Eighty-three years ago, an ornery 14-year old boy snatched a hat from a tow-headed 12-year old girl.

“Give that back,” she demanded. She had come with her friends to play by the rail yard in town, not to be teased by this slightly pudgy older boy.

“Not until you say you’ll be my girlfriend,” he replied.

“I will not,” she declared, crossing her arms across her chest.

“Then I guess it’s my hat now.” He held it behind his back, taunting her.

With a toss of her hair, the girl — Udie to her friends and family — was the first to go. She began her long, stubborn march home without her hat.

The next year, Udie saw the boy again, this time driving a Model-A, bare foot sticking cockily out his window. She remembered her hat, and fumed. But the boy was looking better. She wondered if he’d lost the baby fat he’d still carried last time she saw him.

Three years later, that same boy asked his older brother to borrow $20 and a car.

“Why?”

“So I can take Lura to Chickasaw, Oklahoma tonight and get married.”

“Isn’t she a little young for that?”

“That’s why we’re going to Oklahoma.”

“You gonna pay me back?”

“Well, I guess so, if the marriage works out.”

He and his bride Lura made it home in time to sleep in his bed in his parents’ house that night. They woke up the next morning.

“Why don’t you make me some breakfast before I go to work?” he asked, kissing her on the forehead.

Lura stiffened. At her house, her father made the breakfast for her mother and family, and had done so every one of the 16 years of her life. And it was 1934 after all. Joe couldn’t be serious. “What did you say?” she asked.

“Make me some breakfast. I have to get to work.”

Lura’s eyes filled with angry tears. Was this what marriage to Joe was going to be like? She leaped out of bed and grabbed her clothes. She pulled yesterday’s wedding dress over her head and jammed her arms through the sleeves. She stomped out of the room, the first to go.

“Where are you going?” Joe called after her.

No answer. Down the hall she marched, through the kitchen, and right out the door.

“Ah, Lura, come on back. Don’t be mad. I’m not that hungry anyway.”

But Lura just kept walking, all the way back to her parents’ house. She crept into the house.

Her mother clutched a hand to her chest. “Where have you been, young lady? We’ve been worried sick about you!”

Lura walked straight to her mother and threw herself into that familiar pair of arms, against the warmth of that beloved chest. “Oh Mama, I made a horrible mistake. I went and married Joe, but he told me to make b-b-b-b-…”

“What did he tell you to make, honey? What is it?”

“BREAKFAST,” Lura wailed. “He told me to make his breakfast.” And she sobbed against her mother’s shoulder.

“Oh, Udie.” Her mother didn’t know whether to be scold her youngest daughter for eloping at her age, or to laugh at what she’d just told her. “Udie, Udie, Udie. What are we going to do with you?”

Lura turned a tear-stained face up to her mother. “What do you mean?”

Just then, they heard the sound of a car pulling up in front of the house.

“Goodness, company at this hour. Wipe your eyes, Udie.”

Lura did just that as her mother went to the door.

Mrs. Allison opened the door and exclaimed, “Mrs. Fagan, so nice to see you. I have a feeling I know why you’re here.”

She ushered Lura’s new mother-in-law through the door and into the sitting room. Lura knotted her hands in her lap and stared at the floor.

“You’ve heard what these two went and did, then, I suppose,” Mrs. Fagan said.

“Oh, yes.”

“And that Joe upset her this morning.”

“Why, yes, I have.”

“I’ve come to see if between the two of us we can talk her into giving him one more chance.”

Quickly, Mrs. Allison explained the problem caused by her husband’s solicitous breakfast-making habit. Mrs. Fagan nodded as she listened, then turned to Lura.

“Joe asked me to tell her that he promises to make breakfast for her every day for the rest of her life.”

Lura jumped to her feet. “He did?”

Mrs. Fagan winked at Mrs. Allison and they shared a smile. She said to Lura, “Yes, child, he did.”

Lura/Udie returned with Mrs. Fagan and she gave her new husband his one more chance.

Years flew by. Years together, years apart, separated by war. Nights where Lura slept in a twin bed beside the matching twin of her roommate Dolly while their husbands served in Burma or God-knew-where, even a night where Lura woke to find the apartment building ablaze and made it out alive wearing only a neighboring friend’s maternity top and clutching the friend’s squalling baby. Years where Joe made breakfast, every morning they spent together. Years and years and more years. Seventy-nine years in fact. And would you believe? That cheap old curmudgeon Joe never paid his brother back.

