…” I wailed.

I was thinking of my grandmother, so starched she crackled. My grandmother was going to great lengths to see that everything came up to standard. Napkins had been printed, the cake was ordered, flowers being arranged, and that very night my great aunts were hosting a wedding party dinner, where delicate Noritake and genuine silverware would gleam against the hundred-year-old family table, with everyone crowded around it.

My mother said, “We’ll cancel it.”

“But we have all those presents,” I replied in a whisper.

The wedding presents we had already received were displayed on a table in the living room—registered china, ruby-red goblets which I adored, white Corningware, and the very latest in stainless steel silverware from my grandfather, who loved modern things.

“We’ll send them back,” my mother said.

“But Johnny’s in there, expecting me.”

“We’ll send him back.”

“But his parents are coming all the way here!” Indeed, my in-laws-to-be were due to drive up in the yard any minute.

“We’ll send them back, too,” said my mother, giving a wide wave of her arm, as if sweeping away all complications.

Before my eyes my mother rose up straight and strong, a majestic hen in faded flannel, ready to protect her chick.

Two days later I walked down the aisle at the Elm Avenue Methodist Church. My mother, minus a book and looking like an uncomfortable stranger in a pink dress, sat on the very edge of the front pew, her eyes on me, her body poised, ready to be called upon to jump up and send everyone home, should I give her the least sign. I did not. I put my hand in Johnny’s and said, “I do,” in so faint a voice that the pastor leaned forward and squinted, as if reading my lips. I got married not because of being so crazy in love, nor because I was pregnant as so many were certain I was, but because I found the prospect of marriage far less daunting than facing the disapproval and humiliation of canceling everything.

Now forty-four years later, in one of those strange moments of memory, the past shimmers quite clearly across my mind as see our hands coming together, Johnny extending a hot mug of coffee and I taking it.

“Happy Anniversary,” he says and gives me quick kiss.

“Happy Anniversary,” I reply.

Then, “What is it?”

“What?”

“You look sort of worried.”

“No…just lost in remembering our wedding.”

He chuckled and opened the morning paper, effectively closing the topic.

As I gaze at his profile, however, it comes to me: we can make the right choice from all manner of the wrong reasons. And maybe it is not the choice so much as what we do with it once we’ve made it.

My gaze brings Johnny’s head turning, his blue eyes coming to mine. They crinkle in a smile, the sort of intimate smile long-married couples share that says all the important things without words.

I, being female, had to add words: “I’m awfully glad I married you.”

* * * * *

37 thoughts on “A New Chapter in My Life So Far

  1. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. As I do the math, we are probably about the same age, although I sadly was not able to make so much from marriage, although even marriages that are not long-lasting are profound in terms of what we learn and how we grow. Your books have always been wise about love of all kinds, as well as the way that death only seems to part us, as Winston’s story shows us. No doubt your husband played a large part in the acquisition of that wisdom. May you feel his presence when you need it as well as the presence and comfort of the God that brought you Willie Lee and Munro.

    The numbness will go away but trust now that it is like novocaine. At least that has been my experience.

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    • Linda, thank you for stopping by my site, and for your wise and kind words. The numbness has been, as you say, a blanket to help me through. Everyone’s kindness is that for me. I press on, as we all do through our lives one way or another.

      Warmly, CurtissAnn

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  2. You and your husband must have been a fantastic pair.I have only commented a couple of times here.When I read your latest blog,I couldn’t come up with the right words,I reread a couple of your books, just to feel a connection to you.You have my most heartfelt condolences.I always think of the Garth Brooks song The Dance,when loved ones pass.I could have missed the pain,but then I would have missed the Dance.Lifes a dance, we learn as we go. Sometimes we lead and sometimes we follow.I don’t have your gift with words,but I do love music and it helps me. Your books have the same effect on me.I hope you will keep writing,I look foward to a new book from you. God Bless you and your family.

    Kathy

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    • Nell Jean, it is an enormous comfort to know that strangers care–but my blogging friends hardly seem like strangers. We connect in so many ways that really matter. Thank you for your kind words.

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  3. What a wonderful story, CurtissAnn! Thank you so much for sharing. It’s a great idea to put it in an anthology so more people can be touched by it. I’m so sorry for your loss…my heart goes out to you. Sending many hugs.

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  4. Oh CurtissAnn, I enjoyed this so much…Yes, you sure have a way with words and such an awesome writer. It’s amazing how mature you were at such a young age…I’m so proud of you and how you survived those times…Your childhood was so different than mine, yet we both turned out able to take care of ourselves when we needed to…I love you and am so proud of you. Keep the writing going!!!

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    • Mary Frances, thank you for always encouraging me! Funny–I sure never thought of myself as mature. Just keeping on keeping on. You are right, we have what we need at any given moment.

