The world was a very different place in 1920, especially in Ashe County, and the further you got from town, the rougher the country, and, sometimes, the people, too. Breece belonged in that category. He had just turned 18, and he did not let living with his parents and younger siblings in the big white house cramp his style. Breece loved a good time, and he loved the ladies, and he never lacked for either.
These were the years of Prohibition, but that meant little back in these mountains, and it certainly didn’t stop Breece from enjoying a touch, or more, of moonshine now and again. When he and his buddies got together, they drank, played Poker, and played pranks on each other. Their raucous laughter rang through the hills.
At the same time Breece was raising all sorts of cane with his buddies and his girlfriend(s), 11 year old Retha and her sisters played games and played with homemade dolls to occupy their time when they weren’t doing chores. Retha’s daddy preached at the little Baptist church just up the dirt road from where they all lived in a somewhat smaller white house. Naturally shy, Retha never wanted to do anything to embarrass her or her parents. Retha had not even begun to think about boys.
Breece and Retha only lived about five miles apart, but it might as well have been a hundred. Neither knew the other existed.
Time passed. Breece continued to be quite the rounder, the proverbial “bad boy.” No one worked any harder on the farm, and no one played any harder when the work day was done. But for all the show, he could never bring himself to think about marrying any of those young ladies he loved to love.
Time passed for Retha, too. No longer the same gangly little girl, Retha had grown into a lovely young woman. She remained quiet and shy, but somewhere deep inside, she had a wild hair that attracted her to boys who were a little more exciting than her mother and father would have liked. You might say she was attracted to the “bad boys.” You can be sure that she caught the eye of several young men who fit the bill. She courted some of them, and although she was old enough to get married by the day’s standard, she, like Breece, did not really consider marrying any of them.
That same wild hair influenced her choice of girlfriends, too, and Jency Spencer met the requirements nicely. With her devil may care personality, Jency was all giggles and fun. She was younger than Retha, but she was headlong and outgoing and definitely the dominant of the two.
Now, Jency liked Retha very much and thought she was just what Breece needed. The consummate schemer, she already had a plan to accomplish that goal. She invited Retha to come home with her and spend the night. Dovie and Estel gave their daughter permission to go, and the next night, Retha found herself in the home of Emory and Frankie Spencer. Before long, Breece arrived home as well. He sauntered in, and upon seeing Retha, stopped short. You can be sure he knew that she existed now.
Almost 25 by this time, Breece still clung to his bad boy ways, but some of the novelty and fun had worn off, and the thoughts of settling down some had begun to run through his mind. Retha sure was a smart looking woman, and he definitely liked what he saw.
Retha’s face grew hot almost the moment that Breece walked in, and she could sense his charisma immediately. She liked that; she felt attractive. You can be sure Retha knew Breece existed now, too, and she definitely liked what she saw.
Much to Jency’s delight, the two hit it off, and a courtship started almost immediately. Breece found himself at Retha’s house more often than he wanted to admit, and Retha looked forward to his visits much more than she wanted to admit. Dovie often looked on warily as she listened to Breece’s fast talk. But she also heard him talk of the hard work on the farm, and that was something in his favor.
After about three months, Breece abruptly made a decision. He meant to marry this young woman named Retha. He had learned that she worked just as hard as he did, and even better, she could cook like nobody’s business. But more than that, she was unlike any of the other young women he had courted, and he was different when he was with her. He liked that; he felt settled.
He asked, she said yes, and they started to make plans. They both knew that Emory and Dovie accepted Breece, but they weren’t crazy about him, either. He wasn’t, after all, quite as settled as they would have liked. So, eloping seemed to be the best choice.
On October 8, 1927, Retha got up as usual, and started off to school. She no more than got out of sight before she saw Breece waiting for her in his Model-A She jumped in, and off they bounced. Their adventure took them to Jefferson to get the marriage license and then to the Methodist church in Warrensville where the minister was delighted to perform their marriage ceremony. The deed was done, and they started back to Retha’s house. Breece drove Retha home often in the afternoon, and he saw no reason not to do so this afternoon. The only difference was that he did so as her husband..
