On this date many years ago, my parents slipped off and got married. Not quite as exotic as it sounds. Everybody knew Berton and Virginia were engaged. They were twenty-six and almost twenty-five, respectively. Daddy’s parents were dead. Mama didn’t want her mother, who was in poor health, to struggle with a formal wedding. They did ask my grandfather if he’d like to go into town with them, but he declined the invitation.
They were married in their pastor’s living room with his wife as their witness. Returning to Papaw’s farm, they were met by Mama’s eight-year-old sister who figured out what they had done and ran to tell Papaw, “You’ve got a new son-in-law and a preacher, too!”
Papaw’s response was, “If I’d known that was what you were going to do, I’d have gone with you.”
It was the end of a courtship that got off to a rocky start. Several years before, Daddy visited his cousins in the little community of Sturgis, Mississippi and accompanied them to church on Sunday morning. He told his cousins over lunch that he’d met the woman he was going to marry. Mama told her family she’d met the ugliest boy she’d ever seen.
Some of their differences might prove that opposites do indeed attract. He came from a family for whom a “dysfunctional” definition was kind. She came from a nuclear and extended family that might be more in your business than you wanted but coalesced around each other at the end of the day. He grew up in a small town with home on the top floor over his father’s bottom floor barber shop. She grew up on the family farm, homesteaded several generations before. He thought a nickel in your pocket was for spending. She wouldn’t part with a frivolous dime until all necessary, useful, and altruistic needs were filled. But they shared a commitment to his ministry in rural Mississippi churches; a love for people in general and four daughters, their spouses, and offspring in particular; and a love for telling stories – including the one of their dissimilar impressions at their first meeting.
The marriage would last until his death almost forty-five years later. She smoothed some of his rough edges with social graces, and he taught her to see the funny side of whatever life handed them. On this day some seventy-eight years later, I am equally glad that she changed her mind after her initial impression and that he never did.