Mother was only about 17, and he was maybe about 19 when they became girlfriend and boyfriend. This may have been her first real boyfriend. He probably grew up in the Iron Duff community where mother had always lived.
Maybe they came to know each other at the Davis Chapel Methodist Church where mother attended. Maybe they originally met in grammar school …we will never know.
He wanted to see more of the world than this little mountain farming community, so he joined the U.S. Navy to “see the world,” as was written on the Naval recruiting posters of that time. He began to widen his horizons as the Navy took him to many places, but he did not forget the pretty auburn haired girl that he left in the mountains.
He sent her a naval midi-shirt, which was a blue pullover, trimmed in white and part of his uniform. I can imagine that mother was impressed with this gift, for she had it cut down to her size. Perhaps she did the alterations herself, since at some point in her life she became a skilled seamstress.
Mother had a photograph made of herself in this part of a Navy uniform and sent it to her boyfriend. I’m sure he showed the picture to his buddies, telling them that she was prettier than any girl they had met in any port.
And now the movie changes. Mother had a horse named Dan which she loved to ride. She and some of her friends rode their horses across Utah Mountain, where they came upon some other riders from the nearby Crabtree community.
My dad was one of those riders from Crabtree. They fell in love and subsequently married and had six children. The sailor man had been put aside. Maybe mother sent him a “Dear John” letter, but nevertheless he just became a memory to this busy little housewife and mother.
Time marches on as mother and dad lived a full life with children, grandchildren and then retirement for dad. Fate became a villain and our father was taken from us after 49 years of marriage to our mother. Mother adjusted to her life as a widow living in a little yellow cottage on Tate Street in Waynesville, North Carolina. She could walk to her First Methodist Church across the street and to her grocery store and to Main Street only a few blocks away.
Her sailor man may have been remembered from time to time, but mother had never heard from him. He had respected her marriage and had never tried to make contact with her…he was only a distant memory.
Not so with the sailor man, he never forgot mother. Maybe he married also and had children and grandchildren, but he apparently kept track of mother from a distance. He must have heard or read of dad’s passing and pulled mother’s photograph from his billfold once again to gaze at her image.
The respectful distance that he had always kept now became a narrow path as he saw Mother walking down Main Street. The sailor man mustered his courage and took this long walk across the street to approach a little lady who was in her seventies and who did not recognize him at first. He introduced himself for, after all, it had been over fifty years and fifty years of living greatly changes everyone.
He told Mother that he had something to give her, and he slowly removed from his billfold the photograph that she had sent him long, long ago. He kissed it with his eyes one last time and handed it to mother, and with heavy heart departed.
Mother told us the story, but I do not know his name. Maybe he was married—we don’t know, but they never reestablished a relationship. So the man who carried her photograph in his billfold for over fifty years must always remain mother’s mystery man.
Note: The badly wrinkled photograph has been restored and color added and is shown with this story.