MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 15 – Pineapple Sandwiches, etc.
© 2003 Diane Sanfilippo
Chapter 15 – Pineapple Sandwiches, etc.
There was very little to occupy my time while Billy was in class. Usually I went back to bed either to nap or read after I made sure he had a good breakfast, something that almost never happened while he was living at home.
Even now, his mother slept while the little boys fixed their own bowls of cold cereal and drank a glass of juice. Until he left for college, Billy was the one who made sure they had something to eat, and even checked to see if they had lunch money.
For the first time in a long time, I had more time on my hands than I had ever had. Other than preparing Billy’s lunch when he came home at noon, I browsed through cookbooks in search of recipes to add some variety to our diet. Unfortunately, when I prepared something new, he would not even taste it if he did not know what was in it, and if there were any vegetables, he would not taste it at all. He was headstrong and refused to try the casseroles, other than tuna fish, which he agreed, was O.K., but I kept trying these hearty dishes since they stretched for several meals. Finally, after he absolutely refused to try even a spoonful, I gave up and resigned myself to the monotony of meals that pleased Billy.
Most of the recipes in ‘101 Ways to Cook Ground Beef’ called for adding at least some vegetables, but he would not even eat mushrooms, and I craved the fresh vegetables I had eaten when there was someone at my parent’s house to cook. When I was not sleeping, and I was so tired I think I could have slept all day, I prepared lists of items we would need for the baby, and lists of names, both boys and girls, but mostly I missed my husband.
Billy immediately began his search for a new apartment. He asked his professors to let him know if they knew of, or heard about a larger place where there would be enough room for a baby and all the necessary equipment. One afternoon he just happened to be in the library when Mrs. Harris, the college librarian, asked about me. With a big smile on his face, he told her we would be having a baby in the spring, and that we were looking for a larger place to rent since it would be all but impossible to remain in the valley with all the things a baby needs. He simply did not want to bring his son to our tiny home in Fertile Valley, nor did he want it to be so difficult for me to take care of him.
Mrs. Harris loved Billy, most women did, old and young, and of course, she had been my supervisor when I was still in school and worked in the library. She had followed our ‘love story’ from the beginning since she knew we had met on my first night of work there. Once she told me, she had guessed we were married when we were still trying to keep it a secret, and she too had tried, in vain, to persuade the dean of women to allow me to stay in school. The dean told her that rules were rules and if she let me get away with it, then that would just encourage the other co-eds to try.
Billy talked to Mrs. Harris for about half an hour and had her laughing uproariously while he described the nature of the ‘curse of the valley’, and the circumstances of why it existed at all. He told her how we could not even pass each other and not ‘touch’, and that the bed was so narrow he had to sleep with his arms around me to keep from falling on the floor, so it was impossible to go to bed angry. He went on and on about the inability not to conceive while living in the valley, and she thoroughly enjoyed his description of our life there.
It had to be fate that Mrs. Harris just ran into him at all, and that she just happened to ask about me, since she usually stayed in her office. That was our lucky day and the answer to one of our prayers!
Mrs. Harris had been divorced for many years, and she never had any children. After years of living alone in her tidy home, she decided she no longer wanted to expend her energy keeping the house and the yard looking nice. With reliable help hard to find, she finally decided to lease the house to the Presbyterian Church for their new minister and his family. For additional income, she was also having an apartment built in the basement – a nice roomy apartment! She asked Billy if we would be interested, but he said he doubted we could afford it.
He explained how we had only $125 per month from his father, and how I had lost my position at Wayne Feeds. Although he planned to look for part-time employment, our extremely limited budget would only cover so much. She then told him we were exactly the kind of tenants she was looking for, and she thought we could work out a fair and affordable agreement. Asking if we wanted to see the apartment, although it was not completely finished, they settled on a mutually convenient time. Again, she warned him work was still in progress, but she wanted us to see it before she advertised it in the paper. When Billy thanked her, she said she was just glad we were in the market for an apartment right now, and this would be a good opportunity for all of us, as a bonus, she would enjoy having a baby to visit.
