Viewpoint: Fairy tale has its own lessons

From Left, John Scarbrough, Linda Scarbrough, Martha Smith and Robert Smith at Taylor Grocery in Oxford following their "reunion" Wednesday.
 Fairy tale has its own lessons
Staff Writer

Just when your perspective is about to slip way off kilter, things happen to remind you of the important things in life.

I've been blessed  this Christmas with just such a lesson.

This week, I wrote about Robert and Martha Smith, who met as 20- and 18-year-olds in July 1967 and married five months later on Christmas night -- Dec. 25, 1967.

In today's world, two young people hardly old enough to vote much less marry sounds like a recipe for divorce.

But Monday night, they renewed their vows 50 years later at the same time and in the same church, Siloam Baptist in Clay County.

Theirs' was and is a true Christmas fairy tale. But the story gets better.

They didn't come from fame, or wealth, or landed gentry. In fact, they were poor, she the oldest of four daughters of a hard-working father and he the result of a disruptive childhood.

And their charmed life took root in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, racial tension and looming integration, the Vietnam War and intensifying national anti-war protests.

Even in West Point and Columbus, those issues could not be ignored.

Her father didn't get past the fourth grade, his made it to the fifth.

They were the first in their families to think about college, much less go and graduate.

Martha had to "almost twist my mother's arm to go with me to the financial aid office at" what is now Mississippi University for Women.

An 'A' student in high school with high standardized test scores, the staff at West Point High had encouraged Martha to pursue her dream.

Despsite the odds and being told not to bother, she did. As it turned out, because of her family's near poverty, she qualified for virtually every financial aid opportunity.

"My parents had no idea it was even possible," Martha said.

Interestingly, she only went her freshman year at MUW, but the fire was lit. Years later, she returned to school and has three degrees, including her law degree.

Today, her kids and grandkids are all college graduates or in college and some have multiple degrees.

She is a top administrator at Regent University, the college started by Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.

"We changed our whole tribe's outlook by seeking college," she said.

That story of battling and overcoming poverty is inspiring enough. But there is more.

She was 18 and hadn't even started at MUW when they met. He was 20 living in a boarding house in Columbus working for his uncle's auto trim shop. He'd served two years in the Navy and was now just surviving. They fell in love in weeks and got engaged.

"I don't think my mother ever got over it," Martha said. "But my father embraced Robert and treated him like a son. That may have been because my father was virtually an orphan himself when he was a kid, raised by his sister who was 13 when she got married and went on to have nine children."

Martha's father, who had settled in West Point from Starkville and gone from long-haul truck driver to short-haul delivery man, worked for the bakery, Clark Bottling, and lastly, Woodrow Dowdle's oil and gas distributorship. On Dec. 4, 1972, another driver cut in front of the pick-up truck he was driving on Highway 82 and he swerved out of control.

He was thrown from the truck and died.

He was 55. Martha's mother was 44 and left to raise Martha's three younger sisters.

"Those things were just the way they were. They are things, sad things that happened, but they made us all stronger, I think," she said looking back.

As for the war and Civil Rights movement and other social tempests, it didn't come up during our extensive conversations, not until I asked.

"He (God) has put a special protection around us all our lives, because he had a mission for us to accomplish," Martha wrote in an e-mail, trying to explain their passion and will in the midst of everything else.

"We lost young men from West Point in the Vietnam War. Some of my classmates went off to fight or were drafted. When Robert re-enlisted in the Navy, he was in during that era, although he was on a ship in the Pacific and not in theater," Martha said.

Interestingly, the thing she remembers most is couched in today's terms.

"The attitude of the country now about thanking the military for their service, it was not like that then, people were rude, they blamed the national sentiment on the soldiers who were returning...they'd just been doing their jobs," she explained.

Similarly, while West Point has its share of Civil Rights history, it is not something Martha speaks of in the present tense. Instead, her observations show some things may not have totally changed.

Her son-in-law, Brian Giovannone, who is about to be a captain in the Navy, had never been to the Deep South.

"We were frustrated at the time that people in the North had such a negative opinion of the Deep South," Martha described, reflecting on her teen years in West Point. "Now my son-in-law has been here and people warned him when he was coming that he'd 'better watch out, better be careful,'" she said incredulously.

"He said it's not that way at all. 'These are the nicest people,'" has been his reaction.

Like so many others in today's world, I am prone to getting lost in the hustle and bustle of the season, worrying about whether the gift is right or whether I've missed someone or getting to every event. I miss the important things.

Meeting the Smiths was a warm slap in the face to get priorities back in order.

But the story gets better.

As I was reading their original wedding announcement, I noticed the best man was John Scarbrough from Columbus. When I asked about him, they could tell me little.

"We lost touch with him years ago. He was Robert's roommate at Morris Boarding House in Columbus and he worked at Mitchell Engineering in Columbus.

I told her it had to be the same John Scarbrough I knew, the long-time head of Ceco Buildings Systems in Columbus.

She said they had searched previously to no avail. She accepted my offer to check.

I texted John and he replied, thinking I had the wrong person. But he said call and we could talk. I did and he was nice enough to take my call in the middle of a meal with his family.

It only took a moment for his memory to jog.

Long story short, John and his wife, Linda, had lunch with Robert and Martha Wednesday at Taylor Grocery in Oxford, where the Scarbroughs now live.

"Thanks for making it happen," Linda sent me in a text.

"Great people, thanks for finding us," John added.

"It's amazing. We come all this way, meet one person and fin such an important part of our life. God really does have His hand on things."

There's is not a story of wealth or fame or a star-studded name, just a love-filled, unselfish, God-driven relationship.

That'll get your perspective in order.

Steve Rogers is the news reporter for the Daily Times Leader. The opinions reflected in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Daily Times Leader or its staff.