The Wedding

It was the summer of 1979 and my new mustard yellow Sony Walkman wasn’t much larger than the Doobie Brothers cassette tape it played. Three Mile Island was a hot topic in the newspapers, an upstart cable network company called The Entertainment and Sports Network was about to start broadcasting sports 24 hours a day, Ford Pintos seemed to be blowing up everywhere, and every red-blooded American boy had a Farrah Fawcett poster in his room (until they got married and their wife made them get rid of it).  But, if not for Google Search, I would not have been able to recall any of those memorable events that summer because they were all background clutter compared to our wedding in June of 1979.  OK, if am being honest here, I will admit that I was able to remember that poster.

Libby was the first of the Willis girls to get married and this wedding was going to be a big deal, but at that time, I had no idea what it meant to Libby or the others who would help with the planning and to the many who would witness the ceremony that day.  I was clueless about the amount of preparation involved leading up to the wedding day and only later did I realize what it meant to Libby to have her mom and sisters work so closely with her on those preparations.  I don’t think I am the least bit out of line when I say to you that no matter how stressful the time was before the ceremony and no matter how tired she must have been when the wedding day finally arrived, Libby was stunningly gorgeous on her wedding day and by far the most beautiful bride ever (hey, it is my blog, after all ).


Libby’s family of five sisters viewed weddings completely different than did my family with it’s four boys, and like my brothers (and most other guys I knew) I did everything I could to avoid weddings, mainly because they could ruin a good day of hiking or fishing since they normally happened right in the middle of an otherwise, perfectly good Saturday, not to mention that you would have to stop what you were doing, take a shower and get dressed up right in the middle of the day.  It was hard for my male brain to understand why people planned weddings during the day, it seemed to me that if you planned a wedding for either 8:00 in the morning or 9:00 in the evening then it would allow all of your potential guest the time to enjoy their Saturday and yet, still attend the wedding.

My job during the weekend of the wedding was to make sure I was at the rehearsal on Friday night before the wedding and then, on Saturday, get my tux, my car and me, to the wedding on time.  Now, I certainly wouldn’t want to leave the reader with the impression that all I did was show up, because there was a whole lot more to my part in this wedding than that; I had to say “yes ma’am” often during the rehearsal when I was told what to do by Libby, her mom, her sisters or any other female with the authority to do so, which, in effect, was every female over the age of twelve.  In addition to saying “yes mam” at the rehearsal, ,I had to say “I do” and “I will” at several different times the next day during the ceremony itself, no easy task since the two phrases were not interchangeable (something I learned the hard way during rehearsal).  So the groom (me in this case) had to listen intently to the preacher’s questions and be prepared to give the appropriate response at the appropriate time during the ceremony.

Libby and I had built our friendship on planning events together throughout high school but I learned that I was a lost ball in high weeds when it came to wedding planning, so very quickly I took my place in the matrimonial pecking order.  After all, this was Libby’s day and I came to realize that everyone came to see her, not me.

Now, if Libby were looking over my shoulder as I typed this, which she often did, she would say something like, “Now Barry you shouldn’t write that, the wedding was not about me, it was about the vows we made before God in front of our friends and family”, but lets face facts here, this was Libby’s day.

On Saturday June 9th 1979, right in the middle of an otherwise perfectly good Saturday, Libby and I were married in front of several hundred people packed into the pews of Flintstone Baptist Church .  Among those witnesses in attendance were friends and family from both the Willis and Gilley families, our respective churches, Flintstone Baptist Church and Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene, Olan Mills Studios, Red Food Store, Chattanooga Valley High School and Mercer University.  Libby had so many friends and family in the wedding party that I told her if the number of bridesmaids grew any more I would be forced to go out and make new friends in order to have an equal number of guys on my side of the church just to balance out the number of girls in the bride’s entourage.  There was, however, one obvious omission from Libby’s bridesmaids lineup, Helen Buckner (soon to be Helen Hawkins) was not among the ladies in blue (see A First Date for that explanation).


There was a tremendous amount of preparation that went on during the months, weeks and days before the wedding and I was, of course, oblivious to most of it. With a very limited budget to decorate, plan for and accommodate the 400 or so guests, the Willis family and their friends either made or borrowed nearly everything for the wedding to decorate the church in what had to be the social event of 1979 in Flintstone, GA.


