Friday, June 20, 2003
I will never ever forget the first time I saw her. She was the tallest, most graceful, most beautiful creature I had ever laid my eyes upon … Marlo Thomas … a gorgeous Marlo Thomas gliding through the Rec Hall. She had dark, shoulder-length hair flipped up at the ends with the longest, most beautiful, curvy legs God has ever created.
Wearing a short blue mini skirt, the "in" thing in the fall of 1967, and a brilliant green school sweater with a bright yellow "S" on it, she immediately grabbed my attention. Having played basketball at Calhoun City High School, I prided myself with knowing every school and their colors in the 11-county area from which Northwest drew its students. But where in hell was the green and yellow sweater from?
It was just after I began my sophomore year at Northwest Mississippi Junior College in 1967 in Senatobia. The Rec Hall was where all the students hung out, listened to popular tunes on the jukebox, watched television, played ping pong, sat at tables designed for four, but often with many more than that. On that day, gracefully and grandly, she checked her mailbox at the entrance, nodding and speaking to everyone she met as she swept across the large room. Everyone spoke back to her—and why shouldn't they, this angel amongst us mere mortals? Still, I was desperately thinking, thinking, thinking of who this heavenly creature could be. I had to meet this Greek goddess. I was consumed with her.
I quickly enlisted my friends to help with the hunt for her identity. I first went to my friends from Vardaman and Bruce, all communities in Calhoun County. Jerry Listenbee, a diminutive, elfish fellow with freckles and short, red hair from Bruce, gave me the information first. Liz, as we affectionately called him, said, "Her name is Jo Ann McClure from Shaw. She dated Pete Weeks from West Tallahatchie last summer, and now she is dating Tracy Williams, the president of the Northwest student body." My heart sank. Here were the two BMOC (big men on campus). Pete was captain of the state championship football team and Tracy Williams, her current beau, was a sleek, tall GQ-type fellow from Olive Branch.
Over the next several weeks, I popped up wherever Jo Ann happened to be. Finally, word spread of my infatuation with her. It was hardly a secret. With some cunning (or should I say immature) maneuvers, I managed to have her included in a group of NWJC students who went to the Methodist Church one Sunday morning. Timidly, I approached her and actually drew her in to a conversation about who knows what. One thing I am quite sure of, it wasn't deep! But Tracy had gone home, and I had her all to myself.
The next day, Monday, I was sitting in the Rec Hall with several friends gathered around the table for four, talking about whatever came across our youthful minds. I had my long, skinny legs draped across the table as the tired old jukebox was blaring out The Supremes' song, "Stop in the Name of Love." Jo Ann walked straight up to my table, looked me in the eye and demanded, "Well, are you just going to sit there, or are you going to take me across the street and get me something to eat?" Looking up into those beautiful blue eyes, all the grace and athletic ability I had enjoyed at Calhoun City High School suddenly left me. I awkwardly attempted to plant my legs on the brown tiled floor and immediately knocked the table over. Watching this fiasco was my former flame from Eupora; a promiscuous majorette (I'm told) with childbearing hips; and three other good buddies from Calhoun County.
I quickly regained my composure and floated down the sloping hill with Jo Ann to the hamburger joint where we talked and laughed for hours. If possible, I loved her even more after the conversation. We talked about music we both enjoyed, favorite things to do on dates, mates that turned us on or off—anything and everything seemed to fit together like old puzzles. We were one.
Soon after our endearing, warm (OK, lustful) meeting at the hamburger joint, Tracy Williams, my nemesis, announced the winners of the 1967 homecoming court for Northwest. The grand announcement was made on the steps leading to the administrative offices located over the Rec Hall where I first knew I loved her. When he announced, "Jo Ann McClure from Shaw, Mississippi," the student body cheered wildly as she, like the other winners, ascended to the top of the steps. Later that night she asked me if I would mind being her escort. Homecoming night I stuck my little bird-like chest out as I proudly walked her across the football field.
Soon after, I asked her to marry me. Our wedding date was Aug. 17,1969, the day Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And as Bette Davis said in "All About Eve": "Hang on boys. It's gonna be a bumpy ride!" It has been that and more in the 33 years since.
So many of our close personal friends are no longer married, for whatever reasons. Of the three favorite couples in our early marriage, two have divorced and the other one should have. Our 16-year-old daughter is constantly saying how happy she is to see her parents still together. So many of her friends do not share what she values in parents: a deep and abiding love for each other, profound respect, mutual admiration.
That fire, that love at first sight, sadly may have lost some of its intensity, but Jo Ann and I have developed something that is so much more worthwhile. We know what each other is thinking; a look lets the other one know more than conversation ever could. A gentle hand at the back of the arm is worth more at our age than the close physical pleasures we knew so many years ago. For, you see, loving communication between two people is now the key. Simply being in the same room is often all we need. But going in to my 34th year of marriage, I can wish only one thing: please do not let this lovely ride end yet.