The Love Story of Floyd and Fannie Mae (Chapter 1/3)0
This is a story about 2 ordinary people and an extraordinary love. Their names were Floyd and Fannie Mae and yes, they were real people. I knew them both and I knew them both when they were in their eighties and their nineties. Parts of this story have been reconstructed, as naturally I was not there for their entire lives. Parts of the story weave in the lives of my own grandparents. So to that end, the Fannie Mae and Floyd here are fictional.
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This is a story of two ordinary people bound together by an extraordinary love. I hope that after you listen to it, when your life intersects next with the life of an elderly person, you will see the life of that elderly person as a quilt, and realize that we’re only seeing one piece of material, one patch. If you look closer, you’ll see that patch is stitched to another, and that to another, and the whole represents a beautiful quilt. This story takes the patches I knew of two people names Floyd and Fannie Mae. Much older than me.
I supplemented where I had to, and when I knew only a piece of the story. That’s not really important. What is important is two things. Number one, that they were real people. They were ordinary people who lived ordinary lives, bound up together by love. That’s what makes it so very extraordinary. Secondly, I hope you remember this story the next time you see an older person crossing the street, perhaps too slowly, and causing you to wait, and maybe causing you to be irritated, and that we remember two things. Number one, that we’re only seeing a piece of patchwork right now. There’s a whole quilt of life behind it. Lastly, to bring us to the realization that the current of life is moving all of us in that same direction.
She was to him the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. No one looked like Fannie Mae, no one smiled like Fannie Mae. No one even brushed the hair from her cheek the way that Fannie Mae did. Floyd was in love. The year was 1916, and the place was a small country church in a place called Passapatanzy, in King George County, Virginia. Floyd was 17 years old, and Fannie May was 16. She sat at the front of the church on the right hand side by the stained glass window. Floyd sat in the back by the door. He could not take his eyes off of her. The light that streamed through the colored class danced in her hair, and on her skin like red and blue, and green jewels.
Soon the sermon was over, and everyone stood and sung a hymn, and streamed outside, and oh, how Floyd wanted to go up to her and to tell her how he felt. He dared not again. He was shy, painfully shy. He always had been, and even though his family farm was just next door to Fannie Mae’s family, he could not now bring himself to speak to her. His mouth became dry, and his tongue stuck to the roof of it. There was one place where Floyd was free, where he could let out what was on the inside. Floyd could write, and he could play music.
In fact, there was almost no instrument Floyd could not play. The guitar, the banjo, the violin he called “Papa’s fiddle,” the mandolin. Floyd had a gift, and Floyd could write. The words flowed from his hand as they never could from his mouth. Words and music. They were the places where Floyd was Floyd. That afternoon, so filled with feelings and emotions he could not fully understand, he went to a quiet place in the woods on his farm and he wrote. He wanted to tell Fannie Mae what he thought of her, and how he felt when he watched her smile across the room. He wrote in his neatest, most careful cursive. He folded the paper crisply, and he waited for the next Sunday.
The week rolled by and Floyd found himself in the back of the church again. Fannie was in her usual spot. It seemed the sermon would never end, but it did, and everyone streamed outside. Fannie stood to the left of the porch talking to some of her friends. Floyd walked up to her and reached inside his shirt, and took out the neatly folded single piece of paper. All he could manage verbally was, “Here, for you.” Fannie took the paper and placed inside her blue, beaded drawstring purse, which was the style of the day. She barely even acknowledged Floyd, and she continued talking to her friends. Floyd stumbled awkwardly away.
You see, Fannie had assumed it was a grocery list. Her father ran the country store, and now that she was 16, she spent nearly all her free time working there, helping. People often gave her the grocery list of things to be boxed, and she assumed this was from Floyd’s family.
When she got home, upstairs in her parents home, stretched out across her mother’s bed, she unfolded the paper, and she read, “Fannie, your smile is like the red, red rose, ever full and bright, and it chases away the gloom I know as the does chase the night. In you I find all the things most women hope to be, beauty, charm, wit, and warmth are each a part of thee. She turned it over in her hands and she read it again. Could this be from that boy, Floyd? The one who just a few years ago was chasing frogs and snakes, and who she was convinced, given the chance, would destroy anything of beauty. Could he have really written these words? Could this really be Floyd?
In that moment, stretched out across her mother’s bed, Floyd began in her mind to transform. The next Sunday, they made eye contact, and they smiled. Soon they were talking, and then sitting beside one another, and then holding hands, and then walking between the farm and the store together, and painfully shy Floyd spoke more in that year than he had in his entire life, and he wrote, and Fannie Mae read. He played music, and she would close her eyes and drift away in thoughts and longing of young, young, love.
Soon Floyd wanted to get married, but Fannie wanted to wait, to make sure they had a proper courtship, as the term was. Plus, by the end of summer her mother had fallen ill, and her father needed her so much more now in the store. While she just needed more time to process it all. She told Floyd, just wait for me, and he did. By the next spring he felt he could wait no more, and he pressed Fannie hard. “What’s to wait for. It had been nearly a year,” he said, and they were both eighteen now. “Marry me, Fanny,” he pleaded. “Don’t delay any longer.” Nothing in all the world will be right if I don’t have you. Nothing even in nature.”
One late spring evening, sitting on Fannie Mae’s porch swing, Floyd pulled out a piece of paper. He had gone to the place where Floyd was Floyd, to his writing. He handed to her his best attempt at describing to her everything that was bound up and twisted up and aching inside him, and how desperately he wanted to be with her, and how her delay felt like it would even kill him. He unfolded the paper and read these words. “Fannie, dear, don’t delay. The moon has chased the stars away, and the tide that broke on teeming shore lies silent ‘neath the silent oar, and the sun, distraught, has hid his face. Oh, come and free me from this hellish place, for since I last have seen thy face my dear I fear to speak the truth, but earth has changed and shed her youth. Fannie, dear, don’t delay, the moon has chased the stars away.”
Though Fannie came from a “good family,” and was indeed what the world called then, good girl, she knew what Floyd was trying to say. She looked at Floyd that evening and simply said, “Yes.” Soon they were married, and as it happens, life held a few surprises for them. The influenza outbreak was bad. Fannie fell ill, then recovered, but that winter, they buried her mother. The next spring brought new life and new growth, and Fannie and Floyd stayed close to one another all through it.
Floyd threw himself into farming. Little time left for music or writing, and Fannie threw herself into the store helping her aging father. Through it all, with his new wife, and his new life, Floyd was the happiest man in the world, for a while.
Then something strange began to happen with Floyd.
That’s the end of chapter one of the love story of Floyd and Fannie Mae.
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