Feb 12, 2011 | Comments 1
The R&B song below was recorded in 1966 by Percy Sledge, and, from the first time I heard it, I fell in love in with it. Perhaps it was because her name was Lynda and she had broken my heart. The words read:When a man loves a woman
Spend his very last dime
Trying to hold on to what he needs
He’d give up all his comforts
And sleep in the rain
If she said that’s the way
It ought to be.
At the time, I thought that was a profound observation. It was simply sappy. Years later I would learn the meaning of profound from an old man who really did love a woman and knew her love.
Fresh out of seminary in 1976, I became the pastor of the White Oak Presbyterian Church, Moreland, GA. Two of the kindest and gentlest people in that congregation were JW and Kate Thompson. They had been married for nearly forever. Mr. JW and Miss Kate had scratched a living out of a piece of Georgia red clay that would hardly grow rocks and kudzu. To augment their living, Mr. JW drove a yellow school bus for 43 years. The Governor said that Mr. JW set a record for his service as a school bus driver, and Mr. JW was proud of his plaque. Money was not an item of plenty for them. Nevertheless, there was food enough on the table for the family and for passersby in hard times and for friends and kin who dropped in at any time. Somehow, they raised two sons, Elwood and Bobby, and passed on to them their love of God. Both sons have grown up to be respected and successful members in their congregation and community.
A visit with Mr. JW and Miss Kate took time. The young preacher had to sit and talk a spell and eat and drink something that was delicious, for example, fresh baked pound cake and southern wine (that is, sweet, sweet iced tea). Once when Mr. JW was in the hospital, he sent a thank you note for me to read to the congregation. It read: “For you who opened the door and said Hello and for you who came in and talked awhile, I thank you, but no one stayed long enough for me to finish talking.” Yes, a visit with them took a spell because we took trips back in time that were highlighted with entertaining stories and lessons in the philosophy of living the good life.
Miss Kate was the quiet one and the caregiver. As I have already noted, Mr. JW was the gregarious one who had never met a stranger. The children at church called him “Candy Man.” He was the bane of mothers in the church who wanted clean children. His pockets were full of chocolates and gum. The folks at Arnold’s Grocery in Newnan, GA, reserved buckets full of “candy kisses” and “blow gum” for him. On more than one Sunday, my children came home from church covered in chocolate smears and gum attached to their clothes.
Mr. JW and Miss Kate had lived together so long they even resembled each other. They did everything together. The last time they visited the eye doctor together, they were given new prescriptions for glasses. At first the new spectacles worked wonders for them. However, in a few days, neither one could see much. They called their son Elwood and complained and informed him that the next day he would have to take off from work and drive them back to the optometrist and this matter would be resolved. They had paid an astounding $100 each for glasses that were making them blind.
The optometrist smiled when Mr. JW and Miss Kate were ushered into his office. He took Mr. JW’s glasses and gave them to Miss Kate and Miss Kate’s glasses and gave them to Mr. JW. Their vision cleared instantly. What was even better for Mr. JW was that the optometrist did not charge them for the visit that day. I am told that the optometrist was delighted to have the story to tell.
And then there was the Christmas that Mr. JW and Miss Kate’s son Bobby gave them an electric blanket with duel controls. Mr. JW and Miss Kate’s breezy house was old and located on a hill. When the house was built, insulation was unknown. The old house was so airy that when a winter wind blew cold, the outside came inside and stayed like a misery.
The electric blanket provided a welcome defense against the winter night. But before January was half over, something went wrong with the blanket. Mr. JW’s side of the blanket was about the set him on fire and Miss Kate’s side was about to turn her into an ice cube.