Libby was calm, confident and radiant in her long flowing white lace dress as her dad prepared to walk his girl down the center isle of the church.  For the moment, I too was calm and confident as I stood in a small room behind the organ waiting to enter the church, but then, my pastor mentioned to me that he saw a funny thing happen to a groom once during a wedding when someone painted the words “Help Me” on the bottom of his shoes to be seen by everyone as he knelt for the prayer during the ceremony.  I nervously laughed about the poor guy’s misfortune, but then, out of curiosity, I looked at the bottom of my black shoes and saw the words, “Help Me”.  Suddenly, the musicians began playing the song which was my queue to make my entrance but I was sitting on the steps to the choir loft nervously pulling the white athletic tape off of the bottom of my rented shoes.  I was late walking in (so I already messed up on one of the things I was supposed to do) and my once calm mind was reeling with thoughts of, “I wonder what else they did…”  I eyed my groomsmen as I walked by to see which one was responsible, only to conclude that they all looked guilty.  Libby told me later that my hands were shaking as I held hers during the vows, but I said everything I was supposed to say when I was supposed to say it.


Although my role was limited during the wedding preparation I distinctly remember a conversation Libby and I had about a current trend in weddings to change a lot of the traditional vows, modifying or even eliminating parts that many viewed as “too restrictive” or “rigid”.  Libby and I both wanted the traditional language in the vows and ironically, during our discussion of those vows she laughed and said, “Barry, you had better be sure about this ” til death do us part”  thing because I plan on living a very a long time”.


I only had a couple of things to do during the wedding, one of which I messed up, but for more than a year I had been planning a month long honeymoon, promising Libby that it would be unlike any other, and I planned to keep that promise.

The Proposal (well sort of…)

Young people today seem to keep coming up with evermore creative ways of “popping the question,” some have even video taped and posted their elaborately choreographed proposals on the internet.  In the previous post I recalled an elaborate cliff-side picnic atop Pigeon Mountain.  Readers of this blog may have thought that I missed the perfect opportunity to propose to Libby during that picnic, but the truth is, I did propose (sort of).

Libby and I talked about getting married as we sat next to that cliff on that gorgeous Sunday afternoon; but then, we talked about getting married on the date before that picnic and we talked about getting married during the date after that picnic, and nearly every date after that. Libby and I became so comfortable together after our first few dates that we were able to discuss marriage as easily as we discussed which desert we were going to split after a meal.  The good thing about so many frank discussions is that we learned one another’s opinions on so many different things that it helped us better understand the other’s point of view; the bad thing about so many discussions about marriage is that afterwards, when you look back, there was never a definitive time that can be pinpointed as  “the proposal”.

Libby and I discussed a variety things during the two years that we dated including marriage, children, finances and, ironically, what each of us would do if the other one died first.  We thought it was important to share our opinions on these and other things because we both believed that if you decide ahead of time what your standards will be in any given situation then you are more likely to stick with your convictions instead of allowing circumstances to sway your decision.

An example of one such discussion happened while Libby and I were on a date in a restaurant when a family sitting next to us began to deal (unsuccessfully) with an unruly child by explaining logically why she should not lie in the floor and scream at the top of her lungs as she threw a temper tantrum.  That lead to a discussion between Libby and I (when we could finally hear one another) about how we would handle the same situation when we became parents.  For the record Libby said, and I agreed, that the little darling needed a firm hand to her backside, instead of her parents attempting a logical discussion with a 4 year old about manners.

During the discussions that Libby and I had about marriage there never really was a specific time when I asked Libby if she would marry me, nor was there a specific time when she said yes.  In fact, we talked about getting married so often that during one conversation in the summer of 1978 we decided that we should get married the following summer on June 9th. At some point during the conversation, a realization came to Libby’s face slowly as she looked up at me with a grin and gleam in her eye saying, “Well, I guess that means we’re engaged…”.  Ever the romantic wordsmith, I said, “Yea, sure looks like it”.

We never really thought about it at the time, but afterward, I always felt bad for Libby when girls eager for a romantic story would ask her, “How did he propose?” she would say, “He never really did.” followed graciously by, “We both just decided that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together; and after that it was really only a matter of setting the date”.  In hindsight, Libby deserved better, she deserved one of those elaborate proposals that are going viral on YouTube, but the truth is we were both so concentrated on our relationship and our life together as a married couple that we viewed the proposal as more of a mutual decision than a single question, asked and answered.

After we decided that we wanted to get married in such anti-climatic fashion, I went to ask Libby’s dad for permission; that conversation, much like the proposal, was more like the culmination of a process than a single event.  For a year or so, Pastor Willis and I had been having discussions about religion, marriage and responsibly, so when I finally asked for his permission to marry Libby his response was something like, “I thought you would never ask!”, followed by, “Of course you have my permission to marry Libby, now lets go tell her mother before she has a coronary.”

The ring, however, was another story altogether.  We had so little money that we had both decided we would not get an engagement ring. but instead we would put all of our money toward getting a house.  I bought an older house from my uncle that had been vacant for 5 years and it needed a lot of work.  It was my idea not get an engagement ring so we could put more money into the house before we moved in, and even though Libby agreed, I later had second thoughts about it (the ring, not the marriage).

