Those five little words have been a point of good-humored contention for 59 years.
Shirley Payne Smith, my maternal grandmother, or Mama, as most know her, just might go to her grave claiming she never uttered those words.
But Lee Haselman Monroe, affectionately known as Papa, has got a different story.
So let’s just start from the beginning.
The two sit on the loveseat in the Georgetown home they built together from the ground up. It’s July 13, 2010, a month before their 56th wedding anniversary.
There’s not a sliver of space between them — Mama with her dish towel thrown over her shoulder while the okra fries on the stove top, and Papa with his stick-thin legs and knobby knees poking out of the bottom of his khaki work shorts.
“He used to pull me in an old little worn out wagon,” Mama says.
“I did?” Papa shoots back. Some days, the Alzheimer’s cloud hangs a little thicker than others.
Years after the red wagon, Papa joined the Air Force and spent a 14-month tour in Korea during the war. Upon his return to the states, he paid a visit to his cousin, Clyde who married Mama’s older sister, Dodie.
“I was at Aunt Lena’s with Aunt Do and Uncle Clyde and Allen. I was sitting in the front room by the stove. It was winter,” Mama says. “All at once the front door opens. Lee had his uniform on. I really didn’t recognize him, and he didn’t recognize me because I had grown up. He sure did look pretty in his uniform.”
The two would share the backseat on trips to the Clarksville drive-in with Clyde and Dodie. “Spreadin’ the mustard” they call it, for a $1 per car load.
But Lee’s visits from Waco became more and more frequent. The drive-in. The skating rink. The red ’54 Pontiac convertible.
“I picked her up after work at the drive in,” Papa added. ”We drove to Paris and had the top down.”
“One of my girlfriends was with us,” Mama adds. “We thought it was a lot of fun for our hair to blow.”
As the courtship blossomed, we can’t leave out the infamous earrings. The screw back hoop rhinestone earrings with turquoise accent stones. The earrings I frequently donned as a child with Mama’s red nightgown and a string of beads, clopping around the house in high heels that were five sizes too big. But these were the earrings Papa had traded an engagement ring for. Not an engagement ring for Shirley, but an engagement ring intended for a young lady in Waco whose father did not approve. Nevertheless, Mama loved those earrings, and they sit in her jewelry box to this day.
“He left about 9. It was dark,” Mama recalls. “He got down to the end of the road and started backing up real fast. I went back out in the yard. That’s when he asked me to marry him.”
But Papa looks at me; his blue eyes peeled.
With great conviction, he’s certain he can retell the story a little more accurately.
“She did it,” he says matter-of-factly. “Before I left, she said, ‘Come back and get me.’”
And of course, Mama turns to him, shaking her head. This scene has been rehearsed so many times, like a clip from a movie, neither willing to wave a white flag and surrender their stance.
We’ll never know who proposed to whom, and as the years tick on, the details fade. But we do know Lee went back to Waco with Shirley on his mind.
“Did it fit?” Papa asks her, as if he dropped it in the mail last week.
It most certainly did.
The two were wed at Lanes Chapel in Clarksville on the evening of August 14, 1954. Lee had been transferred to Laredo, so he came in Friday afternoon for his three-day leave.
They were the first couple to marry in the church. Mama wore her powder-blue prom dress with a little white hat, and Papa wore his uniform. The church was decorated with flowers left over from Mr. Ursury’s funeral.
“We had so many people at the church there wasn’t any place to sit inside,” Mama says. “People were sitting in windowsills and out on the steps. We went up to Aunt Do’s and had a little reception. We bought angel food cakes and had tuna fish and pimento and cheese sandwiches with Kool-Aid punch. We ran out of everything we had.”
They received so many gifts, the two didn’t have to buy a thing to start their life together. Although, Papa always jokes that he was so poor at 25 he had to borrow $75 to get married on.
I’d say that’s the best $75 he’s ever spent.