“I swim in a pool of my own neurosis. I carry love, grief deeply, like an Irishman.” (Me too!)
“For her protection, every blushing bride, before she gives herself in marriage to her husband-to-be, should, by law, be provided a medical report of just how much Irish blood is in him.” (Irish blood, even if it’s only half like mine, will always come out—just ask Mari.)
As you can see by the title of this post composed on the occasion of our forty-ninth wedding anniversary, it is about our courtship and marriage, especially our honeymoon, which because of me and my neurosis was no honeymoon for Mari in the usual sense of that word.
In fact, it was more of a sign of the “worse” part of the “for better or for worse” portion of our wedding vows—at least for poor Mari who had no idea of what she was letting herself in for when she promised to love and cherish “till death do us part.”
To begin with, she had to put up with me and my ineptness and immaturity as well as my lack of sense and preparation throughout our rather unsettled courtship. To one degree or another, everything that went wrong during that courtship and on our honeymoon was my fault.
The Engagement Ring Story
For example, one October Saturday in 1962 when Mari and I had started shopping for an engagement ring we almost came to a tragic end to both courtship and life. It happened during a torrential downpour as we were traveling back to our hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, from nearby Greenville, Mississippi, accompanied by my brother Joe and his fiancée. After our fruitless search for the long-sought item, the old worn-out Chevy Corvair I owned ran out of gas right in the middle of a highway bridge over Ditch Bayou just outside of Lake Village, the scene of a Civil War skirmish a hundred years earlier.
The four of us had to hurriedly crawl out of that pile of junk and rush back across the bridge in the midst of that monsoon to a “fillin’ station” to buy some gas in a can and then rush back to try to pour it into the car before being struck by the oncoming traffic, a task we achieved only by the skin of our teeth. And even then the old pile of junk almost didn’t start because I had run the tank so empty.
Once safely back in McGehee, unknown to Mari, Joe and I managed to get a “bargain” on a lovely engagement ring at one of the local jewelry stores. Since I planned to present it to Mari that night as a surprise, I cooked up a story that I would be late coming over to her house that evening because I had to go out to the country to pick up my mother who had had car trouble, though obviously I was the one who usually suffered such mechanical mishaps.
When I arrived at the home of Mari’s parents well after dark I learned that Mari had become worried about me and had gone out in the driving rain with her sister looking for me and my mother—to no avail, of course. So I sat down with her mother and placed the jewelry box with the engagement ring in it on the arm of the couch.
When Mari and Janice came in, soaked to the skin, instead of the warm gracious reception I had expected, Mari was so upset that she lit into me about why I hadn’t called her to tell her where I was. Since I was unable to get a word in sideways, I simply pointed down to the ring box, which Mari picked up and opened in front of her mother and sister.
Obviously, it was something less than the romantic engagement event each of us had envisioned, which should have been another sign to Mari of just what her life was going to be like married to me. As I now say, “It seems that even God has no cure for terminal stupidity!” I’m sure Mari would agree—then and now.
The Trousseau Trip to Little Rock
Later on our way to Little Rock with just the two of us for Mari to meet with my mother and shop for Mari’s trousseau, I began to get sick somewhere between Pine Bluff and the capital city. I kept telling Mari how sick I was, but being the epitome of strong half-German stubbornness and determination (traits that would later serve her well in marriage to a sentimental melancholy half-Irish neurotic) Mari was not about to turn around and go back home despite my wimpy whines and tortured tears.
Sure enough, by the time we had finished the shopping spree and started back to McGehee, I became so sick that I had to stop and let Mari drive. If you can guess who has been the “driving force” in our marriage since then, you are as astute as Mari was and is. If you can’t, you are as stupid as I was and am.
When we got back home I was so sick that Mari called the family doctor, who still made house calls in those days. Before he arrived it had become obvious from my symptoms that I was suffering from the chronic strep throat that I developed two or three times each fall and winter.
One of my devout Southern Baptist mother’s home remedies for almost everything related to sinus and allergy problems was a hot toddy made with honey, lemon juice, and a measure of whiskey from the fifth of medicinal Jim Beam that she kept stashed away in the kitchen cabinet for just such occasions.