In the next few months I spent all of my savings, nearly everything I made, and almost all of my time working on the house to make it livable.  In addition to working on the house, many nights I was sneaking away to take on extra jobs so I could save up enough money to buy Libby an engagement ring.  Missing out on several dates and/or opportunities to work on the house paid off in the end as I was eventually able to save up $500 toward a ring that I picked out from a Bennett Blue Book mail order catalog.

On Christmas Day 1978 I surprised Libby Willis with at diamond engagement ring, now we were really engaged!

christmas ring 6

Three Weeks of Dates

When I was young there was an ice cream shop on McFarland Avenue in Rossville, GA called the Dream Cream which was an occasional  treat for our family if we went out for Sunday dinner after church.  One particular Sunday the decision was made that we were going to make an ice cream stop and I determined before pulling into the parking lot that I was old enough for a large chocolate milk shake of my own and I shouldn’t be required to share it with any of my brothers.  A discussion followed and my mother soon became frustrated with my stubbornness and decided to teach me a lesson, telling me that if she bought me a large milk shake, I would be required to drink every bit of it or I would get a spanking for wasting food.  Confident that I would easily be able to handle the Dream Cream Super Shake challenge without so much as a belch, I called her bluff.  I’ll spare the reader from describing the dairy induced details, but for the record, lets just say I learned a lesson on that day that I (nor anyone else in that car) will ever forget.

I had taken Libby back to Macon after a weekend at home and then surprised her (and myself) when I found out that I would be going back to Macon to work at a high school less than 2 miles from Mercer University.  My 20-year-old male brain had already begun to plan the agenda for the three weeks.  I would leave my hotel early enough each morning to go to breakfast with Libby, then I would go by for a sandwich most days during my lunch break and most assuredly, spend every evening together, beginning as soon as I got off of work and lasting late into the night, every night.  In the immortal words of Jacopo from the movie,  The Count of Monte Cristo, “…How is this a bad plan?”

The first week of dates had been everything I had imagined, we were together every possible minute, capped off with a romantic evening described in my previous blog entitled The Dance.  But as the second week of the trilogy began, reality set in as we reluctantly decided that we needed to plan around my work schedule, Libby’s homework, tests, papers, and all of the things we had put off during out first week of non-stop dates.


Call it naivety or more likely, immaturity on my part, but on my way back down to Macon at 5 AM on that first Monday morning, I envisioned twenty-one days of steak dinners and double feature movies every night followed by ice cream on the way home (no shakes).  Instead, what I found in Libby was a dedicated student with a very aggressive class load involving some serious library time, especially after falling behind her first year when she missed so much school during her bout with mononucleosis.  In addition, I had to work several evening shifts so it wasn’t the dating marathon I had planned, but the biggest obstacle to my fantasy of non stop dating was that I simply couldn’t afford it.

Much like that large chocolate shake that I wanted when I was young, the reality of the experience in real life did did not live up to expectations that I had in by brain.  Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoyed the entire three-week stretch, it’s just that our relationship was changing (maturing?) and we were forced to make decisions and prioritize our time among our responsibilities.  In the process we learned that we couldn’t dance under the stars all of the time, we had to complete our obligations and then make the most of the time that we had to ourselves – a trait practiced but never fully mastered – over the next 37 years as we constantly struggled to balance time spent with one another against work, obligations and later on, children.

Libby’s Correction to My Reminiscings

From the first moment we started dating, Libby had her work cut out for her in the quest to keep me in line.  You see, Libby was a rule follower and she saw the world in black and white, so whether I was telling a story in which I misstated a date (insignificant to the story, in my mind) or if I made a joking comment to someone in passing, either way, Libby would correct the date that I had messed up and she would tell the person that I joked with, that I didn’t really mean what I said (although in my mind they should have known that I was joking).  That correction is apparently still going on today.

Recently, Nathan was looking through some old keepsakes when he found some of Libby’s writings from a composition class that she was required to take as a part of her continuing education classes.  Below is an excerpt from a paper written to Nathan and Jerod in 2006 to describe the beginning of Libby’s and my relationship along with some of her thoughts leading up to our first date.

In an earlier post, I described how Libby had shown up at my parents house with an old jersey, seemingly out of the blue. A portion of Libby’s story to Jerod and Nathan is reprinted below and it fills in some of the blanks and explains what happened leading up to the jersey episode.  Libby remembered details that I had forgotten, I did remember going to see my old friend from high school because she was sick, but I never knew until later how that visit had changed Libby’s view of me.  So as usual Libby has corrected one of my stories:


For My Boys

I thought it might be of some interest for you both to know how our story began and the things about your dad that secured my love for a lifetime.

        It was one of those times when you just know in your spirit that you need to go home.  The year was 1977 during the spring quarter of my first year of college, when I noticed a drastic decrease in my energy level.  Over the next few days, I completely lost my appetite and by Friday midterms, my fever was up and down, between the chills of a Russian winter and the heat of an Arizona summer.

