memoir, a turning point story of love, heartbreak,
religious conflict, and personal growth,
approximately 2100-word autobiographical short story
and chapter of memoirs in progress. While each life
story is unique in content and style, this suggests
one approach to one significant life experience.
By Dolly Haik-Adams
Berthelot © 1995, 2002
the movie’s lead character, a good Catholic virgin,
lost her true love to his drunken emotional/sexual
weakness and a scheming pregnant woman, I whispered
to my friend Jodie, "I've lived this."
Later, I tried to explain, and was surprised by
tears. Three decades after "The Larry
Crisis," that loss--and gain--had power. Even
now, I consider it a crucial turning point in my
1964, I was a naïve sophomore at Southeastern
Louisiana College (now Southeastern Louisiana
University) in Hammond.
Larry and I had been “going steady” about
a year, were madly in love, and planning to marry.
While I was away at college he still lived with his
parents in Bogalusa.
pudgy smile and endearing chuckle came easy, as
if a private little joke tickled the edge of his
consciousness. Though living an hour apart, we
danced romantic weekend hours at The Brown Door,
SLC’s favorite smoky hangout. Our song was Andy
Williams’ enchanting "Moon River." Larry graduated from Bogalusa High the
year before me and didn't go to college. I'm not
sure what he did after high school, or what he
intended to do with his life. He was an attractive,
charming, popular guy with, I would now surmise,
absolutely no depth whatsoever. Once, as Larry was
about to kiss me in lush Zemurry Park, a bird pooped
right between us. I should have paid attention!
was our obvious stumbling block.
I was a devout Catholic, product of a rigorously
Catholic family and eight years at Annunciation
Catholic School. Larry was Pentecostal--not actively
practicing, but too committed to his family's
faith--or to his own ego, who knows?--to agree to
rear our children Catholic, as was then required.
Somehow I had remained a virgin, in spite of our
passion, and he "respected me" too much to
push for sex.
was 1964, before most Southern girls even knew of
before the sexual revolution that would soon rumble
over from the wilder West Coast. Yet several friends and
classmates had gotten pregnant, in spite of our
similar upbringing. Being the oldest of seven
children for whom I was often responsible, I had no
delusions about the challenges of motherhood, and
wasn’t eager to experience that role. Catholic
indoctrination, strict parents, and the terror of
pregnancy all assisted my restraint. But it is the
folksy admonishment of my best friend's mother that
lingers. Dot Nastasi urged repeatedly, with her
Southern accent and the crisp brevity of a lifelong
waitress: "You girls keep your legs crossed and
your mind on Jesus!" I tried my damndest to
comply, to stay as pure as the priest and my parents
preached--and to work out this niggling
deal with these issues, Larry and I decided on a
brief period apart. The religious conflict forced
questions that opened a window in my mind.
Permanently. How could it be right for two people in
love to be blocked by their differing faiths?
How could one religion require that a person
promise his children to another?
How could two religions both be the “one true
way”? While I wrestled with weighty philosophical
issues, Larry, I was to learn, was tumbling more
physically with a less restrained young woman from
our hometown. As luck would have it, the girl
happened to share my mother's first name, Elaine.
A Ouija board,
a fortune teller, and my Mother all had insights I lacked.
one of the few times friends and I used a Ouija
board, it spoke volumes.
I marry Larry?” I asked, just for kicks.
magic board raced to the word "No."
and I gasped. To my surprised, "Why not?"
Ouija spelled "baby" and
Completely ignorant of the occult or psychic,
I dismissed the message, or tried to.
However, my own mind knew more than I
admitted. Just before that revelation, I wrote a haiku
poem about misguided trust.
My written words surprised me, as they often
and honesty have always been among my deepest values,
my most cherished ethics. As a child I recall lying
to my mother only once, on some trivial matter, and
the burden was so great that I confessed two years
later! One day in the l950s, when my parents found a
cut in the vinyl seat of our metal kitchen dinette
chair, they questioned my younger sisters, Carolyn
and Rita, and me. I was appalled that they would
doubt me for a moment. IF I had done such a stupid
thing, denial would not have been an option! Even as
a "rebellious teenager," I chose to argue
for my rights and wishes, rather than (like my more
pragmatic siblings) smile and nod deceptively and do
as I pleased. A
trustworthy person, I assumed that in others, and
was, therefore, super vulnerable to betrayal.
same spring, two friends and I visited a French
Quarter fortune teller,
again, just on a lark. We went in giggling and came
out shocked. Her statements to each of us were
distinctly different, and each incredibly on target. She,
too, said I would not marry the man I expected to.
Gazing into a glass of water, she saw “a
severance,” yet a wedding ring.
the religious/philosophical questions multiplied,
my prior certitude shattered. In poured the fresh
air of open-mindedness--and the emotional frenzy of
flailing in a tumultuous sea. One day during Mass I
experienced a quiet reassurance, almost an audible
voice urging calmness. "You have time to resolve
all this," I heard, "Don't panic." I truly did relax a
bit, after that. One day as I walked through the
library, a large book, probably comparative
religion, urged me to pick it up. The inside cover
contained a remarkable list of maxims, the golden
rule reflected in a variety of the world religions.
Suddenly I understood. Though much harm was done in
the name of religion, the best of all religions was
in this common and very sensible mandate—which I
embraced then and do now: love everybody, and treat
them right, as you’d like to be treated. If
Christian, Hindu, Moslem, Jew, and Buddhist all
preached the same core value, perhaps a Catholic and
a Pentecostal could find common ground!
were getting better and better between Larry and me,
for a shared future. Wedding talk became more
frequent, marriage more fathomable. That pivotal
Friday night, we actually window-shopped for rings!
