It’s been almost a year now. Less than two weeks remain until the first anniversary of the beginning of our new lives. It was on February 6 of 2012 that Suzy and I first met – online – and set out on what has been a thoroughly wonderful journey. We both knew something was up when we started to talk online, and on a sunny and bright and VERY cold day last February, when Suzy and I rendezvoused in City Park of my old home town – Columbia, MS – to see one another in person for the first time, the feeling of “rightness” was strong. We had retreated to the relative warmth of my Silverado after a wind-chilled walk at Columbia Water Park. I had something to ask, and the very thought of asking terrified me.
It seemed as though every time I have allowed a woman to know that I am serious and that I have growing feelings for her, she’s upped and ran to get away from me. Often times, I’d start to get to know a gal, and we’d talk and talk, and then, just as we were about to begin in earnest, I’d find myself alone, again, wondering what the futz I’d done wrong. Sometimes it was a mystery as to what had happened and other times I knew the false start had nothing to do with me. Still, if a thing comes apart, the result is the same. One is indeed a lonely number. And I’d come to believe that relationships might not be for me.
Told people at my old church that I felt as though I’d wasted the best years of my life. Back then, I’d come to realize that I was old enough to be a grand-father and yet I had no family. I’d never experienced the simple, yet incredible joy of having a child sit on my lap and touch my cheek and say, so softly, “Daddy.” I’d never watched a son learn to ride his bike, or set out on his first day at school, or fidgeted nervously as a young fella picked up my daughter for her first date. I hadn’t gotten to smile with pride as my kid walked across a stage to pick up his or her high school diploma. Never had I known what it is like to have grand-children. Thought I’d missed it all, lost it all. I’d say this to folks at church and often, someone would smile and say, “It’s not too late….”
I wanted to believe them. I really did. But I discovered that my faith didn’t appear to be strong enough. I knew, I knew that God provides, and yet I was saddened by my loneliness, troubled by matters of money, by employment troubles. I shouldn’t have worried, and yet I did. 2011 had not been a fun year. Even though my relationship with my Lord seemed to grow and deepen, there were troubles aplenty. At long last, this past January, having been told for the second time in less than a month by a potential lady-friend that she couldn’t or wouldn’t see me, having done battle with a nasty and threatening loan company which was threatening to repossess my truck, I was on my last nerve. I was at the end of my string. The only thing that was going right for me at that point was an unexpected and incredible improvement in what had been a severely strained relationship with my older brother. Everything else seemed to have soured. So, one night, after having read an email from this girl I’d only just met, a note in which she explained that she couldn’t see me, I threw up my hands. “God,” I said, “I haven’t a clue what it is that I am supposed to do – not even the slightest hint. Obviously, I can’t deal with this life thing, so I give up. You take the wheel.”
Just saying that felt good. Seemed to take a load off my shoulders, it did. Then, less than a week later, I got an email from this on-line dating service I’d joined. Seems they had this gal they thought I oughta meet. So, with nothing better to do and thinking I could hardly be any worse off than I already was, I clicked on the link….and found myself looking at a pretty country girl. She was wearing a shiny, silky red blouse and a very nice smile. So I sent off a note. She sent one back. Her name was Susan, she said, and amazingly, she lived just a few short miles south of the town in which I’d been born, where I’d grown up. The conversations continued, and they grew longer. And more frequent. Then came the day we decided it was time to meet in person. So I drove south from Jackson, down to the place where I’d begun this life, down to the deep south of the state, to Marion County. To….home. To that moment in my truck on a bitterly cold day at Columbia Water Park.
