Couples find love through writing

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Johnny Garrett has told so many tall tales about his proposal of marriage to Patricia Parish, that no one, not even Garret himself, knows what's true and what's not.

Not that the truth really matters when telling love stories. Most love stories are best when embellished a bit. Johnny believes that and he lives by it.

But, when pushed into a corner about that day that forever changed his life, Johnny yielded to his wife's cutting eyes and told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "Well, almost."

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Johnny and Patricia met on a blind date. They were both 18 years old and recent high school graduates; he from Pike County High School and she from Bullock County High.

Johnny was admittedly a rather brash, bold Brundidge boy. "Cool by today's standards."

Patricia was a shy, bashful girl from Josie Beat. Opposites, they were.

"R.A. Goodson and Pasty set up the date and I was good for anything," Johnny said of his willingness to go on a blind date. "Nothing bothered me."

As for Patricia, "I lived so far out in the sticks that when I got a chance to go somewhere, I'd go," she said, laughing. "I didn't care who or where."

Johnny and R.A. took the girls to the Starlite Drive-In in Troy. Ordinarily, the girls would have been thrilled, but Goodson took a quick turn into the exit, bounded up and down the rows, found an isolated speaker, pulled in and parked. With the money they saved on tickets, the "cool Brundidge boys' had enough to buy burgers, fries and co-colas all around.

Johnny did all the talking that night and Patricia did all the listening.

"I was so bashful that he got to do all the talking," Patricia said. "That's what he liked about me, I think. That he could do all the talking."

On the way home that night, Johnny told R.A. that Patricia was the girl he was going to marry. She, however, was not as impressed with him. After all, he had turned her into a drive-in renegade. "He acted the fool."

She had to warm up to him.

It didn't take long.

"We could only date on weekends," Johnny said. "That was it. Sometimes we'd go to the drive-in or the Red Wave or Dairy Delight and, most of the time, we just rode around. Gas was just 19 cents a gallon. We'd fill up the car and we could ride all night."

But, they didn't.

Johnny laughingly admitted that parking was no problem for teenagers back then. "Any old dirt road would do."

And, it was there on a dirt road up around Josie Beat that Johnny Garrett got the courage to ask Patricia to be his bride.

"I pulled off on a dirt road and stopped," Johnny said, shaking his head, no, that Patricia was not surprised. "We'd been on dirt roads before."

There in the middle of a dirt road, Johnny asked Patricia to marry him.

"I asked him if he was sure he knew what he was doing," Patricia said. "He said he was sure. He had started to grow on me so I said yes."

Johnny didn't slip a ring on his intended's finger when he proposed. He didn't have one.

"After Patricia said, yes, I had to borrow money from her to buy her a ring," he said, laughing. "Then, I still had to buy it at a pawn shop."

Asking Patricia was not the hardest part of getting engaged at age 18. The hardest part was telling his parents - and hers.

"My mama and I talk a lot about things, so the next morning, I told her that I had asked Patricia to marry me," Johnny said. "I asked her to sign for me and she said I'd have to ask my daddy. It was hard but I asked him and he said he would sign for me."

Who told Patricia's parents about the engagement depends on who's telling the story.

Patricia said she told them. Johnny said he did.

"Patricia's daddy said, 'Here, boy, I've got a little cash I can give you to take her off my hands," Johnny said. "He said that would give him one less mouth to feed."

Engagement seemed to have a loosening effect on Patricia. Once they were at a goat barbecue and she went over and sat on Johnny's knee.

Two minutes later, her mama came flying over, with harsh words, "Get up! Girls aren't supposed to do that."

"She wanted to smooch me," Johnny said, laughing.

Patricia wanted a small wedding at her parents' home. Johnny agreed.

Waiting until that day wasn't easy. They wanted to be together but he was on one side of the county and she was on the other. Not really that far but it seemed as though they were oceans apart.

During those days of agonizing waiting, the couple often sent love letters in the mail.

I don't like being away from you but It won't be like that much longer, Darling. I'll get to be with you all the time in about 742 hours or about 47,520 minutes or about 2,851,200 seconds. That seems like an awful long time but it'll finally get here. Love always, Johnny.

Patricia wrote back.

I know I am happier now since I have known you than I have ever been. And, I believe we can be even happier after April 2. After then we will be together all the time. I think that the girl who gets you is getting the "jackpot." And it sure looks like that girl is me. Love always, Patricia

"The day of the wedding, April 2, 1966, Johnny Garrett put on his new suit and shoes, cranked his car and headed to Josie to take a bride.

Not far down the road, his old trusty let him down. Johnny's spirits deflated just as quickly as the air went out of his back tire. Surveying the situation. He knew he had to change the tire, but in so doing, his wedding suit would be mustered. But, there was nothing else to do.

Then along came, Glen Anderson and Johnny's cousin, Abner, on their way to the wedding.

They stopped, gave him the key to their car and hurried him off to the wedding while they changed the tire.

"I was already nervous, then I got more nervous when I had a flat," Johnny said. "I was scared that I wouldn't make it on time."

Johnny drove over the speed limit and might have even hit 60 mph a time or two.

"I thought we were just having a few people, my family and hers and a few friends," he said. "But when I rounded the curve at her house, cars were lined up on both sides of the road as far as I could see. Patricia had invited all her kinfolks and everybody else she knew. I have never been so nervous in all my life."

Johnny tried to slip in the house unnoticed but knocked over a vase of flowers in the attempt. The brash, Brundidge boy turned bashful and clumsy. "Love does funny things to you."

The couple said their "I do's" and "I wills" and left their old world behind and started on a new life's journey together. First stop: Rock City.

"I'd never been anywhere before and I was scared to death, going so far from home," Patricia said. "And, I knew that whatever I'd gotten myself into, I had to make the best of it. .But I knew that I'd done the right thing. I never have doubted that"

And Johnny knew, too, that he had found the right one for him, But he kidded, his bride that if his marriage didn't work out, he could blame R.A. for getting him into it.

Johnny and Patricia Garrett have made the best of their marriage. After 38 years, they're still happily together and think they'll give another 38 years a try.