Please welcome guest writer Amelia Jean Miller of Reliance, TN, who has just completed ‘Tennessee Time Travels,’ a memoir of becoming a young woman in the Appalachia of the 1950s. “I have written, in some form, since I was six years old,” she says. “Diaries, journals, personal letters, poems and short stories have always been a part of my life. A few months ago, I got the urge to start blogging, and started thinking about a subject matter. One day I picked up my five year diary that I had kept faithfully during my teen years from 1951-1956. I read a few pages, and realized that I had found my source material for a 1950s coming of age story, set in East Tennessee. I named the blog “Tennessee Time Travels” and went to work. I have always considered my life to be ordinary. I now realize that even an ordinary life from that time period makes interesting reading when contrasted with life as it is today.
O.k., I finally made a decision on Friday, February 10, 1956 and told Dee I would marry him. Now what? He wanted to go ahead and get my rings and give me the engagement ring on Valentine’s Day. The second order of business was for me to write Allen the dreaded “Dear John” letter.
We made a date to go downtown on Sunday afternoon to look at rings. While I was waiting for Dee to come get me, who shows up to visit but Allen’s parents. Uh oh, this was an awkward situation. Not long after they arrived, Dee came to the door. I just got up and left without any explanation. It was left to my poor mother to explain what was going on. They were very shocked, hurt and angry. Needless to say, that ended the friendship between them and my family. I was sorry that it had to be that way but some things just can’t be helped.
We picked out a set of rings at Kay Jewelers. We didn’t actually buy them. Dee went back on Monday and bought them. $250.00 – time payments, of course. That would be about $2,100.00 in today’s money. I haven’t priced any diamonds lately, but I don’t think a comparable set would cost that much today.
A funny thing happened that night at the supper table at Dee’s house. He had been having mechanical problems with his car for several days and he and his Dad had frequent discussions about what the problem might be. So, when he announced at the table that night that “he bought a set of rings today,” his Dad’s reply was “Son, I don’t believe I would have done that.” When Dee asked, “Why not, Dad?” Mr. Miller said, “Well, you’re liable to open that thing up and find the walls all scarred and worn out.” Dee almost choked laughing and could barely explain what he meant by a set of rings. That was a family story that got told many times thereafter.
But there was no humor in my life that evening. I wrote Allen and told him all about Dee. Sometimes in books, movies and TV, the “Dear John” letter is a source of humor, but I can tell you there is nothing humorous about it. Not for the one writing it, and certainly not for the one receiving it. Allen had done nothing to deserve what I had done to him and writing that letter tore me apart. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I do know that it was one of the hardest things I had done up to that point in my life. I imagine his mother was also writing him that night.
February 14, 1956 (Tuesday) Dear Diary, Dee came over tonight and gave me my engagement ring and a box of candy. I sure do like my ring. Mary Glenn and Stanley came over for awhile and then Dee and I went up to Sherman Reservation. I love him.
Nothing much really changed for awhile after we got engaged. If Dee had been willing, I probably would have gotten married right away. He was more practical than I and said we needed to wait until he could save some money and he worried that he would not be able to support me on his meager salary. We tentatively set a date for around the first of August and hoped to have enough money by then to get a place to live and maybe go to Florida for our honeymoon.
I got two letters from Allen that he had written before I sent him “the” letter and after that, nothing. I tried to put him out of my mind, but the picture of him getting that letter kept popping up in my head.
February 25, 1956 (Saturday) Dear Diary, This morning Tommy Johnson called and said he and his girlfriend, Patsy were coming over today and could someone pick them up at the bus station. Mary Glenn and I went to a dance this afternoon at the Warner Park Field House then we went to the bus station to get them. This evening Dee and I took them to Rossville and Ringgold to get married.
Tommy (my cousin who lived in Nashville with Aunt Susie) and Patsy were eloping. Actually, I think everyone knew about it except Patsy’s dad who wouldn’t give his approval for them to get married. Rossville and Ringgold were, I guess, what you would call a “marriage mill” and a lot of people went there for a “quickie” marriage (even Dolly Parton got married in Ringgold). You had to get your blood tests in Rossville and then go a few miles to the courthouse in Ringgold to get the marriage license. Of course, there was always conveniently a minister or justice of the peace at the courthouse ready to perform the ceremony once you obtained the license.
The lab in Rossville was upstairs over a store on the main street. It was dark by the time everything was completed and just as we came down the stairs and exited the building, we were shocked to see police cars and policemen everywhere. This scared Patsy as her first thought was that her dad had discovered she was eloping and had sent the police to get her. But then we looked down the street and saw this big blur of white coming toward us. The Ku Klux Klan, waving their red flags of hate, were marching. That was the first and only time I ever saw that terrible sight.
They spent the night at my house and then Dee and I took them to the bus station on Sunday and they went home to Nashville. Their marriage lasted fifty-five years – until December, 2011 when Tommy passed away.
March 1, 1956 (Thursday) Dear Diary, Today after work, Mary Glenn and I went to the Tivoli and saw “Picnic”. When I got home I had a letter from Allen.
That letter from Allen sent me in a tailspin and almost brought me back to square one as far as he and Dee were concerned. I think I could have handled it if he had been angry and hateful about everything, but he was just the opposite. It was a sweet, loving letter in which he pleaded with me to wait until he came home to make a final decision about everything. Then I did a foolish, impulsive thing. I answered it and told him that if he could forgive me for writing that letter, that I would wait until he came home.