Always the authority on such matters, Brother Joe, who had arrived with his fiancée to help attend to his ailing younger sibling, advised me to forego the hot toddy and “be a man and just take a big swig” right out of the bottle. You can imagine what happened when I, a tee-totaling Baptist with a raw throat, gulped down a huge mouthful of that liquid lava! It was while I was still hacking and coughing and gasping for breath with tears streaming down my reddened cheeks that the doctor arrived.
When the red-haired, ruddy-complexioned, good-natured, slow-moving, slow-talking veteran physician took one look at me and heard what had provoked my horrific reaction, he began to wheeze worse than I was doing, while tears of mirth rolled down his own rosy-red cheeks. I, of course, was not nearly as appreciative of the humor of the situation or his laughter at it as he and my family seemed to be.
Maybe that’s one reason I never developed the habit of drinking alcohol, even though on rare occasions in the past I was known to concoct and consume one of my mother’s hot toddies to offset my chronic sinus and throat problems. But when I did thus imbibe for medicinal reasons, I preferred the taste of eight-year-old, 86-proof, Evan Williams Black Label—greatly diluted with generous amounts of Classic Coke. In fact, for years I kept a half-pint bottle of Evan Williams Black Label in my kitchen cabinet for such use. Then just this Christmas season Mari asked if she could use it to make some Bourbon Balls from a Southern Living recipe. (For the recipe, click here.)
Later when Mari went to get the blood test required for a marriage license in Arkansas in those days, I received a call from the doctor’s office informing me that my bride-to-be had “fallen out” and that I should “come and get her.”
When I arrived on the scene, Mari was as white as a sheet and still unsteady on her feet. It so happened that, like her father who had somehow served several years in the U.S. Army in the South Pacific during WWII, she had a tendency to faint at the sight of blood—especially her own. As with Mari’s determined trip to Little Rock, we should have realized then that married life for the Peacocks was not always going to be “smooth sailing,” which it never has been.
Just before the wedding, which took place at Christmas time in 1962, I was again sick with my chronic sinus and throat problems for which I was being treated with various powerful medications. One evening as Mari and I were watching TV with my mother, I got up to switch channels (this was long before the days of TV remotes).
Unsteady on my feet, as I leaned down to turn the knob, I fell forward and struck my face on the sharp corner of the four-square, solid-wood TV console (another relic from the past). That incident left a scar above my eyebrow that is evident in the close-ups of our wedding photos.
That sickness continued so that on the very day of the wedding I had to go in to that same doctor and get two more shots to help me get through the ceremony. It persisted throughout our four-day honeymoon trip down through Cajun Country in Southwest Louisiana, over to New Orleans, and then back up the Mississippi River to McGehee.
Since I was teaching French and social studies, including American history, both of special interest to me, naturally I had planned to spend our honeymoon in the one place in our region that combined those two subjects: South Louisiana. However, I don’t recall consulting Mari about whether that was her prime interest or preferred destination.
The Pitiful Wedding Night Dinner
The first night in Monroe, Louisiana, about two hours southwest of McGehee, when I went to check in at the motel (then billed as “the largest Holiday Inn in the world”), the young man ahead of me was also wearing a dark suit and a shiny new wedding ring. The young female clerk looked at him and asked, “Are you a newlywed?” Obviously embarrassed, he mumbled yes with his head down, quickly concluded his registration, and left.
Since I had made prior reservations I was sure that I would not be recognized as a newlywed, a distinction I too found embarrassing. So I confidently approached the clerk standing behind the desk and told her my name and that I had reservations. I was both surprised and appalled when she instantly replied with a smirk, “I know you’re a newlywed ‘cause you’ve still got rice in your hair.”
I too quickly concluded my business, keep my head down, and got out as soon as I could. The reason was that I was terribly embarrassed and sensitive about what people would think and say about me and Mari being newly married, knowing that the marriage was not yet “consummated.”
As a result, once we were checked in and had located our room and unpacked our suitcases, I suggested that instead of having dinner in the motel dining room we should go out to eat. But the prospect of eating in a fancy restaurant with all eyes upon us, and running the risk of (horror of horrors!) being identified, singled out, and regaled by well-wishing strangers, made me nervous. As a result, I chose to take Mari someplace I thought nothing like that would happen. So for our wedding night dinner I took her to . . . (wait for it) . . . the Picadilly Cafeteria!
Of course, even there, especially there, the two of us in our wedding-day travel clothes, standing in line as we moved through the cafeteria buffet, were the center of attention of everyone in the place. It was unbearable as we sat down and consumed our fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and iced tea with every eye on us, every head nodding knowingly, and every face grinning from ear to ear in recognition of the naive young newlyweds on their wedding night.
