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.
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© 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?”
“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.”
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