THE FORBIDDEN COURTSHIP
In late November of 1954 Rev. Vernon May, Pastor of a church in Tylertown, MS came to the seminary to interview graduating ministers who might become the Minister of Music at his church. I had an interview with Pastor May, liked him, and he apparently liked me. Since I was not married, he warned me that their church had many fine young ladies whom I might think would be fun to date, but in order for his church to consider me, I’d have to promise that I would not date anyone who was a member of his church. At that particular time, I was engaged to an excellent pianist/organist whom I had no desire to lose. I told him his prohibition would be no problem for me.
Turned out I was wrong. I don’t know what happened. The girl to whom I was engaged kept on being the same sweet girl she had been, but I began to doubt that marriage was the right thing for us. Reflecting, I think I must have been in love with her ability to play piano and organ. It is a great boost for a minister to have a wife who can play. She was on a scholarship at the school and had played for all my voice lessons and recitals at the seminary. Oh, and I did so appreciate her fine work, but marriage was another thing entirely. Finally, I expressed to her my misgivings, and we agreed that we should break our engagement. It wasn’t easy for me, and I’m sure it wasn’t for her. I felt like a dog, but I’d rather have felt that way for a while, than to have gone on with the marriage and made both of us feel the wrongness of it later.
The Tylertown Church invited me to be their minister of music. I drove up twice a week to Tylertown from New Orleans until I completed the school term in May. Sometime during that time I traded for a 1950 Cheverolet, turquoise fenders with white body. Boy I thought I was driving in style. (I had been driving a Studebaker and I wished for the gas mileage of the Studebaker; still wish that today!)
I enjoyed my work at Tylertown. The people were my kind of folk–they may have lived in town, but they pretty well acted like country folk. A number of the people who came to our church WERE country people. I also had opportunity to go out to Union Church, New Zion, and Dinan or other rural churches around Tylertown and lead music in their revivals or maybe teach a music school, or lead a Vacation Bible School. We were careful not to call the music schools “singing schools,” because that denoted the Singing Convention kind of music. We called ours “schools of music,” but we did exactly the same thing. We just used the Church hymn book instead of Stamps Baxter song books.
We had a good choir at Tylertown. We sang the Christmas portion of THE MESSIAH one or two of the years I was there. I asked the choir members to come by each week for voice lessons. That was in addition to Wednesday night choir rehearsal. A few of them did. One little girl in particular came for voice lessons. Her name was Jane Yarborough. When I first came to the church she was a junior in high school. We occasionally sang duets in the services. She sang soprano and I sang tenor. She did a good job and she, as well as several other young people, sang in both the youth choir and the regular church choir. Youth choir regularly sang for Sunday evening services. Their rehearsal was late afternoon before the service. We had choirs for children as well, and I directed them all.
About a month after I had finished New Orleans Seminary, I became 25 years old. At age 25 a man, especially a minister, ought to be married and settled down, but I did not even have prospects. Not only that, the young ladies from whom I might like to choose a wife were all members of Tylertown church and by agreement with the pastor, I could not date any of those people. A very fine Christian girl, named Marsha, had played regularly for a church I had served in my first year of seminary. She also was accompanist for the Girls’ Ensemble at that church.
Those girls really had a nice sound and were fun to work with. Some of the church folk there used to tease me about going with the accompanist, but we never had a date. I always thought she was too young for me. Remember the song “They Try to Tell Us We’re too Young?” I used to sing it to myself about Marsha. She was still in high school. That had been three years before I had come to Tylertown. By this time the she had finished high school and was attending William Carey College in Hattiesburg.
I thought, “Well, it wouldn’t hurt to date her a few times and see how the relationship developed.” I don’t know how I learned her address, but I wrote her a letter and asked her if she would be willing to go out with me some time. She answered that she was a little embarrassed to tell me, but she was either engaged or felt she would be engaged to a man who ran a music store in Laurel, Mississippi. So any prospects I had with her fell on its face.