        Driving home half-delirious from the fever and the other half from pain medication, all I could think of was snuggling in my warm bed and being lovingly cared for by my mom and dad.  I needed rest, lots of rest!  Much of the next few weeks, I only remember in snippets.  “She has a severe case of mono which has caused an infection in her teeth,” the doctor said.  “She needs plenty of rest, a liquid diet, and I am prescribing some high-powered antibiotics.  She is one sick little girl.”

        A true Southern lady, I had always been taught to make yourself “presentable” and would not think of leaving my home without bathing, “fixing my face,” and curling my hair.  With that being said, when you are truly sick, the only priority you have is getting well and the only energy expended is to achieve that goal. 

        After several weeks of high fever and drastic weight loss, my mom told me I had a visitor.  Too weak to protest, I looked up to see my good friend Barry walk through my bedroom door.  Friends since eighth grade, we always had a special relationship, but today, little did I know, would take our friendship to a completely new level. With his dark raven hair, beautiful smile, quick wit, and outgoing personality, he was definitely a desirable date but the character he displayed over the next few days was decidedly, what secured my love when choosing a life mate.

        I am sure as he saw me he was taken back by not only the stench from the infection but also my appearance, but if he was, he never showed it.  He caught me up on all the “Valley People,” the latest in loves lost and gained, brought me eight track tapes of some of his favorites, Elton John and “The Eagles,” and made me laugh with his funny mix of humor and sarcasm.

        As he left, my spirits had truly been lifted, but in my heart I felt he probably would not be back.  Even my own family had to take turns waiting on me because of the terrible odor caused by the infection.  As I lay back down, I caught a reflection of myself in the mirror and could hardly believe the frail, weak figure whose hollow eyes stared back at me.  Oh, would I ever be well again?

        To my surprise and delight Barry’s spirit was undeterred and he returned many times until I was well enough to resume my studies at Mercer.  Over the last six weeks, we had talked about many things: our dreams, God, careers, football, music, family, and friends.  In all those chats, I began to believe this was more than a good friendship.  

        I believe with all my heart God allowed these circumstances to take place… I began to realize the difference between true love and infatuation.  In that little window of time, Barry had shown me unconditional love.  Love not based on emotions that rise and fall but the choice of your will to put someone else’s best interest above your own, the choice to persevere even in undesirable circumstances, the choice to remain faithful even if beauty fades and the body fails.

        Even though we did not start dating until several months later, I realized that this young man possessed qualities of character that were rare and would make someone a great husband.  Maybe that someone could be me!

        Now, after twenty-seven years of marriage, your dad’s character has only deepened.  He’s the hardest working man I know, not only to make a comfortable home for us, but is always there to help others in need.  He is not a man who lets his emotions lead him.  He makes daily choices to put us first and deny himself of his own desires.  Your dad is not perfect but we can both testify that he loves the Lord and serves Him daily through his actions.  He has truly loved us well because of his desire to please God.  I thank God for him daily and cherish him as the servant leader of our home, my very best friend, … a wonderful dad to you both, and as my beloved husband.

        May God fill you with wisdom, power, perseverance and faithfulness to love well until “death do you part.”  You have both been a delight and a challenge and I am proud of the young men you have both become.


                                                       Jerod and Nathan, I love you forever,


The Dance

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but throughout high school it seemed as though Libby and I were always making plans for a dance. The problem was during our era it was not considered a “real dance” unless there was a live band, so in preparation for each dance we spent many afternoons traveling from garage to garage listening to different groups.  The search process involved enduring a lot of really bad music in our attempt to find the perfect band who had to be able to perform certain “classic” songs such as Free BirdHotel California and of course, the southern national anthem, Sweet Home Alabama.

Although a lot of time was spent selecting the bands and decorating the gym, in reality there never was a lot of dancing during any of our high school events, which was okay by me since I never really danced anyway.  Libby, on the other hand always enjoyed dancing, a fact that frankly shocked me since my church had always taken a such strong stand against dancing and yet here was Libby a preacher’s daughter, dancing every chance she got.

Most of the time during our high school dances Libby and I were busy working the gate or asking the band to turn it down because of complaints from the chaperons, or we were asking the band to turn it up because of complaints from the students.   If we weren’t adjusting the music volume or taking up tickets at the door we were trying to fix the mirrored disco ball that had quit turning, so even if  I was willing to “lower my standards” enough to dance, we rarely had opportunity.

Back in Macon, Libby and I had found an excuse to spend every evening together during that first week of our three-week dating marathon and to close out that first week of dates, Libby’s Chi Omega sorority was sponsoring a Saturday night dance at the local country club.  I had already planned to drive to Macon to meet Libby and go with her to the Chi O mixer but now that my job assignment had me stationed in Macon for three weeks, it made the entire weekend a lot less stressful especially since this was going to be the first dance in which neither one of us would be working.

