Two sisters, 19 months apart in age. So alike; so different. Best friends most of the time; worst enemies some of the time. It was a very complicated relationship.
22 year old Joan drove to Winston-Salem where she met her 20 year old sister Betty who lived and worked there. Joan had begged Betty to take her shopping to find a wedding dress. Being excited about Joan’s upcoming marriage, Betty set aside a whole Saturday to spend with her sister. They would have a good time looking for a wedding outfit for Joan, and they would get to spend the day together.
Joan arrived around 9:00 on the designated day, and Betty was ready for her. They drank a cup of coffee before heading out on their quest. By lunchtime, they had visited several boutiques and dress shops, and both welcomed the time to sit down for a while. As they sat in the little cafe, they reminisced about how Joan had refused to go with Dick for quite some time before Betty took it upon herself to invite Dick to come with her and her fellow to meet Joan. Joan was livid, refusing to see him, but Mother set her straight in a hurry, telling her that she would go with him this one time. She wouldn’t have to see him again, but she would go with him this once, and she would be nice to him. Sulking and declaring that she would never forgive Bet, Joan reluctantly met Dick, and they doubled with Betty and her boyfriend. By the time she returned home that night, the fire in Joan’s eyes had been replaced by stars. She welcomed Dick into the Hart home every night for the next week and after a time, he became a fixture. Now, they were getting married, and neither could have been happier!
Betty rattled on about the wedding and finding a dress before the stores closed at the end of the day. Soon they were off again, visiting another number of dress shops. Slowly, fatigue set in, and pounding up and down the streets of Winston lost much of its excitement. Nerves frayed, and both sisters became irritable, snapping at each other over little of nothing.
Finally, Joan decided on a dress she had tried on at a shop earlier in the day, so back they went. She bought the white linen dress , and the exhausted pair returned to Betty’s apartment. On the way, they talked about the wedding. Dick and Joan had not set an exact date yet, but it would be sometime in May, and Dick’s Granddaddy Eller would perform the ceremony. It would be just a small gathering of family.
Back at the apartment, Joan didn’t even go in. In what would become a lifelong habit, she couldn’t wait to get back up the mountain now that she had accomplished what she came to do. Betty just shook her head and turned to go into her apartment without even saying goodbye. Joan got in her car and was gone in no time.
During the weeks that followed, life settled back into routine for both Betty and Joan. Betty called home on the weekends to talk to Mother and Daddy, and Joan, now living in an apartment in town with a friend, worked every hour she could. Soon, it was the middle of May, and Dick and Joan knew a secret. They had decided on Friday. They would be married on May 16, 1958.
They had schemed for some time exactly how they wanted to do the deed and had more or less come to the conclusion that the fewer people the better. Neither of them really wanted other people, even family, knowing their business, and Dick, especially, despised being in front of a crowd. So getting married secretly seemed the best course of action.
Joan arranged to have the whole weekend off, starting with Friday. She spent a leisurely morning at the beauty shop, then putting on her make-up. When she finally took out the beautiful dress she had bought that Saturday with Bet, she felt a twinge of guilt. She had promised Bet that she could come to the wedding. The thought nagged at her for a bit, but as her excitement grew, she managed to rationalize the guilt away. “Aw, Bet don’t really care nothing about traipsing all the way up the mountain and almost to Virginia to see something that won’t last more than 10 minutes,” she said to herself. “Anyway, she probably wouldn’t be able to get off work.” After Joan convinced herself of these two things, she never gave it a second thought.
In fact, Joan didn’t give any of her family a second thought until she and Dick had “jumped the broomstick” as the old folks would say. Eager to leave on their honeymoon trip to Hungry Mother Park, she hurriedly called to tell Mother the news. You can believe that Mother was none too happy that she hadn’t been told. “Jo, why couldn’t you have waited a day so me and your daddy coulda been there. You know he couldn’t get off work today! You shoulda told me what you was doin’!”
“Well, Mother,” flared Joan, “we didn’t want a bunch of people gawking at us, so we just went ahead and got married! The only ones there besides Dick and me was Granddaddy and Grandma Eller and Rethie, and they was only there because we needed a minister and two witnesses!” Then, a little more gently, she said, “Mother, we’ll be at Hungry Mother this weekend, and we’ll be sure to come up to see you when we get back, okay?”
“Do what you need to do,” her mother sighed. “Well, there’s nothing to be done for it now. Dick’s a good boy, and you’re a good girl. I hope you’re happy.”
Dick and Joan did go for a long visit with Wid and Blanche when they returned, and slowly, they all settled into a new normal. Several weeks passed, and Betty got to thinking about Joan and Dick, so when she made her regular weekly call to Mother, she asked with no premonition of the answer to come, “Mother? Did Joan and Dick ever decide on a date to get married?”
A long pause hung in the telephone wire between them, then Mother answered, a bit of worry in her voice, “Why, Bet, they did. It was three weeks ago…” After an even longer pause, Betty fumed, “Well, that low-down little rascal. She told me that she’d let me know when they were getting married! And after I run all over Winston-Salem to help her!”
The sisters stayed angry with each other for quite some time. In fact, they didn’t speak for several months. Oddly enough, it was Dick who brought them back together. It was his baptism (in front of a crowd) that brought Betty back. She came to join the family for this special day.
After the service, Betty cornered Joan. She was going to have her say about Joan’s wedding. “Now, Joan, you just flat out lied to me! I’m a good mind to just kill you!”
“Well, we didn’t want anybody there, and that’s that!” Joan retorted.
Betty would have the last word, though. “All right, Sister, you can believe I’ll remember this!” And she did. But as time passed, love overtook hurt, and the two sisters once again talked and laughed and fussed and loved. They were sisters again.
Every family has its ups and downs, and ours was no exception. Things were so different in the mountains all those years ago, and for a lot of people, getting married was not the great celebration it is now. Lots of couples got married with just the two witnesses required to make it legal. And then there were some like Mom and Dad who were just plain “quare” about it. Still, I can’t come close to understanding why Mom left Aunt Bet out of her wedding. I don’t think Aunt Bet can, either, and I’m not sure she ever forgave Mom. I know Mom probably never asked for forgiveness; she would have been too stubborn. Mom never spoke of it to me, and neither did Aunt Bet until after Mom died. It hurts to know that Mom did what she did. I almost wish I didn’t know about it, but I do. I wish I could ask Mom why, but it’s too late for that now.
Join me next week for Part 2 of this story.
Thanks to Aunt Bet (Betty Hart Alexander) for her help in the facts of this story.