… Her heart fights to escape her chest. Finally she makes her way to the bedroom, where she pulls the man’s photograph from her closet and stares into his eyes. She paces the house for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, half an hour. She carries the photograph to the telephone. She cannot stop staring into his eyes. She does not know if she should call. It has been 50 years.
The Depression did not skip Jasper, Alabama, a tiny town 40 miles northwest of Birmingham, but hard times made an exception for the Jackson family. Albert Jackson, a renowned surgeon and director of the local hospital, earned a handsome living, more than enough to keep his wife, Enoree, and their 3 children in comfort during the country’s leanest years. And while the Jackson kids delighted in their privilege, the middle child, Jacquelyn, seemed to breathe in childhood most deeply, climbing the rumble seat of Daddy’s Cadillac, playing in nearby woods, reveling in the sight of Tallulah Bankhead dragging on cigarettes during tea parties at the movie star’s nearby home. It was a wonderful childhood, the kind that preambles a lovely life.
At 15, Jacquelyn left home for Mississippi’s Gulf Park College, an all-girls school. For 2 years, she rode horses and learned tennis and forgot to write home, and if her dorm friends obsessed over boys, well, Jacquelyn hadn’t time for such silliness. She just studied and gulped fun and grew into movie star beauty. By the time she was ready to graduate at 17, some thought her the prettiest – and nicest – girl at Gulf Park, a true Southern Belle.
As graduation approached in May 1943, Enoree Jackson and Jacquelyn’s sister drove the family Cadillac convertible to Mississippi, where they took a room at the Edgewater Gulf Hotel, a resort with an Olympic-size swimming pool and elegant rooms that fronted the gulf. They would dine with Jacquelyn that evening, but first, the mother and sister slipped into bathing suits and found a bench by the pool to relax. Their rest did not last long. A man had begun diving nearby, only this was no ordinary man like those in Jasper.
This was a specimen so beautifully sculpted and noble of posture that the 2 women could not pull their eyes from his perfect dives, even though proper ladies never stared. When the man finally left the pool, Jacquelyn’s mother blurted, “You certainly know how to dive!” The man smiled and replied, “Thank you, ma’am.” Then he walked away.
That night, over dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, Enoree told Jacquelyn about the gentleman at the pool and Jacquelyn politely endured her mother’s story. After dessert, they strolled into the hotel’s grand lobby, where Enoree promptly spotted the man, this time idressed in full military uniform. He waved to Jacquelyn’s mother. She made an introduction.
“This is my other daughter, sir,” she said. The man’s eyes locked onto Jacquelyn’s. She gaze into his. Neither seemed able to move. He finally introduced himself as Randy Nelson, an army officer in training at a nearby base. He had come to the hotel to pick up a date, but he would love to arrange a date with Jacquelyn tomorrow night if she would forgive his forwardness and be so kind. Jacquelyn said that she would. Then Randy reached out and held Jacquelyn’s hand and even with his date on the way, even with Jacquelyn’s mother staring and the world crisscrossing the lobby, he would not let go. Jacquelyn did not care; he was so handsome and warm she believed she could stay that way, in this room with the man’s hand in hers, for the rest of her life.