“It’s not a diamond?” Randy asked
Jacquelyn said that it was not. She had picked this ring because the blue in the stone matched the color of his eyes.
On the couch at Jacquelyn’s house, Randy asked her to marry him.
“Do you want an answer right now?” she asked.
“Yes, I suppose I do.”
“Then yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” Jacquelyn said and she still cannot describe, even to herself, the felling when Randy put that ring on her finger.
That Sunday, the newly engaged couple made their debut at Jacquelyn’s country club and when they entered arm in arm people stared, just as they had stared when Randy and Jacquelyn entered her church in Jasper 50 years before, the most beautiful couple anyone had ever seen.
Two months after their reunion in Montgomery, Randy and Jacquelyn married in Carbondale. They made it a tiny affair -just 10 minutes – and didn’t ask their kids to fly in for such a brief ceremony. Randy’s brother, Jim, served as best man; Jacquelyn made cookies and cheese straws for the reception. The couple honeymooned in Seattle and in Victoria, British Columbia, where Jacquelyn traced Randy’s hands along gigantic roses so he could see the flowers for himself.
The plan was to spend summers in Illinois, winters in Alabama. By now, Jacquelyn was 69 and Randy 75, old enough to know about honeymoons and puppy love but the momentum of their marriage never sputtered. “They were like teenagers,” recalls James Howard, Randy’s youngest son. “My dad was very happy.”
Worlds opened up to Randy. Though he loved the smell of perfume on a woman, his first wife had not cared to wear any. Jacquelyn, however, owned a museum of the stuff and when she splashed some on after a bath, Randy would declare, “Jehoshaphat! That’s absolutely wonderful!”
For 2 years, the coupled played and traveled and told stories the way they had when she was 17 and he was 23 – without regard to the future. To Randy and Jacquelyn, that felt like the best kind of love of all.
In the summer of 1997, Randy told Jacquelyn that his shoulder hurt. He had suffered from cancer before they had reunited but he had been in remission for years. She took him to a hospital in Carbondale, where doctors took X-rays and said things looked OK. Months later, in Alabama, doctors said his cancer had returned and prescribed radiation.
The treatments never seemed to help for long. More radiation and transfusions followed; Randy felt better, then invariably he worsened. Early in 1998, he went to the hospital again. A doctor examined him and said it was time to call in hospice. A special bed was delivered to Jacquelyn’s house. The next night, she fixed him filet Mignon and a baked potato and his favorite banana pudding. Randy ate every bite and said, “Jacquelyn, this tastes wonderful!” That startled Jacquelyn because Randy had not been able to taste his food in months. That evening, Randy asked Jacquelyn to sit by his bed and talk to him – he would just listen. “What should I talk about?” Jacquelyn asked. “Tell me you love me,” Randy said and she did.
Randy died the next night. Jacquelyn did not cry. “I just put my arms around him and talked to him and I don’t know whether he heard me or not…I just told him I loved him and that I’d always love him.” When a preacher came by that night, Jacquelyn told him that she hoped that now Randy could see everything he wanted to see.
Today (article written October 2001), Jacquelyn lives alone in Montgomery in the same house she and Randy shared during their brief marriage. A bronze plate about the front door says NELSON, Randy’s last name, of course. Since his passing, Jacquelyn has worked to establish a chair in Randy’s name at Southern Illinois University, an expensive proposition – at least $1 million – that is still on the drawing boards. In the meantime, Jacquelyn still talks to her photograph of Randy every night, still asks him if he’s all right. She still listens to his tapes every now and again. She likes the part where Randy says that human emotion is a very mysterious thing and that the return of their love is part of the mystery.