Someone, perhaps the woman from whom I was renting a room in Tylertown, mentioned a couple of sisters who lived in Tylertown, one of which was about my age and was not married. She was not a member of our church. She might not even have been a Baptist. Anyway, I called and asked her to go out with me. We had one date, and that was it. She just wasn’t for me. Another prospect bit the dust. Truth was I had been keeping my eye on Jane Yarborough.
Like me, she was reared on a farm. She was part of an exceedingly fine family who ran their farm out from Tylertown. Our backgrounds were quite compatible. She was pretty. She was dedicated to the Lord’s service, having “surrendered her life for full time Christian service” in a youth revival which Tylertown Church had held before I went there. I could not see anything negative about Jane EXCEPT she was a member of Tylertown Church!
Finally in December, 1955 I devised a plan. My pastor would certainly understand my need for a compatible wife. He knew what it meant to love a woman. He was married to a very gracious lady. They had two boys about four and eight years of age. I’d go to him, present my case, and ask him if he would allow an exception to his rule about my not dating a church member. I got by to see him some time after Christmas. When I told him what I wanted to do, he laughed at me. I could tell he knew how I felt. Then he came up with a plan. He suggested that he talk to Jane and see how she responded to the idea of our dating. Then he would get back to me. Of course that was an excellent idea. If Jane were repulsed by the idea of going with an old man like me (Mind you she is a senior, still 17 years old, would be 18 on March 8.) there’d be no need of my trying to date her. So I agreed.
My pastor did talk with Jane. She tells me she was absolutely shocked out of her skin! She did not know how to answer, so she asked for time to pray about this and talk with her parents. She did, and I think both her earthly parents and her Heavenly Father agreed that it was a good idea. So we began to date. BUT, the preacher said, keep it a secret. Don’t let anyone in church know what is going on. Can you imagine how difficult it would be (is still) to keep a secret that the Minister of Music in a small town’s only Baptist church is dating a girl, who is a member of his church, and she isn’t even out of high school yet! Can’t you just hear the old biddies spreading that gossip.
Well, lo and behold, we pulled it off! Jane would come to choir and/or to church with one of her buddies, but would ask her to hurry back home after church cause she had homework; she was tired; her mother wanted her to do something; anything she could think of to account for her desire to hurry home instead of going with a group of others to the ice cream parlor. And the girl friend who lived just up the road from Jane would obediently take her home. About that time I would drive by–(Oh, by the way, by this time I had bought a new (My first new car!) black and white 1954 Plymouth very distinctive and easy to spot!). I’d pick Jane up and either drive out of town or just up the road a few miles. We had to be careful that no Tylertown people saw us together!
On our first date we went to a steak house in Magnolia, and on that first date I asked Jane to marry me. Of course, she had no answer at that time. If you are shocked at my aggressive courtship, remember by that time I had known Jane two years. She had taken many voice lessons during that time, and I had eaten many dinners in her home during revivals or other occasions. So it wasn’t like I had just met her. Still, this story wouldn’t be interesting if there were not some unusual elements in it.
We continued to go out quite regularly. (Jane wonders how she passed her senior tests and graduated.) We might go to Columbia or some of the other little towns around Tylertown. We felt like we couldn’t stay in town because someone would see us. Always when we met or passed cars, Jane would hunker down in the front seat so she could not be seen.
A few times we drove 120 miles to Jackson to visit with my brother and his wife who lived there. We’d go out to eat late in the evening and get her back home around 12:00 midnight or even later. One time we double dated with our pastor! He, his wife, and we drove together to McComb to see the movie “A Man Called Peter”
It was a new movie at that time and was the story of Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate. It was a wonderful movie and even better company.