Chi O 1

On the Saturday of the dance Libby and I spent the first half of the day together walking around the campus and generally enjoying the day with no agenda.  That afternoon I picked Libby up in front of her dorm with plenty of time for us to go out to dinner where we had a relaxing meal at a quite restaurant, then we made the short drive to the country club.

Libby, always the social butterfly, wanted to introduce me to all of her friends (and yes, she seemed to know everyone there).  After introductions and during one of the band’s breaks Libby had a part in her sorority sister’s program as they made a presentation to the senior girls who would be graduating, after which, those seniors recognized their favorite incoming pledge (you probably already guessed this one, yes, it was Libby).

Chi O3

With Libby’s social responsibilities complete we finally had some time to ourselves, but the warm humid evening combined with the large group of hot sweaty couples dancing in every corner of the room, had overwhelmed the ballroom’s air conditioning system making the room very uncomfortable.  I had convinced Libby to step outside and so we walked toward the back of the ballroom through some large doors which lead outside onto a patio, away from the band, the sorority sisters and the heavy air.

While we were inside I felt completely out of my element, but outside everything seemed perfect as we settled into some large wooden Adirondack chairs and relaxed on the edge of the 18th green.  We were separated from the main event by multiple sets of French doors which had been propped open during the evening to allow the cool night air into the ballroom.

It looked like a scene from a movie as we sat looking back toward the ballroom with the tall glass doors each flanked by sheer white curtains billowing out of the openings as the breeze blew them out toward our haven on the stone patio.  The evening took on an even more surreal atmosphere as the bright lights from inside the room cast silhouettes of the dancing couples on the sheer curtains.  It seemed as if we were completely alone beneath the stars, yet surrounded by several hundred people.

Outside on the patio the damp night air felt nice compared to stuffy ballroom and the music was now muffled enough that we could still talk without yelling as we began to dance.  Oh yes, I need to explain here that the temptation to dance with Libby had eroded my resolve to the point that I finally gave in.  My dancing was horrible but Libby never said a word about it and I was just enjoying my time with her.

Despite my inept dancing and repressed guilt, the evening became another milestone in our young relationship because, for the rest of the night, no one interrupted our dance, nor discovered our secret dance floor.  Our week of dates had come to an end as Libby and I danced together outside that ballroom, and although memorable, I had forgotten about that evening until just recently when I was scanning stations on the radio and I heard an old Garth Brooks song entitled “The Dance” and the words to that song brought back all of those memories from 36 years ago:

“The Dance”

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbyeAnd now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the danceHolding you I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I a king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say you know I might have changed it allAnd now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the danceYes my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance

Now, a disclaimer here, I have never believed that our lives are left to chance, and I know that Libby didn’t believe that.  But with that said,  I can understand how much easier it would be for a songwriter to find lyrics which rhyme with “chance” instead of “the sovereignty of God”.

So with that exception in mind, click on this link if you would like to hear Garth’s version of  The Dance.

The Way We Were

Libby and I had several long talks following our “cow date” to clear up some misunderstandings and repair the damage to our fledgling relationship.  Although that initial meeting between Helen and Libby got off to a very rocky start, years later the two would become inseparable friends, in fact, when our boys were young they were heartbroken to learn that Miss Helen was not even related to them and worse than that, Helen and Kelly’s children were not their cousins.

Despite the pitfalls of that first date, Libby and I went out several more times that summer but it seemed, in my mind at least, that just days after we began dating during the summer of 1977, the fall semester began at Mercer University and she left for Macon.

Libby needed to maintain a high GPA in order to continue to receive her academic scholarship, so her school work really needed to take precedence over our relationship, at least for the present time.  The coming of Fall not only meant Libby would be back at college, it also meant that school and sports pictures would be taking up a lot more of my time here at home.

My job was still new and challenging as I was busy learning about portraits, lighting, processing, printing and selling. Early in my career, my job with Olan Millls was to fill in for someone within the company’s network of photographers as they went on vacation, or help if they had overbooked and didn’t have enough of their own people to cover the number of sittings that had been scheduled.

I really enjoyed the variety and travel which was always a part of the job, but since Libby and I started dating just months earlier, my job was suddenly less glamorous and I began thinking seriously about my future.  Soon my perspective changed completely and I started to view my job more as a way to support a family (a means to an end) instead of an end in itself;  pretty heady stuff for a self-centered 20-year-old boy who, just months before, thought he had everything he needed.

During the weekends that I didn’t have to work in the winter of ’77-’78, I would drive to Macon on Friday evening and bring Libby back home for the weekend, then, take her back to Macon Sunday afternoon following church.  One such weekend became a watershed moment in our relationship and the memory of what happened during those three days left an indelible impression in my mind.

