Aunt Penny

a-p© 1994 by Bill Murphy

Divorce is not a common thing in my extended family. Of the fifteen children of my grandparents, only two aunts divorced, both due to wandering husbands. One of those couples later remarried. So when my first marriage failed – I took it hard. The marriage was a failure, and I felt like a failure. I was taught that marriage is for keeps.

The circa 1960 photo at left from a postcard, is NOT the subject above –  although anyone who knows her would swear it is. It’s not kosher to have pics of old flames /wives laying around.

A few years after that failed marriage, love and marriage redeemed themselves in the form of Helen Carol Ringer Rainey. She and her 3 daughters Liz 4, Tricia 2, and Lois – new born, became not just a part of my life, but the very center of my life. Please see the post, ‘The Year That Changed It All.’

One Saturday afternoon years after Carol and I married, our 4 grammar school age girls were spending the day with my Mom. To keep the tykes entertained, Mom gave them old family photo albums to explore.

Now my Mom and I are alike in that we seldom throw away anything.  The girls discovered a photo of a pretty, young bride. “Who’s this?” they innocently asked.

Now to understand my mother’s reaction – and her answer inspired by that reaction – you have to understand that she was old-school prim and proper. “W-W-Why – that is – ” she stammered, “that is – your – your – your –  Aunt Penny!

The girls had found a picture of their dad’s first wife! To this day, we all continue to refer to her as ‘Aunt Penny.’

We were high school sweethearts, Aunt Penny and I. We came together through a simple misunderstanding. She and I were in the same history class. At the time, she had the hots for a boy who lived across the street from her grandfather 100+ miles north. The boy’s name was Billy Frye. As love-sick girls are apt to do, she’d written ‘Penny + Billy’ on the front of her notebook. Another of our class-mates spotted her little love notation, and assumed that this ‘Billy’ must surely be yours truly. So my buddy suggested that I invite her out on a double date. Our first date was on December 7th – Pearl Harbor Day.

I don’t know if I won out over the other Billy or if she simply opted for a Billy closer to home, because by the next weekend we were going steady. That second date was Friday – the 13th!

I suppose we were your typical 50s couple, doing all the silly stuff only adolescents dare. We talked on the phone endlessly about nothing, passed notes in class, walked the halls hand in hand, and made impossible plans. We were young and foolish, far too wrapped up in one another to be much a part of our high school scene. We claimed to be in love, yet neither of us truly understood the definition of real love. This failure did nothing to enhance our continuing relationship.

We wanted to marry right out of high school but got resistance from our parents. “Wait a year, maybe two.” If we’d waited two, we probably never would have married. She got a job in Jackson and off to Mississippi State I went to study aeronautical engineering, and to wait out that year.

I only missed two weekends coming home that year. Several of my hometown pals rode back and forth with me on occasion. Because I always left Jackson as late as possible those Sunday nights, one of them named my car ‘The Midnight Cannonball.’ Another replied, “At least the sun’s not in our eyes.”

The wedding was in her home. It lasted 12 minutes flat, reception following. I think I still have the 8mm home movies.

The divorce came seven years later. Of course there were good times in between, but I’ll save that for later. The last time we saw one another was the day she drove off into the sunset, April Fool’s Day of 1968. We had a thing about special dates.

Years later, Carol and I we were cleaning up after a successful garage sale when she commented, “Well now I’ve gotten rid of everything that once belonged to Aunt Penny.” “No you haven’t,” I replied, “You still have me!”

And she still does!