We got married before we knew what poor was. I had worked as a roughneck up until the week before the wedding. Saved every penny I earned. I was about to be a husband. Needed the money to provide for the little wife.
After the wedding, we packed everything we owned into my 1957 Chevrolet. We headed north to Oxford, MS.
We were lucky.
My new brother-in-law asked both of us to meet with him before we left town. Sue and I had no idea.
He asked “What are your plans?”
“I’m going to enroll and go to college. Sue is going to get a job and work. She’ll return to school later.”
“She’ll never go back if she goes to work. Both of you need to enroll in school.” He advised. He was serious. Like serious as a heart attack.
“There’s no money. We have enough to get by the first semester, tuition, books, you know.”
I can’t forget, no, I won’t ever forget those two words.
We rented a small efficiency apartment on campus. The village, they called it. Two hundred other couples, some with a child or two, stuck off in a corner of the campus. Hospital green paint on the walls, institutional green tile in the bathroom. Our place was smaller than the dorm rooms across campus.
Students registered for classes on the basketball court. They covered the floor with brown paper.
A lady was collecting checks and cash. She asked my new wife how she was going to pay.
“I want to charge it.” the blushing bride said.
“No problem.” the lady said.
Do I need to tell you more?
Tuition for both of us. Lucky.
Walking out, we were still shaking our heads.
At the top of the stairs, a young man was standing in front of a hand-printed poster.
IF YOU ARE METHODIST AND YOU NEED MONEY, SEE ME.
I was brought up in the Baptist Church. Hard Shell Baptist. The kind where they turn off the air conditioning during summer revivals. Where you sweat, just so you know how hot Hell is going to be. The kind of church where the final song of invitation can last ten long minutes. Where the Preacher warns you this could be your last day on earth and if you’re not saved, then you’re going to Hell, the lake of fire.
I had married in a Methodist church the week before. It was cooler. They didn’t even shout.
Now, they were asking me if I needed money. Not the other way around.
Just sign here and get your hometown preacher to sign there.
Until that moment, we really hadn’t decided whether I would become a Methodist or Sue would become a Baptist.
In the cool air of the Tad Smith Coliseum, I became a Methodist. Lucky again.
I can’t thank Roger and Royce enough.
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