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My Tennessee valentine

February 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Picture1gpWasn’t it fun making Valentines for your mom in elementary school? Teachers would go all out to supply froofy craft supplies so the love notes we lovingly created for our mothers would be super jazzy. And didn’t mom always seem totally pleased with these offerings? I also thought it was fun to decorate my Valentine “mailbox” and then read the messages on all the cards I got from my classmates, both during the party and then again several times after I got home from school.

But once I left elementary school I entered a valentine drought. Not a single junior high boy paid me any attention at all, that I could tell. (Might have been that whole counterproductive long jump challenge thing I was into.) Of course, there was that one older guy in the red and black letter jacket who was just messing with me when he said “Linda, Linda, will you marry me; he didn’t count. (He eventually hit valentine status, several years later.)

No, those junior high years were rather bleak. That is, until the fall of eighth grade. I met a boy from Memphis, Tennessee, at our annual denominational gathering in Texas. Our family was staying at a campground, and he took a notion to stop by our tent and invite me to go bowling with him and some of his friends. I liked to have fainted when my dad said okay. His college student brother gave us all a lift into town, and we bowled the afternoon away.

That was when I first fell in love. With folks from Tennessee, that is — the girls in the group treated me like I was their BFF, which struck me as classy. (I also fell in love with pin ball machines that afternoon, too, but that’s another subject for another post.) I think my best game was about 60, and I was hooked. In fact, the boy invited me to join the group for bowling the next couple of afternoons, and each day my game got a little stronger. As did my interest in the boy.

On the last free afternoon that week, his older brother had made arrangements for him to borrow a motorcycle and I was invited to go riding with him. While that was an appealing offer, it was such a warm day, and the lake beckoned, so I opted to join my family for a day of swimming and canoeing. Later that evening, a couple of the Tennessee girls stopped by my tent, visibly shaken. He’d had an accident while riding and was in the local hospital with a punctured lung.

The news catapulted me into a state I’d never before experienced – relief that I had not been on the motorcycle when it went out of control, yet fear and worry about his condition. All of which were compounded by some altogether new feelings aroused by him having shown interest in me. The school boys back home might not have been paying me much attention, but in less than a week, this Tennessee boy had rendered their disinterest moot.

Our family planned to return home the next day, and I was sad and nervous and wistful about his wellbeing and the prospect of not getting to say goodbye. Then my dad did something that blew me away. He offered to stop by the hospital on our way out of town so that I could see the boy, which meant the entire family would sit in the fully packed car and wait for me to visit a sweet kid from Memphis and tell him how sorry I was about his accident, and what a very nice week I’d had with him and his friends.

I walked down the hospital corridor with a quickened pulse and a lump in my throat. I wasn’t any good around blood and stuff, so I was way out of my comfort zone on several counts. The nurse showed me to his room and I just stood there. He was connected to several tubes, and bandaged up, but not looking too bad, all things considered. He was asleep.

“It would be better not to disturb him,” she said.

But I’m leaving town the minute I step foot outside this building! There’ll be NO second chances here…

But at age fourteen, I wasn’t very good at speaking up in the presence of authority figures. The nurse took my name and assured me she’d tell him I’d visited, and then I turned to walk back down the corridor. My goodbye would simply have to be conveyed via the United States Postal Service.

He got back on his feet in short order, and we corresponded for several months, but the distance took a toll on our young and unseasoned relationship. Nevertheless, the impact was felt: a boy from Tennessee liked me. It was enough, and it was everything.

But I wouldn’t get on the back of a motorcycle for a long, long time.


I was almost six years old when my mom went to the hospital to have my baby sister. In her absence, Dad must have done a fine job taking care of the household, as I can recall no major mishaps or catastrophes. The three of us kids were well fed, had taken our baths, had clean clothes — the works. I figured that when we piled into the car and went to pick up Mom and the new baby, she would be pretty impressed. Well, except for one thing…

My hair.

Since my two brothers had crew cuts, they were in need of no special attention. My hair, on the other hand, was a little longer than shoulder length at the time, and I generally wore it in a pony tail, pigtails, or braids. Braids must have been trending at the time, because the morning Mom was being released from the hospital, I remember Dad sitting me down on a hassock in front of his chair in the living room. He combed out my hair, parted it neatly down the middle and proceeded to braid each half of my head. He was very methodical and knew the steps to get it done. But what Mom could have finished in about two minutes took him forever. I remember aching to just forget the whole thing.

But I think I understood that this was a matter of pride: he would want Mom to see how seriously he’d taken his extra responsibilities while she was away. So I sat still and refrained from grumbling. When he got part of the way finished with a braid and realized he needed to start over, I groaned silently. This happened more than once. When he was all done and I looked in the mirror, it was clear that this was not a standard-issue pair of braids. These had more of the “loose and casual” look. But braids they were, and I thanked him roundly for making them, considering how determined and unflagging his efforts had been.

When we greeted both Mom and baby sister, I was just sure she’d notice my droopy braids and say something. Or maybe she’d just give me a knowing look, from one insider to another. But she didn’t. Apparently, their irregular appearance hadn’t fazed her one bit.

Once again, in my cluelessness, I would miss the real deal and merely perceive the obvious. Sigh. What my dad had actually communicated in that act (which I unfortunately experienced as mild torture) was a care and concern far beyond the call of duty. He wanted to present his children to his wife in fine form — no second class, half-hearted attempt, but an all-out effort. I think he hoped it would say how much he loved her, how much he appreciated all that she did for the family, and how devoted he was to us children, as well.

At the time, though, I figured Mom’s silence was because she was just caught up in the excitement of coming home with the new little bundle and didn’t notice. But reflecting on it now, I’m persuaded that she, being savvy to his motive and intent, and understanding the extreme patience that would have been required on his part (this was a man with hands as thick as two-by-fours, attempting to manipulate little strands of fine hair into a semblance of a braid!), deemed it a tender tribute. Her appreciation of his loving gesture would quell any mention of the sag in my hairdo.

And so I spent the rest of the day with my hair just the way it was; I, for sure, wasn’t going to mention it if she hadn’t noticed. But the next morning I headed straight to her bedside, comb in hand, eager to get things back to normal.

My head never felt so good.