Nancy Wiseman Briner Griffith’s funeral is at 11 o’clock this morning. I can’t be there in person, but I’ll be there in memory and hope, because she was my first girlfriend, sort of.
We were in the same class. It was around 8th or 9th grade. A Sadie Hawkins Day dance. Nancy asked me to go with her. I was honored, and I went, but she was a forceful woman, [even then] and I was a backward boy [even now]. So, I never followed up. Sixty years later, Nancy told me she had always been sorry I didn’t follow up on our one date. But it was not personal. I was scared of all girls, not just her.
In fact, the only other girl I dated in Oakland City, three years later, was Nancy’s cousin, Phyllis. She was patient with me, but even she got fed up with my backwardness, and in senior year traded up to guy who was not only a better boyfriend, but better-looking, which was quite embarrassing.
Nancy and I remained friends, even though we didn’t see each other very often for the next 65 years, because of distance. In our mature years, when I had gained some notice as a writer, she asked me to mentor her in writing, and I was glad to do so. She was a good writer. She and Helen and I would often spend time together around our every-five-years class reunions.
Nancy and Helen had a special appreciation for each other, because…
Helen and I were students at IU, and we were going to get married in Bloomington, the first couple married at the just-started St. Mark’s Methodist, where we attend now in retirement. In those days, the 1950s, you had to get a marriage license in the county in which one of you was a resident. Helen lived in Gary. It was closer to go to Princeton to get our license.
Our class schedules were tricky, and I was preaching at three little churches, which added to the scheduling problems, so we were going down to Princeton on the last possible day to get a license before our wedding day. On the way, I got the only moving violation ticket in my 67 years of driving, ever since Mr. Oren Stuckey took his life in his hands to teach Anne Turner and Carolyn Wilder and me as a driving trio. I was so distracted by Anne and Carolyn that it’s amazing I passed.
I was distracted enough by Helen on the way to get our marriage license that I was stopped by a state trooper, who took me immediately into Huntingburg to pay my fine. That was out of the way, and we got behind schedule. We had also forgotten that Bloomington and Princeton were in different time zones.
We pulled up to an austere and forbidding darkened Gothic courthouse. It was deserted. It was closed. Almost. A woman was locking the doors even as we ran up the walk. She was doing it forcefully. It was Nancy!
I calmly explained our dilemma. Bad cop! Huntingburg way far! Mr. Stuckey not good teacher! Anne and Carolyn! Stupid legislators make bad time zones! Last day!
Nancy looked like she was rethinking her regret about the absence of my follow-up on the Sadie Hawkins Day dance. “No problem,” she said. “I work in the clerk’s office. I’ll get you a license.”
What a relief. Until I opened my billfold to pay and realized that the driving ticket fine had taken all my cash. [No credit cards in those days.] So Helen dug around in her purse and found enough money to pay for our license.
I’m sure that Nancy breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness this loser never followed up on that Sadie Hawkins dance. I really lucked out. He can’t even pay for a marriage license.”
As I said, Helen and Nancy had a special bond. Helen loved Nancy because she opened the court house that day. Nancy loved Helen because she felt sorry for her.
Rest in peace, Nancy. Thank you for honoring me by asking me to go to that dance with you. Thank you for being my friend through so many years. And especially, thank you for that marriage license.
John Robert McFarland