Hello Friends! Last week, I told you of how Mom left Aunt Bet out of her wedding after promising her she could come. This week, we will fast forward five years from 1958 to 1963 for another wedding. Travel back with me to the day that Aunt Bet married Uncle Bob…
Betty moved from her childhood home in the mountains of Ashe County at the ripe age of 19. Newly graduated from Lees-McRae College, she took her business degree all the way to North Carolina’s Piedmont where she went to work for the City of Winston-Salem. She settled in a little apartment not far from work and began to make Winston her home. Time passed, and she met a handsome young Army man who now worked for the City as a firefighter. They dated, and after a respectable time, they became engaged.
Now, it was Betty’s day to wed Bob, and unlike her sister, in a few short hours Betty would declare her vows publicly, complete with guests at a church wedding. The families of both the bride and the groom along with a few close friends received invitations. Betty wanted to share this special day with all those dearest to her, and that included Mother and Daddy, Joan and Dick, and brother Ted.
She knew Ted would rather be caught dead than in a suit at a wedding, but she invited him anyway. Joan and Dick were another matter. You see, Mother didn’t drive at all, and Daddy had never driven much beyond his daily trek to work in town and the few miles up to church. The little dirt roads of home were no match for driving in Winston-Salem, so not only did she want Joan and Dick there for her special day, she also needed them to bring Mother and Daddy. The only problem was that at the last minute Joan and Dick decided they would not attend.
Betty could hardly fathom it, but it was true. Joan had duped her for the second time. Now, Betty would have to hope her directions to the exit where she would meet Mother and Daddy were good enough to get them there. If they could just make it that far, she would lead them through town to the church. If Mother could just help Daddy watch the road signs, surely they would make it.
She had a lot to do before the 4:00 wedding on this 6th day of April in 1963. Always organized, Betty methodically went through her list, checking off each task as she went. Flowers–check. Hair done–check. Make-up on–check. Bags packed–check, and so on and so on. All the while, though, she tried to squash that nagging little voice in the back of her mind that kept whispering softly, “I sure hope Mother and Daddy get the right exit…”
She fought the heavy rain all the way to her car. She got in, shook the water off, and headed up to the exit. She parked and glued her eyes to the relatively new Interstate 40 where cars whizzed by at a much faster rate than her daddy had ever dreamed of driving. Betty knew that if Daddy had trouble anywhere, it would be here, especially in this torrential downpour. She waited and waited until the very last moment she could wait. She still had to don the lovely wedding gown that Mother had spent hours making for her. The gown was perfect in every way, and Betty had so wanted her parents to see her walk down the aisle in it. Filled with worry and fear, she had to call home to see if something had happened to keep Mother and Daddy from coming.
Back in the apartment, she dialed their number. No one answered on the other end of the wire. She waited a few minutes and called again. No answer. It was getting on up towards 3:30 now, and Betty knew she wouldn’t have much longer to stay in the apartment to call home. She tried again and again, and each time the old rotary dial hummed out a melody as she dialed, “They’re not home…Maybe they ran into construction somewhere…Maybe they ran into an accident somewhere…Maybe they had an accident…Maybe they lay at the bottom of some ravine…Maybe one of them is sick…” and on and on until she completed the full eleven digit number. And each time, she got the same endless ringing that caused her to feel sick to her stomach.
She called home one last time, and one last time, she listened to the phone ring until she hung up the receiver. She had to go to the church. Betty once again battled the rain as she ran out to the car with her wedding gown safely packed in its garment bag. As she drove the short distance, she silently prayed that Mother and Daddy had found the way on their own. She peeped into the church parlor just as soon as she got there and was crestfallen again. The guests sat quietly, but Mother and Daddy weren’t among them.
As she put on her wedding gown, her fingers fumbled with the hooks and buttons as they shook with nervousness and fear for Mother and Daddy. She made her way back to the parlor and stood just outside the door with the minister. Sensing Betty’s panic, he kindly soothed, “Let’s wait a few minutes. They might be almost here.” Thankful for his steadiness, she agreed. She knew they couldn’t wait too long, though, because another wedding was scheduled in the church parlor at 5:00.
Ten minutes later, Betty could take it no longer. “Let’s just go ahead.” And, bless her heart, as she walked up the aisle to marry this handsome Bob Alexander, all she could hear were these words inside her head, “If I can’t get hold of Mother and Daddy after the ceremony, I know a pair of newlyweds who’ll be honeymooning in the mountains instead of St Augustine!” She would not leave without knowing what had happened to her parents.
Less than 20 minutes later, Betty Carol Hart became Mrs. Robert S. Alexander. Bob and she rushed back down the aisle to the cheers of their guests. They greeted each one at the door, then flew to Betty’s apartment where the first thing Betty did was pick up that phone and dial the number once again.
One ring…two rings…three rings…four ri….”Hello.” Betty was so relieved that her body almost went limp. The voice belonged to Mother.
“Mother, are you and Daddy all right!?! What happened!?! I waited for you at the exit for as long as I could. I’ve been worried sick!”
“Well, now, just settle down, Bet. Everthing’s all right.”
“What happened, Mother?”
