Grandfather (or Fiance?) of the Bride

 

Ginny

Ginny 1995

Cathy and I have been blessed to witness and experience the weddings of our three children to wonderful spouses.  From the time we were saved and filled with God’s Spirit, we began praying God would lead our children at the proper time, to strong and loving believers to whom they could join their lives in holy marriage. We purposed to not only teach our children about a Christ-centered home but to live that teaching in front of them. There were periods when we fell far short of the ideal and certainly would have changed some of our attitudes and actions then, but God’s grace overshadowed our failures. Within a 5 year period from 1990 through 1995 John, Mary Kay and Ginny were married to their life partners to begin their own journeys. Great memories were made during that span which involved the full range of emotions from heartaches to laughter, from doubts to confidence and from anxiety to peace. When we are all together now for special events and holidays, stories from that time are re-told that our grandchildren can better understand their heritage.

In 1990 when John announced his intentions to marry Gina Ratcliff from Texarkana, Texas, we came to love her and believe she was the perfect one for John. We wanted to do all we could to help make their wedding day as special as we could for them. Gina bought her wedding dress from Low’s Bridal Shop in Brinkley, Arkansas of which we were unaware. Many brides from Arkansas and probably Tennessee and Mississippi travel to this small town in eastern Arkansas, half-way between Little Rock and Memphis, to buy their elegant gowns at very reasonable prices. Cathy, Mary Kay and Ginny made note of how beautiful was Gina’s gown, knowing they might also be shopping at Low’s one day.

The following year when Mary Kay and David Janke announced their plans to marry, both Cathy and Mary Kay made the trip to Low’s Bridal in Brinkley, where Mary Kay found that very special dress for her big day. It was a beautiful dress, and we were all so pleased with Low’s that in 1995 when Ginny and John Luther planned their wedding, another trip to Brinkley was in order.

Ginny and John planned an early June wedding, so Cathy and Ginny visited Low’s several months in advance. On their return home they told me they had found the perfect gown, and because of alterations that needed to be made, the gown could be picked up in several weeks. As time for the return trip to Brinkley neared, Cathy suggested that I drive Ginny so just the two of us could have some special father-daughter time. Despite the fact I knew I would be far out of my comfort zone at Low’s Bridal Shop, the thought of spending 6 or 7 hours alone with Ginny driving there and back was exciting for me. We scheduled a 11 AM appointment at Low’s on a Saturday morning.

The 3 1/2 hour drive to Brinkley passed quickly as we had no complications or undue delay because of Little Rock traffic. I admit to having some anxiety concerning Low’s because I was fairly certain there would be no men there with whom I could have conversation. I prepared myself emotionally to accept the environment and make Ginny know I was so glad to share this moment with her, even if it meant a bridal store.

I was very surprised to find such an elegant store in a small farming town that was better known to guys as a duck hunting mecca. My suspicions concerning the clientele in the store were entirely correct. There were at least 20-30 people in the store that morning and not one man. It was fairly easy to identify the brides because of their young age, and they were all accompanied by middle-aged women and a few much older women, presumably their mothers and grandmothers. I had nothing in common with anyone in the store, so conversations with them was not an option. As Ginny disappeared into the dressing room to try on her new dress for final inspection by the sales personnel, I faded into a far corner of the store to just make observations. There is a television show about wedding dresses I have briefly watched when Cathy had it on called “Say Yes To The Dress”, and I thought I was getting a live version of that show.

The place I was standing was near a checkout counter and a very nicely dressed lady much older than I was standing behind the counter. I presumed she might have been the owner of the store, but did not think it proper to ask her that question. We simply exchanged initial greetings. I had my eyes on the dressing room Ginny had entered and after about 10 minutes she exited the room in her new dress. I believe the following is a traditional thing at this store and possibly all bridal stores. When Ginny exited the dressing room, everyone in the store stopped what they were doing, turned and focused on her in her new dress and almost with one gasping voice said, “Oh what a gorgeous bride and beautiful dress!” I agreed completely in my mind, but just didn’t join the chorus. She was beautiful!

The older lady behind the counter was one of the chorus of voices when she turned to me and said, “Isn’t she just beautiful?” to which I responded, “She certainly is!” Then she asked, “Is she your granddaughter?” I have to admit that Ginny looked several years younger than her 22 years, and it could have been possible age-wise for her to be my granddaughter. But before thinking I said quickly back to the store owner, “No ma’ am. She is my fiance. I am a very rich man.” She put her hand to her mouth and said, “Oh, I’m so very sorry. I just didn’t know.” I let her stay like that for a few more moments, and broke into laughter telling her Ginny was really my daughter not my fiance, and I wasn’t a rich man after all. (I inwardly feared the price of the dress might have gone up!)

I didn’t tell Ginny about my check-out story until we were on our way back home. I sure didn’t want her to feel embarrassed around those ladies and in particular, the store owner. It did liven up my one and only experience in a bridal store. The cost for the owner was a little embarrassment, but for me the time alone with Ginny was priceless. It is possible I could have another opportunity for a bridal store experience with a real granddaughter, but have an idea that Cathy won’t be sending me there without her!

