Quote of the Day:
“Make the best of the situation, before I finally go insane.” –Eric Clapton, Layla
Hiram Springs was at the close of a successful run. He’d been a high school football star back in 1967, the last year before integration. He went on to Ole Miss where he won some rings and endured the transition from the Johnny Vaught era to modern SEC football. The Sugar Bowl ring he got for holding Archie’s helmet when the defense was on the field never came off his finger. For three years he dated a hometown girl, Betty. She was the prettiest coed in the third best sorority on campus but she wanted a career. So they split and he took up with Cindy, a really sweet girl. Her daddy was in the insurance business back home. The old man wanted a protege. She wanted babies.
They had two. Cindy devoted her life to them. Hiram admired her beyond anyone else in the world.
Betty moved back home after getting her Master’s and became a legal secretary in a small firm. Actually, in those years they just called her the secretary. She ran the place, married one of the young lawyers and then divorced him in 1978. He had to leave the firm and the county. The ladies of Marsh County would’ve preferred that Betty left. They shut her out of their domains–the Garden Club, Bridge Club and the Methodist Church. The men were in charge of the Country Club, though and all white people were welcome there, including Betty. So she learned to golf.
Hiram sold that insurance and went to Lion’s Club and became a deacon.
Betty and Hiram stayed appropriately, distantly friendly until 1980. That’s when the PTA leaders went on a retreat to Memphis to learn about selling candy bars to raise money for Marsh Academy and the kids went for the weekend out in the country to Grandma’s. Hiram played golf that afternoon and then lingered in the bar since there was no supper waiting at home. Betty was there, of course, and they talked about old times. At 30, Betty had become one of the prettiest girls of all the sororities from back in their day. Some girls are like that.
They stayed together all night. It was the first time. They would do it again in 1982, 1985 and on July the 4th, 1990 and that was it.
Hiram lay in bed thinking he really ought to get up. He never slept this late and it made him anxious. But he was thinking about those four nights with Betty and he didn’t want to break up the moment. After 1980 Betty became a “family friend” though of course she and Cindy rarely spoke. Hiram danced with her at Country Club events and wedding receptions. When Cindy didn’t want to go to ballgames back in Oxford, Betty went in her place. Hiram and Betty golfed every Wednesday afternoon for thirty years. They had lunch on Tuesdays before Hiram’s board meetings at the bank. They were together, openly, all the time, often with Cindy along too.
It was a small town with a small percentage of white folks and they all stuck together. That’s not to say everyone liked everyone else, but they kept a united front against the growing power of the blacks. Even when they lost the Mayor’s office and the Judgeship, the old guard managed to hold on to most of the local money, even as the total pool of money available steadily shrunk. So nobody ever talked about Hiram and Betty and Cindy out of doors. They didn’t even really raise an eyebrow when they saw them around town, though that part was difficult for the first decade or so.
What’s funny, Hiram thought, is that nobody ever suggested he and Cindy divorce, including Betty. Though he considered it periodically through the years, he always rejected the idea because he just couldn’t embarrass such a good woman and ruin her social status in a dying town she was stuck in for life. Plus it would’ve cost him a fortune. Probably lose his kids too.
Four times, Hiram sighed. Might as well have done it a bunch more than that. Everyone assumed it so and looking back, it wouldn’t have changed much in how everything turned out. Then again, four times might be more forgivable than four hundred. He hoped. He squeezed Cindy’s hand. She was better than he’d deserved.
Cindy and the kids left and a few minutes later Lydia, an African American nurse who played dumb for the sake of Mr. Hiram, who she’d always respected as a fair man, led Betty in. Betty took his same hand in hers except the warmth already had drained away, and said a quick goodbye. She slipped off the Sugar Bowl ring and asked Lydia to be sure and get it back to Cindy, who must’ve been too distraught to think of it.
The person who told me the true version of this story I’ve imagined will recognize what I borrowed. That true story, as far as I know is just this: a man in a small town in Mississippi recently died. A few months before that, I met him at a party and watched him dance the night away with his longtime mistress while his wife sat and watched. Apparently this sort of thing had been going on for many years as their friends and neighbors studiously looked the other way and spoke of other things. There was an arrangement. Who knows what it was, other than crazy and sad.