I had driven the 3 or 4 hours to pick up Libby on a Friday evening (it was always 4 hours or more going through Atlanta on Friday afternoon) and then we made the return trip home, delivering her to her parent’s house about midnight.  We had spent the day on Saturday splitting time between her parent’s house and my parent’s house, but Saturday nights were always reserved for a date which normally involved our favorite Caecilian pizza from Caesar’s Pizza (no resemblance, whatsoever, to the modern, Pizza Caesar’s).

Cesar's Pizza close shot wo ring copy

After church on Sunday, we always had a “lite” Sunday dinner with Libby’s parents which would normally consist of roast beef with onions, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, fried okra, brown ‘n serve dinner rolls and several deserts.  Sunday dinner at the Willis house was an event not to be missed, which could have been the main reason why the Rev. Jimmie Willis’s sermons at Flintstone Baptist Church rarely, if ever, went past noon.  After dinner, as the rest of the family began looking for their favorite napping spot, Libby and I would leave for Macon.

During this particular drive south, Libby and I were discussing some of our favorite music and movies and how we were both suckers for love-story movies, sappy love songs and ballads, a fact not lost on our friends in high school who often made fun of the songs we discussed, especially since some of our friend’s musical taste leaned more toward The Rolling Stones than James Taylor.   But now, out of earshot of our classmates, we freely discussed Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel and one of our all time favorite songs by The Righteous Brothers, Unchained Melody.

Those frequent 4 hour trips between Chattanooga Valley and Macon turned out to be very effective pre-marital counseling for us and we would often spend that time discussing our beliefs, our families, our goals and our future.  That’s not to imply that all of those conversations were serious, but that time alone without any distractions helped us better understand one another’s past and how that history shaped our views.

Libby came from a family with five girls who spent a lot their free time cooking, studying and gathering around a large table for elaborate meals, often on fine china.  I, however, came from a family with four boys who spent a lot of our free time damning up creeks, building forts, blowing up damns, hunting, blowing up forts, fishing and eating bologna sandwiches that had been in our blue jeans pocket during a hike.  The differences in how were each raised made for interesting conversations during many of our “interstate counseling sessions”.

Arriving in Macon on this particular cold, rainy Sunday evening, we exited I-75 onto Mercer University Boulevard and at the end of the exit ramp we saw an advertisement for a movie entitled The Way We Were.  This movie, which starred Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand could be a trifecta, a love story, a sappy love song and a date!  But this was even better than a trifecta because the movie had been out long enough that it was now showing at the dollar theatre, could this possibly be a “quadfecta”?

We decided dinner and a movie would be the perfect end to a great weekend.  There was very little discussion during the short drive from the exit ramp to the girl’s dorm where I proceeded to unload piles of Libby’s freshly laundered clothes courtesy of her mom’s washer and dryer.  While I carried the clean clothes from the car into the dorm lobby (which was as far as boys were allowed to go) Libby went to her room to get ready for our impromptu date. When my laundry duty was complete,  I went back to my car instead of staying in the commons area where the dorm mother kept giving me suspicious looks.

It is still a mystery to me how Libby could always seem to look so good during those long hours in the car, but then she could go inside her dorm room for 15 minutes and still cause me to do a double-take as she came back out.  She looked amazing, with fresh makeup, more curl in her hair, a bounce in her step and that “look”.  The “look” happened often when Libby would self consciously drop her head down and give an embarrassed smile anytime she was complimented or if she thought someone was admiring her and, right now, I was in the process of doing both.

Glancing up at my reflection in the rear view mirror, I quickly realized that I would not be able to do anything to make myself presentable, so I jumped out of the car and ran to the passenger side of the car to open Libby’s door, bowing deeply, trying to dazzle her with my chivalry.  Libby laughed self-consciously at my actions as she accepted my hand to help her into her seat, then I closed her door and hurried to my side of the car to make the short drive to our favorite steak place in Macon.

There was rarely any discussion about where we would eat, only what we would eat, because Libby didn’t ever want to try a different steak restaurant after she found a good one, because that is where we ate steak, always.  The same held true for pizza (Pizza Caesar’s), sandwiches (Lotts Sandwich Shop) and most other foods.   When Libby found something she liked, she stuck with it, which annoyed me because I wanted to try new places in the hopes of finding an even better place (the same principle would apply to the TV remote years later).  Eventually in our relationship, I began to realize that if she really liked me, this “flaw” in her character would turn out to be a good thing for me.

After finishing our meal, we quickly drove to the local multiplex theater just as the previews were ending and the feature was starting.  Just for the record, I’m not sure if either one of us ever considered the fact that dinner and a movie that didn’t start until 9:30 on a Sunday night would make it hard for both us to get up on Monday morning (harder for me than for her) but we were young and in love.

We both enjoyed the movie and we started discussing our favorite parts on the drive back to her dorm.  Libby was convinced that Barbara Streisand was a rare beauty and although I may have used the rare in my description, “beauty” did follow in my assessment of her looks.