They called Bobby for help, for he was the source of this demon gift. Like a good son, he came over to help. Here was the problem. When they changed the bedding and put on clean sheets, they switched the sides of the blanket. That corrected, they slept in cozy comfort
To be around Mr. JW and Miss Kate was to know that they were thankful for each other’s love. Like a love story in a good book, they were appropriately married on Thanksgiving Day. As good stories from good books come to an end, this story came to an end in September of 1979. In the late evening on September 17, I got a call from Elwood: “Mama is in the hospital. She has an obstruction in her upper stomach, and the doctor is getting ready to perform an emergency operation.”
The surgery revealed a cancer that had metastasized everywhere inside Miss Kate. The surgeon closed her up. With weariness and sadness in his voice, he told the family the dreadful news.
It was early in the morning when Miss Kate was awake enough to talk. Mr. JW and her boys were by her side. She wanted to know. Mr. JW said, “We don’t know yet. The doctor will tell us in a few days when the tests come back. You need to sleep now.” Miss Kate said, “I will if you’ll go home and get some rest too. You look so tired.” Turning to her boys, she said, “Make your daddy go home. He’s not well. He needs his rest too.” With that they kissed and said their I’ll-see-you-tomorrows and JW went home for some badly needed rest and time to grieve.
Just before daylight, God’s angel of mercy visited Miss Kate and she died in her sleep from a blood clot. Mr. JW was not troubled that he had not told Miss Kate the truth about the cancer. “She never knew, Chuck,” he said. “I didn’t like not telling her the truth, but, in this life, she never knew! I didn’t want her to know. I didn’t want her to worry about the cancer!”
The funeral was so large it overflowed into the basement and the churchyard. Somehow, Miss Kate’s granddaughter Kathy, in spite of her grief, played the piano flawlessly at her grandmother’s funeral. The service was a celebration of love and a life spent well before her family and community. The obligatory country meal afterwards was enormous.
I was in my office a few days later and looked out the window at the cemetery. Mr. JW was sitting in a lawn chair by Miss Kate’s grave in the shade of the tall poplar trees. I went out to comfort him. Little did I know, young as I was and sure of myself, that when I stepped out of my office I was about to encounter a moment of profound wisdom that has colored my understanding to this very day of what it is to love a woman.
Mr. JW watched me as I walked toward him. “Chuck, I’m sorry I don’t have another chair for you to sit in. Sit on that grave stone and let’s talk a bit! Whoever is in the grave won’t mind! I’ve got a few things I need to say to you.”
“First of all,” he continued, “I want to thank you for the good job you did with the funeral. You and Kathy did so good. I don’t know how she was able to play so well for her grandmother. And did you see all those people? And there were so many flowers. Kate and I were so honored. Elwood and Mary Jane and Bobby and Alma Jane and the grandchildren were so honored. I didn’t know half the people. They were people who came for Elwood and Bobby and their children. I was so honored. What good boys I have! And did you see the food?! Never in my life have I seen so much food! I’m so thankful to God! Honestly, everything has taken place just the way I wanted it to. People thought I was the sick one. Kate was the sick one. I knew that caring for me kept her going and that’s why I let her. One of us had to be the first one to go, and I wanted her to go first!”
Mr. JW was studying my face. He saw in my eyes the shock of his words. Dropping his head and fighting back tears, he went on with these profound words: “Chuck, you ain’t lost nothing if you know where to find it. I know where to find Kate; I’ll see her soon. The problem is, one of us had to be the first to go and leave the other to the sorrow and this pain of soul-hurt that just won’t go away. I ain’t never felt nothing that hurts so hard. I would never have wished such grief and pain on the woman I love. She loved me as much I loved her. She was my heart. I’ll never stop loving her and hurting for her in this life. When the doctor told me she was going to have a lot a pain before she died, I asked God to take her now and keep her from the pain. I said to God, ‘I’ll take the pain!’ He answered my prayer.”
That afternoon I was privileged to see what it is like when a man loves a woman. Eighteen years later, September 16, 1997, Mr. JW and Miss Kate were reunited. His love for her had not diminished! Neither had his pain!
This story of love for Valentine’s Day is told by,
Charles W. Wilson
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