THE DOWRY

THE DOWRY 

 By: Bill McFadyen

At age 34, my mom suffered daily angst over my bachelor status. I on the other hand was persevering through it bravely.   

From out of nowhere, a girl appeared at the sales counter of McFadyen Music in Greenville, North Carolina, on a Friday. I asked her to marry me on Monday and 11 weeks later, we were husband and wife. That was nearly 25 years and three children ago. At the time of the announcement, my mom was immediately more inclined to celebrate the death of my self-reliance than she was to suffer any embarrassment at Garden Club over the inexplicably whirlwind nature of this wedding. 

Back in the would-be bride’s hometown of Greenville, there was no such rationalization for this frenzied sprint toward matrimony. Why would a big-name hometown beauty leave a great sales position and vacate a just-purchased condo on a spontaneous profession of love until death? What was she thinking? Or the more obvious answer – she was not thinking. 

Three weekends into our courtship, I sat with her dad at a gathering of about 100 of their closest friends. It was a pig picking in Pactolus, North Carolina, for some event or another and it preceded any public announcement of our plans to complete the union. Her father and I were having a large time, getting along famously as we compared notes on hunting stories, fish tales, family businesses and all manner of loves we realized we had in common. As we two finally ended up with our plates and he was stuffing a mouthful of barbeque in his mouth, I popped the question. 

Mr. Hudson, let me ask you something. How would you feel about me marrying your daughter?” 

He was obviously stunned, and to the point of being unable to swallow his barbeque. So he pushed it into his left cheek and just let the partially-chewed glob sit there while he gazed at me, trying to discern seriousness from jesting. When I only stared back, he finally spoke again. 

“Are you out of your mind?” Except that he strategically positioned a Lord’s-name-in-vain in the middle of the prepositional phrase. 

The end of the very beginning of the story of her father and me is that on the night before I crazily married his daughter, a girl that admittedly I hardly knew at all, James Hudson and I spent that night together at my house whooping and laughing and basically howling at the moon. He was my one-man bachelor party. We have often repeated that scenario since then. 

Over these years, though, and with the benefit of reflection, it occurs to me that  

I left a lot of leverage on the table. Mr. Hudson’s incredulity at hearing of our impulsive plans toward matrimony kind of threw me off from the strategy I had rehearsed all of my dating life to secure a fine dowry for myself at the taking of a wife. In short, my blindness in the light of passion caused me to forget that mein historical times goat least a couple of goats or a flock of chickens for agreeing to put aside bachelorism in exchange for both monogamy and joint checking accounts.  

I mentioned this to James not too awfully long ago as we sat in the fading light of dusk on the porch of his cabin overlooking the cypress swamp bordering Tranter’s Creek. I boldly invited him to retroactively produce a dowry, now that he knew I was not running out on Susanna and given that he had three fine McFadyen grandchildren that called him Paw Paw. To my surprise, he seemed willing. 

“First of all, I think I have given you much already. For instance, I gave you the knowledge to not stick your tractor in the ditch anymore. Now you know to put only one tire at a time in the lowest point, thus giving you three at any one time to push through it. And, I recall that after the lesson was taught, I gave you a key to the padlock so that you don’t have to go around the gate anymore anyway. And I gave you Bobby Scarborough in Hatteras Village. As a result, you have caught crabs and scallops and drum and trout and flounder and even blue marlin that you otherwise would not have. Plus, you can now tell so well all the fishing stories he tells that people think you were there. 

“I allowed you to buy half of that powered wood splitter fifteen years ago, didn’t I? And once I finish with it, I am going to let you use my half for nothing.” 

James began to exude feelings of generosity. 

“But since you are asking for more, I will give you that wicker rocking chair you’re sitting in right now. It is the centerpiece of my decorations for this porch. You can rock away the late afternoons any time you please, or at least for as long as the chair lastsI will throw in that wooden spindle that serves as a table for your drinkYou will have barred owls and possums and bats and bears to keep you from ever being alone. As far as the drinking goes, I give you one of my best drinking techniques for saving money. Buy one bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon in your life, finish it, then spend the rest of your life pouring Lord Calvert or Mattingly and Moore into it. Almost no one but you will ever know the difference and you can buy my daughter something nice with the money you save. 

“And another thing,” he said, pointing a calloused and somewhat mangled finger at the battered tombstone just in front of the porch. “This very night, I give you a share of my friendship with old Mr. Pace there. Coons and possums are generally selfish beasts. Oh, they come around often enough, but they mostly just want some of what you’re eating. Good ole Mr. Pace there has been in the same place for nearly 100 years, cooling it on the edge of that swamp. He has never asked for a thing from me and he always listens to what I have to say. He will do the very same thing for you, even after I am gone.” 

I admit that I started the whole dowry conversation with James’s flock of laying hens at the forefront of my mind. Still, as I began to take stock of all the things he had given me in the past and especially of the new gifts he was freely offering, I wondered if he and I were perhaps all square. 

“I have to tell you the truth though, Bill. While you are without question my favorite son-in-law, I do have to share my one disappointment.”   

Oh, Lord.  

“Things would have been much better if Susie and you had lived an hour and a half closer. That would have had you 20 minutes away. Not so close as to be next door. But close enough that we would have had way more nights on this porch than we have. 

Yes. Paw Paw and I are all square. Susie and I can buy our own chickens with the money I will save on bourbon.