We met walking up the ramp to the gymnasium at Girard Junior High School. We were both beginning the seventh grade, the first year of junior high in those days. I had come from Cottonwood Elementary in the county school system and knew almost no one. She had attended Highlands Elementary in the Dothan City School System, so she already had some friends in the mass of students.
I had heard there was another student with the last name of Ponder and I wanted to meet her. She had heard the same thing about me. I had never met another kid named Ponder before, except for my siblings. There were no Ponder cousins at all in my family since there had only been one male in several succeeding generations.
It was September of 1966, almost 55 years ago, when Mary Lou and I met. I remember it like it was yesterday. I am not sure when we first became friends, but we both liked Girard. It truly was a “junior” high school, with athletic teams, clubs, plays, a student newspaper and a yearbook. It was like being in high school but without as much drama, intensity, and pressure.
Our first date was with each other, in December of 1968. She does not like me to tell that story, but it was in fact, a real date. It was a Christmas dance given by the Dixie Debs, a junior high sorority, and the girls got to ask the boys. Mary Lou asked me.
We both wore black. I gave her a big red corsage which matched my red vest. We treasure that picture to this day. We were not a couple, but we were friends and that was enough for both of us at that time.
Our friendship grew and we both went off to college, 700 miles apart. She was in Virginia and I was at Auburn. We kept in touch even when we both had serious college relationships.
After two years at Randolph Macon, Mary Lou studied for a year at the University of Reading, England. There was obviously no internet and we could not afford to pay for a telephone call. We began to write letters and through those written words, a different relationship began to stir. I told a close friend shortly before her return to the states that she was the person I was going to marry.
After a short Summer of getting to know each other in person again, Mary Lou transferred to Auburn. Our friendship became more, much more, and we knew we were in love. I am not sure of the exact moment when I knew I was in love. After all, she had been my best friend forever. I was not prepared to fall in love with my best friend. I suppose it snuck up on me.
Twelve years after we first met, we got married. Thursday will be our 43rd anniversary. What an amazing journey we have had together. Many highs. Some deep lows. She is better than I deserve, and I know it. We both bring something to the table and somewhere along the way, we realized that our life together was not just about love.
We like each other, enjoy each other’s company. We are great traveling companions, love everything Auburn, and are blessed with wonderful children and amazing grandchildren. We get on each other’s nerves, have been known to have quick arguments, and have shared some hard times. But all that pales in comparison to what we love about each other and the good times we have shared and are still sharing.
Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with my best friend. That was the easy part. Staying in love is often the challenge. In fact, the only thing better than falling in love is staying in love.
Happy Anniversary to Mary Lou, my best friend, my wife, and the absolute love of my life.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]