Why did he do that? I’ll always wonder.
all the happy wedding talk, he dropped the bombshell
that would change our lives. Near the stroke of
college curfew (was it midnight then, or 11 pm in
those more innocent times?) he walked me up the tall
dormitory steps as usual, then suddenly jerked the
cover off my illusions: He had seen
Elaine during our few weeks apart--though he
insisted “she means nothing.” At
Mardi Gras in New Orleans, they had sex. “Just
once,” of course, while drinking too much. He'd
recently learned that she was pregnant with his
"Under the circumstances, I feel like I really have
to marry her. It's the only right thing to do, to
give the baby a name," he rattled on. "But I love
you and I always will."
In a state of
speechless shock, I stammered,
"Uh huh. I'm sorry," and walked
zombie-like into the dorm.
from my mother were piled on a metal spindle at
the check-in desk. As I trudged inside, Mom called
again on the hallway phone. Students had no room phones then,
and cell phones were decades in the future. I stood
listened while Momma told me she'd heard so many
rumors that she had recently called Larry and Elaine
in for questioning.
Momma ran our family's Adams Red and White grocery,
the neighborhood store which served as a lively
conduit for gossip. Like a mother lioness protecting
her nearly grown babe, she had called them in behind
the butcher section to ferret out the truth!
Small towns and close families afford such
checks and balances--but they aren't foolproof.
“No!” they both insisted, “No involvement at all.”
I knew nothing about the rumors or the
maternal interrogation. Mom apparently believed
them then, so she had said nothing to me.
she had learned the truth herself and believed he
had finally told me everything tonight. She
expressed loving concern and anger over
the duplicity, which she had witnessed first hand:
"How could they sit right there lying to me
when she was pregnant! And them already
married?? At that final shock, I simply fainted.
Blacked out flat on the old plastic tile floor.
Somehow, it was even worse knowing that not only the
sex, and the baby, but also the marriage itself was
a done deal. This night was like waking from minor
surgery to find all limbs amputated. Without your
knowledge or consent. No hope. Unthinkable.
Mother rarely called and never left our grocery
store during the workweek, the next day she and my
drove the hour to Hammond to make sure I was all
right. I was, actually. We all sat on the bunk beds,
talking. It was the first time, I think, that any of
my family came into my college world, or my private
world. Somehow, I felt remarkably strong, fortified
by a solid core of self-confidence, righteous
indignation, and loving support.
helped enormously. After a few tears and days of
heartfelt conversation, a bunch of us had a
spontaneous ritual burning (long before I’d ever
heard of such practices), igniting Larry's letters
in the metal trash can in my dorm room. That was
stupidly unsafe, of course, but cleansing. We doused
the fire as it started to roar out of bounds. And we
laughed a lot. I resolved not to let the whole mess
damage or embitter me, but to learn from it. Somehow
I knew I would survive, and be all the stronger for
saw that neither a religion nor a person should
dominate your life,
that I had to make my own path, create a life beyond
any man or any narrow dogma. And I would do so. Till
then college life was filled with classes and Larry;
there was little time--or inclination--for
creativity or for my own personal development. Within a week I
got involved in theater, which I had loved in high
school and have since. Like a reactivated soldier, I
marched over to the Lion’s Roar, and
resumed newspaper writing, which I’d shelved since
a stint on the Bogalusa Daily News. My very
personal new student newspaper column,
"Thinking On..." quickly became popular
and respected. Circumstances suddenly opened up the
editor’s position the next year. I was surprised
(and rather terrified) to win the position. That
spurred my early journalism career and has impacted
everything since. I had an exciting new life.
life is not always logical, progress rarely a
straight path. Some months later, susceptible to
Larry’s pleas, I almost slipped back into his
arms. “I love you, not her,” he insisted. “I
plan to give the baby a name and then divorce as
soon as it’s born. I want to marry you, just like
I always have.” Such gallantry. He begged for
reconciliation, and I reconsidered, briefly.
Fortunately, my own growth, my parents'
horror, and Larry’s repeat performance joined
hands to save me. Betrayal doesn't always kill love,
at least not instantly. I still wanted to be with
him. My parents went berserk (I could not tell a
lie, remember), insisting that I never see that
scoundrel again. The evening of that wrenching
family feud, I ran over to the empty little park
behind our house, lay on the grass, and cried. And
prayed. God was still a personal friend to depend on then.
I sometimes miss Him.
thereafter, I met Larry, just once, at the home
of a college friend in New Orleans.
I told him I would not see him until the
divorce was final, a year or so later. Louisiana
required a long waiting period. We both professed
undying love. Yeah, right.
months later, while I was dating a new and better
man (whose proposal I refused), I heard the rumor that
Larry was seeing a red head in Baton Rouge. Then
someone mentioned they were married. I never heard
from him again, and barely cared.
the years, Mom passed on sad stories of Larry's son,
an essentially fatherless child, who grew,
rather predictably, mother chided, into a criminal.
I have always felt some responsibility for this
boy's fate, the child who almost seemed half mine.
On trips to Bogalusa, I have occasionally
glanced about, for a boy, and then a man who
resembled my misguided young love. I've even managed
some sympathy for his mother, who no doubt had her
own demons, and paid a heavy price.
trauma transformed a gullible small town Catholic
virgin with no goals
beyond marriage into a determined student, a
“career woman,” a feminist, a free thinker,
Universalist. A girl who might not have made
it through a bachelor’s degree at the regional
college became a world-traveled writer and doctoral
level communication specialist, married for decades
to a far superior man. And the mother of a cherished
son quite unlike Larry Junior. It could easily have
been quite different….If only we could all foresee
the potential benefits of our trials, traumas, and
tragedies. Perhaps we could bear them less
painfully, even face them gladly.
bad I never saw Larry again. I've
never had a chance to stun him with one important
message: "Thank you, Larry. Thank you." The
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