When you love someone, it’s important to let them know.
All of my first girlfriends in grade school had no idea I had taken a liking to them. Actor Strother Martin’s famous quote from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” accurately describes my early failures in expressing affection: “What we have is a failure to communicate,” said Martin while playing the role of a prison warden. So dear Memphis, as you march toward your 200th birthday, the time has come to unchain my heart and confess my love! I hoist my glass of iced tea to you with this little note of bicentennial affection.
We started going steady in 1974. That’s the year this future reporter arrived at what was then called Christian Brothers College at East Parkway and Central Avenue. Carless and flat broke most of the time, college life centered on classes led by passionate professors. They were on fire to teach. Their intensity and dedication were contagious!
While no A+ student, the light bulbs of learning were turned on by these gifted educators who were so good you couldn’t miss their next classroom episode of excellence. Talk to witnesses of my college experience and you may hear more reports of my regular attendance at the snack bar where beer was available during the evening than the library. But I did my work and managed to graduate.
During those college years, I got over my bashful ways and winked at a young lady who, as many romantic comedies start, didn’t particularly like me very much. I found out this native Memphian was tutoring students at Shelby State Community College, now Southwest Tennessee CC.
I began tutoring more as a way to capture this young lady’s attention than to advance the scholarship of the Salukis’ student body. The little ploy worked and we started dating in 1977, the year Robyn graduated with honors one year ahead of me. A little slow on the uptake, I proposed on the 86th floor deck of the Empire State Building five years later at Christmas 1982. Robyn must’ve had a momentary lapse in her usual sound judgment and said, “Yes.”
We were married in Memphis in June 1983. We’ve been blessed with two Memphis born sons, Joseph III (1989) and Matthew (1992). Years later, the renamed Christian Brothers University invited yours truly to serve on the CBU Board of Trustees. In those dozen years of service, I had the honor of handing both our sons their hard earned college diplomas. What a joy!
Joseph followed in his father’s footsteps and met a lovely young lady at CBU. One thing led to another for Joseph and Natalie. This happily married couple produced our first grandchildren in 2018. We hit the jackpot in the grandbaby department: Twins! Charlotte and Mason James Birch were born at Methodist Hospital Germantown in April and occupy vast real estate in their grandparents’ hearts!
Our son Matthew went to CBU’s crosstown rival Rhodes College to earn his minor in Mandarin. The young man learned his Chinese lessons so well he managed to capture the affections of a Rhodes student from the People’s Republic of China, Xinlun Ma. They’re now in a state of bliss, married and have launched promising careers right here in Memphis. We’re so grateful.
So, my dear Memphis, know that you’ve schooled me at CBU. You’ve blessed me with a brilliant wife, two exemplary sons, two beautiful daughters-in-law and now two enchanting grandchildren. Oh, there’s so much more.
January is the month I arrived at WMC Action News 5 way back in 1978. My gratitude for the opportunity to feed the fire in my belly for journalism at this fine television station knows no bounds. I’ll be sharing another love letter to you soon about how this reporter treasures WMC and some amazing adventures but for now, know that my Memphis experience is one big affair of the heart. Just needed to let you know.
Find more love letters, stories and photos at wmcactionnews5.com/memphis200.