To this day I cringe every time I recall that humiliating event, for which I was totally responsible. I am especially reminded of it every time we travel to Tulsa to our doctor’s office which is right across the street from a Picadilly Cafeteria. Though I always joke about it, the truth is that it is a painful memory and a mute testimony to my neuroticism and lack of consideration for my blushing bride.
Although we ate in nicer places after that first embarrassing evening, none of them were the type of dining establishments to which I should have taken Mari to celebrate the beginning of our married life. For that, and many other such failures on my part, I am deeply and eternally sorry. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment that can never be recaptured, no matter how many times I might try to do so, as I did later in the Crescent City.
That attempt to recapture the lost opportunity was also a failure, when I took Mari to the fashionable Court of Two Sisters restaurant in the French Quarter. Being painfully provincial, as we still are, we knew nothing about haute cuisine or beverages. So the waiter suggested a combination seafood platter and a particular vintage wine.
When the meal arrived, the seafood platter was covered with a milky white sauce that neither of us could even eat, much less appreciate, not being connoisseurs of fine dining. Also, as lifelong non-drinkers, neither of us could stomach the vintage wine, which tasted to us like vinegar. So we left the meal virtually untouched. (We would have been much happier with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and iced tea we had consumed at the Picadilly Cafeteria, especially if the meal included the two huge pieces of coconut cream pie that we recalled hungrily.)
At a price of sixteen dollars, plus a hefty tip, on an Arkansas teacher’s salary of less than four thousand dollars a year, that gourmet experiment at the Court of Two Sisters turned out to be a financial disaster as well as a gastronomical disaster, much like our entire honeymoon and indeed most of our married life. It was my fault that Mari didn’t get her wedding night dinner. She still hasn’t, and I’m still to blame.
Just What Every Bride Wants on Her Honeymoon!
The rest of our honeymoon trip followed this same pattern. For example, one of the places I wanted to visit near Lafayette in Cajun Country was Avery Island where the popular Louisiana Tabasco sauce is made—just what every bride wants to do on her honeymoon! So I drug Mari all the way out there only to discover that the place was closed for the Christmas holidays. Again, it was my fault for not checking with her and with the place before we left home, or at least before we left the motel.
Back in New Iberia, I wanted to take Mari to visit Shadows-on-the-Teche, an antebellum mansion. But as we were driving down the street in front of it suddenly the old worn-out Corvair lurched, bumped, and made a terrible sound as though the entire transmission was falling out. Not trusting it to hold together, I drove us back to the motel instead, another of many failures on my part to plan our honeymoon with Mari’s participation or at least with her knowledge and approval.
Later I led Mari on a long, tiring drive all around the coast of Louisiana to New Orleans where we visited Jackson Square in the French Quarter. There we had Mari’s portrait done by a sidewalk artist. That was another disappointment because the portrait was expensive, time-consuming, and in our opinion not a very good likeness of Mari. As a result, although we paid for it and kept it, we never framed it or displayed it and could not even find it forty-nine years later to show on this post.
Just as the portrait artist finished up his work we heard voices calling our names. We looked across the street in front of the Cabildo and saw a chartered bus unloading. The voices belonged to a huge group of young people from McGehee who were arriving to attend the Sugar Bowl game between Arkansas and Alabama.
Had I included that event in our honeymoon plans and bought tickets for me and Mari? Of course not, just as I had not thought to make hotel reservations in that overcrowded city. As a result we had to drive miles and miles out toward Baton Rouge to find a halfway decent place to spend the night.
I did take Mari on another long and dreary drive out to Chalmette. Again it was just what every new bride wants to do on her honeymoon—visit a War of 1812 battlefield! To top that off, when I went into the Chalmette visitor center to register, I forgot I was now married and signed only my name. Thinking it was amusing, I made the mistake of telling Mari, who did not find it amusing at all—resulting in the first of countless times in our marriage that Mari was made unhappy by some thoughtless act on my part.
Our First Married Argument
The first actual argument in our marriage occurred as we were traveling back up the Mississippi River toward home and barely made it into Antebellum Natchez “on fumes” because the gas gauge on the old pile of junk didn’t work. When I pulled into a gas station right at dark on that cold, dismal evening, I saw the price of regular gas in Mississippi: forty-two cents a gallon!
