Friday, June 3, 2016

I Ain't Much But I'm All He's Got

My happy regards to each of you, my faithful readers!

Once again it is an honor to have you join me as I share my thoughts while living to the fullest up here in Misty Hollow in the foothills of Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

Sunshine and summer weather have crept across the dense forest floor, and we are finally flush with flora and fauna. Everywhere I look I see draperies of bright green. The various bird's nests in the nooks and crannies around both cabins are full of gaping hungry mouths.

My favorite wildlife right now is the turkey hens as they each strut proudly around the grounds with up to ten chicks stumbling, rolling then quickly recouping to hasten behind their moms. It won't be long before the does have their polka dotted fawns following their moms as she stealthily moves among the trees in high protective mode. Life here is so amazing my Tony, and I often hold hands and thank God for the privilege of living here.  

Now speaking of my main squeeze, have you guys noticed you have never seen a photo of him on this blog, and have rarely heard about him?  

Well, there's a reason. Tony is camera shy and has said, "Honey, I am so happy you love blogging, and I enjoy reading what you write.  But, you blog....I'll read and we'll leave it at that."

I wondered though if I could talk him into loosening up a bit. He and I were sitting down to a romantic dinner and, sensing he was in a mellow mood, I told him I would love to write a blog post about how he and I met.  

It really was our 'Pretty Woman' story, and I asked if he still remembered when the romantic comedy starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts came out in 1990.  Did he remember how I cried several times throughout that movie? 

"Well, that is basically us, Tony, and our story begs to be told."  His retort? "Linda, you were not a hooker when we met, and I sure did not look like Richard Gere but if you want to write it, go ahead honey."  YES! "Smile, sweetheart, I need to take your picture."


So let's hitch our horses together and see if we can ride this one out.  When I think back and recall all that happened, I still find it difficult to believe myself.

The year was 1968, and I was a junior at Tennessee High School in Bristol, Tennessee. I had met and was 'running around' with a new friend named Brenda Nickels. I don't remember how we met nor why she chose to befriend me; we lived in entirely different worlds. 

I owned two pairs of shoes. Brenda's bedroom housed a custom built shoe closet showcasing enough leather to cover a large sofa and matching recliner. In all fairness, though, her parents did own Nettie Lee Shoes in downtown Bristol.
I lived in a two bedroom home on the wrong side of the tracks that managed to squeeze in my parents and five kids. Brenda, an only child, lived in a lovely, spacious home in a beautiful neighbor. Her parents were always so kind and accepting of me. It was evident they never seemed to care their daughter was friends with someone of much lesser means. 
Brenda had invited me to stop by her home one Sunday after church so I could run an errand with her. Sure. I was so impressed Brenda had her own nifty car, and we were able to hop in and take off at will. When we arrived at her cousin's, we were met in the living room by three men, all in a disheveled state of dress and looking pretty haggard. All were nursing what I learned later were Bloody Mary's.
That man's name was Tony. I thought he was obnoxious and could not wait to leave that house. I learned that day he was twenty-two years old and his two friends, Bruce Hawks and Raymond Siler, were both preparing to graduate from East Tennessee State University. Tony was already employed at Trammell Construction. 

I had no way of knowing then that Sunday would catapult me on the ride of a lifetime.
 


Soon Brenda began to invite me to her home quite often. Tony always seemed to be there to visit his Aunt Juanita and Uncle Harry, Brenda's parents. He was flirty and teased me incessantly. I learned much later it had been confided to the Nickels' family he had a crush on me. 


Tony told them he had never met a girl quite like me....shy but sassy, innocent yet mature, and attractive while not seeming to realize it. He also later told me his Aunt Juanita wagged her finger in his face and told him if he so much as laid a finger on me she would "detach his gonads."  
Juanita and Harry were very fond of Tony and had cookouts and dinners for him and his friends Bruce and Raymond, me and anyone else who cared to drop by. They were such a lovely couple who delighted in entertaining while assuring all felt welcome at their table.

