Thursday, July 14, 2011

Romance, Pure and Simple...

      BAck in the Fall of 1972 during  my first week of college, I got a phone call saying my Great Uncle Nathan had died. He was in his 80's and I didn't think I would be affected by his death because we had never been that close.  But I found to my surprise that I missed him.  He was, as my mother would say, a character and when he died he definitely left a void.
     He told me that when  he was a boy he used to hide every time his dad would get out the wagon to go to town. He knew that he not only wouldn't get to go but also that he would be given a list of chores to do before his dad got back. Apparently, hiding didn't help any and he still always got a list of tasks to work through in the requisite amount of time. To fail in this endeavor meant certain "licks" with a belt so he learned to work diligently at a young age.
      As a young man, he continued farming.  But after he had married and they had  several children, he felt that the Lord was "calling him to preach."  He couldn't go to seminary so he copied Bible verses onto scrap sheets of paper and tucked those pieces of paper into his hat band.  Then he'd head to the field but before he plowed a row, he would memorize one of the verses and  tuck it back in his hatband. When he got to the end of the row, he'd pull out the verse to check himself for accuracy. In this way, he taught himself the Bible.
    His first wife was upset when Nathan decided to preach -it wasn't an easy life and involved a lot of traveling.  She said that she hadn't married a preacher and she wasn't going to live with one. IN a day when it was practically unheard of, they separated but never divorced.   She kept the children and when she died a few years after their separation, the children were basically grown.
   People began to feel sorry for the preacher who was a widower so a little matchmaking ensued.  One of the community members talked about a woman named Jewel, who was a "widow-woman" and a fine Christian  with no children.  On top of that she had a sweet disposition, could cook, and played the piano.
   That was enough for Nathan. He "called on" her, talked to her for a bit and then, the next day, he came right back and proposed to her:)  She was taken aback and said gently that they didn't know enough about each other.  He replied that he knew all he needed to know about her....  She diplomatically explained that she needed a little more time to get to know him...
   Since he didn't live in her community, their courtship took place via letters.   Many years later, as a college student, I was shocked when aunt Jewel brought out a bundle of these letters, neatly tied with a ribbon.  The Nathan I had known was an elderly, plain-spoken, weather-beaten, sort of crusty old farmer and Missionary Baptist evangelist.  He could be stern and as a child, I remembered my siblings  putting me in the "picture" window to watch for Nathan and Jewel because Nathan didn't approve of card-playing.  If I saw their car, I'd sing out a warning and the rest of the family would gather up the Rook cards (or even the Old Maid cards!!!), fold up the card table and plump up the cushions so that by the time Nathan and Jewel arrived, no sign of  the iniquitous playing deck could be seen - everybody innocently watching black and white t.v. or reading the paper.  That was my Uncle Nathan!!!!   But when I saw the letters he had written to Jewel - wow! He had etched flowers and vines all over the outside of the envelopes in pen and ink. Not kidding!  By the time I learned of their existence Jewel's eyes were failing, so she would ask me to read one to her but every time I started, almost immediately she would blush and say, "No, don't read that next part there... Nathan probably wrote some things he shouldn't have; he had a big romantic streak in him..."
    Indeed...  The letters were quaint and at the same time.. um, passionate!  So much so that she made me promise I would throw them away when she died and then, because it worried her so, she went ahead and threw them away herself, something that even as a college student I knew must have been like tossing part of her heart away.
   At any rate, he began sending flowery letters to her regularly - although the first ones were pretty innocuous  because they weren't engaged yet.  And then she became concerned again that things were going too fast. So she wrote to him and said she thought they shouldn't correspond anymore for a while.  The letters immediately stopped coming and during this interval the mailman became "sweet" on her, as she put it.
   But she missed Nathan and when she was sure of her own heart, she wrote to him once more, saying she thought it might be a good idea for them to exchange letters  again.  That was all it took!  Within days, the decorated envelopes came winging her way once more and when they continued to come, the local mailman  reluctantly gave up...
   Some time later,  Nathan and Jewel were married in a little country church. My mom played the piano for the simple ceremony.  AFter they left the church, my uncle was driving down a narrow country road, his arm around Aunt Jewel, when he came upon a 90 degree turn in the road.  He didn't make it - one of the tires went dangling off the pavement over a little stream and they had to get some help to get the car back on the road.  Nathan told her later that she could plainly see it had been a long time since he'd driven with a sweetheart by his side and that he was out of practice:)
    Their marriage lasted for decades, ending with Nathan's death.  They traveled to Singings and Dinner-on-the- Ground at various churches as well as to his family reunions in Texas.  To save money, he would coast the monster cars that he drove down hills, scaring Jewel to death because she was convinced that when he took his foot off the gas peddle, he was in danger of losing control of the vehicle. He was always tanned - I didn't realize until just a few years ago while looking at his photos  that he must have been  at least half  Native American. Jewel was probably the palest person I ever knew and to protect her skin from getting sunburned, she would hold a newspaper over her arms while he drove them all over the countryside.  

Visiting an orphanage, 1960

       He wouldn't celebrate Christmas because he said no one knew for sure when Christ was born.   As kids, my siblings and I were relieved that Aunt Jewel's birthday was Dec. 25 - we felt like that was God's way of preventing a disaster by making sure she did get at least one  gift on Christmas Day!  He also objected to women wearing shorts - I never saw my aunt Jewel in anything besides  a dress, thick hose, and on weekdays, a full-size apron.  (After Uncle Nathan died, Aunt Jewel's health declined and she was admitted to the hospital for evaluation. A young doctor came in one day, gave her a pep talk and said that in the morning, a nurse would be coming to take her picture. She got up early the next morning so that she could put on her best dress, her hose, her Sunday shoes, and fix her hair.  She didn't understand that the doctor meant they were going to x-ray her!)
    We didn't always agree with Nathan's strict beliefs but we always respected him.  As I look back on his life - starting out when people went to town (Cabot) in a horse and buggy and dying a few years after the EAgle landed on the moon - he saw tremendous change.  He went from farming to preaching, buried one wife and married another.  And really, the verse that comes to mind when I think of him is "Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  Luke 9: 62.  Setting his hand to the plow and not looking back.. That would be Uncle Nathan.
   Except there were those letters  ;>)

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