As I rolled into the driveway with "Cousin Eddie" and crew in tow, even the neighbors came out to meet us. The people in my world were genuinely happy for me that I'd found someone to love and be loved by in return. I live in a VERY rural area, and the people out here are of the salt of the earth variety - never intrusive or meddlesome, but always right there to help the second you need help. It's a very familial community, as everyone is treated almost as extended family. It's not uncommon at all to find a bag of pole beans or cucumbers, or some other fresh vegetable, at the back door, as some neighbor had excess in their garden and shared it around the community. Simple, country people, but solid, giving, caring people.
Over the next few days, there were lots of long talks about various things, but often, me and my family felt as though WE were being investigated, as on many of the subjects that came up, her family would only listen, never having much to say of their own. One of the FIRST things that the patriarse desired, though, was for my ex to upload our engagement video to youtube, and send out an email with a link to every single person in their address books and contact lists. We were all a bit suspicious of this, and to this day, members of my family are convinced that the patriarse was primarily using our engagement as a means to promote his family's music - given that my reach in the music business was considerably larger than his. For instance, the artist I was touring with at that time recently had the #1 concert DVD on the Billboard charts. Not just for Christian music, or for a sub-genre within Christian music. They had the top selling concert DVD in ALL fields of music, Christian AND secular, as measured by Billboard. The patriarse had a bit of the "stars in the eyes" syndrome where his family's music was concerned, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this was the ONLY reason that he stayed out of our way and didn't interfere with the proposal process...with the idea being that perhaps there was something beneficial that HE could get out of it toward his own end.
On one afternoon, my dad's sister and her husband stopped by to visit. They're both well into their eighties (my dad is the baby of his family), and both as salt of the earth as it gets. My uncle is a retired farmer, having raised watermelons and various other produce for years and years in central Florida before moving to NC soon after my family did in the mid 80s. I'd logged many long, hot and humid days in his watermelon fields - which might range from 40 acres to well over 100 acres in a given season - hoeing, thinning, turning vines, and then harvesting - in my early teens. My aunt and uncle visited for a couple of hours, my uncle told some of his old stories, and sang a song or two before leaving. The next week, after my ex's family had left, I saw my aunt and uncle for a few moments, and my uncle, who although a simple man is VERY astute, felt compelled to tell me, "Lew, stay on your toes with her daddy. That man gives you the fuzzy eyeball. He don't like how she respects you." My folks had noticed much the same, as did the handful of others who visited.
My ex's family would do some very out of place things, considering their environment, during their stay. Some of the girls would just disappear. We came to find out that they were taking some extremely long walks around the countryside. How long? My ex and I were making a trip into town and came across her older sister well over three miles from my home. Seemed strange to me, given the ultra-sheltering that her father STILL attempted, that he'd be ok with his daughters marching all over a rural area where they knew NO ONE, and where cell service is sketchy at its very best and normally non-existent. Also, the patriarse would take long walks of his own...while playing his guitar. I can only imagine (and laugh) at what the people in this community might have thought of some strange guy walking past their house wearing a fried pie on his head and playing a guitar. In the days that followed we got a few comments like "Was that guy walking around playing the guitar part of that crowd down at ya'll's house? They're a little different, ain't they?" Weird thing is, her family, particularly her father, seemed to revel in being "different" in both beliefs and actions, as if somehow this made them the "peculiar people" the bible says believers are to be. There's being a "peculiar people", and then there's just being weird. Her family typically fell among the latter. When you could take their religion out of the equation, her family could be different and sometimes eccentric about a few things (they were a lot like gypsies or Irish Travellers), but other than the patriarse, generally VERY likable. Add in their religion, and things just get weird.
As much as possible, she and I were just doing our own things and enjoying each other. We'd go for walks, we'd drive up onto the side of a local mountain to watch the sunset, and we did LOTS and LOTS of kissing. LOTS. Surprisingly, neither one of us became pregnant! (SA) She and her sisters shared our living room to sleep in while here, with a couple of air mattresses and two sofas servicing them. When she'd go to bed, I'd sit beside her and stroke her hair or gently rub her forehead until she fell asleep. Very sweet, even if now bittersweet, memories.
On their final day here is when the big-time P/QF weirdness surfaced. On that morning, having chosen a time when my family was all away, the patriarse told the two of us that he wanted to have a talk with us. We gathered in my dining room, and he went into a spiel about how marriage and engagement aren't the same thing, how he didn't want us to confuse the two (he didn't like the amount of physical contact - hand-holding, embracing - the kissing was private), told some story about this guy they know who is supposedly an ex-hitman (yes, I'm being serious), how this guy had a niece or something being pursued by some loser guy, and finally this ex-hitman cornered this guy and told him, "If you do anything to her that you wouldn't do to me, I'll kill ya!", and he ended this story with, "So, Lewis, I'm asking you to not do anything to her that you wouldn't do to me." The guy really doesn't know how close he came to an ass-kicking at that moment. And, no, I'm not making even a parcel of this story up. First of all, it was pretty weasely for the guy to wait until no members of MY family were around, then, to tell me this crap in my own home? To lay down groundrules to me in my own freakin' home? I wanted to say, "Then pucker up you ugly sucker and let's get this over with." What I did in response was to put my arm around her and say, "Well, if you've noticed, I come from a very touchy and affectionate family, so there are a few things you're probably gonna have to adjust to." I was steaming internally. I mean, in my own home? And what was that crap about the hitman guy? Was that supposed to intimidate me?
