In the fall of 1964, I met a pretty little brown-eyed coed named Mary Frances Hill from Portland during our freshman year at Martin Methodist College. We hit it off, started dating and didn’t stop for the next 53 years.
Mary Frances died last week after a courageous battle with dementia, leaving a scar on my heart that will never heal. But oh, what fun we had during all those years, and the memories come flooding back. (Visit marywoody.com to view a photo gallery.)
During our dating days Mary Frances was aware of my writing ambition, specifically outdoor writing, and after she accepted my marriage proposal it didn’t take long for her to realize what she had signed on for.
She suggested having the wedding on Sept. 1. I said I couldn’t. That was the opening day of squirrel season. We got married on Sept. 2.
Our “honeymoon suite” was a fishing cabin on Kentucky Lake. I promised to take her to Paris someday, and I did – Paris, Tennessee, for some of the world’s best crappie fishing.
A year after we were married I received my Army induction notice and soon afterwards found myself in Vietnam as a combat infantryman. Every soldier got a week’s R&R – rest and recuperation – at exotic vacation spots where the spouse could meet. I chose Hawaii, and as soon as Mary Frances arrived we went deep-sea fishing. Spending a day on a smelly, rocking fishing boat, half sea-sick, was hardly a romantic getaway, but she never complained.
Likewise she didn’t complain when we spent part of a summer vacation at Reelfoot Lake. I’d go fishing each morning while Mary Frances sunned at pool-side. It would have been relaxing except for the fish-processing plant across the street.
Another summer we vacationed in northern Wisconsin at the lakeside cabin of an Army buddy. We divided our time between walleye fishing and musky fishing. At night we had fish dinners at a little road house whose walls were decorated with mounted fish. After a week, Mary Frances said she was starting to see fish in her sleep.
I introduced her to trout fishing at Bucksnort, and over the years she splashed along beside me in Mill Creek, Caney Fork, Sequatchie, and the Tellico River.
Our wildest outdoor adventure was a camping trip in the Canadian wilderness. It drizzled every day, but Mary Frances put on a poncho and gamely cooked over a smoldering campfire. The tent leaked and our sleeping bags were soaked. One night a bear wandered into camp, broke into the ice chest that contained most of our food and carried off our greasy cooking skillet as a souvenir.
We headed home after a week of mildewed misery, and as we sped through Chicago on the expressway our tent blew off from the top of the van when a strap broke. We didn’t stop.
Mary Frances enjoyed hiking, and over the years we spent countless hours touring state parks and natural areas around the state. We were walking along a trail at Long Hunter State Park one spring morning when a wild turkey – probably a nesting hen – attacked, pecking and flogging. As Mary Frances fended off the foul-mood fowl, I snapped photos of the encounter. I thought it was funny. She didn’t.
One summer at Lake George N.Y., a teenager came walking along the beach carrying a 7-foot boa constrictor. A crowd gathered, and on a dare Mary Frances let the kid drape the snake around her neck. She never flinched.
During a walk at Radnor Lake we met a young couple leading a pet pig on a leash. Mary Frances naturally stopped to pet it and I snapped a photo. Our granddaughter thought it was hilarious: Granny pets a pig.
Looking back, it WAS pretty amusing – like postponing her wedding for squirrel season, getting attacked by a berserk turkey, losing her skillet to a hungry bear and allowing a giant snake to be dangled around her neck.
Mary Frances had a great sense of humor, and was a good sport who never complained about any of our wacky misadventures. She was my constant companion for over a half-century and made each day special, fun and bright.
I miss my angel.