Madison, Alabama, 1942— it was quite a year, according to ninety-eight-year-old Jack Clift. Whenever you opened the newspaper, you saw either war or baseball headlines.
That October, Jack and his soldier pals rode to the Georgia Tech football game, just before shipping off to war. It was a last evening of fun. A farewell.
While they sped down the highway, they did what most servicemen did. They thought about the likelihoods of their own death. Soldiers rarely talked about those sorts of things, only thought about them.
Then, someone yelled, “PULL OVER!”
And whoever said it, only had to say it once. Because on the side of the road stood a real-life mirage. Three helpless young women, wearing pant suits and high heels.
“That’s how people dressed in those days…” explains Jack.
The girls were on their way to the same football game, but their bus was running late.
“You wanna lift?” the soldiers asked.
The girls hopped in, and the young bucks became stuttering idiots. It was the brunette who made Jack’s stomach feel like he’d swallowed a humming bird.
“I could hear her laughing,” Jack says. “That was inspiring to someone in service, about to go overseas. She was just a good tonic.”
The tonic’s name was Lillian.
They married. It was bliss, wrapped up in wartime anxiety. A kind of chest-pain their generation understood. Soon, Lillian got pregnant. And I’m sure the couple smiled so much, their cheeks cramped up.
Two days before Lillian gave birth, they sent Jack to the South Pacific. If you’ve ever wanted to know what sacrifice looks like, that was it. After eighteen months apart, and roughly seven thousand handwritten letters, Jack returned.
To be honest, their story takes a nosedive into boredom here. They built a life in Madison. A plain farmhouse. Three more kids. Grandkids. Their daily routines were average. No dramatic swells.
They became everyday people with calloused hands, who ate meatloaf. Alabamians, who went to Sunday school, changed their own motor oil, and—as corny as it seems—kneeled for bedtime prayer.
It’s too bad more couples don’t pay attention to everyday things anymore—like late buses, or meatloaf. Because Jack and Lillian took the common things life handed them and built some kind of love story. One that made the Alabama record books, lasting seventy-one years.
And if Lillian would’ve held on two more days.
It would’ve been seventy-two.