Dr. John

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Meeting the Bear

Coach Bear Bryant

Coach Bear Bryant

For football fans nationwide, the bowl games are long-awaited treats at the end of the gridiron season. Two of the bowl games are now reserved for the top four teams, and the winners of those games will go on to play for the national championship. One of the more prestigious bowl games annually is the Sugar Bowl which is always played in New Orleans on or after January 1. For many years prior to opening the massive Superdome in 1975, the Sugar Bowl was played in Tulane Stadium which was the home field for Tulane University and the New Orleans Saints. The Saints began their initial season in 1967, and now both teams have played their home games in the Superdome following its’ opening.

Cathy and I called New Orleans our home for the four years I was receiving my surgical training at Charity Hospital. Initially we had an apartment in the new Bissonet Plaza Apartments in Kenner which was a 15 minute drive from the hospital. Cathy taught 5th grade for one year in John Clancy Elementary School in Kenner. Her second year of teaching was in Jefferson Parish on the West Bank, so we moved into a new duplex apartment on Pace Boulevard in Algiers which was close to her school. It was only a 10 minute drive for me across the Mississippi River Bridge to Charity Hospital.

We loved living in the duplex because we had some wonderful neighbors with whom we became close friends, and we even had a small yard. In addition our neighbors were able to offer Cathy some peace and protection during the long hours and frequent nights I had to spend at the hospital taking call and doing emergency surgical procedures. The couple in the adjacent duplex were Bob and Jerri Herold who had moved from St. Louis. They were close in age to Cathy and me and had 3 young children. We bonded quickly with them, and Jerri became like an older sister to Cathy.  An older couple, John and Jean Boyd who were in their 60’s and had retired from upstate New York, lived two doors from us and were like surrogate parents. They were particularly helpful following the birth of our son John, and it was nice to have a couple with so much life experience living near-by. I especially loved John because he was quite the story-teller and we swapped many tales, most of which were true.

The Christmas holidays of 1966 were uneventful for us. I had recovered from serum hepatitis which I had contracted in the early spring at Charity Hospital, probably from an inadvertent needle stick. Cathy was in the first trimester of her pregnancy with our first child, and we had spent our holidays there in New Orleans. The Sugar Bowl of 1967 was being played between Alabama and Nebraska in Tulane Stadium on January 2, and I had no plans for attending the game. Occasionally a few doctors at Charity Hospital could get complimentary tickets for games played in Tulane Stadium, but I didn’t even try that year because I wasn’t interested in either team. Although Alabama was undefeated at 10-0, they represented the Southeastern Conference, and in those days the Razorbacks were in the Southwestern Conference, so I was indifferent toward the game.

On the morning of January 2 I did not have to report to the hospital, so I was enjoying a day of relaxation and had plans to watch a few of the bowl games on television. It was about 9 AM and the weather was clear with a little chill, but not enough to warrant any more than a light jacket. I happened to look out our front window and noticed a man standing on the sidewalk of our front yard with his back toward me. Although I considered our neighborhood safe, it was very unusual to have a stranger standing in the front viewing the apartments across the street. The distinctive thing about this large man was the hat he was wearing; a black and white hounds-tooth. That made him look familiar but I couldn’t tell for sure, so I walked up to him.

As I approached him I said, “Coach?” to which he turned around. Sure enough it was Coach Bear Bryant, the famed coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide! I further asked, “Coach, are you alright?” thinking perhaps he was waiting for a ride or may have been lost. He said, “No, I’m just waiting on my wife. She is visiting a long-time friend who lives in this neighborhood, and I told them I was going outside for a little fresh air. She’ll be finished soon because we need to get to Tulane Stadium.”

I introduced myself and told him we were living in New Orleans while I was completing my surgical training. I further said I was born and raised in El Dorado, and very familiar he was raised in Fordyce, Arkansas which is about 50 miles north of El Dorado. I knew that would encourage conversation about his earlier life, and we talked for about 10 minutes about his life and experiences in South Arkansas. He asked a few questions about our life in New Orleans, and whether we eventually planned to go back to live in Arkansas. I made sure he knew I was a loyal Razorback fan, and he commented something like this; “They are a good team and well coached by Frank Broyles.” Then he said he needed to go and convince his wife the team and coaches were expecting him at Tulane Stadium by 10:30 at the latest. We shook hands and I told him it was a pleasure to have this brief visit with him.

As he left the thought came to  me how many loyal Crimson Tide fans would have paid large sums of money into the Alabama Athletic Foundation to have just a couple of minutes to chat alone with the famous Coach Bear Bryant! And I had the pleasure at no cost and now the privilege of telling the story nearly 50 years later. That’s one example of an undeserved gift which is grace.

Dr. John

PS: Alabama soundly defeated Nebraska that day by a score of 34-7 and remained undefeated at 11-0, but still was not voted the National Champion. Notre Dame received that honor with a record of 10-0-1.