Athens Review, Athens, Texas

July 22, 2013

Let’s choose to cling to the good memories

Kathi Nailling
The Athens Review

GUN BARREL CITY — I attended the funeral of another friend who succumbed to cancer this week. As many funerals as I have attended lately, they are always hard. This friend, Gary Browning, was a 52-year-old man who left behind a wife and two adult children.

Gary’s family is very well known at Cedar Creek Lake. As expected, the church was packed.

I’ve known Gary and his wife, Dayna, for a while. I knew they had one of those special, one-of-a-kind relationships. You could tell how much they enjoyed each others’ company. Dayna will have plenty of good memories of Gary. I have no doubt she and Gary’s family will have Gary stories to tell for years to come.

Attending Gary’s funeral brought me back to reality.  Monday it will be two years since my husband, Jackie, died of cancer. I, like Dayna, have lots of memories and stories to tell about Jackie. One of my favorite had to do with what Jackie liked to tell people — that he was paid to marry me.

The truth is, that was kind of what happened. But Jackie just never quite told the whole story.

I was about 19 when I met Jackie. He was what my family called an older man. He was 32. My sisters all thought he was old. My father, on the other hand, thought I needed an older, mature person to take care of me. He loved Jackie.

If you have read any of my previous columns, you know I did not exactly grow up with my father. I lived in a foster home from the age of 13 until almost 18. I guess some would say I was a late life baby. My father was 50 when I was born, my mother 40. My mom passed away when I was 11 years old. That’s when I ended up in the foster home.

Back to my story about Jackie being paid to marry me. My father liked Jackie right off. The only problem he had with Jackie is he had a young daughter.  My dad would say, “Kathleen, that is a lot of years to pay child support.” He was right. But that’s part of life and Jackie has a wonderful daughter.

I keep getting off track. Remember I was 19 when I met Jackie and 20 when I married him. My father had a conversation with Jackie and told him if he would marry me he would give him $1,000. That was a lot of money back in the early ’70s. Jackie thought he was marrying a rich girl.

During this conversation I told my father, “Daddy, you don’t have to  buy me a husband.”

Unfortunately, he really believed he would die and I would have no one to take care of me.  He honestly thought I would never find anyone to marry me. I guess he didn’t have much faith in me. I can’t say I blame him. I was this 90-pound little girl. I fooled them all, I was stronger than I looked.

I don’t know if Jackie and my father actually made a deal that day or if it was just talk. I will say on our one-year anniversary my father sent Jackie, not me, a check for $1,000. I tried to tell Jackie that was probably his last $1,000. Jackie loved to tell all our friends and family my father paid him to marry me. I never really knew if that was payment or not, but needless to say, Jackie got his $1,000. 

Jackie — a laid back, calm sort of man who was always smiling — loved that story. I think it made him feel important that he was paid to marry me. True or not, I just let him think that. I believe Jackie would have married me with our without the $1,000. 

But it didn’t hurt.

After 37 years of marriage, there are plenty of funny stories and happy memories.

No matter where life takes Dayna, she will always have fond memories of Gary and their long life together. Every time I saw Gary he would put on his best Joey from the TV series “Friends” imitation and say “How you doin’?”

That’s just one of many, many good stories I’m sure will be told about a good man.

Kathi Nailling can be reached at knailling@athensreview.com.