The title song The Way We Were became one of those songs that, when we heard it played, would instantly transport us both back to that rainy night in Macon;  back to the image of Libby running out of her dorm toward my car, to the feel of sticky shoes on the theater floor, to the smell of popcorn, and back to our ongoing argument over Streisand’s nose.

What made the night special wasn’t the movie, or the songs, it was that indescribable feeling that we both experienced as the night came to an end.  It was during this date that we both realized that this relationship was about to change both of our lives forever.  As the date was drawing to a close, Libby began telling me what a good time that she had and what a fantastic day it had been, but then, unexpectedly, she started to cry.  I must admit, I was following along in the conversation really well (for a guy) until the crying started, but now I was confused.   Between sniffles and sobs Libby said she was sad because she didn’t want the weekend to end, besides: it would be so long before we saw each other, she was homesick, we were too far apart and she wasn’t even sure that she wanted to keep going to college.  Although the feelings were mutual, I didn’t express it like she did, nor did I feel the need to use tears.

Reality soon set in and we both knew that we had responsibilities and obligations, but it was getting harder and harder to bridge the 200 mile gap between Chattanooga Valley and Macon because of my work and her school, that distance, added to her tears, made me want to move to Macon and find a job.  We sat in the commons area of her dorm until the University’s midnight curfew put an end to our date and I reluctantly decided I needed to get home and get some sleep before going to work on Monday or I wouldn’t have a job at all.

I was working with another photographer at the time and we had discussed the next week’s assignment and my plans to be gone for the weekend, but at that time, our destination for the following week was still undecided, and he promised to call my house and leave a message when he found out our assignment.  After our dinner and a movie on Sunday night in Macon, I finally arrived home just after 3:15 AM where I found the note that my dad had left next to the phone on my mom’s china cabinet, it read simply,” Long drive / pack for three-week trip / meet @ Waffle House Ringgold 4 AM.”

I was really going to be cutting this one close, so with no time change clothes, must less sleep, I hurriedly packed some clothes, loaded my photographic equipment into my car and drove to Ringgold.  When I arrived at the restaurant I recognized my fellow photographer through the smoky cigarette haze of the waffle house dining room; he looked up at me and said, ” You look horrible, rough weekend?  Grab something to-go or we ‘ll be late.”  I said “No!  Great weekend” and then I added sarcastically, “Thanks for the compliment”.  I quickly ordered a biscuit and orange juice, then I headed out the door toward my car, just as he was getting into his van he shouted across the hood of my car,  “Follow me, we are going to be shooting senior portraits”.

Our destination didn’t really matter to me, but if we were going to Dallas or Houston again, we would be flying not driving, unless we were leaving from the Atlanta airport, in which case, we would normally leave on Sunday evening.

So now, I was curious.  As he was closing the door to his van I yelled “Hey man, where are we going so early on a Monday morning?”  Poking his head out the window of his van as he shouted back, “Macon, Georgia………….. y’ever been there?”

Reminiscing…The Start of Something Amazing…

I am getting away from the CaringBridge site.  It served a wonderful purpose but this new site fits the need much better in this next stage of writing.  You can sign up to be notified of any new posts and write responses on this site just as you did on the CaringBridge site. 

Some have asked that I continue to write about Libby and our relationship and although it puzzles me as to why anyone enjoys reading about our life, I will write a few things, if, for no other reason than it gives an outlet for my thoughts.

How it all Started:

My memory of the start of Libby’s and my relationship is not real clear, after all it has been 37 years, but then, I’ve never been one to allow the facts (nor the lack thereof) to get in the way of a good story.  With that preface, this is how I remember the events surrounding our high school graduation and the year following:

During our high school years, Libby Willis and I served on several committees together, talking often about different school events that we helped plan such things as proms,homecomming 1 homecoming dances, student government etc.  During this period of time we also talked extensively about physics homework and typically those discussions would begin with Libby telling me how that she had no clue how to set up a particular problem, much less solve it.  Now, Libby was a straight “A” student for as long as I knew her, but her strength was in liberal arts not applied science, so one day she threatened to drop Physics before I talked her into staying by telling her that Physics would look good on her high school transcript when she began to apply to colleges.  Libby gave in, telling me one afternoon,  “I will stay in Physics but you will have to be my tutor because I have to make an A”.  We would meet after school or talk on the phone (black rotary dial, not cell) for an hour or more almost everyday to discuss linear acceleration, torque, conservation of energy or any other number of problems and then, without fail, she would have a higher grade on the test than her tutor (teacher bias, I am sure).  We never dated in high school, we were just close friends who could relax around each other and discuss everything from politics to religion, to relationships (including personal confidences).  Could there be a relationship lesson there?  In short, Libby made her our A in physics but in the spring of 1976, high school graduation changed our convenient friendship.

grad photo

I remember several things from the night of our graduation from high school.   I remember feeling a strange sense of pride knowing that the person delivering that inspiring valedictorian address had been my best friend during my high school years and quietly thinking to myself,  “She is going to make some lucky guy a good wife”.  I also remember Libby calling me earlier that week and asking if I would talk with my pastor, Rev. James Millard, about praying the benediction following her speech (yes, times have changed)  I remember it being hot and humid in our un-air-conditioned gym and wondering why our teachers had insisted that we dress up with in our “Sunday clothes” when we each had to wear a cap and gown which covered everything.  I remember how nervous Libby was about her Valedictorian speech and how many times she practiced in the days leading up to graduation night, and how many times I had heard that speech over the phone.

