A covenant kept
The power of a worthy example to propel
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Anyone who’s been married long enough will tell you some days of matrimony are blissfully happy. Some are not. For those landing on the hard side of the meter at present, let me give you a bit of encouragement by way of Milltown Antique Mall.
Most towns have a Milltown, an unhurried place of second chances and frugal finds. Ours is of noble heritage, a two-story air conditioning-free wonder of creaking wood floors, soaring ceilings, and original wavy glass windowpanes. As best as I can determine, people end up cruising antique aisles when they’ve recently retired, have an hour to burn between lunch and carpool pickup, or, as in my case, they’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on Pinterest.
These days my redecorating objectives include outfitting a bank of walls with family photos. My quest for sturdy black picture frames—25 of them—had me digging through Milltown’s dusty wares when I spotted a possible propped between a concrete yard fixture and a complete leather-bound set of Arabian Nights. I moved in closer and fingered the wooden edges. I could paint them, I reasoned. Sure. Maybe. Nah. But hold on a minute. What was this yellowed document it held?
Wow. A marriage license from 1914, and not just any old marriage license. A prized one. So how could it be here now, cast off, forgotten, and available for the taking to anyone with $12.95? Layered price stickers gumming up the bottom corner told an even sadder tale. This one-of-a-kind item was at its second stop on the thrift sales circuit.
Bumping into Henry and Lula May like that had me wondering. What kind of happy and hard did the years hold for them?
Did Uncle Sam draft Henry when we entered World War 1? Did Lula May survive childbirth? Were they an Aquila/Priscilla-like team or the Ananias/Sapphira variety?
Back in that dark corner, I found I couldn’t help myself. I snapped a photo of the marriage license with its official circuit court clerk’s signature and started snooping around. Turns out the mystery was only 9 miles wide. That’s all that stood between Milltown and Henry and Lula May, well, their graves, I mean. At Rose Hill Cemetery, I found their headstones, as well as engraved birthdates that revealed Mrs. Newman was just shy of 15 when she said her vows. She kept them until she died of a heart attack at 65.
In time, I managed to get in touch with one of the Newmans’ granddaughters who was happy to fill in some of the family history blanks.
Groom Henry had a barber shop downtown beside the railroad tracks. To accommodate hardworking farmers, he opened at 5 a.m., six days a week. Lula May faithfully brought him home-cooked meals around noon. On Sundays they took their five kids to First Baptist Church.
Henry and his oldest boy managed to build a house during the Depression that’s still standing today on land where their descendants live. When Henry retired, the local newspaper celebrated him and a career built around 75-cent haircuts.
The Newmans’ three sons and two daughters grew up and married for keeps, too. No divorces in their family tree. The last leaf of the immediate branch, a daughter-in-law, died last August.
The granddaughter I spoke with has no idea how the marriage certificate belonging to “Big Daddy and Big Mama” got discarded, but she sent her sister to retrieve it posthaste. I heard down at Milltown, owner Melissa Meredith didn’t charge her a dime. Seems a whole bunch of us agree that when it comes to framed masterpieces, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Worth, too.
Truth is, when Henry and Lula May started out, they probably couldn’t have imagined a time when nearly half of all marriages don’t make it.
Maybe that’s why fading cursive on yellowed paper in an old 11x14 frame stopped me in my tracks. A covenant kept speaks. It preaches, too, admonishing us to admit there’s a bigger picture and an eternal perspective to consider.
A long look at an old marriage license can even be rocket fuel on a hard day of marriage.
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