Cathy and I met in 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia during my internship year at Grady Memorial Hospital. That was my first employment following medical school, and in those days internship and residency salaries were mostly below poverty levels. Interns at Grady were paid $175 per month, and after taxes and Social Security were deducted, I received a whopping check from the hospital for $79 every 2 weeks! Needless to say I was not financially able to lavish expensive dinners and gifts on Cathy during our courtship. We generally had one nice dinner together every 2 weeks, followed by lots of burgers and hot dogs on most other dinner dates which were few. The hospital did provide my meals free as part of my compensation package, but I don’t recall ever taking Cathy to the hospital for a romantic meal.
I proposed marriage to Cathy in the spring of 1965, and we set a wedding date for August 7, 1965 at Park Temple Methodist Church, Cathy’s home church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We had awaited 2 significant events which had to occur prior to setting our wedding. First I had to get a 4 year military deferment from active duty in the Air Force. The war in Vietnam was in full swing, and the Air Force was taking doctors right out of internship into the military. Then I had to secure a 4 year residency assignment, which I did in the LSU Surgery Department in New Orleans. The deferment was secured and my residency was to begin on July 1, 1965. The wedding date was set, and I scheduled a 1 month vacation in August after serving the first month of my residency.
Cathy’s Dad, George Young was one of the premier building contractors in South Florida, and during the early months of 1965 his company began a major renovation of Park Temple Church. We were given assurance the renovations would be completed in time for our wedding, and Cathy was especially excited that our wedding would be the first major event in the renovated sanctuary. I believe her Dad was receiving extra pressure from her Mom, Virginia to make certain the work was completed on time!
Those days of summer in 1965 were extremely busy for both Cathy and me. She was in Fort Lauderdale making all her preparations for the big event while attending wedding showers given by her family and friends. The letters and phone calls I received from her during those days were filled with excited anticipation and joy, and I loved reading and hearing all of the details. I completed my work at Grady Hospital in Atlanta and packed my few belongings to move to New Orleans.
Following my move and the month of transitional work in surgery in New Orleans, I packed my clothes for our wedding and honeymoon into my red Corvair Monza convertible and drove to Fort Lauderdale. To say I had some pre-wedding anxiety would be a huge understatement. I knew I loved Cathy and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, but I didn’t know her family very well, and the culture of South Florida was completely foreign to this South Arkansan. I wanted to make as good an impression as possible and purposed to dress as nicely as I could afford. As part of my wedding wardrobe, I noticed my dress shoes, which were at least 7-8 years old were showing significant wear. I found a good cobbler in New Orleans and had the shoes refurbished including a half-sole. I thought they looked almost new.
My Mom and Pops were able to make the wedding trip, along with Bubba and his oldest child Lydia who was 11 years old. My Aunt Lillie Mae accompanied Bubba and Lydia on their flight to Fort Lauderdale, and their experiences on the trip are worth remembering in a future post.
The wedding was beautiful and the newly finished sanctuary was stunning in its’ elegant detail. Cathy was by far the central figure of the wedding, and she was absolutely gorgeous! I was very nervous, and prayed I would not make any blunders like falling down or fainting or doing anything which would draw attention to me or detract from Cathy. As we knelt at the altar at one point for a commitment prayer by the Senior Pastor of Park Temple, I couldn’t hear it but was told my Mom gasped when she saw my newly half-soled shoes. I had not thought when I had the cobbler work done, that people would be looking at my shoe soles during the wedding. Besides, I had gotten the hole patched and considered that more than sufficient.
During the reception Mom asked me when I had gotten my shoes fixed, and I told her just prior to the wedding. She turned to Pops and said to him, “Berry, you need to get this boy a new pair of shoes for his wedding present.” He thought that was a good idea and said when we returned to New Orleans, I should go to the Imperial Shoe Store on Canal Street; get a good pair of shoes and “send him the bill.” He had never made such an offer to me that I could remember. He apparently had some prior experience with the Imperial Shoe Store.
When Cathy and I returned to New Orleans during our honeymoon month we discovered the Imperial Shoe Store was downtown near the beginning of Canal Street, so we made an outing there one morning. The store had been in business for many years and was indeed the premier shoe store in New Orleans, catering to the wealthy clients of the city. When a well dressed salesman approached us, I said something to him I had never said to any salesman before; “I would like the most expensive pair of shoes you have in the store!” His eyes brightened, and he said he assumed I wanted a pair of dress and not casual shoes. He brought me a pair of wingtip cordovan Johnston & Murphy shoes that were really beautiful. They fit perfectly, and I purchased them without asking the price. He agreed to send Pop the bill when he discovered I was a resident physician at Charity Hospital living on poverty level wages. At this point the salesman told me the shoes were $125 plus tax.
I wish I could have been present when Pop received the bill for the wedding gift Mom had urged him to give. To Pop’s credit, he never complained to me about the cost of the best shoes I ever owned. I wore them regularly to church and special events for the next 15 years, and they always looked nice and felt great!
PS: The comparable value of $125 in 1965 in today’s economy is almost $950. What a wedding gift!