Robert Hitt Neill column 5-29-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Neills to celebrate 48 years together

I’ve been writing this weekly syndicated column for 25 years now, and some papers run it in a mid-week edition, but most run it on Sunday morning.  On the morning of June 3rd, 2012, if you read this and have not already sent in your gift, it will be too late, for that Sunday will be mine and Betsy’s 48th Anniversary!

Late gifts will not be returned, however.

Understand that my Bride was really-and-truly a Child Bride, and has the pictures to prove it. There she is as a blushing five-year-old in a wedding dress, next to a handsome blonde groom wearing a how’d-I-get-here expression on his young face. So put away your calculators, okay?

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We met the day of the Meredith Riots at Ole Miss (is that star-crossed, or what?!) so there were soon 33,000 troops to deal with, while falling in love at first sight, near’bout.  At the time, there were less than 4,000 students on campus, and probably only about 5,000 men, women, and children living in Oxford.

But the football team was Number One in the country, and Coach Johnny Vaught makes the point in his book that if it had not been for our ranking, the University might have been closed at that tumultuous time.

I played Rebel football until a ruptured hip joint ended my career, and Betsy was a Rebelette and Top Six Beauty at a time when there were two Miss Americas on campus! She was later the First Alternate Miss Hospitality for the state of Mississippi. I was later nominated for Southern Gentleman of the Year. Really.

We hosted 20 Teach For America young men and women in our home just yesterday, and I had to explain again for the umpteenth time that Southern men are just naturally going to say, “Yes, Ma’am,” to any female who is out of diapers, and that does NOT mean we think they are elderly!

It’s simply a term of respect that we were raised up to use, often to the tune of knots on our noggins when we forgot to say “Ma’am.” Most of us were taught to place our women on pedestals where they rightfully belong, then to do everything in our power to keep them there, through Hell or high water!

Perhaps that isn’t a bad prescription for 48 years of marriage?

Betsy and I were married three days after I graduated from Ole Miss and was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy, limping down the aisle with nine stitches in my foot from a water-skiing encounter with a broken coke bottle.

A doctor in Fort Walton Beach took out the stitches when we stopped there on our honeymoon. That was an omen which Betsy did not recognize at the time, or I’d have had to face an annulment, I’m sure. Since then, she’s had to earn a degree in nursing from the Brownspur School of Hard Knocks and Cuts. I’ve broken two dozen bones and accumulated nearly 150 stitches since then, plus salmonella, blood poisoning, gangrene, Lyme Disease, and some other ailments that, if I told you about, I’d have to kill you.  
Christie, Adam, and B.C. were born to bless us, then grew up with untold numbers of friends who similarly blessed us – the kids our kids grew up with have been some of our treasured memories of 48 years – then added John, Eddie, and Cynthia to the Family Tree, then here came Sean (“Sir”) and Leiton (“Crash”).

Betsy has always had the Gift (although it isn’t specifically mentioned in the Galatians List) of Hospitality, which is why we got blessed by the abovementioned kids our kids grew up with, but that doesn’t just extend to humans.

I hope our kids realize how blessed they were to have a Mother who almost always said, “Okay,” when they’d bring in a baby or injured bird, animal or reptile. She drew the line at baby skunks, but our young’uns raised coons, possums, screech owls, hawks, owls, ducks, snakes, shrews (hey, shrews are cannibalistic, so don’t put more than one in the same cage!) and other wildlife that’s probably illegal today.

We’ve done a bunch of stuff in our lives, but what stands out is the church stuff: youth ministers, music, speaking, flower-arranging, prison ministry, Sunday-school teaching, ministering-to and being ministered-to over the whole 48 years. Perhaps that’s a big part of it, too: being friends in Love, and being friends with God!