In a recent comment, my friend Jayne from Journey Through Grace asked me how Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I met. Well, like most of my stories, it’s a long one so I decided a post was the best way to tell it.
I’ve told my children this story a million times because (1) it’s part of the history of their lives (2) you know how it is with us old folks—we tell the same old stories over and over (3) I want them to be mindful of the miracle of their existence (4) I want them to know that they should never let bitterness close their minds and heart to love and that sometimes it is worthwhile to make yourself vulnerable and (5) I want them to learn to always listen to their intuition because sometimes that’s how God speaks to us.
It was 1986 and I was leaving a good job in Winston-Salem to go east to Raleigh. The year before had been especially difficult. I was grieving the loss of my mama that year—a loss that was not unexpected but hard nevertheless. And I was facing the end of a marriage. Although it was not a happy one, I still felt a keen sense of loss. I was moving partly to be closer to my daddy (who was sad and bewildered after the passing of my mama) and partly to get away from my ex-husband, who was abusive when we were together, but after I left him turned on the charm in an intense campaign to get me back. I was struggling to regain my footing and to regain just a bit of my self-esteem, which was never that high to start with, but at that point, was lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.
One of the things I always enjoyed when I lived in the Raleigh area was reading the personals in The Spectator (a local newspaper that is no longer published). I read them strictly for fun. Sure, there were plenty of the I-love-romantic-walks-on-the-beach-in-the-moonlight variety, but there were some really creative ones, too, and I loved imagining the stories behind them. The one thing that never entered my mind was answering one. Believe me, getting a man was the last thing on my mind at that time after what I’d endured with my ex. Plus, anyone who knows me well knows just how painfully shy I am and how completely unlikely it would be for me to answer a personals ad. About as unlikely as running away to join the circus. Or becoming a topless pole dancer. Not gonna happen. Nope.
So, anyway, I was reading the personals one day as usual when I came upon this one:
Neglected SWM, good teeth, brown eyes, glossy coat, very affectionate and loyal needs sensitive, intelligent female companionship. Amateur writer and naturalist. Do you like dogs, cats, birds, mulch, and country living?
I laughed out loud at the first sentence. It sounded more like a dog looking for a home than a personals ad. But I really like dogs, so I read on. Writer? Check. Naturalist? Check. Dogs, cats, birds, mulch, and country living? Check. (Although I’d have to admit that I’m considerably fonder of dogs than cats). And I also liked the fact that he didn’t list shallow physical requirements, but was seeking the more enduring qualities of sensitivity and intelligence. That’s kind of rare in a personals ad.
And then, without stopping to think why I shouldn’t, I wrote out a short letter, complete with my phone number and addressed it to the box number in the ad. It was so odd, almost as if an occult hand was writing instead of me. It seemed…well…inevitable, somehow. Then, knowing that if I waited until morning to send it I’d chicken out, I drove eight miles into town just so I could drop it in the mailbox before I lost my nerve. The minute I put it in the mail slot, I felt an overwhelming sense of panic. What had I done? What was I thinking??
A month passed without a word. And I was kicking myself for doing such a foolish thing, for making myself so vulnerable to rejection. Obviously, I had taken leave of my senses, but it certainly wouldn’t happen again. No sirree. But then one night, the phone rang.
It was a telemarketer.
Ha, ha…I’m just kidding. No, it was him. The neglected SWM with brown eyes and good teeth. My heart was pounding so hard that I could hear it in my head. His name was Tom, and he had the most beautiful voice. And although initially I felt as though I was having a heart attack, pretty soon I relaxed and we talked like old friends. And talked. And talked. Turned out he hadn’t called sooner because he’d gotten so many responses that it took time to sort them out.
So, this post is getting too long already and you know the rest of the story anyway, don’t you? But I’ll tell you this: I fell in love with his Welsh Corgi Sandy before I fell in love with him. When I first met Tom in person, Sandy ran up to me and jumped up on the fancy white first-date pants I was wearing, marking them with a pattern of muddy paw prints. Tom said he knew right away that I must be the girl for him because I laughed and crouched down and hugged Sandy then. Tom said he’d never seen Sandy take to someone so quickly.
I guess this is where I should say, “And they lived happily ever after.” But that wouldn’t be entirely honest. We’ve had a lot of hardship in our 22 ½ years together, and it’s taken a toll. Sometimes heartache and suffering bring you closer; sometimes they tear you apart. I think I could say that it’s done both for us. But through it all, we’ve had an abiding love and affection and respect for each other that I think no amount of misfortune can destroy.
So I tell my children this story again and again, but not just for their sakes. I tell it because it helps me to remember that it was surely the hand of God that brought me together with Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man. And that no matter what we’ve been through, our love is stronger than our pain. “Wherefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Matthew 19:6 It helps me to remember that sometimes miracles occur when we least expect it and that we should always be open to them. And always open to hearing God speak, no matter how He chooses to do so.
Perhaps you’re wondering about the picture. Yep, that’s me—it was taken shortly before I met Tom, when a friend and I were goofing around one night. One thing I didn’t mention was that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I exchanged a few letters before we even met. In one of them, he finally asked what I looked like. So I sent him this picture. I thought it really represented me better than some fancy, dolled-up studio photo would. He wrote back, “Thanks for the picture. I see you are a woman of mystery—I like that. And you have such distinctive eyes—intense and passionate, yet probing. The glasses give you an intellectual flair. And I do so love a woman with a strong nose…”
And I do so love you, my sweet Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man.