KING COLUMN: Forty-Nine Years and Still in Love

Published 10:00 am Saturday, June 15, 2024

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Honestly, I don’t remember the first time I ever saw her, or when we first met. She had left the big city of Chattanooga when her dad moved their family back to his native Alabama. They first moved to Valley Head, and then a couple of years later to my hometown of Rainsville. He couldn’t wait to get back to Sand Mountain, so with six weeks left in her seventh grade, they moved and she enrolled at Plainview School. I was much older than her back then, I was in the eighth grade there. I’ve often said I am thankful that her dad brought her to my part of the world, so Jean Willis could meet Bill King, or better yet, so I could meet her.

Some have blessed us with the title of high-school sweethearts. Actually, we never were. As a matter of fact, a girl I dated when I was a junior, once told Jean she was dating me, to which Jean replied, “Why?” I went gaga for the green-eyed girl with the long blonde hair long before she decided I might not be so bad after all. I’m glad she changed her mind and my life.

We did not have our first date until after I had graduated. It was the summer of 1973 when romance first began to take seed. In June of that year, our youth group from Broadway Baptist Church went to a youth rally at Jackson Way Baptist Church, in Huntsville. I don’t remember too much about that event or evening except that Gene Cotton sang and Jean Willis sat on the pew directly behind me. I offered her a piece of gum, Dentyne Red, I believe, and I ended up moving back one pew to sit beside her. After that, we tied up the party telephone lines regularly. Farmers Telephone Co-op limited local calls to three minutes back then. They gave a warning beep and then a cutoff at three minutes, but they couldn’t keep me from calling back. I think all that dialing is why I have arthritis in my finger joints! And yes, I did the calling because girls didn’t call boys back in those days.

Our first actual date was July 4, 1973. I took her to Lookout Mountain’s Little River Canyon, just above Fort Payne. Little River Canyon is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi River. Back in those days there was an amusement park there called Canyonland Park. The park had a few rides and a small zoo. A local band named Wild Country often played there. I had hoped they would be there that day but they were not. A few years later, they changed their drummer and their name. They became known as the band Alabama. A couple of years later Jean Willis changed her name to Jean King.

The main ride at Canyonland was a chairlift that took riders down to the canyon floor. During our ride down, it started raining.  Jean looked so cute that day in her white romper and her red, white, and blue swede shoes. We were both soaked to the bone by the time we got out of there. When Jean removed her shoes, her feet were patriotic…dyed red, white, and blue. Almost two-years later, we walked the aisle at Broadway Church and said, “I do.” It rained that evening too. Fortunately, Jean didn’t wear her swede shoes. This week, we celebrate 49-years of marriage. We can’t go to Canyonland, because it’s long gone. We might just go home and listen to some old Wild Country…I mean old Alabama!