I have been told that we, “Had one of the great love stories of all time.” I will not argue or dispute that. We were married 55 years. It was 56 years ago today that we exchanged vows. Like today, it was a Sunday morning and we got married at 11:15 AM Central Daylight Time. She was a student nurse, and in those days, student nurses were not allowed to be married, so we eloped, and thought we would be able to keep it a secret. Dream on. She turned in her resignation to the nursing school the next day because we could not stand the idea of being apart that much. A few years later, when civil rights laws began to take effect, nursing schools allowed students to be married. She went back to school, finished her degree, and got her Registered Nurse license.
We were married by Judge J. Fred Gore. One of his relatives is a lawyer and told me that Judge Gore was Al Gore’s uncle. No matter, the little ceremony held in his chambers that Sunday morning, “took.”
Here is Judge Gore filling out the Marriage License in his office.
I am not going to spend a lot of time on a history of her many accomplishments in this diary. I will save that for later. This is a love letter.
Dearest Letha, my love,
Fifty-six years ago last spring, when I visited Buddy’s dorm room and saw your photograph on his desk, I was smitten. I picked up your picture and flopped down on his bunk. Buddy's roommate, Carson, picked up his camera and took a picture. That moment in time is now memorialized forever.
I told Buddy on the spot that I was going to take his new girlfriend away from him and marry her. He did not believe me until we went on that double date and we spent more time paying attention to each other than to our own dates. It was not long after that, I got sick and you came to see me in my hospital room. Heck of a first date, that was. Later I joked that the care at the hospital was so good, I took one of the nurses home with me. I took your picture from my hospital bed.
We were inseparable the spring and summer of 1956, and spent as much time as we could together. I took a picture of you on the golf course near your house, on the seventh green.
By August, we hatched up the plan that we would elope and get married. We would keep it a secret from everyone but a few close friends and our families. A week later, the hard realization set in that you did not want to go back and live in the dorm, you wanted to stay with me. That was a hard decision for both of us. We were poor, but I don’t think we were ever happier.
If anyone ever had a calling, it was you. You were destined to be a nurse. Your father died of a ruptured appendix when you were only eleven days old, and you were convinced that if he had better care, he might have lived. You started out as a nurse's aide, then became an LPN and then later got your Registered Nurse's license. I remember that you never liked nurses in scrubs and refused to wear scrubs. You were a real professional, and wearing a white uniform and cap were as much a part of your identity as your blue Celtic eyes.
We must be one of the few couples who were married that long and never had a real fight. Disagreements, yes, but no angry fights like so many of our friends. One of the things we agreed on early in our marriage was that we would make an effort that both of us would not get angry at the same time. It seemed to have worked.
You were proud of your Celtic heritage, and I was proud with you. Even your name, Letha, is Gaelic for Brittany. I remember how you became interested in genealogy as a hobby and started researching our families. You discovered that you are a descendant of kings, queens and earls from Scotland and Ireland. Scots and Welsh on your mother's side and Irish and Scots on your father's.
All the stories about the Celts having a temper are true. You never suffered fools. You were also one of the smartest people in the room, no matter where you were. There was the incident where you ripped someone a new one, and later he asked me how I managed to live in the same house with you. I replied, “Every night when I go to bed, I just remind myself this woman beside me is descended from the guy who cut off the head of the King of Scotland………in a church!” He looked puzzled; that was when I told him you were a MacBeth.
I have often thought Jung was right about “racial memories.” There is a lot we do not know about what is encoded in DNA, but you had a feeling about the Blue Ridge Mountains unlike anyone I have ever known, except for our daughter. Both of you are true daughters of the Highlands. You wept when Alex Beaton sang, “These Are My Mountains” at the opening ceremonies of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. This is our friend, Colin Grant-Adams singing These Are My Mountains.
You loved your music. Especially the Corries. You liked Dumbarton’s Drums and would sing along with it in the car. You always said you were singing it to me. I cannot listen to it now without getting a tear in my eye.
You never recovered from losing our son. You would walk past the fireplace and touch that flag case with your fingertips. You did not think I could hear you when you whispered, “It’s OK baby, you are at peace now. You are not hurting any more.” I could see the faraway look in your eyes, and noticed how quickly you changed the channel on the TV when a story about Alaska would come on. You wanted the tune, Mull of Kintyre, piped at his service at the National Cemetery. Jon piped it because our daughter could not bring herself to do it.
Not too long before our 55th Anniversary a year ago, I discovered this song by Charlie Landsborough. Remember, we sat and held hands, listening to it. It spoke to both of us deeply.
When we buried Reed in April, you helped pick out his spot. You knew we would be in that plot too, so in effect, you were picking out your own resting place. How little did we know you would be beside him before many more months passed.
Aside from losing a child and grandchild, the hardest thing you ever faced was having to give up nursing. I remember you kept up your license for years, insisting that you would go back some day as soon as your heart condition got better. Then you heard about the beautiful baby girl with cancer who had been abandoned at the Children’s Cancer Hospital. You called the social worker and brought her home with you. They gave her between five and eighteen months to live, because it was not a survivable cancer. They did not count on her having the best oncology nurse in world seeing to her care. I think you saved each other’s lives.
The child who was given no chance to live got a letter from the Dean of the college last spring. The letter informed her she now had all the credits needed to graduate. She burst into tears, saying she only wished she could show it to Mama. She took the letter and propped it against your picture on the bookcase. It is still there. She believes with all her heart that you somehow know it is there.
You left me in body last year, but I still feel your presence everywhere I turn. I went and sat with you under the trees yesterday evening, watching the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains you and Reed loved so much. This afternoon, I drove to the top of "your mountain" and sat by the little creek on the big rock where you used to come and sit when you wanted quiet meditation time. It was very strange, but it seemed as if I could feel your presence as a gentle breeze blew through the trees.
Almost a year ago, I held you in my arms and made a promise: "No matter how dark it is, no matter how far, no matter how bumpy the path, I will find you." You must have needed to hear that down deep at some level, because as soon as I gave you that permission, you slipped away through that mysterious veil.
When it came time to pick out a burial urn, we found a beautiful blue blown glass urn. It looked very much like the blown glass Christmas ornaments we would get at Judson Guerard's glassblower's shop. You always loved Judson's work, cherishing the blown glass we got there. Later, when I told Judson about the urn, he seemed to become a little choked up. He knew how much you loved blue.
We said a final goodbye, with your urn wrapped in your lovely blue and rose red MacBeth tartan. I always liked it when you wore it as a sash, pinned over your shoulder with one of your beautiful Celtic pins. It is with you forever now as you rest beside Reed in the mountains the Cherokee called “Otteray.”
Just remember what I always said:
I love you all there is....and then some. Till then....