Billy was so excited when he got home that afternoon we decided to drive over and take a look at the outside of the house to make sure he knew where it was so we would not be late for our appointment. Two blocks from the main highway, the house was not far from the valley, and we could have walked. I thought it would be great exercise both for me and for the baby, but Billy did not want me to walk up the steep hill to the road, and enjoying his obvious concern, I got into the car with him.
We had no trouble at all finding the neat white house, with green trim located on a small hill on a quiet dead-end street. We could not see any windows or a door to indicate it even had a basement, and Billy did not want to get out and walk around the house in case neighbors might think we were intruders since the house was unoccupied, although he was tempted. Our curiosity had not been satisfied, so we would just have to wait until lunchtime the next day when we met with Mrs. Harris, but now we knew where the house was located. It would not be an impossible walk to campus if necessary, and one of the most convenient features was the slight elevation of the road since sometimes our old car would not start. Billy would have to ‘jump start’ it using the clutch, and for that to be successful, he needed the car to be moving. He tried it to make sure that the road was long enough, and the old car choked into action. Perfect! He had the car started before he reached the intersection, so in an emergency, we could still depend on having a vehicle.
The road the house was on was off a residential street that ran parallel to the main highway from Dahlonega to Gainesville and only a two-block walk to the 1st Methodist Church where Billy and I would eventually become members. In another block, we could be at the town square, but after all, Dahlonega was just a tiny village at that time. To say we were excited was an understatement! We could not wait to get out of the cramped little trailer in Fertile Valley, although we certainly had spent some memorable nights there and conceived our son. We had made some good friends too, some who moved after graduation in 1961, and some who remained in the valley. Some were also in our situation, with a baby coming, they too were looking for larger quarters, and there was even a ‘waiting list’ for our trailer!
Our best friends and bridge partners, Kay and Jimmy, had lived in the valley for just a very short time. When her parents saw their modest home, they were horrified and bought them a nice, new, modern mobile home, and placed it in the trailer park just across the street from campus. Since a steep hill hid the trailer park from the road, traffic was not a problem for Jimmy and Kay either. Actually, once outside the main courthouse square, there was not much flat ground anywhere, and the mountains were just a short drive away. Their trailer was only a singlewide, but there was ample room for a small nursery, and Kay even had her own washer and dryer. I hoped we could at least get a washer from Gene, and I did not mind hanging out clothes, in fact, I preferred the fresh sunshine smell on our sheets and towels.
Kay’s baby was due just about the same time as our baby, and when all of us remained in Dahlonega over the weekend, we played bridge and shared meals. Since they too were on a strict budget that was about all the entertainment any of us could afford, but we had more fun with them than doing almost anything else, except perhaps for our infrequent trips to the drive-in. Later, even before their son was born, it became obvious that Kay’s parents had very deep pockets, and unlike Gene, they wanted their daughter and grandchild to have the best.
Jimmy was not on contract, which meant he would not receive a commission when he graduated, and I never knew if this was his choice, or if his grades were not sufficient for him to qualify, but I suspected the latter since he still had to participate fully in the ROTC activities. I had thought that Billy’s grades were abysmal, until years later when I saw his transcript and realized as bad as they were, he was still in the top half of his class!
Billy rushed straight home from noon drill the next day and we were anxiously waiting in the driveway for Mrs. Harris when she arrived at the house. She told us then that she had moved into a large corner room in a house just around the corner, so she would be able to visit often since she loved children, but had never been fortunate enough to have any of her own. We were not sure how to take this news, but when I was young and well, I was an immaculate housekeeper. Even if she dropped by unannounced, I knew she would never find the apartment a mess, although Billy would not allow me to vacuum or scrub the bathroom or the floors while I was pregnant.
