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Stirring up memories


The Long Christmas Honeymoon
December 22, 2005

            The bride, smiling and radiant, listened as the words of the wedding song “Because” rang through the church.  The debonair groom stood with his brothers and friends by his side watching for the love of his life.  His eyes shone, maybe they even twinkled. 

            At 3:00 P.M. on a sparkling Christmas afternoon, in the Mt. Sinai Freewill Baptist Church of Douglas, Georgia, Miss Gwendolyn Eugenia Thompson, the beloved daughter of Eula Lewis Thompson Phillips joined into matrimony with Mr. Luther H. Conyers, Jr., the son of Ella Mae and Luther H. Conyers, Sr. of Cyrene, Georgia.

            A reception followed in the home of the pastor.  It was the first formal wedding held in the Mt. Sinai Church.  The young couple then departed on a Greyhound Bus for Waycross, where they spent the night in a boarding house and visited relatives.  Then they headed for Bainbridge for a few days.

            That was Christmas of 1948, 56 years ago, but both the bride and groom remember it like it was yesterday.  In fact, when asked about his long marriage, Luther’s eyes still twinkle.   “I can’t comment on that,” he says.  “ The honeymoon isn’t over yet.”

            This love story began on the campus of Savannah State College where Gwen and Luther both studied.  They had lots in common, including some very determined parents.

            Gwen grew up without knowing her dad.  Eugene Thompson died when she was only three years old.  Her mother Eula was determined that her little girl would have every chance to learn and succeed.  She often held two jobs, doing domestic work in the day and working as a seamstress at night.  When Gwen was very small, Eula worked in a tailor shop.  There were no such things as babysitters, so Baby Gwen went right to work with her mother and played under the tables as Eula stitched.

            When Gwen was in the fifth grade, the family moved from Waycross to Douglas looking for a better life.  While many children Gwen’s age worked in the tobacco industry while they were in school, Eula would have none of that.  Gwen had a job—she had two.  She helped her busy mother with the housework and did the cooking, and, her second job—she made good grades.  “NO bad grades!” Eula told her.  And she minded.

            Gwen had a dream.  When she graduated from Carver High School as the valedictorian, she planned to go to a two-year school, obtain a secretarial certificate and move to Washington D.C. to work in a gleaming government building.

            That fall, she headed off to Georgia State Industrial College (now Savannah State University).  To help meet the bills, she had a work scholarship.  Her job was cleaning a classroom.  But that job didn’t last long.  After only a month, one of her teachers interceded, and Gwen worked in the administration offices for the rest of her time in college, and for a while afterwards. 

            At the end of the second year, she was ready to live her dream and move to Washington, but Eula had other ideas.  She told her daughter to count on going back to Savannah. She was going to graduate from college.

            “In those days, we did what our Mamas told us,” Gwen said.

             And she did. The first person in her family to graduate from college, Gwen was an honor graduate in the Class of 1948.

             But it wasn’t all work and study in those busy Savannah years.  There was some romance, plenty of romance as well.

            Over in Cyrene, the Conyers family were just as determined as Eula Thompson about children and college.  Only instead of one little girl, the Conyers had a houseful of strapping boys.  The second son, Luther, Jr. studied at Brinson Vocational High School.  The agriculture teacher there mentored him and guided him to go to Savannah to school.  Like Gwen, Luther worked while he attended classes.  Since he was studying agricultural education, Luther’s job was on this land-grant school’s training farm.  His first job was milking the cows.

            When Luther graduated he returned to Decatur County where he taught adult vocational agriculture for the Institutional On Farm Training Program.  Often the farmers heassisted were many years older than the young college graduate.  Sometimes, Gwen recalls, they wondered what he was up to!

            Luther and Gwen have made their lifetime home in Decatur County and their careers in Decatur County education.  After a short stint working at Florida A&M, Gwen took a job teaching at Mt. Moriah High School in Decatur County.  Later she taught at both Hutto High and Bainbridge High.  She’s also taught at Bainbridge College. Gwen studied while she worked.  She has a Master’s Degree in Business Education from Indiana University and an Education Specialist Degree from the University of Georgia.   Gwen is retired from the school system, but not from education!  She is a hard worker for the GED program through the Georgia Department of Education.  She volunteers for the Red Cross and Memorial Hospital as well.

            Luther also taught, although he   had a two-year stint with the Army, serving in Korea.  He received three Bronze Stars and a Korean Service Medal. Luther has spent over fifty years working in education—and he continues to do so as a part-time employee of the school system. Gwen is not the only life-time learner—Luther earned his Master’s Degree from Florida A&M.

            Most folks don’t know Luther as an educator, but as a City Councilman.  He’s served since 1978.  He was the first African-American to be elected to public office in Bainbridge and Decatur County.

            Both Gwen and Luther have worked hard all of their lives.  But it’s not the education, or the public service that brings the most twinkles to both of their eyes.  That’s when they say the names of their two daughters Audrey Rhodes and Luthenya Wright.  And even more twinkles arrive at the mention of their grandchildren, Leslie and Eric Wright.  Following in their parents’ footsteps, both daughters have careers in education.  Audrey is a teacher; Luthenya is an assistant principal.

            And granddaughter Leslie is carrying on another family tradition.  This fall, she became a third-generation student at Savannah State.

            In all your Christmas greetings this week, if you should see Gwen and Luther, be sure and wish the Christmas wedding couple a happy, happy anniversary.

            I asked Gwen for her favorite recipe.  She laughed and said her mother and mother-in-law spoiled her, and that she doesn’t do much cooking.  But Luther disappeared around a corner and came back with one of his favorites.  This is easy,

and there’s still time to make it and have fruitcake on Christmas Day.

Luther Conyers’ Ice Box Fruitcake

1 pound vanilla wafers or graham crackers (Luther uses vanilla wafers)

1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 box seedless white raisins

1 quart pecans

1 pound or one medium jar candied cherries

            Roll crackers into crumbs.  Mix in the other ingredients.  Pack into a 4 x 4 x 8 inch pan or pyrex dish.  (Either grease the pan or line it with waxed paper).  Refrigerate.

            Luther says that you may not think it will all go in the pan, but to keep packing it in!

            I couldn’t find candied cherries so I made it with candied cranberries.  It was outstanding.

            Do you know someone with a Christmas anniversary or birthday? 

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network