I Married a Closet Redneck: An Introduction

Some would say–my family members in particular–that I should’ve seen the signs. I should’ve known better. I should’ve picked myself up and ran the opposite direction—back toward civilized sanity, back toward intellectual pursuits, toward a good bottle of wine and jazz music. I should’ve kept my city neighborhood door locked and shut to the knocking. That tall entrepreneur who opened the door and walked into my single life was about to bring me over to the dark side, along the off-the-beaten path and into the backwoods of a wild and crazy red neck adventure I would’ve never entertained in my past life.

Jefferson Lee is a fitting name for him, I now realize. While he was born of an upper middle class family in a Middle America suburb, his heart must’ve skipped a generation or two and come straight from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Mr. Dempsey is not the product of his rearing, but rather a man of his own invention in spite my mother-in-law’s good intentions. She wished he would wear creased trousers and spit-shined loafers, but he was more the worn jeans and athletic shoe type. She hoped he’d play piano, but he learned how to tune an engine instead. She preferred feeding him steak and refined fare that said her family had arrived–far from her southern farmer’s family tree; yet he relished fried catfish, cornbread and other simpler foods that brought him back to those same roots.

Jeff, my darling husband of now 15 years, seemed normal at first. He told me he was a contractor during our first date. I was impressed that he had employees and a good work ethic. He lived on his cell phone, even before most people became attached to theirs, and he even had a secretary. We enjoyed a variety of movies, classic rock and even some jazz music. We shared bottles of wine while watching the sun set. He enjoyed our shared restaurant dinners and conversations. He even read books and liked to discuss what he learned. Of course, he liked the outdoors, but so did I.

I had always said I’d be equally at home in a ritzy hotel or a tent in the woods, so how could I judge someone else who said he enjoyed the country? I had spent many a family vacation in the Northwoods, and I proudly claimed hands-on knowledge of a few freshly caught pan fish. I enjoyed canoeing and boating as much as I enjoyed reading a good book. But perhaps I should’ve checked the differences between my Yankee, somewhat liberal, views and his professed worship of the Reagan years. Maybe I should’ve exited when I saw the velvet painting of a raccoon on the paneled walls of his living room, or the work-out bench that sat in the middle of the path between the front door and the kitchen. And yes, I really should have thought twice about saying yes to the man who drank a beer brand named for a famous brewery city just to be acknowledged as a brew.
But I had fallen in love with his endless energy. I had already lost my heart to his ideas and the way he laughed at himself. I learned to appreciate his McGyver-like ability to solve everyday problems using the resources available to him. And above all, I have been endlessly entertained by his antics and I continue to find amusement in his mixed metaphors and his goofiness. This man, Jefferson Lee Dempsey, is my muse, and I hope you enjoy the stories I share here. Many are true, some are embellished, and some are retold from others who have come into my life only because he holds a charisma that draws them to him like moths to honey….err, a flame.

Susan

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Henry, A Eulogy

This was a eulogy delivered today in honor of my father-in-law:

Oh Henry!….Vinn….Dad….PawPaw….Mr. Dempsey…each of us here knows you from a different viewpoint. As one with the least amount of history with you, I can only touch upon a few moments of your life that represent 89—almost 90—years of a life fully lived. May I honor you as much as we are honored having known you.

He was the twin brother of Hugh, and brother to Jack, Geraldine (Booby) and Mary Rose. Henry was born May 2nd, 1925, in Potts Camp, Mississippi and reared by his country doctor father, Davis Terrell, and Mama Lois Dempsey in Kennett, Missouri.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1943. He and Mary Alice, high school sweethearts, eloped as teenagers in 1944; stealing away to Peragould, Arkansas to tie the knot, accompanied by his brother Hugh and his sister-in-law.

Henry left Mary Alice with the Dempseys to serve in the Navy and found his bunk on a merchant ship during World War II, assigned to protect her carried supplies and precious cargo. He was a member of our Greatest Generation—he was one among those courageous men and women who served our country; unfailingly devout and steadfast in their duty, yet closed-mouthed about the danger or the terror.