After graduating from Chattanooga Valley High School with the class of 1976 (Go Eagles) Libby and I had gone our separate ways with only minimal contact since walking across that stage.  Libby had been awarded a full scholarship to Mercer University in Macon, GA, leaving soon to pursue a teaching degree, meanwhile, I was offered a job as a photographer for Olan Mills in their school division, so during the following year we rarely crossed paths.

I really need to set the stage here for this next encounter because I was a 19-year-old kid who thought he had everything he needed.  I had a job that paid $150 a week (a considerable raise from the $3 per hour I earned hauling hay) I lived at home with my parents on the weekends but I left every Sunday afternoon and traveled all over the Southeast shooting pictures, arriving back home late Friday or Saturday, only to leave the next day on another trip.  My job allowed almost two months off in the summer (no school, no school pictures) and I had friends in Florida with a beach house in New Smyrna.  I had an expense card for gas, food and motel bills, a Toyota Land Cruiser for trail riding and a Camaro for dating.  It was summer time and except for paying rent to my parents, I had almost no place to spend my money,  I was on top of the world and I thought that things could not get much better.  Then it happened.

It was a warm sunny Saturday afternoon during that summer of 1977, I was mowing the yard at my parents house when, out of nowhere, Libby showed up our driveway, she had just completed her freshman year in college and she was driving up in her ugly green Chevrolet Nova ( I’m sorry, it really was ugly).  The fact that Libby Willis had just driven up, unannounced seemed very odd to me and I began thinking, “I wonder what’s wrong?”  (It might be helpful for the reader to understand at this point in the story that I have never been real quick to recognize relational subtleties and signs).  After an awkward silence, Libby said she had just gotten off of work from the Red Food Store,red food store but even that seemed odd because if she had just gotten off work why didn’t she still have her uniform on?  Instead of her red and white store uniform she was dressed in nice jeans and a new top that I had not seen before and her makeup looked really good for someone who had been working as a cashier at a grocery store for over 8 hours (once again see the note above about my lack of skill in this area of relationships).  After several awkwardly silent moments, I asked what she was doing there (even at 19, I was a gifted conversationalist). Libby said that she wanted to bring back some old, long forgotten jersey that I had given to her during high school to keep her clothes clean as she painted some backdrops for a play (confession time here; the jersey had been given to me by another girl).  I said something really intelligent like, “I don’t need that jersey, in fact I didn’t even remember you had it, and I hate that you drove all of the way down here to bring it back”.  After I told Libby that I didn’t need the jersey I expected her to get in her car and go back home because I still thought that was the only reason she drove down to my parents house, but she stayed and after several more awkward moments,I finally asked if she would stay for supper ( after all she did look really nice) and to my utter amazement she said “yes”.  That inauspicious start in the spring of 1977 was the beginning of a “more than just friends” relationship that would last for the next 37 years.

on couch

As fall came Libby left for Macon to start back to college and it felt like our relationship was still in its infancy because even though we had known each other for several years since we were both in Junior High school we knew one another as friends. I knew what she thought about politics and religion, but suddenly, that wasn’t enough.  Living in today’s instant access world of cell phones, texting, email and Facebook it requires some effort to imagine, depending on your age, a time when long distance phone calls were an additional page on your phone bill (that could be conveniently handed to you by your parents monthly) and you had to actually go find a phone on which to talk.  But now I was smitten and I wanted to communicate with Libby Willis, so with phone time severely limited I started writing to Libby several times a week, hoping she would take the hint and write back.  It never happened, in fact I can count on one hand the number of letters that I received from Libby in the first ten years of our relationship.   To her credit after receiving each letter Libby would call me and remind me very sheepishly that she was not a letter writer because she would much rather talk than write (that, obviously, would eventually change) but for all of our dating life and about the first ten years of our marriage I wrote letters to her all of the time sometimes once a day.  Then later as I attended college I even took a composition class, writing a few poems for her.  Our roles changed later in our marriage as she would, far too often, have to plead with me to write something for her.

Recently looking through some of Libby’s things I am finding most of those letters that she kept and it brings back so many memories.  It also reminds me of why I began to write.

If you are interested enough to still be reading these reminiscing’s I’ll post some more later.