I have a Valentine story for you.
It started the last week of May, 1966. I was hired to teach swimming and lifeguard at a municipal pool in Trenton, Tennessee. I had just completed my freshman year of college and I was in dire need of money. The quest to finance my tuition, blind luck…...and maybe a tad of fate…..conspired to put me in that metal lifeguard stand.
I saw the face first. It bounded up out of the water right beneath me. I’m telling you, the brightest smile that I’d ever seen! She squinted up at me, rolled over and without so much as a by-your-leave swam effortlessly toward the other side of the pool. I remember that little blue bathing suit with the yellow belt like it was yesterday.
Don’t start thinking love at first sight here. There were no cupid arrows flying in any direction. It never crossed either of our minds. There was too big of an age gap. I was only there for the money. And I had a serious girlfriend.
But I’m telling you, for one whole summer, I never had a better friend. Her great smile was matched by her laughter, her honesty, her concern and feel for others and her great love of life. She didn’t have any turn-down days……and she made sure the people around her didn’t either.
I’d give her and her brother a ride home from the pool in the late afternoons. I met her family, her cousins next door, her grandparents, uncles and aunts by the dozens……. My serious girlfriend and I would take her with us on dates. No subterfuge. No hidden agenda. No innuendoes. She was just fun to be around and a heck of a good kid.
I spent the next summer in Trenton because I still needed the money! Cathy’s smile, if you can believe this, had grown larger. We laughed our way through another June and July. She wrote to me that fall, asked if I’d be her escort on the homecoming court. The college boy and the eighth grade girl….. I’m telling you, we got some looks when we walked in together. I didn’t care. If she was happy, I was happy.
The next summer I worked in Nashville. She came up to see the Grand Ole Opry. But we really lost touch after that. I moved to Florida. She went to college. Several years passed…..but I couldn’t forget that smile. I called one Thanksgiving, she laughed when she said, “Is this a real date?”
Well, I wasn’t sure. I’d never held her hand, much less kissed her! She said we could figure it out together.
I reckon we did. I sent her flowers on Mother’s Day several months before we married with a card that read, “For the great potential I know you have.” Goodness sakes, I had no idea! She raised two boys that would fight a buzz saw for her!
To say I married above myself would be the understatement of the century! You don’t have the time and I don’t have the writing ability to tell you how special she is. Folks are kind enough to point out to me how nice Cathy is. They don’t know how I cherish those words. But the truth is, she is even nicer than they could ever realize. In 43 years of close proximity I’ve never heard her say an unkind word or speak ill of another person.
She is truly that polite and respectful. But don’t think meek and mild here. She is also the most independent person I know! Cathy has always been the rock of our family. She made the great times extraordinary. She made the average times better than good. And when times turned bleak—a parent’s mind began to wander or my brother died—the single set of footprints you saw were hers.
Cathy is a lot smarter than me. That has been such a blessing. I have learned so much about people, life and living from her. Part of her greatness is that she would never consider herself brilliant or the only person in the room with a thought. She is truly at peace in her own skin.
And she is still the most fun person I have ever been around!
I loved watching her raise our family. I love it when those students she taught a quarter of a century ago rush up and hug her so hard they lift her off the ground asking, “Miss Cathy, can you still stand on your head?” I love watching her attend to six grandchildren like they are the most important six people on earth. I love the quiet conservations we have in the evening of our lives about our years together, the expectations of our world today and the hopes we have for our children and grandchildren.
And once in a great while she will even mention that gray dress she wore on the Homecoming court those many years ago…….
On second thought, it just could have been love at first sight.