He was insistent I do everything possible not to lose this baby as if to make amends for the first. Both of us had questioned the doctor about how the infection might affect my fertility, and he did not have an answer for us, but obviously, it had not made any difference at all. Billy never again voiced any concern that we should not be having a baby now with graduation a year and three months away, and he actually seemed quite proud of the fact he was going to be a father.
With Mrs. Harris in the lead, we entered the apartment through the garage door, so it was no wonder we had not seen an entrance the evening before. She explained the garage was joint storage space for both tenants thus not blocking the access to the apartment with a vehicle.
Once inside the door it was quite dark, but when Mrs. Harris flipped the switch, the room blazed with inset lighting. The room itself was quite large, about 45 feet long and about 20 feet wide with several small casement windows at the far end of the room, and the sun streamed through them thus eliminating any claustrophobic feeling. There was a gas log fireplace, mostly for ‘show’ since the major source of heat came through ducts in the ceiling, and the utilities would be included in the rent. Gray tile, with tiny pink, white, and darker gray flecks covered the floor, and it looked cold, but I knew that with a few thick throw rugs we could make the now almost sterile room very inviting and comfortable. Under the windows at the far end, there was a rose-colored overstuffed couch, and another trundle bed couch sat in front of the fireplace, which I immediately thought would be a great place to snuggle. She had even thoughtfully included a desk in the alcove that formed the hallway to the bedroom, since she realized that most likely tenant would be a student or single professor. On the opposite wall from the desk, a door led to a very large walk-in closet that contained the hot water heater and lots of hanging space for uniforms.
Beside the door that we had entered, under another small casement window that looked out into the garage, was a handsome mahogany stereo, and even a rocking chair with a soft rose cushion on the seat. Mrs. Harris said that she had brought the rocking chair out of storage just the night before when she heard we would be having a baby since she wanted to be able to rock the baby when she came to visit. She also thought all new mothers needed a rocking chair and fathers too.
So far, everything, although a bit dark, was perfect! We walked towards the kitchen and in the hallway that linked the two rooms; Mrs. Harris showed us a pull up table, covered with green Formica. When not in use it folded flush against the wall, and while it was only large enough for two, or three at the most, the living room was so large we could always use our card table, and even borrow from other married couples if necessary for additional guests.
In the kitchen we found a nice, standard size stove, a medium size refrigerator (much larger than the one we were using in the valley), and a single large sink, perfect for bathing a baby. There were more cabinets than we had dishes to fill and a small wooden table painted dark green and covered with the same light green Formica as the table in the hallway. The table made up for the lack of counter space, and it would give me a place to store the mixer, the toaster oven, and the electric frying pan that Gene had given us.
The bathroom was one-step up and just off the kitchen, making it, I thought, a long walk from the bedroom. With the urgency of most expectant mothers, I realized this might be a major drawback, until I saw that between the kitchen and the bedroom were two doorways. One-step up was the bottom landing for the stairway to the main house and then another step down into the bedroom. Now this was more like it! With both doors open, it was a very short distance from the bedroom to the kitchen and very convenient for late night bottles. There was another casement window in the kitchen, but this one was larger and let in more light – in fact, the entire room was quite cheery. It was a real kitchen, where I would enjoy preparing our meals, and in fact, it was such a big change from the tiny, tiny trailer that the kitchen alone would have sold me on the apartment.
The bathroom seemed huge to us after the tiny one in the valley, and the tiles were a bright white and deep wine. On the left as you entered, there was a large walk-in shower, and Billy looked at me and I looked at him, and with a wink, I knew he was pleased we would actually be able to take a shower together now! It was a good thing we would not have to pay for the water, and I was relieved to hear we did not share a hot water heater with the upstairs tenants. There was another large casement window so this room was as bright as the kitchen, or more so because of the shiny white tiles, and even more lights over the sink.
So far, so good, this apartment was unbelievable! We had not even seen the bedroom and our entire trailer in the valley would fit into the living room with room left over!
