One Sunday in September, just after church, Dwaine Slade handed me a small cardboard box. “A. J. sent this to you,” said Dwaine. A. J. Wright is his uncle, and is also a relative of mine. He owns a funeral home in Cordele. I occasionally see him there, but otherwise don’t have much contact.
The box had been shipped in 1971 from Hollywood, Florida, to Earl Murray Studio in Cordele. I thought that A. J. must have run across some old family photographs of our Noble relatives. But I opened the box and was delightfully surprised to see a picture of Patricia.
Beneath it were 20 more wedding pictures of my longtime friend, Patricia Dunaway, and her husband, David Williams. A. J. had no idea who they were. Earl Murray Studio has been closed a long time. Mr. Murray’s granddaughter, Tammy Suggs Robinson, recently allowed folks to claim any photos they wanted. A. J. knew that the Dunaway name was common in the part of Dooly County where I grew up. He figured I would know what to do with the box.
I’m not a big fan of wedding pictures. It only takes me a minute or so to flip through an album of immediate family or close friends. One viewing, just after the wedding, is sufficient for a lifetime. I’ve never understood how some ladies can easily spend hours talking about the bride’s bouquet, everyone’s dresses, flower arrangements, and hairstyles. But I saw these pictures in a much different light.
Patricia and I began first grade together at Pinehurst Elementary, and we both transferred to Unadilla in the fourth grade. We graduated from Unadilla High School in 1970, and were good friends all twelve of those years. She was the model student, always well-mannered, obviously destined to one day be our valedictorian. I remember her being disappointed one day about making a 98 on a test. I was tickled pink with my 89. Her scores kept our teachers from grading on the curve.
I pulled an awkward grammar school prank that I regretted for a while. Patricia wrote with her left hand. She slanted her letters opposite from the rest of our class. Her writing was very distinctive, quite easy to identify. We were in Mrs. Kathryn Robert’s sixth grade class at Unadilla Elementary. I had what I still consider to be my worst idea ever for Valentine’s Day.
I found a girlish card. I signed it Your Secret Admirer with a left-handed slant and sneaked it into my buddy David Fullington’s notebook. It was hilarious until David read the card and asked Patricia about it. I learned a lesson that day about practical jokes. They are only funny if no one will be embarrassed. I stumbled through an apologetic explanation, and miraculously kept both friends intact.
Our classmate, Freida Garvin, was in some of the wedding photographs. She and Patricia were good friends in Unadilla and remain so in Americus. Freida and I were named wittiest in our class for our senior yearbook superlatives. I enjoyed Freida’s quick wit. She helped me to fine tune my own attempts at humor. It’s not much different than playing tennis. We play our best game against good competition. Clever lines, always tempered with kindness, easily found their way to Freida’s lips.
One picture shows Patricia being showered with rice while she stands at the front entrance of Double Branch Freewill Baptist Church. It was the church of her childhood, the church that helped nurture her young faith. It was a small, white, frame building on a dirt road in Dooly County. That picture reminded me that a simple ceremony in a country church is not a bad way to begin a journey together. Patricia and David have been happily married for 46 years. Sometimes I think we’ve lost focus on what’s most important. Frivolity can be a wonderful thing, but it’s no substitute for faith.
I’m not hoping for more wedding pictures, but I’m glad that A. J. sent these. They were more than just pictures of Patricia’s wedding. I saw 12 grades of friendship, plus two shocked but forgiving faces one Valentine’s Day. I saw Patricia’s 98 test score and Freida’s gentle wit. And I saw the start of a good marriage that began in a little country church. A. J. didn’t know he was doing me a favor by sending those photos. I didn’t know it either, until I saw a picture of Patricia. Before I surrender that box of photographs, I plan to take another leisurely stroll down memory lane. Patricia was a lovely bride, but I forgot to look at the bouquet.