Race Elder sat in his Nashville law office alone on yet another Saturday night. He’d taken up working on Saturdays after his wife of 23 years died. One minute they’d been planning a trip to the South of France, and the next they were planning her funeral.
Brandy went to Dr. Drew for stomach cramps. She thought he’d give her anti-inflammatory, tell her to lay off the chocolate and caffeine for awhile. Instead, he informed her that she had Stage Four Ovarian cancer. She was dead six months later.
Race never remarried, never even dated anyone else. His love with Brandy had been so complete, he couldn’t imagine a greater love, so why bother? When friends and family admonished him to move on, Race just shook his head. Why did they not understand how thankful he was to have shared a love with Brandy so few would ever know?
Their first date had been a Beatles concert.
During the third song, Race had reached out, grabbed Brandy’s hand, and kissed the back of it. Then he pulled her to him and they danced, right there in front of God and the crowd.
They were the odd couple in a town given over to Elvis and Waylon. When they married at the very proper First Baptist Church in Franklin, guests were gobsmacked when Paul McCartney stepped up to the mike and cooed “Till There was You.”
Race and Paul met as young boys. Race’s mother would take him across the Big Pond every summer to visit his “Granny” and “Pap”, her parents, in Liverpool. Paul would filch cigarettes the two boys would share until they got old enough to buy their own. They would write poetry together, Paul, always the first line, Race, the second. Never maudlin, theirs was the poetry of young boys, talks of ships and far away adventures, of battles waged and won.
In some ways, they had been one another’s first love. The first person outside their own families that they had loved, wholeheartedly. A true and lasting brotherhood was formed there among the gravel walkways and climbing roses and flicked ashes of Forthlin Road.
After the Beatles climb to fame, Race didn’t let many in on the friendship he shared with Paul. Brandy had no clue about their connection when Race invited her to that first Beatles concert on Feb. 11, 1964 at the Washington Coliseum in D.C.. She couldn’t get over the fact that Race, who had been named one of Nashville’s Most Eligible Bachelors by The Tennessean, had asked her out at all.
Brandy figured men like Race only dated girls with big blond hair and Dolly Parton knockers. She never imagined someone like Race being attracted to a brunette with a tomboy build. Brandy worked as a clerk in Race’s law office while she attended Vanderbilt at night, working on her degree in business. Brandy had big hopes of running her own company one day. She wanted to create spaces around the nation where people could come for art and music therapy. Brandy’s perspicacity about what wounded people needed astounded many, Race included. Blondes with big knockers did not attract Race. Brunettes with big ideas did.
They had chatted on occasion, when she was dropping off files or picking them up. So he just asked her outright one dreary January day, “Would you like to go with me to Washington, D.C. for a Beatles concert?”
“Yes!” Brandy said. She was never one to hesitate over decisions of any sort. “Are you kidding me?” She wasn’t sure Race was serious.
“No, I’m not kidding,” Race said. He smiled that broad smile of his and put his pen down. “I have tickets. We’ll fly up on Monday and come back on the Wednesday, the day after the concert.” Race saw Brandy’s mind working out the logistics. “No worries, nothing improper here. You’ll have your own room. And I’ll make sure you get paid for the time off.”
As it turned out a big snowstorm hit they day they were flying out, so Race and Brandy took the train to D.C. instead. It was on the train that Race fell in love with Brandy. He knew the moment it happened. An elderly man was sitting in the seat across the aisle. He had a cane and wore a cap that said World War I veteran. He was paralyzed on one side of his body. When the porter announced it was time for dinner, the old man didn’t rise. Brandy leaned over and asked him to join them. He declined, saying he would just skip it. But she insisted, taking him by the hand, giving him his cane and guiding him gently to the booth in the diner car. Her tenderness and genuine concern for this complete stranger struck Race. This was a woman who loved mankind deeply and lived that love out.
The next day, as they joined over 8,000 others of screaming Beatles fans, Race felt immense pride for his childhood friend and immense love for a woman he barely knew. They joined the throngs, singing and dancing.
Race looked up from his computer. The day’s headline had been disturbing. Something about Kayne West and that weird tribe he belonged to attending a fashion show. Race couldn’t help but think that in some ways Brandy was lucky to have missed the past 27 years. It seemed to Race that the two of them had lived through the very best years. So much had changed since the Beatles brought their theology of love to America. The Love Generation had given way to a Me & Greed Generation. Since they’d never had children, Race had no idea how the country had moved from a nation of caring for humanity to a nation of acting inhumanely. Kindness, respect, honor had become archaic terms. They had no relevance to the adherents of Social Media who only cared about being relevant.
In his last letter to Paul, Race had complained about how it seemed all anyone cared about in the business anymore was making money, as if that was the end all of be all. Paul wrote back and said that he, too, was dismayed by the turn America had taken. He was most concerned about the popularity of Donald Trump, whom Paul referred to as a “horse’s arse”.
“I sometimes wonder if we had come along 20 years later if the Beatles would have enjoyed any popularity at all,” Paul wrote. “Likely not. Americans would never have embraced lyrics that held love as a pursuit more worthy than silver.”
Race was glad he grew up when he did. During a time when sneaking a cig was the worst offense a boy could do. It had not necessarily seemed like a time of innocence, what with the assassination of JFK and MLK and Bobby, the Civil Rights riots, Kent State and Vietnam.
Still, even with all that, it seemed the country was moving in the right direction. Race and Brandy had been caught up in the movement of doing for others. By 1980, Brandy was well on her way to seeing her dream fulfilled. She had studios in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta. People from all walks of life were finding healing through creating. There were wonderful works of stained glass from child abuse survivors, poetry from survivors of domestic abuse, watercolors and acrylics from survivors of sex abuse, several Vietnam veterans had written lyrics that were then recorded by the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Van Morrison. One of Brandy’s clients, Oliver Stone, was even working on movie scripts.
How America got derailed was anybody’s guess, but there was no question it had, Race thought as he scrolled through Saturday night’s headline about the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia and read the rants of people rejoicing over this death.
Race turned off the computer, picked up his iPhone and swiped to his playlist. He clicked on one of his favorites and thought of happier days, of the time a young girl reached across the aisle and offered a crippled stranger an invitation to dinner and an arm to lean on.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).