I could not help but note Tony was an incredibly sharp dresser. Every time I saw him, he looked like he had just stepped out of some men's fashion magazine. That was very intimidating to me. I shyly commented once on his dress and asked if he ordered his clothes. 

He laughed and told me he shopped at Blakley-Mitchell in Bristol and Soble's in Kingsport. Why he asked, do you like how I dress? I felt my face flush and, tweaking my cheek, he told me he thought the fine art of blushing was long lost.

My mom and dad were beginning to wonder why I was spending so much time at Brenda's all of a sudden. Who was at Brenda's house, my father wanted to know. Lying to them was something I'd never felt comfortable with, but all I could think to say with pounding heart was, "Brenda's little red-headed cousin will be there, but I am not sure who else."
                      

My conscious was eating me alive. I had grown to really care for Tony so after about a month of meeting at Brenda's I told him he had to come to my home and meet my parents. "Absolutely, I'd love to meet them. I did not want to push you, but I am more than ready". 

Seriously, I did not intend to be difficult, but he did need to be reminded  I was sixteen years old and he was twenty-two with a receding hairline and a bald spot on top of his head making him look at least thirty. He laughed.

"It will be okay, Linda. I promise."

I told my parents Tony from Brenda's had asked me out, but he wanted to come to the house to meet them first and get their approval.  I had at that point only dated one guy in my lifetime, and I had to be in by ten o'clock on school nights and eleven on weekends.  

The night Tony came to my home, that firm knock rapped, and my knees knocked as well as I opened the door. There he stood in a gorgeous suit that even more accentuated the fact he was a grown man.

I could hear my parents making their way from the den as Tony stood perfectly at ease in our small living room. It was surreal to see the looks on their faces as they stood there gaping when they saw him.
"So this is Brenda's little red-headed cousin?", my dad managed to gasp.

Within thirty minutes my parents thought my boyfriend was the most wonderful person in the world.  He was straightforward, we filled in the gaps of how we met, he told them about his employment at the offices of Trammell Construction and then shared his life plan. Tony thanked them for the time he had spent with me while letting my parents know the characteristics that drew him to me.  


Lastly, Tony assured them if allowed to date me he would always treat me with respect and take excellent care of me.  

Yes, my father said, Tony could date his daughter, but he must have her in that door by ten o'clock on school nights and eleven on weekends. I really wasn't sure what Dad would do to Tony if he failed to obey that order (though he did); that train seemed to have left the station once Dad told a twenty-two-year-old man he could date his daughter.

Three months from when I met him, I married my Tony on Saturday, January 25, 1969. Sixteen-year-old kids were not allowed to marry in the State of Tennessee, so our marriage license was obtained in Virginia with parental permission. My father refused to sign for me although he thought the world of Tony; he firmly believed I was too young to marry. 

My mother, ever the opportunist, saw a stable future for her daughter and did not hesitate to sign on the dotted line. My desire was to marry at Fellowship Chapel where I had attended church for years and had been a part of the youth group. Reverend Lester McKinnon who knew me well did the honors.

My wedding gown came from a small bridal boutique and cost $35, and my veil was borrowed. There were not that many people in attendance. Tony's entire family was there of course, and all were so kind and supportive. I had met them and agonized inwardly what they must think of Tony's choice of a wife. I was a skinny, long drink of water and pathetic piece of insecurity who wondered, too, what Tony saw in me.

My fiance's sister Peggy had married one of Kingsport, Tennessee's most prominent sons complete with a large, lovely wedding in Church Circle with the full compliment of bridal showers and teas. To me, though, my nuptials was simplistically beautiful. Our photos were taken with a Polaroid camera, and I still cherish them today.
Tony had picked Atlanta, Georgia for our honeymoon. I had no idea where to go as I'd hardly been anywhere. I had carefully washed and ironed my best outfits and laid them carefully in a suitcase. My smaller bag carried my underwear, my gown Mama had picked for my wedding night and my makeup bag and toiletries that I'd carried into the church for my sister to help with my makeup and hair.