You see, these two — my grandparents — celebrated their 79th anniversary this month. Lura Allison Fagan remained the wife of Joe Fagan for 79 years, three kids, 11 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, life as a designer, an upholsterer, countless hours as an artist, writer, and musician, as a mom, and most of all, as a helpmate. A wife to end all wives, devoted, loving, loyal, patient, and kind. A wife to marvel over, a good woman, the kind the bible celebrates. Don’t believe me? Read about her in Proverbs 31:10-31, all except that part about being up before dawn to make breakfast, of course.

79th anniversary

79th anniversary

Two days after their anniversary, Lura went to sleep. Her frail body, at nearly 96 years of age, just couldn’t do it anymore. In the last few years, she’d suffered a broken hip, a fractured back, and a devastating lung disease. Everyone knew, somehow, that this sleep was her last.

Joe kept vigil at her side, as did her three adult children.

“Don’t go, Lura, don’t go,” Joe said, kissing her and stroking her face.

But if Lura heard him, she gave no sign. She took one last breath and set off on her final journey. Because of course, as was her way, she had to be the first to go.

Rest in peace, sweet Mur. I love you.

Pamelot

With apologies to my family, as I’m sure I butchered the real version in my re-imagining, but with great love and affection.

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24 Responses to The first to go.

  1. Heidi Dorey says:

    Dang it! You made me cry. And I’m here at work. Thanks.
    Love that story. I’m sorry you lost your grandma.

  2. You know I love your writing, Pamela, but of all the things I’ve read that you’ve written . . . this is my absolute favorite. The loss of your grandma is sad, to be sure, but heavens, what a legacy your family has been blessed with! Prayers for your grandpa — may he feel her close by even now.

    • Pamela says:

      Ah, thank you, Laura!

      • I’ve been thinking about your tribute to your grandmother off and on since I read it and thinking about my grandparents, too. I remember my mama telling me about how her mama worked picking cotton when she was about 14 years old, as kids often did to help make ends meet. My PaPa was one of the people that weighed the cotton at the end of the day – those who picked more, got paid more. PaPa would often drop a rock in the bottom of Nanny’s bag to make it weigh more so she would get paid more. The things people do for love! LOL

  3. Just what I wanted for breakfast – a huge old lump in my throat with a few scattered tears in my eyes. *Sigh* This was so beautifully written, a tribute to two wonderful people – 79 years, wow. Something for all of us to aim for. I love how you wrote this – just beautiful.

  4. Auntie Trice says:

    This is wonderful, Pamela! I’m sure Mur wouldn’t mind you taking a little “poetic license”. She was 96 years old on Dec. 17, 2012. Daddy turned 98 on March 5, 2013– eight days after losing her. We were all blessed to have her for so long. This post and your eulogy both are such tributes to her memory!

  5. Oh, this brought tears to my eyes – I am so sorry for your loss but how wonderful that you have these stories; they are a rich inheritance:)

  6. Eric Huthchins says:

    Brought tears to my eyes again. Your eulogy at the service was awesome, and so was this. It captures her so well, as well as you possibly can in a short piece.
    I was blessed and lucky to know her. From the first time I met her, and at a time when the your wonderful family was (UNDERSTANDABLY) tiptoeing around me a bit, she welcomed me in warmly, talked to me, made me feel welcome. I will NEVER EVER forget that.
    God Bless you Mur.

  7. rebeccanolen says:

    Awww. That is so sweet and sad. I’m happy you had her for a grandma. I’m sorry she is gone now.

  8. rebeccanolen says:

    I had a grandma like this. Still miss her.

  9. Terrill Sides Casey via Facebook says:

    Ok, Pamela, I have tears in my eyes!!!!

  10. Rhonda Erb says:

    Maybe I can stop sobbing long enough to comment. This really touched me, maybe because I pretty recently lost my dear Grandma as well, who also exemplified the Proverbs 31 woman, but with spunk. And Eric’s comment made it worse…my grandparents were actually step-grandparents but they welcomed us with open arms and they were Grandpa and Grandma from day one, and no one would have ever guessed it was a new thing. My life was forever changed for the better to have them in it.
    Thanks for making me cry; I’m sorry for your loss, and I truly understand what a loss it is. But what a wonderful story this is!

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