He pulls this BS, and then he asks permission to wash his RV. Dear God. "Come on out, Allen Funt! Where's the camera?! This is Candid Camera, right?!" Oh, but it got even better...
After his meeting with us, he headed out back to start scrubbing his RV...and I needed just a little space from him and from the moment. I asked her to take a walk with me. I didn't want to talk about any of the crap that had just taken place. I just wanted to be with her and enjoy her on what would be our last day together for at least a few weeks. I didn't want to think about or discuss how batcrap crazy her dad was. I mean, at that point, what could I say about it? "Hey, how would you feel about me just beating your dad every which way but stupid? Hmmm? Would you be okay with that?" I just needed to be away from the moment. She and I walked, snuggled, and embraced, talking about only little things mixed with "I love yous", before ending up back across the road from my house watching horses prance around the pasture. We were less than an hour removed from the morning speech at this point. It was a little chilly, so she and I turned to head back into the house to warm up, and as we turned, here comes her father across the front yard headed toward us. My first thought was "Here we go...He's gonna let us hear it about the hand-holding and embracing...God help me here." As he got closer, I could see a stupid looking smirk on his face, and he approached us pointing up at the sky, speaking again in an excited version of a Canteen Boy from Saturday Night Live voice, "Did you see that, Lewis?"...("What the...?!!!")..."Did I see what?"..."That. That right there." He was pointing up at a jet and its contrail, something I can see in multiples just about anytime I look up at a clear sky. "Did you see it? He just turned it on." All I know is, when I get to heaven, a truly loving God would allow me to see a replay of this exchange so I could see my own face. I asked, "Uhhh, turned what on?" "The government has brokered deals with the major airlines to spray chemicals to manipulate the weather. You can see where the pilot just turned it on. Do you see it?" Dear God help me. I soooooo terribly wanted to tell her, "Please do NOT get back on that RV with this fruitcake! Please stay here! This guy's freakin' nuts!" I just said something like "Well how bout that" and brushed on past him. If crazy was contagious, I didn't want any. For most of the rest of the day, I just kinda tried to avoid him. I had entered this day hopeful that she and I would make it through all of this peacefully and unscathed to our ceremony. This series of events took a good bit of the steam out of me.
That night was the concert date I'd booked for them in Roanoke, Va. It's a three hour drive, so we left my home in the early afternoon. I drove my own vehicle over to a truckstop that was on the route, leaving it there, riding with her family up to Roanoke, to be dropped off as they came back through on their way to a date booked in the Atlanta area. On our way there, I told her, "You know, we haven't really talked about a date yet." She said, "I know...Do you have some thoughts?" I did, but I suggested that we take the afternoon and evening to get our thoughts together, then talk with her family that night after the concert. After everyone was settled back on the RV that night, she asked all of her family to join us for a moment. Once she had everyone's attention, she said, "We need to decide on a wedding date. Do you guys have any thoughts?" (I wish she hadn't broached it that way...I felt like she almost empowered her dad to feel empowered concerning our wedding date) Immediately, her father says, "I think it would be best if you wait until after the first of the year." Keep in mind, this was February. I didn't mind a long engagement, if for some legitimate reason it might be necessary, but I needed to have some good reasons to wait a year or longer - particularly given how her family was so against long engagements. Her dad couldn't go into any specific reasons. I think his reasons were two-fold. At that time, their plan was to sing through the end of the year before either quitting, or, preferably for him, deciding (with much manipulation on his part) to continue, and, a large part of me thinks he desired a loooooooong engagement just so we'd have the opportunity to break up or be broken up. He practically admitted this after the break-up. Slimy snake. A real heart-guarder, that one.
I could see him trying to take ownership over the discussion and over the date. I absolutely WASN'T gonna allow that. I said to her, "Keep in mind that you've always wanted an outdoor wedding. This is gonna be YOUR day, so it needs to be about what YOU want." She said, "Yeah, so that puts us over into at least April or May of next year." I said, "So you've ruled out this fall? I haven't. I'm not keen on waiting a year and a half when it isn't necessary." She said, "No, you're right...this fall sounds really good." So, we ended the conversation with a target of sometime in the fall (with ownership of the date belonging to the two of us), as we'd all check our various schedules and see which date worked the best. But, the patriarse was perturbed by all of this. He could go and help the government manipulate the weather as far as I was concerned. This wasn't about him. It was about her. He couldn't handle that. That was, and should've remained, his own problem. Not ours.
When we reached my vehicle, our hearts were broken at the prospect of being apart from each other, and the goodbyes were tearful. Right in full view of her father, she grabbed me by the back of my neck, partly pulling my head back into the RV, and put me in a lip-lock. Oh, I promise you the kiss didn't bother me. She had license to kiss me anytime and anywhere she wanted. I just worried about the grief she might be bringing upon herself once they pulled out and I wasn't there to be a buffer for her. (turns out, she did get a pretty good grilling once they pulled away - From her sisters, it was more playful even if it had a dark undertone, but her father let her know that he didn't appreciate the two of us "acting as though we were already married")
My half-hour drive back home was very lonely, but provided that she and I could get across some hurdles that others were sure to introduce into our path, a beautiful future with the woman I loved was just ahead of me.