We left immediately after the wedding in a rush to start our honeymoon. I ended up at our hotel that evening with the smaller bag, but the larger suitcase was still in the back of my parent's car. Humiliated, I burst into tears. Tony gathered me in his arms and told me he had a quick fix for that little problem, and I was not to worry. 

Here I am below on my wedding night...a woman child donned out in her chartreuse wedding gown with white daisy accents. I am playing with my Mr. Big Ears mouse and the Raggedy Ann doll my new husband bought me when I fell in love with them at a gas station coming across the mountains. 

Jeez, you can't make this stuff up.




I woke up the next morning realizing I was not in Kansas anymore. Tony was in the shower, so I quickly made up the bed, finishing just as he walked out of the bathroom. He smiled and gently told me I did not need to make up the bed every morning; maids would be coming in and cleaning the room. Once again I felt my face flush with embarrassment. How was I to have known that?

Tony told me the first day of our new life together would be awesome. We were going to downtown Atlanta to have lunch on Peachtree.  Arriving there was a breathtaking experience for me. 


I had never been in a metropolitan area before, and Tony had to hold my hand as we walked along or I would have fallen down while gaping up at the tall skyscrapers all around us.  

Peachtree was a long avenue with storefronts filled with incredible items beautifully displayed and designed to lure even the most discriminating buyer.  

Finally, we stopped in front of a luxurious clothing store. The Fashion Shop back in my hometown was considered our very finest.  I always nurtured a dream when a young child that someday I would walk in there and shop 'till my heart's content. Yet, even it paled in comparison to this stunning place before us.  

"Come on, we need to buy you some clothes, Mrs. Blevins."  Oh my gosh! First I was stunned to hear him call me by that name! It was the first time I'd heard myself called that! It sounded...well, strange to me; that was his mother's name. Next, I anguished realizing I had not been married to Tony a full twenty-four hours and I was already a financial burden to him.

I had on the same outfit I had worn to the church the day before with Mom and Dad, carrying my bridal gown.  Then I rode to Atlanta in it....it was all I had.  I felt very ill at ease beside my new husband as he was, as always, dressed perfectly.  This man I adored took my arm and walked me through the door of the clothing salon.  
It would be impossible to express how shy and overwhelmed I felt as two sales women headed our way. Asking if they could be of assistance, Tony said he was buying a wardrobe for his new bride; could they please help select what she wants. The slightly raised eyebrows and a quick scan of my body resulted in one question, "You look like you are about a size six, dear. Yes?" Mortified, I could not utter a word. 

Tony spied a grouping of chairs toward the back with a three-way mirror, so he decided he had better take charge.  "Ladies, let's all go back there. My wife and I will have a seat, and you can bring things for her to look at and then we can make some decisions."

And we did. The ladies were very gracious and helpful, and I felt like Cinderella.  Of the lovely things we bought that day one outfit was my favorite; it was a cream colored sailor dress with navy accents. While trying it on I had peeked at the price tag, and it said $100! I was shocked to the core! That one item was more than the cost of my entire wardrobe, including shoes, back home! 

I whispered, telling Tony I had decided against taking the sailor dress all the while wishing I had looked at the prices of the other things I had tried on. My husband asked why...he loved that dress on me. I asked him if he had noted how much it cost? He laughed and gave me a quick hug and told the sales ladies to wrap everything up.

Years later as I watched the scene in Pretty Woman and the character Vivian walked into that exclusive clothing boutique with money Edward had given her to buy some things, my heart ached for her knowing how she must have felt. 

I can't help but believe if Tony had not been with me that day and I had been alone, those ladies would not have been remotely interested in waiting on me. An ugly truth, but reality can be such at times.                         

The rest of our honeymoon was spent doing things that left me breathless one moment or feeling way out of my league the next. 

