Paula Travis Alexander married my older brother in the fall of 1962. I thought she was ok because she went to St. Louis with us that summer and sat through both ends of a double header. The first game went into extra innings and the nightcap saw lots of runs scored and lasted for hours. Ken Boyer hit a home run and Willie Mays lost his hat making a long running catch. I was in hog heaven. Paula, if not quite as ecstatic, never complained.
True love is an amazing thing.
I was fifteen years old when they got married; and certainly not accredited enough to understand if I was losing a brother or gaining a sister. I didn’t really give it a minute’s thought. I was pondering on the extra space I was going to have in the bedroom I had shared with him since birth. And I was hoping this would mark the end of him bullying me around on slow afternoons. It was also one of the first weddings I ever attended and I spent most of it wondering if they were actually going to kiss each other in front of all those people.
Right from the start Paula treated me more like an equal than someone’s little brother. She would look me right in the eye and tell me what she thought. I’ve never seen her mad or flustered; which, when you consider she was married to Leon, was downright almost unbelievable! She could get him to do things that no one else in the world could do.
Leon sold his baby blue ’57 convertible and bought a family looking car not long after the marriage. He quit cruising around town and got a steady job. Paula never fussed or appeared “put out” when she got stuck at the house with me and David Mark. She was, however, a tad confounded when the fight broke out. Mom would return from the grocery store and Paula raced outside for help, “Mrs. Colbert, come quickly, they are killing each other!” Mom would assuage her fears with the “boys will be boys” line as she reached in the back for the sugar, flour, milk and sundries.
Somewhere along the way I took to calling her Chuck. It’s too long of a story to relate here. She never seemed to mind and I think it gave us a special bond. When I had girlfriend problems I entrusted her with them. She never laughed or thought the dilemma insignificant. She also never suggested kidnapping or bashing them over the head with a club which is what Leon was telling me to do.
The marriage survived stops in Pocahontas, Arkansas, (which was like the other side of the world) Lexington, Tennessee, and optometry school in Memphis. I never heard either of them complain. They settled in the Nashville area and poured their hearts into raising daughters, son-in-laws, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Let me give you a tip on a solid marriage. I was up visiting years ago and Leon was all hot to trot to show me this nice looking, low millage, gently used Corvette that he had his eye on. The salesman got quickly down to the price. We could “drive it off the lot today” for ten thousand dollars. Leon walked around it a couple of times quite studiously, “I don’t know. Twenty thousand is a lot of money.”
“Ahhh, Dr. Colbert, you must’a not heard me. It’s only ten thousand.”
Leon asked me what I thought. He checked out the inside and muttered to himself, “I just don’t think I can go twenty thousand.”
The dealer is jumping up and down. “DR. COLBERT, there is a big misunderstanding here! This like-new vehicle is only ten thousand dollars!”
“No”, Leon barely looked up, “YOU don’t understand. If I buy this car for ten thousand dollars, my wife is going to go out and spend ten thousand dollars on something she wants!”
Leon bought the Corvette. Chuck, within a couple of weeks had purchased new carpet for the entire house and added a sunroom out back.
Both of my sons attended college in Nashville. Leon went to their ball games. He entertained them with crazy stories. He stood up for them when I couldn’t. Chuck fed them. She opened up her house for them. Both of them consoled my boys when they were down. Both encouraged them in school. They shared all they had. When Mom’s health began to slip it fell Leon and Paula’s lot to care for her. You’ve never seen two people do more or care more.
I’m not sure to this day if Chuck is like the sister I never had, the good friend who has your best interest at heart or that older, wiser voice that keeps you on track. I’ve spent my journalistic career writing about Leon because he’s made that that much of an impression on my life. If you had one small glimpse into his wit, his spontaneity, his keen insight and his zest for living, you’d realize they’ve got the wrong Colbert writing these little stories.
Leon and Paula are celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary this week-end. WOW! How fast those years rolled by for all of us! When I got the invitation I immediately thought of the hot 1962 Sunday afternoon in St. Louis. I remembered that old blue convertible. I remember how they would drive a hundred miles an hour from Pocahontas on Friday afternoons to make the eight o’clock kick off for my high school football games. I remembered Winnie-the-Poodle; the many Thanksgiving and Christmas meals; the birth of children and the home going of some precious people. I thought of Chuck’s quiet, thoughtful advice over the years. I thought of Leon’s laughing, carefree, laissez faire approach to life. What a great team!
True love IS an amazing thing.