Jane’s Dad, Albert Jasper Yarborough and her Mother, Wilma Davis, ran a dairy farm and Jane was his helper! She had to get up about 4:00 every morning to help him milk cows. From January until June of 1954 “Mr. Ab” did without his helper! Jane’s Mother helped me out with that. I think “Miss Wilma” even helped with the morning milking. That was a real hardship on her because they had to keep a constant watch over a daughter who was a bed ridden invalid. Every morning the milk delivery truck followed a drive that went from the main road, curved around a big fig tree, past the garden and some small bushes, curved again behind a chicken house down to Mr. Ab’s dairy barn to pick up the milk from the cooler. We’d hide my car down that drive behind the fig tree so people driving down the main road wouldn’t see the car and wonder what Hancock’s car was doing up at the Yarborough’s so much. As I look back now, knowing small towns and the people who live in them, I can only conclude that the Good Lord was working all these things out so we could build a relationship.
Our secret dating continued from January until late May of 1954. The pastor was going to the Southern Baptist Convention. After the Convention he was continuing on a vacation trip into Canada. Jane had finally agreed to marry me and we were ready to announce it to the public. Brother May announced to the church and the town that he and his wife were having a going away reception before they went on their trip. When people came in the door, he introduced Jane as the future Mrs. Paul Hancock. People were astounded. I’m sure the first visitors did not let their coat tails strike them until they had called all their friends and told them about what was going on. We had a big crowd to come. And my pastor’s “reception before their trip” would not have attracted nearly that many people. Word HAD to have gotten around.
We planned the wedding for June 16, 1956; so wedding rehearsal was Friday evening June 15. At the after rehearsal party at Jane’s house much teasing went on about Jane and me courting in the barn. Jane had three sisters and a brother, all older than she. Nancy was the nearest to Jane’s age. Nell was 14 years older than Jane and married to a preacher who liked to play practical jokes. Her brother was 15 years older and also a preacher who liked to play practical jokes.
I don’t know who was responsible–they all enjoyed it so much–but probably one of the preachers wrapped up a wedding present and required us to open it at the party. It was a recording (a 45 rpm, no less! But remember that was 1956, long before C D’s.) The recording was of the song, “Meet Me Tonight in the Cow Shed.” Much fun. Ha! Ha!
The wedding next day was a dream. Some of my Minister of Music friends were groomsmen. My brother was my best man. Jane’s sister was matron of honor. A friend who had been supply pastor at a church where I formerly served sang “Song of Ruth,” ”Always,” and “Because.”
Simple, beautiful, sweet, and everything it should be. On our honeymoon we went by Ridgecrest, North Carolina where music week was in progress. I was able to introduce Jane to many of my seminary friends who were attending.
We drove on to New York–of course, our first time to be there; so we saw all the tourist places–Empire State building, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Broadway, but we did not go see a Broadway show.
By the time we’d made the rounds we didn’t have enough money and felt like we didn’t have enough energy to spend another day there. We came back to Tylertown to a one room apartment which–I am telling the truth–you had to decide which reason you were going to the bathroom and either walk in front ways or back in backwards!. We soon moved to a larger apartment–half of an old house which had been converted into a duplex.
Something happened at that duplex that is both funny and sad. Another couple lived just through the walls in the other half of the old house. We could hear them walking and talking, but we didn’t pay much attention to it. Certainly it did not disturb us. Jane’s sister, Nancy, had married a man from a community southeast of Tylertown. The couple in the other side of our duplex was from that same area. They went visiting back home and spread the word that the couple who lived in the other half of their duplex surely was not going to live together very long, for they fussed all the time. When Jane’s sister and her husband visited back at his home place, they heard the story. I’m sure they did not doubt it, because Jane and I were never timid about disagreeing with each other. The sad fact is that within five years, the couple who lived on the other side of our duplex was divorced. The story would be funny, if divorce were not such a tragic sad thing.
Our forbidden courtship turned into a quite successful marriage. Jane and I have been married fifty-two years, have two fine sons, and three beautiful grand daughters.
RIBBON OF LOVE: 2nd edition – A Novel of Colonial America by Alabama author Donna R. Causey – based on ancestors of the Cottingham family of Bibb County, Alabama – Inspired by true historical events, Mary and Henry Pattenden flee to America to escape persecution – It is almost impossible to put the book down until completion. – Dr. Don P. Brandon, Retired Professor, Anderson University