Friday, March 29, 2013

Decoding Catherine's Letter on Marriage

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

This past Tuesday I posted a letter from Catherine to her parents written in 1936.  It was a lovely and interesting letter, but unless you have special knowledge of "All Things Catherine" many of you may be wondering about some of the topics she included in her note, so I thought I would fill in some of the blanks and let everyone know at least some of the "rest of the story."

By the time mother got her "place" at Alcoa Middle School (teaching jobs were called "places" back then, at least by them), James Neville was making noises about getting married sooner than "next Spring."  As previously mentioned we had 99 letters written by James Neville, but none by Catherine to him during this time period.  However, we could put together a pretty good picture that the idea of an early marriage was not his alone.  It was interesting to read his letters where he was trying to convince her that they should wait til Spring, only to have the next week's letters find him making a case for a December event.  Obviously they both waffled on what was the right and best thing to do.

Even after spending Thanksgiving together in Tiptonville they had not reached a final decision.  In Catherine's letter she tells us that it was not until after she had returned to Alcoa did she write immediately to 'Duke to let him know that she had made up her mind for sure.  As those letters were read by Amanda and I in 2007 it was interesting that his first two letters to Catherine after that holiday trip only discussed how much he enjoyed being with her and how hard it was to get back into his teaching routine.  Then his third letter was obviously written in response to her "first" after holiday letter that he must have just received giving him the good news that he was about to have a "roommate for life."

Catherine's first request of her parents was to write up an announcement for the two Memphis Newspapers.  The posting shows a copy of the paper's notice, but I am not sure exactly what date it ran.  Interestingly it incorrectly used Catherine's middle name, Frazier, as if it was her last name.  The notice should have read "Patty-LeDuke."

The "thing" as Catherine referred to it several times, took place on a Wednesday night.  There was actually a good deal of logic in that decision.  Mother did not want a large fancy wedding, but she did want to have many of her church friends to attend.  As it happened the Chelsea Avenue Presbyterian Church held a Wednesday Night service each week as is the custom even today in many churches. 
Chelsea Ave. Pres. was in the center of this old map
The weekday sermon ended at 8:00 and Mrs. Patty prearranged with the pastor to have all the available flowers and ferns gathered up and placed around the altar for the Patty-LeDuke wedding which followed at about 8:30.

Catherine got her church wedding, Reverend Holt had an exceptionally large crowd present to hear his Wednesday Night message, Miss Prescott, the church organist, eagerly agreed to play the music, and good friend Elbert McKissack was indeed in town and available to sing several songs. Mrs. Patty baked the cake and recruited the "church ladies" to assist with the food for the reception which was held in the fellowship hall, James Neville did not have to wear "one of those Monkey Suits" as he feared would be required, Martha (James Neville's sister) and Sleepy (Shelton Carter, Martha's boyfriend and eventual husband) were in the wedding party.  Catherine's brother Bud could not attend due to prior Christmas commitments with his fiance, Edith, but sister Mary Elizabeth was there as Catherine's Maid of Honor, and..... the $10 wedding dress deserves it's own paragraph.

All of today's brides and mother-of-the-brides must surely have gotten quite a laugh at Catherine's plan for either purchasing a "ten dollar" wedding dress or trying to save even more money by making it herself.  Well, the truth is Mother did indeed do much of the "making" herself; but with a lot of help from one of her best friends from high school and college, Evelyn Hopper.  Evelyn knew that she would not be able to attend the wedding on the 23rd, but she wanted to do something special for Catherine so she actually did the majority of the work on the white, satin dress; a dress that today is neatly folded up in the cedar chest that sits at the foot of Mother's bed.

Newlywed Catherine at Burritt College
There were not nearly as many "nay-sayers" as Catherine had feared.  All of the LeDuke clan from Tiptonville had known Catherine for over a year, had fallen in love with her too, and were only too eager to have James Neville bring her into the family.  The Patty bunch, and more importantly, the more religious Reder bunch (Mrs. Patty's sisters and aunts) were all so relieved that Catherine's dress could legitimately be white, and that the wedding would take place in their beloved Chelsea Avenue Presbyterian Church that little was said to put a damper on Catherine's special day.

While I do not know the details of this coincidence, the anniversary date of December 23rd was always easy for everyone in the LeDuke family to remember since "Sleepy" and Martha were married three years later to the day, on December 23, 1939. On that date each year Martha and Shelton Carter arrived at our house to pick up James Neville and Catherine.  The four of them would go out every year that we could recall for a "fancy" anniversary dinner.  While reading the WWII letters a special treat occurred on the 23rd of each of the 26 months of letters.  Not one of the 52 large calendar sheets I was making notes on failed to mention the "Happy Anniversary, Dear" comment that was made by each of the them to the other.

For anyone that might think that the $10 wedding dress simply could not have been real, I offer a few paragraphs from one of the last chapters of James Neville & Catherine - A Love Story:

 "James Neville's concerns were not limited to his being uncomfortable with a fancy church wedding.  The reality of his wealth, or rather lack of it, was starting to sink in.  He was beginning to realize that the old saying "you can't live on love alone" may have been written just for Catherine and him.

The idea that he would be leaving in less than two weeks to travel to his home in Tiptonville, then to Memphis to be married, have a brief honeymoon in town, travel back to Tiptonville to present his bride to his family, and then return with Catherine Patty LeDuke to their new home in a dormitory apartment at Burritt College all to be done with the grand sum of $38.50 was beginning to seem like something written in a fairy tale.

'Money, money, money; all my life I've had to listen to my family go on and on about the cost of a loaf of bread, a gallon of gasoline, a pair of new shoes, or an acre of land.  Now I've convinced the most wonderful girl in the world to marry me and I go to her with $38.50 in my pocket.

At least I can know Catherine is not marrying me for my money.'

Catherine and James Neville indeed started out life on a shoe-string.  After leaving Burritt College in May of 1937, Catherine and Duke relocated to Tiptonville without jobs.  Eventually, James Neville's civil service job at the Post Office gave him reasonable financial comfort, his afternoon teaching role provided him with the intellectual stimulus he needed, and he was still able to get home in the afternoon early enough to watch "As the World Turns" on TV.  And when Catherine Frazier Patty said in the letter "...and I'll never make a very good school teacher anyway...," the future Tennessee Teacher's Hall-of-Famer  clearly didn't know what was in store for her in Lake County.
"To my big brother George, the richest man in town"

No, Catherine certainly did not marry for money, but like George and Mary Bailey of "It's a Wonderful Life" fame, James Neville and Catherine became the richest couple in Lake County.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

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