As for the bedroom, which we entered through the connecting alcove from the kitchen, it was very dark. The only light was another casement window that opened only into the garage, thus preventing almost any natural light from entering at all, especially with the garage door closed. This had its drawbacks, and its good points since the baby would always have a dark room for naps and we would have plenty of privacy for our ‘trips to the moon’. Even better, there was a full size bed in the room, a dresser, and a chest of drawers, but still plenty of space left over for a full size crib and a dressing table or chest for the baby.
Our tour completed, we both tried not to sound too excited for fear Mrs. Harris would raise the rent when she observed our obvious enthusiasm. We had talked about not showing too much pleasure on our way over to the house, but it was hard to contain our delight at being the first couple offered this nice, new, and roomy apartment.
We had also talked about not making a commitment this day, but neither of us was able to abide by that agreement. We gratefully and anxiously agreed to Mrs. Harris’s generous terms, promised to give her two months rent in advance (there went the extra money we had thought we would have to buy baby things), and she would let us know when the apartment would be ready for us to move in. She thought it would probably be about ten days to two weeks, depending on the workers, and we would actually be moving in before the new Presbyterian minister and his family arrived.
Mrs. Harris seemed very pleased we were so impressed, and she was genuinely happy that Billy and I would be her first tenants. As we parted, she said she would give us a call soon, and Billy promised to bring the deposit to her just as soon as my severance check came from Wayne Feeds.
When we arrived back in the valley, we stopped by The Smith House to give notice that we were moving. The owner seemed happy for us that we had found a larger place with a baby on the way, and said he had never intended for the tiny trailers to house other than couples, but he understood the lack of inexpensive housing for financially struggling students. Before we left, he gave us our deposit back and a dozen of the restaurant’s homemade rolls, which literally made one’s mouth water!
Often on Sundays, if we had the money, Billy would walk up to the restaurant and buy some rolls for our dinner, and we could always smell them when they were baking. The delicious aroma of fresh baked bread permeated the valley almost all of the time, and that we would miss, but we were not so far that we could not come by after church and pick up rolls for our Sunday dinner. It would have been a rare luxury indeed, if we had been able to afford to eat there, but this only happened when Gene treated.
We had just a few more nights to spend in our three-quarter bed where we had really begun to know each other and had fallen even more deeply in love. From such an auspicious beginning, things seemed to be looking up for a change! I truly could not say I would miss the valley or the couples who were now living there. We had never really gotten together to play cards or do anything else with Joan and William since they usually went home on the weekends, and on weeknights their door remained firmly closed. In fact, only when we had our cookouts could we depend on seeing them, and sometimes they did not even participate in those.
On the other side of our trailer, a younger couple had moved in. She was just sixteen, exceptionally immature and far too sexy, although I do not think she was aware of her teasing ways, Billy did not agree. Kay would sit in the front window of their trailer wearing only slightly more than a nightgown. As the married cadets came home for lunch, she would ask each one, in this tiny baby-like voice if they had seen "her Bill". In my present condition and the fact, it would be impossible for me to remain thin; I did not particularly care for this at all. To add further to my distress she was quite voluptuous, making my ‘rosebuds’ seem even tinier. Her ‘Bill’ was a sophomore, and just nineteen, and much to my relief they did not play bridge. They seemed so young to us since they were newly-weds and we had been married an entire nine months! In actuality, I was younger than her Bill since I would not be nineteen until December.
Looking back now, I can see that the eighteenth year of my life was the most memorable since I finally met my knight in shining armor and became his wife. Now I was going to bear him a son – a strong, strapping, handsome boy, just like his father. My life had never been the same since that fateful night Billy McConnell asked me for a date, and I did not want it any other way. I was married to the most handsome cadet on campus, or so I thought, and the best part of all, he loved me! We may not have had much money or material things, but we made up for it with our love for each other. When I think back to how little we had, but how happy we were, I realize that no matter how much I have now, it is as if I can never get enough. Our hearts were so full of love for one another that nothing else seemed to matter, and if we could have survived on love alone, we would have become stronger every day. Yes, I could pack a trunk full of wonderful memories from the Valley.