Going to my first nightclub caused me to come unglued. Tony took me to a famous club called The Sans Souci Lounge. Right off the bat, I was sure my being there was breaking the law and firmly told my husband as much.  

After we had been seated, the waiter came and asked for our drink order. I was just preparing to tell him I was sixteen and not old enough to drink when Tony ordered himself a bourbon and water and me some fruity drink with a darling little umbrella.   

I then informed my ignorant husband there were probably people somewhere around watching for illegal activity and they would spot me and arrest me for underage drinking!  That man of mine just roared with laughter and told me to calm down....my being married changed everything. I could legally have cocktails with him, so that was the end of that.  

A couple of days later we visited a place called Underground Atlanta- the city beneath the streets- that had just opened that year. It was another world revealed to me, especially when we saw a beautiful, scantily clad woman with a tiger on a leash stroll by not three feet from us. 

My personal favorite on our honeymoon?  

Our visit to Grant Park Zoo which housed a black bear, jaguar, a hyena, a gazelle, a Mexican hog, lionesses, monkeys, and two camels.  Most of all this outdoor trip allowed me the opportunity to wear my new sailor dress and matching handbag and shoes and suede coat with fur collar. Seeing I was dressing totally inappropriate for the zoo, my precious husband told me long afterward he put on a suit that day so as not to embarrass his slightly off-key, wacky wife.  





On the drive back to Bristol, reality hit and real life together stretched before us. Tony felt the need to discuss some critical issues with me.  First, he told me it would be foolhardy for us to become parents until we enjoyed several years of marriage to mature in our relationship, travel, and focus on saving for our future.  

Tony said he would like for me to contact a GYN-OB (What's that, I asked?) when we get home and get on birth control pills.  Next, I needed to withdraw from Tennessee High School as he said he had been looking at a place on the river in Bluff City for us to lease for a while.  Oh my goodness, I thought.  I hated leaving the school system I had grown up in since I started at Central Elementary in first grade. I realized then I would be starting my second semester of my junior year at East High School.  

He also wanted me to know "WAIT!  STOP THE CAR!!"  During our short courtship, 'our' song, When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge came on, wherever we were, and whatever we were doing, I wanted to stop and slow dance.  My sweet guy agreed to my lovesick teenage request, so we had danced in restaurants and on street sidewalks with the car radio blaring.  Now we were driving across Sam's Gap, so he was pulling over for us to hold each other close to 'our song.'  

Back in the car, my Tony also wanted me to know how much he loved me, what an awesome time he had on our honeymoon and how excited he was about our future. I told him I had never been happier in my life.
                          

We did move to that charming little place on the Bluff City river and life there was so precious. My other half would rush in from work, grab us a couple of fishing rods and we would step down to water's edge; that is where I learned to fish.

Transitioning into the East High School family as a married 'woman' was easy. Staff members were very kind, and the other students quite friendly. I got my driver's license, Tony bought me my first car, gave me one dollar a day for lunch and I felt like the most blessed and cared for wife in the whole wide world.

For the first time in my young life, I never felt hungry. East High had been built a year prior and boasted the most amazing cafeteria imaginable. I would get my tray, and for that dollar, I could load up with a large serving of meat, several vegetables, rolls, a dessert, and milk! Slowly, ever so slowly, my thin frame began to fill out along with my self-esteem.
                            

In the meantime, I was introduced to the Trammell Construction family. I was still quite shy and intimidated at the smallest of things and meeting that group Tony worked with daily was no small thing. 

First, there was Mack Trammell and his gracious and beautiful wife, Frankie. Then came Dewey Pendley and his vivacious Nancy, a real go-getter who did not seem to understand the words 'no' or 'it can't be done.' Don Moneyhun was the financial guru of the firm, and he was married to the lovely and gentle Betty. These three couples embraced this young bride from the get-go as if I had always been a part of their group. Obviously, if Tony loved me then so would they.