Neither was ready to tell her parents, though, so they planned to keep their marriage a secret for now. Breece usually went in long enough to speak to Retha’s mother, and so he made his way in with Retha by his side. Just as the screen door slammed shut behind them, the worst possible thing that could have happened did. Another car came roaring up to the house, and out jumped Carl, the young man that Retha had courted before she met Breece. When she saw him, Retha went into a panic. She turned to Dovie and literally begged her mother to go out and talk to Carl, to tell him to leave.
Dovie didn’t understand Retha’s reaction to Carl at all and balked at going out to speak for her daughter. They went back and forth as Carl began to walk up the path. Finally, her exasperated mother demanded to know what on earth had gotten into her. Almost hysterical now, Retha blurted out, “I can’t talk to him, Mother! I can’t! Breece and me just got married!” So much for keeping their secret.
Stunned, Retha’s mother met Carl just before he got to the porch and mechanically did just what Retha had requested. Clearly disappointed, Carl returned to his car and left with a little less enthusiasm than he had when he arrived. Dovie turned and slowly walked back into the house. She looked at Retha and Breece, and they looked at her. A long stretch of silence followed. Then, just as if she suddenly regained consciousness, Retha’s mother furrowed her brow, frowned, and stared straight at Retha. Then came the words.
“Well, what’s done is done. If you’ve burnt yourself a blister, you’ll just have to set on it!”
And with that, she turned and strode away. Their news had clearly been a shock to Dovie, so the newlyweds thought it best for Breece to go home and for Retha to stay at home another day or two to try to make amends with her parents. So, off Breece went. He didn’t let his mother-in-law’s harsh words dampen his mood as he drove the five miles home. He had no misgivings about marrying Retha. Breece was like that. Once he made a decision, he never looked back or second guessed himself.
Neither did he have any misgivings about telling his own family that he was no longer a single man, but in a most unusual twist, his mother and father refused to believe him. They knew who their son was, and knowing that, they knew that he could not possibly be married. In fact, the talk in the community was that Breece would never marry. His father told him that he would believe the marriage story when he saw them in bed together.
Well, Breece could certainly accommodate that request, but not that night. He would have to wait a while to see his father’s face when he saw the two of them in bed together. He would sleep alone the next couple of nights.
By the time Breece arrived back at Retha’s house later that week, the shock of their news had worn off some. After all, it wasn’t that her parents didn’t like Breece. They were just concerned that the two had made a hasty decision, but as Dovie had said, it was over and done with, and Retha’s place was with Breece. The two left together and headed back to what would now be Retha’s home, too.
Emory and Frankie greeted Retha warmly, and although they couldn’t ask for a better wife for their son, they still thought Breece was playing one of his elaborate jokes on them. The evening drew on, and his parents played along with the charade until they could sit up no longer. Emory and Frankie weren’t as young as their son and “daughter-in-law,” and sleep called their names. They went upstairs to bed, and both were asleep in no time. They fully expected that Breece would drive Retha back home, and they would all get a good laugh out of it in the morning.
Emory always awoke earlier than anyone else in the house, and when he did the next morning, his curiosity got the best of him. As foolish as he thought it was, he felt compelled to take a quick peek. He slipped right up to Breece’s bedroom door and slowly opened it just a bit. He blinked, and then he blinked again. Sure enough, Retha lay right there beside Breece, sound asleep. His son’s eyes were wide open, though, and danced with mischief.
“See, Poppy,” he laughed. “I told you we got married!”
And that was the beginning of my grandparents’ life together. They would be married for 63 years . They worked side by side, and they slept side by side for all those years. They stuck with each other through good times and bad. He called her “Old Woman,” and she would say he was “full of ****,” but they made a good life together.
Watching them interact as I grew up, it was hard to believe they had ever been young and in love, but they were. They told Libby and me this story of how they met and married many times. I imagine some of the story was a little inflated, and I have probably inflated some of it even more, but the facts are all there, and the facts tell of a love that held Maw and Paw together their whole lives.