Now that we had an apartment, we needed to pack our few belongings, so Billy and I rode up to Moore’s General Store the next Saturday afternoon to see if they had any used cartons. This old store was an original and carried everything from christening gowns to caskets! Really, there were wooden caskets in the attic; Billy told me so, although I never went up there to see them.
We had not shopped in the store since we had heard it was much more expensive than the new supermarket further out of town, and that was even more expensive than was the Piggly Wiggly in Gainesville. This old wooden store filled one corner of the town square, and the same family owned and operated it for generations. Today I suppose it is a historical landmark building, as is the entire square, the buildings around it, and the old courthouse. Actually, the old courthouse now houses the Dahlonega Gold Rush Museum and is quite a tourist attraction, and amazingly, there is a sluice in Fertile Valley, where the tourists can pan for gold!
Dahlonega is the county seat of Lumpkin County and the old courthouse sits right in the center of the square. A road runs completely around it, and offices and stores, most built in the 19th century, face the courthouse on all sides. Old men would sit out under the trees in the square, playing cards and dominoes, talking, sometimes dosing, and passing their retirement days basking in the sunshine or shade, depending on the weather. Mr. Moore, who owned the General Store that carried his family’s name, was the scion of the county. His nephew was Jody Moore, who worked for President Jimmy Carter some years later, but everyone acknowledged that Dahlonega belonged to Mr. Moore. Nothing happened in Lumpkin County that did not go through him first.
Parking out front, we went into the store to see if they had any boxes, and Mr. Moore himself waited on us. Billy, always the Southern gentleman, introduced himself and then me. He explained he was a senior at the college and we hoped he might perhaps have some spare cardboard boxes we could use to pack since we had been fortunate enough to find a larger apartment. I could sense Mr. Moore wanted to find out more about us since we now were full-fledged members of the community, and not just the college, more out of curiosity rather than boredom.
The variety of merchandise was absolute amazing. There were glass countertop cabinets arranged in a square in the very center of the store, just like in the old Woolworth 5 and dime. These cabinets contained smaller items like thread, pins, needles – both sewing and knitting, crochet hooks, buttons, ribbons of almost every conceivable color and width, shoe polish and even ‘toilet water’ in scents of rose and lilac - almost anything one could hold in their hand. For the children there were bags of glass marbles, coloring books, crayons, paper dolls, brightly colored pinwheels, cardboard kaleidoscopes, jacks, and other small toys, which were about all some of the mountain ‘folk’ could afford.
Divided into sections around the central glass counters, with each section neatly crammed full of merchandise, the store contained everything anyone could possibly need. In one corner was clothing, from size 0 to size 56, dainty baby dresses to rough bibbed overalls, while another small section handled shoes. There were tiny silk baby shoes and heavy steel-toed work boots; high-heeled shoes for the ladies, but nothing too fancy or too high, and soft slippers for the elderly. There were gowns, warm robes, pajamas in every size and color. Soft scarves in rainbow hues draped one end of a display cabinet of jewelry, which contained everything from inexpensive "I love Mother’ pins to 14 karat gold chains and watch fobs.
Still another section contained towels and sheets, mostly white, none too fancy, all very functional. You would not find lace trim and delicate embroidery on these items since mountain people did not have the money for fancy towels and sheets. They wanted sturdy merchandise that would stand up to rough washing, and many lived in such remote areas they did not even have electricity and still used washboards, which were stacked in another corner with the large galvanized buckets and pails. In yet another area, there were curtains and pillows, wool blankets, heavy cotton hobnail bedspreads, and colorful handmade quilts that the local women consigned to Mr. Moore. Another section of the store held hardware and household items. Again, the assortment was unbelievable! There must have been every size screw and nail for any chore, along with the hammers and screwdrivers required to use them. There were hand-plows and shovels, incubators full of baby chicks, feeders, rolls of chicken wire, burlap bags of feed, and anything a chicken or hog farmer might need. A colorful rack of seeds to catch the attention of the ladies and the huge bags of seeds every family planted in the spring to extend their unvaried diet. Everything was crammed tight, but neat, accessible and well labeled with price tags that were readable. There were no guessing prices here!