“Well, we started in plenty a time and got along jus’ fine as frog hair ‘til we got on that big ole 40 road. Both of us wuz watchin’ the signs, but it wuz rainin’ sa hard and the traffic wuz movin’ sa fast that I cudn’t git one read ‘fore anothern popped up. We thought we got the right turn, but it wuzn’t. Someways, we got back on 40, but seems like we just kept goin’ in circles. We never did find where we ’uz s’possed to meet you. We fine’ly found our way back to 421, but I knew the weddin’ had to ‘av already been over, so we jus’ came on home. I’m sorry as I can be, Betty.”
Betty heard her mother’s words, but from the moment she knew that both her parents were okay, all she could see was Joan’s face. Joan and Dick could have prevented all this, but no, that was too much to ask! Hurt and rage again filled Betty’s heart just as it had five years earlier, only this time it was much worse. With the gall of one done wrong, Betty calmly said, “Mother, don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you and Daddy are home safe. The wedding was beautiful, and I’ll show you all the pictures when Bob and I get back from St. Augustine and get settled in enough to come up to visit. But listen…you can tell that Jo one thing for me. I’m done. I’m done with her, and I’m done with Dick. I’m done with them both. They won’t be hearing from me again.”
And that was that. For months on end, Betty and Joan knew of each other only through news relayed by Mother. Betty wasn’t about to give in, and Joan, stubborn as ever, refused to admit that maybe Dick and she should have driven Mother and Daddy to the wedding.
Of course, Betty called home regularly to talk with Mother, and Mother asked each and every time, “Bet, are you gonna call Joan?”
And each and every time, Betty answered, “Her fingers work just as good as mine do.” And that was that.
Betty and Bob also came home to the mountains to visit Mother and Daddy as often as they could, but each and every time, Betty asked Mother before they made firm plans, “Mother, are Joan and Dick going to be there?” And if Mother answered in the affirmative, Betty would simply say, “We’ll come another weekend.” And that was that.
The longer this went on, the more Mother worried about her girls. Families shouldn’t fall out like this. At some point, Mother had had enough of both of them. It was time to take matters into her own hands. She knew both her girls, and she knew she stood the best chance with Betty. Joan’s temperament was not one of compromise; if it had been, she would have died at birth, so premature was she. No, Betty would be the one to listen to reason.
So, the next time Betty called to plan a visit home, Mother eased her along. “Betty, are you gonna call Jo?”
“Her fingers work just as good as mine do,” came the usual answer back.
“Now, Bet, you know you can’t go through life like that. You can’t lay railin’ on railin’, and you know it. What if somethin’ happened to one of you? The othern wudn’t never fergive herself.”
“No, Mother, she’s the one that needs to come to me,” Betty said flatly.
“Well, maybe she would if you’d jus’ help her along a little,” connived Mother, “ and you know that God don’t keep score on who oughta go to who, and you shudn’t neither, so you come on home this weekend and jus’ see what happens.”
And for the first time in a long, long, time, that was not that.
Betty hung up the phone and thought and thought. The edge had worn off most of the hurt, and it took a whole lot of energy to stay that mad at someone all the time. With many misgivings, Bob and she went ahead with their plans for the weekend.
When Saturday came, they started up the mountain toward home. Joan and Dick were already there when they arrived. Without speaking and without looking at each other, Betty and Joan helped Mother put the finishing touches on dinner. Outside, Joan’s two little girls, oblivious to all the friction, played with their daddy and Granddad and their Uncle Ted and Uncle Bob. Conversation among the men was scarce, too.
Finally, dinner was ready, and they all sat down at the same table to partake of the Lord’s bounty. Just as Mother had hoped, there was something about the whole family sitting there together and passing around all that good home cooked food that caused the tide to change. It’s uncertain who said the first word, but it doesn’t matter. It was a start, a start on the road back to forgiveness from one sister and regret from another. These two sisters did still love one another after all.
My parents and Aunt Bet and Uncle Bob would always have an up and down relationship, and as I got older, I could feel it just as I felt so many things I didn’t talk about. But I could also tell that they all tried to get along and that just under the surface of it all, love lived. To my knowledge, this was the last time the two sisters stopped talking to each other even though they would fuss and feud just as they did when they were younger.
Somehow age and trauma does much to erase a rocky past, for as my mom and aunt grew in age so did they in love and support for the other. When Daddy was diagnosed with cancer and had to be in and out of the hospital in Winston Salem, Aunt Bet and Uncle Bob were right there lending support and help in every way they could. In the last words he spoke to Aunt Bet, Daddy charged her with taking good care of Mom and asked for her solemn promise that she would.Aunt Bet gave him that solemn promise. Just a few years later, Uncle Bob would suffer a heart attack, and Mom, Libby, and I would travel to Winston to visit and offer our help. They were there for Mom when Libby died. And finally, when Mom died, Aunt Bet and Uncle Bob were right there for me, helping to navigate a funeral that I wasn’t strong enough to endure.
At 81 and almost 80, and with 55 years of marriage behind them. they’re still here for me, not to take the place of the parents I loved so much, but to make sure I still have someone from my birth family who loves me. For all its imperfections, I couldn’t ask to be part of a more perfect family.