When he returned, he attended Southeast Missouri State to study chemistry and biology before transferring to Arkansas State in Jonesboro. He would share more war stories about sneaking off to hunt or fish with his mentor, Doctor Demery, and how he’d barely stay awake in his classes the next day, than he ever would’ve considered telling from his overseas experience.

He was a high school Chemistry teacher in Mathews, Missouri, at a time when to teach also meant to encourage, to discipline, to share morals and values, and to drive the bus.

Two years later, he moved his young family to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Falstaff Breweries had a bottling plant, to work in Quality Control. He told me once that he travelled a territory checking the brew quality at the point of purchase—local pubs, taverns and restaurants. (It was a rough job, but someone had to do it!)

In 1961, Henry was promoted and the family moved to Camellia Drive in Webster Groves, MO. He worked at Falstaff’s headquarters until the late 70’s when the company was sold. He finished his career as Quality Control Manager at Western Lithoplate in Kirkwood. He retired in 1995.

He and Mary Alice were blessed with three children, whose deliveries were spread over 17 years. Marilyn Ann was born in 1946, Henry Vinn Jr. in 1955 and Jefferson Lee in 1963. He was a patient mentor to his daughter and sons, and he enjoyed his family foremost. He was known to take his grandsons fishing at Suson Park regularly, and he watched them grow to fine young men. He would also beam with pride over the accomplishments of one of his granddaughters or great-granddaughter.

Henry was a kidder, and he was known to pull a practical joke occasionally. He loved to tell stories about himself and his friends. He fondly remembered his friend Beefy, for instance. Jeff has told me a few stories with those two characters at the center, involving levees, the Mississippi, gigging and a few cold ones. (At least they did have a half-sized designated driver, well before their time.) He and his identical twin brother Hugh were known to pull a fast one on each other or on others as well.

He was a staunch member of Webster Hills, and he served here as an usher for 45 years. He was also an adult leader in the church-sponsored Boy Scout troop, of which his sons took part.

While I met him later in life, I can tell you he was a quiet, unassuming man who was a home body—probably just enjoying being off the road after many years of travel with work. He loved to putter around the house or hand water the beautiful azaleas and impatiens he and Mary Alice planted. But he truly just enjoyed being there. He could fix just about anything, and I believe he passed that skill on to his two boys.

Anytime he was away from home, you could tell his heart was in his own backyard, and he’d soon after arriving say, “Well I best be getting back home, she’ll be waiting.”

Whenever we had pie for dessert after a family meal, he’d ask me, “You like that? I baked it myself!” …even if I had brought it with me that day. He laughed with his eyes, a true Irishman in spirit.

The Henry we all remember started to leave us a few years ago, when Alzheimer’s struck both him and Mary Alice. They say that this unfair disease is known as the “Long Goodbye.” I’ve seen it take our parents’ best memories from them, but it won’t take our memories OF them. My own father is suffering from the ravages of this beast too.

But the confusion and sense of loss for Henry are now gone.

Henry, the Long Goodbye is now over. It’s time to go on home. Mary Alice and Marilyn and all the others are waiting.

Hi World!

I’m about to embark on a journey via this virtual path through the woods. Friends and family have been hounding me to start blogging. They understand that I enjoy writing almost as much as I like to talk. And they promised they’d read it. (I swear they did.) So I’m here. I do love crafting with words. I try to see the lighter side of life, and I admit to a long-held dream of becoming the world’s next Erma Bombeck. But I’ve also been known to write memorials, to share my sentimental side or to wave the flag and cry out for more apple pie. Now if I can figure out how to set this up with a few categories that will make my mind appear more organized than it really is, I’ll start. Follow me, and I’ll try to entertain you, to inspire you and to share some of my misadventures as well as successful ventures with you.  You may laugh, you may cry or you may just realize you’re not alone.  I’m failing and flailing, laughing and crying, and I’m learning my way through life just as we all are.