Since I had never paid more than thirty-two cents a gallon in Arkansas, I vowed I would never pay that much and was prepared to set out for the Arkansas line some 120 miles upriver from Natchez! That’s when Mari became angry with me and vowed that she was not leaving Natchez without a full tank of gas!
Since neither of us would budge from our resolve, I drove over to the bluff on the bank of the Mississippi River where I parked right in front of Rosalie, one of the many pre-Civil War antebellum mansions in that city, which boasts the largest collection of such historic edifices in the South. There we left the pile of junk and trudged over to the river and stood silently apart from one another watching the muddy waters slowly flowing by below.
As we did so, I heard the voice of a young boy behind me. Not understanding him at first, I turned around and asked him what he had said, and he repeated it: “Daince fuh a qwaw-duh!”
“Naw, boy,” I said brusquely. “You go on!”
Of course, shortly afterward I regretted my gruffness and wished that I had paid that boy a quarter to dance. But as with every other foolish and thoughtless act on my part before, during, and after the honeymoon—and indeed throughout our entire married life— it was too late to correct my mistake, which I still regret to this day.
If you paid attention to the story of the Little Rock pre-marriage trousseau trip, you can guess who won that first argument and figure out whether I paid forty-two cents a gallon for gas in Natchez or whether we set out for Arkansas with an empty gas tank!
Homecoming, New Year’s Celebration, and First Family Purchase
Once back home in McGehee we spent New Year’s Eve popping firecrackers in the parking lot of the local bowling alley with our friends Cullen and Mary Gannaway who were married a week after we were. (For more about Cullen as my best friend and the best man in our wedding who “introduced” Mari and me, see my earlier post titled “The Peacock Love Story/The Passing of a Friend.”)
Then a few days later when the Christmas holiday vacation was over, I went back to the little East Arkansas cotton town of Holly Grove (population either 672 or 762—we never knew which because the signs on each end of town disagreed) where I had begun teaching in September of that year.
Mari went back to Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, about 160 miles from Holly Grove, to finish out her fall semester.
Afterward she joined me in my small bachelor apartment in Holly Grove in the home of a retired widow.
Since Mari had nothing to do all day while I was teaching, as soon as possible we went back home to McGehee where we made the first purchase of our marriage: a nineteen-inch, black-and-white table-model Zenith television set that we kept and used for seventeen years—which is probably longer than most people who knew me ever imagined the marriage would last! In a later post I will share a letter I once wrote to the Zenith Corporation about that faithful, long-lasting TV.
Talking Mari into marrying me before she graduated from college was another one of my many selfish actions. Since she later started teaching elementary school in Holly Grove without a degree, she had to go back to Ouachita to complete her student teaching and earn her diploma. That process required her to drive back and forth between Holly Grove and Arkadelphia each week for an entire semester, which meant that she graduated a year behind the rest of her class. And again it was all my fault.
The Moral of the Sad, Sorry Story
Based on these examples from our courtship, honeymoon, and early marriage is there any wonder that I take advantage of every opportunity possible—like this wedding anniversary message—to praise and honor Mari for her faithfulness, self-sacrifice, and long-suffering over the forty-nine years of our less than ideal married life?
Thanks Mari, and Happy Anniversary! If you will just bear with me and my “neurotic behavior” one more year, I will try to do a better job next time at our fiftieth anniversary—and, with God’s help, I vow to continue to do so “until death do us part.”
Note: Over the course of our marriage I had always secretly hoped that on our fiftieth wedding anniversary I could take Mari back and retrace our honeymoon route—but this time “do it right.”
Unfortunately, given our current situation, especially my rapidly advancing age and stage and rapidly declining health and wealth, it looks as though that long-desired and much-anticipated “second honeymoon” is just another of my foolish dreams that will not be fulfilled.
However, as noted above, I do hope to offer a more fitting blog tribute to Mari next year at our fiftieth anniversary. So at least to some extent I have finally learned to plan ahead, since I already have it written–just in case!
Credits: The sources of the photos of historic places and homes, classic cars and TV sets, motels and businesses, cafeterias and restaurants, riverboats and the Mississippi River, towns and colleges, food and beverages, etc. were lifted from Web sites that may be viewed by clicking on the highlighted copy about each in the text. The personal photos were taken from our family files.