In the back of the store were groceries, there was even a large butcher’s case filled with meat, from thick steaks, and lamb chops to fatback, chittlings, hog jowl, and everything in between. The choices were abundant, although a bit too pricey for our pocketbook. There were cans of everything of necessity, sugar, cornmeal, and flour in barrels with scales to weigh out the purchases, and in yet another corner of the ‘grocery store’ were homemade preserves, jam, pickles, apple butter, even chow-chow, almost anything that a mountain woman could put into a jar and sell. These, I later learned, Mr. Moore purchased himself, then offered them for sale in the store, and some of the homemade delights had been used as ‘payment’ for other purchases. Yes, barter was still alive and flourishing here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge where often cash was in short supply, but home grown and homemade wares were abundant.
Another large barrel contained huge pickles, so pungent they pursed your lips, but were they ever good! Molasses, and other syrups and preservatives filled even more barrels, and there were clear glass jars of penny candy to tempt the children, although later I discovered Mr. Moore gave away far more candy than he ever sold. Since I had never been inside an old-fashioned general store, I did not know what I would find. I certainly did not expect to find this array of merchandise, so I never tired of just looking around, and inevitably, I found something I had not seen on previous visits, and usually something else I had to ask its use.
Finally, I rejoined Billy, still talking with Mr. Moore as if they had been life-long friends, and Mr. Moore was offering Billy a part-time job! This indeed was our lucky week! We had found a new, large apartment, a job for Billy, and a new friend. At the time, little did I know how good a friend we made when Billy agreed to work in Moore’s General Store.
Mr. Moore told Billy he could set his own hours, that his education should come first, but to come in and work whenever he could during the week and half-days on Saturday after class, and full-time during the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays. Things were really beginning to look up!
We left the store with a dozen boxes, two large steaks that were a gift from Mr. Moore, and smiles on our faces. We simply could not believe our good fortune. When we reached our tiny home in the valley Billy cooked the steaks on our small grill while I put some potatoes in the oven to bake and made a fresh tossed salad. We had not had steak for supper in a long, long time, much less any as thick and tender as the T-bone from Mr. Moore. I am sure our neighbor’s mouths watered just from smelling them on the grill– I know mine did!
Within two weeks, the new apartment was finished and we began to move in. Although we did not have much to move, it took Billy several trips in the car to clean out the trailer. The apartment was immaculate, thanks to Mrs. Harris, but by the time we finished lining the shelves in the kitchen, the drawers in the bedroom chests, and unpacking the boxes, we were both famished and exhausted.
I looked around the kitchen for something to fix for our supper and remembered we had decided to go shopping the next day at Moore’s Store. For the first time, we would use Billy’s employee discount and charge account, which Mr. Moore billed weekly taking the amount owed out of the employee’s paychecks. We did not have enough cash on hand to go to the local Brazier and there was no place open to cash a check, so Billy introduced me to pineapple sandwiches! They were amazingly good! He fixed them by smearing mayonnaise on fresh soft white bread then he added a slice of canned pineapple. Billy ate eight of those succulent sandwiches that night and I ate four, more than I had ever eaten in my entire life - we were that hungry!
