by Keith Waggoner

Linda woke and opened her eyes to see her breath in the cold air. The two or so inches of quilts that pinned her to the bed were covered in a thin layer of frost sparkling like diamonds in the brilliant morning sun that broke through the cracks in the walls.

She jumped to her feet on this cold November morning in Light, Ark., knowing that she would see the love of her life later that day.

Maybe, just maybe, today would be the day she dreamed of – as all little girl’s dream of – maybe today she would marry her true love.

Check (Chuck as he later was called) laid out his best suit of clothes: the Airman First Class uniform issued him from Shepherd Air Force base. He made sure it was pressed and the creases were perfectly straight. He ate the meager breakfast of fried bologna and biscuits, kissed his momma, and rushed out to the ’49 Ford to make sure it could make the trip from Pocahontas to pick up his lady-in-waiting, the absolute love of his life, his very own girl that he’d dreamt of throughout basic and tech school.

Today was going to be the biggest day of his life. He was going to make Linda his bride.

Check pulled up, sprang from the car, gazed into Linda’s eyes and asked, “Will you go with me?” Linda buried her head into his chest and said “Yes”.

They rushed off secretly to the preacher. They were married. Linda Faye Hurn was now Linda Faye Waggoner. They had taken their vows and meant every word of them. They were determined, as 18- and 19-years.olds may determine, to keep these vows forever and ever. Now to tell her father. The starry-eyed lovers did not know it, but facing her father would be only the first of many obstacles in the years to come.

One and then two beautiful daughters blessed Check and Linda. Later, they had a son. Three children in all. Except the baby which miscarried. Miscarriages, it seems, were much more common back then. The loss of a child was a part of many people’s lives. So, Chuck and Linda did the only thing they could: they went on with life. They were strong. Their hard lives and Christian rearing made this look natural.

They moved up north and Chuck planted the seeds of a new dream, an elusive dream of being a country music star, a dream sown in taverns, bars, and night clubs. A dream watered with whisky and nourished by neon lights. A dream that somehow outshown the luster of all dreams before it.

He could make it. He could break out of the generational curse of sweating his life away as a mechanic and do what his father almost did when he played mandolin for Porter Wagoner – play for the best, the most famous, and make it big in Nashville.

The allure of being a musician set many traps and temptations. Alcohol, late nights, road trips, and women (never a good combination for a family man) grew into abuse, shoving matches, and fist fights. The starry-eyed lovers were now in a living hell.

One thing was for certain, though: Linda was not going to give up on her marriage. She was petite and spry, red-headed and hot-tempered. She was not going to let Chuck be swept away by country music, loose women, or even his own desire to end the marriage.

Linda still believed what she learned as a little girl in the sharecroppers’ shack, late at night by kerosene light. “When you make a promise, its forever. When you get married, its forever. No matter what!”

Months turned into years and then decades. Linda was moved around from state to state, home to home, and even abandoned twice by her groom who was restless in his search for stardom.

But she remained steadfast, lonely, night after night. In the dark of her room she whispered prayers and pleadings for her man and his soul. And Chuck busted his knuckles day after day as a mechanic, bent over the hoods of cars with agonizing back pain, all the while wishing, hoping, and longing to make it big.

Finally after 48 years of marriage, it happened in a small church in Clarksville, Tenn. Chuck looked at Linda and again asked, “Will you go with me?” Linda again answered, “Yes.”

Without hesitation the two of them walked down the aisle where Chuck, through tear-filled eyes, professed, “I believe Jesus is the Son of God, and I want to be saved.” He was baptized and born again into a new life, a new future, and a new, even brighter dream.

Chuck finally laid to rest the deceitful limelight that had robbed so much of his life. He resurrected what he had first envisioned in 1961. And as for Linda, her prayers had been answered. Finally, after years and years, her man woke up and her husband now was saved. She fought the dragon, refused to be slain, and stood victorious!

Just a year and a half later, on Oct. 30, 2010, Linda stood by her man again. This time for the last time, in the physical sense, as he lay dying in the hospital bed in their home.

Chuck, could not, would not, take his eyes off of Linda. His eyes locked on hers and hers on his. He struggled for breath, as his chest, boney and frail, rose with each effort. The death rattles had set in.

Linda held the hand of her lover. She leaned over, kissed his parched lips, and softly and lovingly said: “I will be OK. Go home to Jesus He’s waiting for you.”

In a final act of love, and with his remaining strength, Chuck mouthed, “I love you.” Without breaking his gaze, he drew his last breath, and then he died.

Linda loves Chuck! She never gave up. No matter how many wise friends advised her to quit and put herself first. She stood by her man. She loved him, all the way into heaven.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me this lesson by living it and loving my dad unconditionally. I know you will be together again in heaven because you never gave up.