Frankie, Nancy and Betty, and their husbands were all at the very top of Bristol's social structure. These precious women took me under their wings as if I was their personal pet project. All I could feel was intense gratitude they were determined to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse. I frantically felt the need to feel more secure about not embarrassing them.

My incredible life with Tony was filled with so much joy and excitement yet simultaneously exposed to twists and turns I never knew were possible for someone like me. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school was like a dream as I languished poolside at the Howard Johnson's Motel, owned by Mack Trammell. 

Mr. Trammell contacted Howard Smith, his hotel manager, and told him to permanently secure the room nearest the pool so Linda, Tony's wife, could enjoy the pool and have a place to change or relax in. Also, my meals at the restaurant were to be complimentary. Can you imagine how this touched and overwhelmed me?

A few months after that Tony and I were asked by Mack if we would like to move-gratis-into a darling home he owned in Blue Ridge Subdivision in Bristol. Mack let it be known he believed in my Tony and saw a bright future for him in his chosen field. That was not surprising to me; printed under Tony's senior photo in his high school yearbook was his stated dream...To own my own construction company. 

We enjoyed living there and from there bought a newly constructed Spanish-style home in Mount Area Estates. Then came the purchase and move to a lovely new home in Lowry Hills in Bristol, Virginia (where we had out first child, Tara) and finally to the stately Georgian Court on Shirley Drive...the home we lived in for the next twenty-three years while rearing our children. 

Please note the timeframe from the move into the Trammell home in Blue Ridge to the move on Shirley Drive was a little over seven years! My husband did not mind buying and selling...as long as he turned a profit; finding the perfect permanent home for us to rear children was paramount! Shirley Drive was that home in a neighborhood with great parents with lots of nice kids who all grew up with ours.

My senior year of high school was definitely out of the norm. I was doing very well academically, but when it was necessary for me to miss a day or two from school with my husband, I still did so with a nervous stomach.  I remember like it was yesterday carrying excuse notes written by Tony for my needed absences and handing them to my principal, Kenneth Carrier.  

"Mr. Carrier, please excuse Linda for being absent this past Thursday and Friday. We flew to Hilton Head for a business associate's wedding. Thank you for your kind understanding."

"Mr. Carrier, please excuse Linda for being absent Monday and Tuesday. She needed to travel with me on a business trip. We appreciate your patience with us."

When reading these notes, Mr. Carrier would laugh nervously. I could tell he was not sure just exactly how to handle my situation, but he always excused me.

Tony and I kept our personal commitment to not start a family prematurely. Our firstborn, Tara Lane, was born in May 1975, our Amanda Leigh, September 1978. Lane Hunter, our first son, was born March 25, 1982, and our last dumpling, Ethan Nathaniel, came exactly three years later on March 25, 1985.

And remember that guy named Bruce Hawks who was with Tony that first day I met him? They were then and have remained best friends throughout all these years. Bruce graduated with a degree in accounting and Tony's dream of owning his own construction company meshed together, and twenty years ago with his co-owner Bruce managing the financial end T & B Contractors, Inc. was established and is a thriving business today. Their expertise is in building water and wastewater treatment plants.
                       

It has been said 'When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.' As a sixteen-year-old kid, I did not understand that. On this side of our love, I fully grasp it now.

I do hope you enjoyed reading about the joys, insecurities, delights and trials of this child bride who married a real man (not a lot of 'em left anymore) so long ago. 

My Tony and I were able to carry off a relationship such as ours due solely to the wisdom, maturity and fully committed love of this man I married and the fact this was nearly fifty years ago. It goes without saying Tony and I certainly do not condone relationships like ours in today's modern culture.

I love him today with a love so profound and rich and vibrant that oft times it overwhelms me. To avoid confusion, when I started this blog post I was back at our cabin in Misty Hollow, but Tony and I left for Hilton Head, so the following video was obviously not taken on our mountain.

Now, I am so proud to introduce you to this incredible but still shy, man I adore...