After our first humble meal in our new home, we decided to try out the shower, together, and it was wonderful. There was plenty of room for both of us to move around, he bathed me, and I bathed him, taking great care with certain areas of each other’s bodies. We stayed in the shower until the water started to chill, probably about half an hour, then stepped out on our soft new bath rug and dried each other with our soft new towels. Mr. Moore had told Billy to select something from the store as a ‘housewarming’ gift, and we mostly needed the bath rug and towels since we were still using the now threadbare towels we had used in our dorms. We were to find out he was a most generous employer, a kind man, who looked after his employees as if they were ‘family’.
Certainly, we were not too tired to make love for the first time in our new home, in our new double bed on our new sheets, and then we fell soundly asleep in each other’s arms.
One or the other of us would wake up from time to time, but it was still dark, so we went back to sleep. It was fall break, and we did not have to get up early, so we slept without worrying about classes or even Billy’s job since he had taken a few days off to move and set up the apartment. He knew I would do far more than he thought I should in my excitement to have our new home looking just right, so he asked Mr. Moore if he could do without him for a day or two.
I finally had to get up to use the bathroom and was astonished when I looked out the kitchen window and saw it was still dark. That was strange. I then looked at the clock on the stove and found that we had slept the entire day through! It was 8:00 p.m. on Saturday night! With no window in the bedroom, except the one that opened into the garage and with the door closed to hide our stack of boxes, we had no daylight to waken us and we had slept round the clock. I woke Billy and asked him if he was hungry, which actually was a ludicrous question since he was always hungry.
I rummaged through the cans and found two cans of tomato soup, which, thankfully, Billy did not consider a vegetable, and then found some cheese in the refrigerator, so I made tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. After eating, Billy lit the gas logs, and we curled up on the sofa bed in the living room where we necked, and watched television until Billy’s arousal was urgent and then we made love right there. When I first saw it, I had known this would be the perfect place to cuddle and make love! Since I could not get any more pregnant than I already was, it made no difference when and how much we satisfied our longings. Billy was in heaven and his virility amazed me. He wore me out! However, I never complained. I loved Billy McConnell making love to me. The more he made love to me, the more I loved him, and the more he loved me. It could not get much better than this, but it did.
On Monday following our move, I drove into Gainesville for my first appointment with an obstetrician. I was far too embarrassed to go back to the first doctor I had seen prior to my abortion since I would not have even delivered that baby by now. How could I be newly pregnant so soon? I did not want to answer that question since abortion was illegal, so I had asked a friend at Wayne Feeds for the name of her doctor. With my pregnancy confirmed and a tentative due date of May 1, 1962, I drove back to Dahlonega and our wonderful new home.
Billy was working for Mr. Moore that afternoon, and he had groceries delivered while I was away – another convenience that came with shopping at the store. I found a box in the garage by the door with all the essentials, milk, bread, sugar, cereal, canned goods, and even half a dozen thick pork chops, a large sirloin steak and some chicken breasts. It was cool enough, this sunny late October day, to realize that old man winter would shortly be knocking on our door, and the garage was even cooler than the fall air, so no harm had come to the perishables. Everything was still quite cold, so I knew the box had not been sitting there long.
Billy had told Mr. Moore it was O.K. for him to take any groceries out of his weekly paycheck – a ‘deal’ he made with most of his employees, but from the very first check, we realized we were not paying for even half of the groceries we ordered. Certainly, the charge for any of the meat, which was the most expensive item on our list, could not have come out of Billy’s check. When Billy questioned the butcher, he said Mr. Moore had told him to make sure we had the best chops, steaks, and fattest chicken breasts and not to charge us for the meat. We had a fairy godfather! Billy repeatedly tried to get Mr. Moore to deduct the full price of the groceries but Mr. Moore always said he did deduct it. After numerous appeals, Billy finally gave up and knew there was no arguing with this kindly gentleman. For once in his life, my handsome husband had met his match, and he could not win.
