"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 15"

The weeks that followed the afternoon with Beau went by like a whirlwind for Autumn Belle.

She finished the feature on George Decker and met Mrs. Sibley's deadline. Like any rookie journalist, she did not consider all the aspects of how the article would be received by her audience, nor how it would affect those mentioned in it. In the first draft, she had included Beau - highlighting his military service. Mrs. Sibley called her in and rebuked her for it. Her argument was two-fold.

First, this was a story about George Decker - not Autumn Belle's handsome new boyfriend. Second, publishing facts regarding the service record and M.O.S. (Military Occupational Specialty) of active duty personnel was strictly forbidden by the Atlanta newspapers, not to mention the Department of Defense. Mrs. Sibley explained the possibility of foreign agents being in America - and how they would delight in finding a Navy SEAL in their midst. Beau could easily be targeted by such people for covert acts of revenge or sabotage against the military. Autumn was quite shaken from hearing this. She had no idea how dangerous a military person's life could be, even when they were not on the battlefield.

Autumn and Beau spent almost every weekend together during that Fall. They did many different things which would later become cherished memories. There were motorcyle rides through the north Georgia mountains, Saturday afternoons at Stone Mountain, Friday nights riding the Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Over Georgia, high school football games, a hot fudge sundae at the Miss Georgia Ice Cream store in West End, and Sunday afternoon picnics at Piedmont Park.

Autumn found almost any excuse to go for breakfast or lunch at the Silver Skillet. Beau frequently sent out her order with a flower on the tray. In turn, he found perfumed notes and trinkets in his motorcycle helmet at the end of a day's work. It was during these special days that Autumn Belle Hamilton and Beau Jackson fell deeply in love with each other.

On Halloween, Beau and Autumn attended a costume party at her uncle's stately home in Social Circle. They went dressed as a married couple. Wearing oversized formal attire, Beau stuffed four pillows into the seat of his pants. Autumn wore an old fashioned dress with a bussell - complete with two large sofa pillows strapped to her derrier. They each wore a sign around their neck announcing themselves as, "The Butt-ners." The outfits won them first prize for Most-Original-Couple-Costume at the party. They were showered with laughs from their fellow party-goers.

By early November, the time came for the formal introductions to family.

The Hamilton's went first.

They hosted a Saturday afternoon barbecue, complete with a jazz ensemble and a big screen television. The TV was set up on the veranda and tuned to the annual Georgia-Florida football game. Between touchdowns, Beau charmed Autumn's parents - answering their many questions about his family and his Naval service. By day's end, Bea and Rhett Hamilton were greatly impressed with Beau, and he with them. They had money, true enough. But, the Hamilton's seemed very down to earth and easy to talk to. Beau felt very comfortable with them. They invited him to come back and visit their home any time.

Following dinner, he and Autumn spent the last few hours of daylight strolling through the sixty-plus acres of rolling pasture on the estate. Beau remarked to Autumn, as he looked around at the beauty she had grown up in, that one of his dreams was to own a place like this one day. She stopped short of suggesting that if they ever got married, a home and a farm like her family's was not totally out of the question. Autumn knew that one of her future wedding gifts would be a considerable trust fund established for her during infancy by her grandfather.

The very thought of "hearing" herself imagine such a thing caused Autumn to take yet another long look at her relationship with Beau. Was she ready for marriage? Only a few short weeks before, the answer to such a question would have been a resounding "no." She had previously been the epitome of a free-spirit, good-time, party girl. It was not at all like the Autumn Belle Hamilton of old to be thinking in terms of marriage.

However, that is exactly how she felt about this special man. And, the more she thought about it, the less it scared her.

On the following Saturday morning, Autumn climbed on the back of Beau's Harley and rode into downtown Atlanta with him. It was time to meet Beau's mother. His parents, James and Rosemary Jackson, met in elementary school. As childhood sweethearts, neither of them ever dated, or even kissed, another person. They married right out of high school, and spent most of the rest of their forty-five years of marriage traveling the world. As a Rear-Admiral's wife, Rose Jackson lived in many places. Her house was filled with pictures reflecting the years of her husband's distinguished Naval career. They had moved back to Atlanta when James retired. She was now bed-ridden in the same house where Beau's father had died just a few years before.

When Autumn shook Rose Jackson's hand for the first time, it felt so small and frail. She had just eaten breakfast. Beau sat on one side of the bed and Autumn on the other. Beau's mother was filled with questions about Autumn and her family. She seemed delighted to hear the details of Autumn's exciting life. Her eyes sparkeled with excitement as she listened.

When Autumn finished, Rose Jackson, pointing at the pictures surrounding them in the room, told Autumn the story of her own life. She humbly shared the names of the many foreign ports and Naval bases where she had lived. She told of all the foreign dignitaries she had met, and of all the women in other cultures she had known. With great sadness in her voice, she told of her elder son, Ron, and his death in a Vietnam ambush. She squeezed Autumn's hand tightly as she wiped the tears. The more Rose Jackson talked, the more Autumn came to realize what a great woman this was.

She had been a dedicated servant of her country and her family.

Autumn loved her almost immediately.

Toward the end of their visit, Beau walked out in the back yard to pick up some large limbs that had fallen off a pecan tree that towered over the back patio of his mother's home. When the back door closed and she was sure that Beau was beyond hearing distance, Mrs. Jackson pulled Autumn close and began to speak in a slow, hushed tone. "Please don't think I am trying to pry, or nose my way into your business...I always made it a rule not to interfere in my boy's lives unless they invited me to...I don't know how you feel about Beau...But, I can tell you that he has never talked to me about another girl the way he talks about you," she whispered.

"From the day he first saw you, I have heard about little else," Mrs. Jackson said, smiling at Autumn. "I don't know how you feel about my son...But, I need to tell you...He is a really good boy...He always has been...He is the strong, silent type in some ways, but very mischevious in others...He has been raised to tell the truth, to work hard, and to do right by everybody," she declared.

"It is going to be really hard on him when my time comes...He will be lost, at least at first...He has family, but only cousins, and they are not close at all...I know he will want to follow in his father's footsteps and make a career in the Navy...He will make a good husband...And, a great father...", she said, her voice trailing off.

It was obvious that she was running out of steam, and needed to rest. Autumn was about to release her hand and move to a nearby chair when Mrs. Jackson pulled her close a final time and said, "Be good to him...Stand by him and help him when I am gone, please..."

With tears in her own eyes, Autumn promised that she would honor Mrs. Jackson's request. Beau suddenly came back in the door and saw Autumn's tears. He went over to his mother's bedside and kissed her on the cheek. "Mama," he said, "I will be back in a little while...I am going to take Autumn home."

When Autumn reached to shake her hand and say good-bye, Mrs. Jackson winked at her, kissed her on the hand, and told her to come back and see her anytime - with or without a Navy SEAL as her escort. Autumn smiled and nodded, wiped away another tear, and walked out of the house in front of Beau.

"Your mother is one great lady," she said, squeezing Beau's hand. She glanced at him in time to see him wiping tears from his own eyes. "She's a peach," he said, trying to disguise his own sadness.

Beau's heart for his mother was so obvious. Beau was everything his mother had said he was, and much more.

Autumn loved him more than ever.

And, she knew, perhaps for the first time, that if Captain Beauregard Jackson did ever ask her to marry him, there was only one answer she would be able to give.