A lot of water has flowed under the old 6th Street Bridge, and the new Robert C. Byrd Bridge since that day 40 years ago, but the memories are as vivid as if it all happened yesterday.
I had met Linda just after a church service in a revival meeting at the aforementioned church, back in October of 1969. It was the week before my 19th birthday, and I was in my freshman year at Marshall University. She had recently come to work at the department store in the city, following her graduation from Belfry High School, one hundred miles down the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River from Huntington.
I don't know if it was truly "Love at first sight", but as Kenny Rogers sang back in that day, "Love or something like it, had a hold on me!" First time I had laid eyes on her was earlier in the night toward the end of the church service. It was one of those "bapticostal" type churches and the service had been an emotional one. I had grown up in that church and knew most everyone there that night - except that girl in the short black dress.
She was in a group of people who were walking across the front of the church, shaking hands with the new converts when she caught my attention. I was standing about two thirds of the way back on the right side of the church (with my girlfriend at the time) when my eyes zeroed in on Linda. She looked good in that little black dress (I confess I've always had a thing for black dresses). She had been crying during the service and her mascara had run a little bit, in sort of a Tammy Faye Baker fashion, but that was OK. SHE was something else!
"Wow", I thought. "WHO is that? Furthermore, what am I doing here with this "girl" when there is a woman like THAT in the place?"
I didn't know who she was, and there was no way to find out diplomatically, so when the service closed, I took my girlfriend home, yadda...yadda...yadda. She only lived a block away, so after the "good night pleasantries" I drove back around the block, passing the darkened church building, headed for home. That's when I saw my friend, Jackie Black, standing there under the street light. I pulled my old car over to the curb and got out to talk to Jackie for a few minutes. As fate would have it, that is when Dorla Hagley, pulled up and the person in the front seat with her rolled the window down, and Dorla called us over to the car. To my amazement, it was THE WOMAN IN THE BLACK DRESS there in the passenger seat.
"How old is Jim Vallance?" the girl asked us.
Now, Jim Vallance was the pastor's younger son. He was eight years my senior, and had just come back from a tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force. Most of the young girls in the church had gone goo goo over this tall handsome guy, and the rest of us guys were feeling a tad jealous. Now here is the new girl, asking how old Jim was. My heart sank.
"Don't tell me you are in love with him, too!" (those were the first words I would ever speak to my future wife)
"Oh no!" she quickly replied. "I want to find out for my room mate, Sandy. I think he is about her age."
That was all I needed to hear. The chase was on. The next few weeks and months were spent in a fervent effort to find out more about this mystery woman.
She became a regular at the church. She got involved with our group of young adults, and we often went to one of the local diners or pizza shops after church as a group. She had me hook line and sinker, and didn't have a clue at the time.
I was confused from the start. She told us she was from Matewan (a small coal mining town in Mingo County, WV), but she said she graduated from Belfry High School (in Pike County, KY). Yet she wore a large class ring (with yarn wrapped around it to make it fit her small fingers) that had a "P" on it. When I questioned her about the Matewan, Belfry, "P" inconsistency, she explained that she had been born in Matewan, grew up across the river in Kentucky, where she went to school, and it was her boy friend's class ring from Phelps High School (also in Pike County). She explained that he was in the Air Force in Dayton, OH.
"Drat!" This was going to be a problem.
We began seeing more and more of each other, and I kept putting on the pressure for her to go out with me. (I had dropped the other girl by then and was honing in on this one!) Problem is, she really didn't like me much...
I know. Hard to imagine, isn't it?
Anyhow, to make a long story short, eventually I apparently wore her down. I chased her until she caught me.
On June 18, 1970, sitting on the steps to her apartment, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes! (a response that still amazes me over four decades later). The next day, on her lunch hour, I met her downtown at Roger's Jewelers where we picked out an engagement ring. I slipped it on her finger in the romantic setting of 3 1/2 Alley, behind Anderson Newcomb. With a kiss,we both headed back to work.
Real storybook stuff - huh?
One year later, on a sweltering evening in June, we stood at the altar at Thomas Memorial Church - the place where I had first seen her. My Dad, Rev. Caudle Adkins, Jr. read the vows which we repeated nervously. Linda was attended by her sister, Violet Bennett, as her matron of honor. Other bridesmaids were her cousins, Brenda Huddle and Joyce Pope, along with Lois Conn Vallance (who had married Jim a year earlier), and the late Sandy Chapman Harbour. College friend, Doug Goolsby, stood as my best man (a favor I returned for him in Green Bay, Wisconsin three years later). My brother, Bruce, stood with me, as did long time friends Don Smith and Phil Cheek. College buddy, Larry Gunnoe rounded out the line of groomsmen.
With vows made, and a kiss, we turned, faced the full house, and headed down the aisle on a journey that has lasted forty years and two days - so far.
It seems like a lifetime ago... yet it seems like yesterday.
We've seen the "better and worse". We've been through the "sickness and health". We've certainly been through the "poorer" but are still waiting for the "richer" part (financially, that is). But in terms of blessings, we are two of the richest people I know!
Thank you, Linda, for investing your life in me. Much like God's Grace, your love has been something I have never deserved.
Please note: For some reason in my last two posts, some words are being highlighted as links to some other websites. I have no clue why this is happening (since I am not doing anything any differently than before). Trying to find the problem and get it corrected, but just want my readers to know this is not intentional!