From the first day Billy worked at the store, he charmed the customers. Within a week, there were ladies who would not allow anyone else to wait on her if Billy was in the store. Some even put off their normal morning shopping until he arrived in the late afternoon, and he would flatter the little, old ladies, with his soft southern enunciation, complimenting them on their hair, no matter how blue it was. He would engage the men in ‘man talk’ using his ‘man voice’, and they too enjoyed talking about fishing and hunting with him, although Billy was too softhearted to kill any helpless animal. Mr. Moore’s clientele expanded as the ladies, during their Circle meetings, talked about that nice young man, working for Mr. Moore, and his sweet pregnant wife.
We also joined the Dahlonega First Methodist Church where the Moore’s were prominent members, and Mr. Moore was head deacon. I was not sure if my parents had ever had me baptized, so I decided not to take the chance and during one service, the minister baptized me while he announced that Billy had moved his letter from the First Baptist Church in Griffin. We rented a post office box at the local post office, and were now full-fledged members of the civilian community, as well as the college.
Billy’s friend, the service station owner, the man who allowed us to fish in his pond and keep the fish we caught, also gave him a break on keeping our old car on the road. So now, with most of our needs fulfilled, other than the obstetrician and hospital, right in our small town, without my knowledge, Billy changed Dahlonega to his ‘home on record’. Gene no longer received his grades at the end of each quarter and that made life a bit more pleasant for Billy too.
I could not have been any happier as we drove through the countryside on Sunday afternoons further exploring the rural roads and enjoying the vivid colors as the leaves on the trees turned shades of gold, red, amber, and burgundy. This area just had to be the most beautiful part of the entire state of Georgia! I admired the miners who had come here for gold, stayed when the gold ran out and settled this wild and sometimes lonely frontier. Surely, they had known how difficult it would be to farm these steep hills filled with rock and red mud but they must have seen the same thing I did, the glorious beauty that surrounded them. Oh how I would love to go back and relive just one of those lovely days again! All of the things I had taken for granted would become more valuable than all the gold mined from the rocky soil and the restless mountain streams.
When we resumed our walks in the woods since the obstetrician said it would be good exercise for me as long as I did not try to climb any mountains, Billy carried both a rifle and a pistol and continued to teach me to ‘shoot’, wanting me to become more proficient, although I was not a bad shot already.
As fall turned into winter and the trees became bare, we could see there were clumps of mistletoe growing in the uppermost branches and Billy used his rifle to shoot it down. Right before the Christmas holidays we gathered a large bag of mistletoe and took it home where I tied red and green ribbons around each small bunch. Billy then sold it for a quarter at the college! We never made much money doing this, but we enjoyed just walking through the woods in our beloved mountains and making a little bit of ‘pin’ money while having fun. There was no harm in that, and such innocent and simple pleasures brought us such great joy.
I loved the smell of the mountains on a crisp early winter day with the perfume of the cedars thick in the frosty air as the sound of our footsteps crunched through the masses of leaves that littered the ground. Often we would stop to catch our breath and Billy would hold me in his arms, asking if I was warm enough. His arms would slip down to the tiny mound made by my expanding tummy, and he would cup his baby in both of his hands, although it was still far too early to feel even the tiniest of butterfly kisses from the still very minuscule fetus. Inevitably, our lips would meet in one of our long deep kisses and I would think if there was a heaven on Earth, surely I was there.
Heaven was being in love with Billy McConnell, married to Billy McConnell, and even better yet, having Billy McConnell’s baby. Life was so simple then. We had need for little but each other. We had the nicest apartment in Dahlonega. We were warm, well fed, thanks to Mr. Moore’s continuing generosity, and we would be having a baby in the spring – a son, I was sure.
I could have spent the rest of my life living in just that space and time, alone with Billy, before life became more complicated. I can still remember the feel of his arms around me, of putting my cold hands in his jacket pockets along with his big warm hands, and feeling oh so loved, and so in love. With each breath and each beat of my heart, I loved him even more. Once again, he was my knight on a white horse in shining armor and we were indeed living in the idealistic days of Camelot. If only they could have lasted forever.