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  5. Well, I wasn’t crying until I read Dee’s comment and now the tears are streaming! So three women’s hearts are touching across the continent this morning and I send you love and light and a very warm hug from California, CurtissAnn. You have all the resources, inner and outer to take your next steps with grace and love and creativity and, yes, humor. Love and blessings, Kathryn xoxo

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  6. I’m so very sorry. I’m another long-married one (our best man and maid of honor bet it wouldn’t last a year–it’s been 42). I don’t know what to say, of course, but thank you for sharing it the way you did. I hope joy finds its way back soon.

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    • Thank you, Liz. No one thought our marriage would last, either–and a number of times we thought it wouldn’t. But we learned along the way. I have such good memories, so I still have joy, even in sorrow.

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  7. Curtiss Ann I am soooo very sorry and can’t even imagine what you must be going through. I find I just don’t know whatvyo say. I will be praying for you every day. 44 years … So special. My hubby and I will soon celebrate 35. Hugs to you. Write. Write. Write.

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  8. Dear CurtissAnn, Love, prayers, hugs. They are all that I have to give you, but they are given all the same. No words suffice. You are so loved and have given so much love and hope to all of us. Finding strength is tough, but you have got it and I am holding your hand. I know that this is a jumbled mess, but it is heartfelt. Joyce (ChiChi)

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  9. So sorry for your loss. My husband and I were married very young as well. We will celebrate 43 years in September. I can’t imagine what you are going through. I think of what it would be like but no one knows unless they have been there.
    I enjoyed your story. Those were different times for sure. Good times for sure.
    Sending you some ((((((HUS))))) and again so sorry.

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  10. Dear CurtissAnn-
    Yesterday as I was driving home(I live in Slidell, LA) from visiting my dad in Ft. Walton Beach, FL ; I drove through Mobile and I felt a strong need to pray for you. I remembered the last post you made about your precious husband being sick and noted that we hadn’t heard from you in a while. I prayed for you as I drove along and now I know why. I don’t have a way with words but all I can say is may God give you strength and comfort as you just do the next thing and try to learn how to live and carry on. I do understand somewhat as my dear husband went home to be with the Lord two years ago after battling Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for 14 months. We were married for 26 years. I remember the feeling of just trying to do the next thing- also the feeling of total disbelief that this could happen. I had to learn how to live, be, and exist without my beloved. I am happy to hear that you have family and people who need you. That is such a comfort. I won’t go on too long but please know that I will be lifting you up in prayer every day.
    Sincerely,
    Lisa Franszczak

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    • Dear Lisa– I want to tell you that yesterday and today, God has made me aware of my need to grow in prayer, and I have prayed to do so. And now I get your message telling me about feeling compelled to pray for me. God works! Yes, you do understand, as only a few can. You speak of it– the total disbelief that this could happen. I am accepting of having to live without my beloved, but as you know it is a tough uphill climb, which I make only with God’s strength. I am helped every time I need it, with people like you reaching out to touch me. Thank you, Lisa. God bless…

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  11. Such a beautiful story! By the end tears were streaming down my face. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Sending you hugs and prayers across the miles.

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  12. Sweetie, as always your way with words does tend to make a person smile while tears are rolling down the face. Your story brought back so many memories of the late 60’s, oh those bell bottom pants and boots made me chuckle! I especially remember your beautiful long corn silk hair! Those were very special times in our lives as well as in history itself. Nothing will ever be like the 60’s again. I can’t wait to read more stories of your 44 years. Sending hugs to you. God Bless You “Old” Friend.

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      • Though life has taken us in different directions for many years, books and technology (and God!) has brought us back together again. Dan and I also celebrated our 44th anniversary just a couple weeks ago, I can so deeply feel your pain, and yet I could not help but remember the hip hugging bell bottom pants and the distinct swagger of Butch. May they both rest in peace.

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  13. You’re amazing. My thoughts and prayers have frequently been of you over these last few days. I’m glad you were able to share this great post with us. L, dana

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    • Dana, it is amazing to think how long we have known each other, yet have never met. I’m grateful for the Internet bringing us together and giving us the opportunity of friendship. Hugs…

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  14. Oh, honey, that made me cry. The line about your mama “a majestic hen in faded flannel, ready to protect her chick” made me cry and laugh. Bear asked me if I was okay. I love you, but of course, you know that. Get lonely, say the word, and I am on a plane. I mean it.~~Dee

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    • Now you’ve made me cry–and I’m grateful for that. Often now I think I’m shut down and unable to feel. But reading your words, I feel so grateful and thankful for all the years I’ve known you, the friendship experiences we’ve had, and that you knew Jim and me at our worst and our best. I miss him so much. I’m coming to see you as soon as I can. Love, Rosebud.

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