By Susan M. Thigpen © 1987
Issue: February, 1987
It all began in 1937, fifty years ago this summer. I guess you could call it a permanent Valentine for me and my sister because if James Matthews and Gladys Halbrook hadn't met, we wouldn't be here. James and Gladys became the people my sister and I lovingly came to know as Mother and Daddy. But, that was years later and another story. Now, back to how it all began a Valentine story that occurred not in February, but in July.
Nineteen-thirty-seven, the Great Depression, the place, Stokesdale and Kernersville, North Carolina, two small towns about fifteen miles apart. That's the closest description, because my father's family lived a few miles outside of Kernersville, in the country and my mother's family lived a few miles outside of Stokesdale, in the country. Mother's family raised tobacco and Daddy's family did a variety of things, sawmilling among them. Mother was 18; Daddy was 21 when they met.
The story is a little vague on some points. Mother was with a group of young people one week night. They might have started out to go to a revival meeting, but ended up at Daddy's farm. They all were hungry for watermelon, but watermelon wouldn't be ripe in North Carolina for at least another month. Someone had heard that Daddy's father had been to South Carolina and brought back a truck load of watermelons. Someone else in the group probably said, "Let's go," and they did.
When they got there, Daddy had already gone to bed, but he got up. Mother said he had on a pair of bib overalls without a shirt. He got watermelon for the group, which was cut and eaten on the spot. One thing led to another and soon the group of high spirited young people were having a full fledged watermelon fight! Daddy caught Mother and rubbed a whole slice of watermelon in her face.
Mother had on the same blue dotted Swiss dress the night she met Daddy that she is wearing in the photograph taken shortly afterwards when they were courting seriously. Mother said when she got home that night, after the watermelon fight, she was covered with watermelon and sticky all over. She very quietly came in, washing up first. The well at my grandparents' house was on the back porch. There was always a wash pan sitting there. I can imagine seeing Mother drawing water and pouring that cold water in the pan, trying to look presentable before facing her parents, in case they were still up.
For a short while Mother was dating another boy, and Daddy would accompany the other boy on their dates. It was actually Daddy who held Mother's interest, even though the other boy didn't realize it.
By Mother's birthday, July 27th, Daddy gave Mother an engagement ring. She still wears the diamond today. It has been reset once when the ring wore thin and the second one is on the verge of wearing through again, and will have to be reset for a third time soon.
As this was such a short time period between meeting and engagement, less than a month, I asked Daddy how soon he asked Mother to marry him after he met her. He laughed and said, "I think it was the next time I saw her." Before Daddy met Mother, he had seen her once, two or three years before. She was walking down the road she lived on when he and a friend drove down it. The friend pointed Mother out and said, "That's probably the girl you're going to marry." It was a strange coincidence when they did meet that they struck it off immediately.
On October 2, 1937, Mother and Daddy drove to Martinsville, Virginia to be married. There was no waiting period across the state line. Mother said that few people had big weddings those days because there was so little money.
Two people, who met the first of July, were engaged on July 27th, got married October 2nd. It was a whirlwind romance that has lasted 50 years, only interrupted once by World War II, when Daddy was drafted into the Army and served in Italy.
Our family album is bulging with photographs from the very beginning, through the years and right up to the present day. My sister and I love to look through them, as does our children, and now, even my three year old grandson. He isn't old enough to understand who the people are, but seems to sense an importance in them.
Fifty years are captured in photographs and in the hearts of our family, each a Valentine of love in its own way.
Happy Valentines Day, Mother and Daddy,