Nov 26

Love in the Afternoon

By Elizabeth O’Brien

A month ago, I was surprised by a call from my childhood friend, Mary Jo Wade, with whom I grew up in Memphis. We had not corresponded, except for Christmas cards, in a few years.

Mary Jo and I had been tomboys together in our midtown neighborhood, exploring the forbidden woods behind the houses on Rozelle Street, playing silly tricks on the boys and, when we got older, sneaking out my bedroom window to roll somebody’s yard. To be fair, I was the ringleader, and Mary Jo, my reluctant, but accommodating partner. I adored Mary Jo and admired her greatly: her family had a farm in La Grange, TN, and she was an accomplished horseback rider. My father worked for hers in the real estate business. Her mother made the best fried chicken in the South.

When we came of age, we went off, together, to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and became roommates in Clement Hall. But our lives diverged. I fell in love and spent all my free time with the young man who became my husband. Mary Jo joined the Campus Crusade movement on campus. We grew apart, and I always felt guilty about “abandoning” her. In the intervening years, I got married, moved around the country, working as a journalist, and then raised three children. Mary Jo stayed in Memphis, got a good job at Federal Express and never married. She spent weekends on her farm, riding her horses and rescuing some 40 barn cats. To her friends, she was a treasure, always available with a ready ear. If she was lonely, she never complained.

When I picked up the phone, I recognized the sweet voice of my old friend.
“I have some news,” she said. “You’re not going to believe this!”
I held my breath.
“I’m getting married!”
I screamed so loud that my dog put his paws over his ears.

She went on to tell me her love story. She had dated Barney Gordon briefly in 1980, but broke up with him, ultimately, because he was too shy and non-committal. This was difficult, as she was quite fond of him. He moved away and she lost track of him for 28 years. Then, this year, his mother died in Memphis, and Barney went home. He got a mutual friend to ask Mary Jo to the funeral. When they saw each other, Barney—now a Ph.D. agronomist living in Kansas—invited her to lunch with friends. They convened at Barney’s late mother’s house, and the friends, in a scripted maneuver, excused themselves briefly to go home and “let their dogs out.” Barney asked Mary Jo to sit down. He told her that he had dated a few women over the years but had never found the right one. He lived as a bachelor with his faithful Collie Gus, and immersed himself in his work. In fact, he had never forgotten Mary Jo.

“You are the love of my life,” he said, softly.

Mary Jo sat on the couch in shock, then asked him if would kiss her. When he did, fireworks exploded. A week later, after they cleaned out his mother’s house together, he proposed. They are getting married Feb. 21 at our old church in Memphis, Grace St. Luke’s. I plan to sit on the front row.

I have a number of middle-aged friends in the Westbank who are single. Some are content, but others crave companionship. Let this be an inspiration: it is never too late. Love is timeless, and age-less. And, if one has faith, it comes back around.

Elizabeth O’Brien, M.A., LPC-I, is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern practicing in Westlake.