Preamble: Everyone in this family has heard stories about "Genie," the girl my father almost married. Yet none have ever met her until this week. On Tuesday we shared a reunion that was close to 36 years in coming. In 1973 my Dad went to Tennessee to bring my sister back from her first year at college. While there (with my mother's knowledge) he and Genie had dinner together. Other than that they had not been together since attending the Rose Bowl game in 1939.
After he graduated from the Naval Academy Dad's ship, the U.S.S. Richmond, was sent to Honolulu for overhaul and that is where he met and married my mom. When he wrote Genie to tell her that he'd found another girl, she sent his Naval Academy miniature back so quickly he's thought all these years that she was relieved to be set free. Mom wore that ring for several years before "accidentally" dropping it down the sink. The new one Dad gave her was worn thin before I took it off her hand on the morning she died.
The romance writer in me thinks perhaps if the reunited couple were several years younger and one of them was not diagnosed with terminal cancer maybe the love between them could be re-ignited into a flame that would carry them to the end of their lives. The movie version of their lives could make a three hankie Hallmark TV movie.
Yet the reality is that two very good friends met again after each had lived a full, happy and productive lives. Neither it seemed had regrets for having traveled different roads. For two days they traded stories, caught each other gazing at one another, laughed and remembered. The love that they once shared was there, but softened by the years gone by to a "misty colored memory" (now I know what that song actually means!). A deep friendship remains. Those of us who watched the reunion unfold were blessed to sit on the sidelines and take notes (and pictures)!
Genie Franklin was a country girl from Chattanooga, TN. Her daddy died when she was still a toddler so she was raised, like my dad, by a strong and determined woman who devoted her life to caring for her only child. It was during the depression and times were hard. According to Genie, they were often down to "May's last dollar" but somehow always got by.
Genie's mom had a cottage built in Carson Springs, TN, which if I'm correct was close to the town of Newport where my Dad grew up. Their paths crossed one summer when L.S. was on leave from the Naval Academy. A mutual acquaintance set them up on a blind date. Genie was only 15!
That first date was memorable because the couple stopped at some kind of road side joint where L.S. bought cigars for everyone. The young girl who was trying hard to impress her older date not only recited poetry but lit up a cigar just like the others. No wonder it was a date to be remembered.
The Genie we met has been married and widowed twice, raised two sons, graduated from college, earned a Master's degree, taught special education, sat on the board of several civic organizations, sung in her church choir for years and had quite an interesting life. She burned the collection of letters my dad had written her when they were dating, but still holds dear the engraved locket he gave her for her 16th birthday.
With the memory of her visit still fresh in my mind, I think Genie might embody the term so often used to describe women of the south- steel magnolia. Though she is a tiny lady I have no doubt that she is a force to be reckoned with if a situation called for either charm or grit. What was hard to miss when this lady spoke was her positive attitude. I don't think she was just be gracious - though she was that to the nth degree. She seemed to see the world through a chimera of pearly adjectives. After spending a few hours with Genie (and her step daughter Susan who actually made this trip happen) you couldn't help but feel uplifted. Their speech was peppered with words like lovely, delightful, charming, and sweet.
At one point Genie looked at my dad and said, "L.S. you are so sweet. And that's what I always remembered about you, how sweet your were."
And his reply, in typical fashion of the L.S. I know and love - "then your rememberer isn't so good."
While Susan, Jean, Jack and I sat around and listened the two old friends discussed people and places and good times they had shared way back then. They talked of Janie May Stokely and her brothers who owned the cannery where my Dad worked his first job. As they turned the pages of my dad's Naval Academy year book, the two reminisced about Lee Gooslby, Maurice "Mickey" Weisner, June week dances and time spent on the Richmond.
They talked about his mother and her mother and my mother. They shared stories about Dobbie and Jack and all the children and grandchildren.
They spoke of places they both remembered - Carson Springs, Newport and Annapolis - and other southern places like Signal Mountain, Weaverville, Morristown and Chattanooga. Dad told of building Fena Dam, the NASA SLUT and Capitol building in Tallahassee. Genie talked of Florida vacation homes, mountain retreats and boarding houses. They both laughed at the memory of Dad bathing in an icy cold river.
As we sat around the lunch table Genie commented that it was kind of funny to imagine that dad's girls could have been half hers. Of course that's not the case for if she and Dad had gotten married life for all of us would have been quite different. Hell I wouldn't even be here. Sweetie hates it when I play "what if" but I think all of us must have had the thought at one time or another this week what if Dad had married Genie.
Would the young girl with love in her eyes have been brought to her knees by the engineer's logic and negativity? Or would her positive outlook on life have tipped his scales in a different direction? What might it have been like to have a mother who was as adept in a board room as the kitchen? Not better or worse, just different.
And then, like Cinderella's clock running out the reunion was over. Genie and Susan stopped by this morning for one more hello and goodbye. It was bittersweet. These two sweethearts got a chance to share old memories.
The lesson was not lost on me. It's important to open the door when opportunity knocks. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but for today, Genie and L.S. were young again. On the outside they both had white hair and tired bodies, but in that place that they both remembered she was probably wearing a homemade formal and he was in a dress uniform. The music played and they glided across the dance floor arm in arm. Perhaps he whispered something in her ear and she replied, "L.S. that's just the sweetest thing anyone could ever say!"
Besides the Barbra Streisand song playing in my brain, this visit has made me think of the verse from Ecclesiastes 3 .... to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Wishing you happy memories and pleasant tomorrows,
Post Script: About 3am Dad called to me. I didn't realize it at the time but I think he was having a TIA. He got up early to be dressed and ready when Genie came to say goodbye. He was visibly weak and his speech was slurred. We didn't say anything to Genie, but she must have guessed how tired he was. We got him to pose for one last picture and though I can see a bit of a sag on the left side of his face, I still think it's a great picture.
After a morning nap, Dad showed little sign of discomfort or slurred speech. Whatever happened had come and gone, much to my great relief. The nurse came and checked him out. He passed all his assessments. I moved out of panic mode to a place of gratitude for the time we got to spend with Genie and for a nurse I can call day or night. Both these ladies remind me of the father I want to get to know better; the man who is funny, smart, strong, and thoughtful. I don't need rose-colored glasses to see that, I just need to see past the gruff exterior and look into his heart.