On that winter’s day, I swallowed my fear and I admitted that I’d had a rough time of it for the months prior, the years prior, and I told Suzy that it felt good, very good to be with her. I pushed my fear back down and I asked Suzy whether she might be interested in making something lasting of our new fling. And she said….yes. That day trip led to an overnighter, and then a four-day weekend. Then Suzy told me that her step-grandaughter was to be married to her beau in a quiet little ceremony in the mountains of Tennessee, near Pigeon Forge, She asked me to go with her to this wedding, to share a mountainside cabin for a few days. Her argument made sense. We’d have to drive 11 hours or so to get there, and then stay together in that cute little cabin for a few days and then make another long drive to get back to Mississippi. If we could do that without wanting to throttle one another, she said, then we’d know whether we had something. Made sense to me, so of course, I said yes. We did make the trip and we did endure. More than that, we reveled in one-another’s company.
Once we’d returned to Mississippi, Suzy upped and suggested that I move to the country, to her family’s quiet little hilltop homestead, to be with her. And her family. Two grown sons. Two almost grown grand-sons. A teenage grand-daughter. A newly-wed step grand-daughter and her husband. Two beautiful step-great-grand-kids, a five year old boy and the prettiest little two year old princess I’d ever laid my eyes on. In short, it was the family I’d dreamed of my whole life. And Suzy was offering it…. to me. Said she didn’t care what had happened in my life before that point. Said I didn’t need money, or a job. All I had to do….was to love her. I knew, actually, that I had already fallen in love with Suzy, but the thought of telling her so frightened me beyond description. But Suzy has this wonderful and gentle way of getting what she wants, and so the night before I went back to Jackson after our first journey to Pigeon Forge, she coaxed it out of me, got me to say those three terrifying words. “I love you.” So I told her just that on that night after Pigeon Forge. Went back to Jackson. Came back to our little hilltop a week later for several days. Returned to Jackson again, and the night after I got back there that last time, I decided that I no longer cared for going to Jackson without Suzy. Told her as much in an email. So a few days later, I mentally cancelled my status as a citizen of Jackson, MS, loaded my truck as full as I could get it and I left for Columbia. Since then, we’ve brought several more pickup-loads and a trailer-load of my stuff down here, and only a little remains to be transported.
Since that beginning, Suzy and I have grown to realize that we are indeed on the same frequency. Often one of us will be thinking of doing one thing or another and the other will suggest that we do just that. We’ve already traveled quite a lot. We go the Mississippi Coast often. We’ve been to Gulf Shores, Alabama, and to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. We traveled to West Virginia to visit Suzy’s oldest son, Danny, and his family. We’ve spent a lovely weekend in a wonderful bed and breakfast on the Gettysburg battlefield. In late October, we returned to Pigeon Forge for four peaceful days.
Somewhere along the way, I told Suzy that I wanted to marry her. She replied that it wasn’t necessary, so long as we are together, but I wanted to make the commitment. Somehow, it mattered. A lot. And so, in December, just a week or so before Christmas, I put a diamond ring on Suzy’s finger. Not long after, we began the process of setting a date. We’d thought of March at first, but then we settled on April. So we thought. We picked a day, but that didn’t jive with various family schedules. So we tried another. This one didn’t match up with still other family members. We moved on to May, tried two different weekends, to no avail, and then, at last, we found a day that works for everyone.
For the last several days, I have been getting an education in the complexities of planning a “simple” wedding. We talked with one service and another and another and another, until we settled on the one service that seems to have everything we need. And so, on Thursday, we made a down-payment for the services of a picturesque little mountainside wedding chapel in Pigeon Forge. There, in the Mountain Valley Wedding Chapel, Susan Foxworth Smith and Jon Gilbert Stephenson will “jump the broom” on 25 May, 2013.
This little union carries with it a bit of irony. You see, Suzy, as I call her, is Susan. Or Sue. Once we clear that fabled broom, she’ll be Susan, Suzy, Sue Stephenson. My late mother’s name….is Sue. Somehow, I feel my mama’s smile. And I hear my daddy’s laugh. I can see the tears on my grandmama’s face and the quiet satisfaction on my granddaddy’s face (My gawd! The boy finally done somethin’ right….). As I said early on, the feeling of “rightness” continues to grow. Lordy, I hope it never stops….