Neither remembers since when, but the Templetons are still together…..through thick and thin|[06/22/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

When Bob Templeton came home on furlough from Fort Benning, Ga., in 1944, he called on Polly Vaughan.

Whenever he came home, Bob went to see Polly and several other girls in the community. Polly’s sister “would write to Bob and tell him if I had a new boyfriend, and then he’d come home, mess things up, then go back,” Polly said.

On this particular trip, though, he heard that she was planning to marry but had had a spat with her boyfriend.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“I said, ‘How about you and me getting married,'” Bob recalled. “And she said, ‘Sure.'”

“I don’t think I said it that quick,” Polly interrupted. Regardless, it was 65 years ago – or was it 64? – neither Bob nor Polly remember, other than it was at the Methodist parsonage in Utica on Feb. 17, 1944.

It certainly wasn’t a whirlwind courtship – they had known each other since Polly was 6 and in the second grade at Midway School near Rocky Springs, and Bob was two years older.

“He would make me so mad,” Polly said. “Mama made me what they called butterfly dresses that were tied on the shoulder with ribbons, and he was always untying my dress. I’d say, ‘Mama, tie knots in it.'”

They both grew up in the same general area of Claiborne County – Polly at Carpenter and Bob near Rocky Springs. They were both delivered by the same physician, a Dr. Green who had trouble arriving on time. He got stuck in the mud on his way to the Vaughans’ house, and he had trouble crossing Big Sand Creek on the way to the Templetons’. Polly was born March 17, 1920, and Bob, Jan. 23, 1918.

Other than Bob’s eight years in the Army, and Polly’s time with him as a young Army wife, they’ve always called the northeast corner of Claiborne County home.

To countless friends, the Templetons are known as Mr. Bob and Miss Polly – only that’s not her name. She started to school in Kansas City as Annie Mae Vaughan. There was another child named Annie Mae in the class, and Polly remembers her as a poor little girl, always dirty, and with a runny nose, and “just pathetic.” One day another student said, “You’re not going to be Annie Mae any more. You’re going to be Polly,” and she has been ever since. The only time she was ever officially listed as Annie Mae was in that Kansas City school, and it burned.

The Templetons’ only child was born at Fort Benning in 1945, and when Bob asked his wife what name she had given the baby, she replied, “Polly,” and he told her to change it because he couldn’t live in a house with two women with the same name.

So the baby’s name was changed to Rita, who grew up as mama’s girl and daddy’s boy. She learned to cook and sew and make a home just like her mother, and she rode horseback checking on the cattle with her daddy. She learned to bale hay, and Bob says no one else could rake the hay to her satisfaction.

Rita and her husband, Frank Smith, live next door where they raised two boys – Robert James and Patrick. Both, now grown with families, live nearby. They always called Bob “Papa,” but for Polly their name was “Fat Mama.”

“I used to be fat,” she said, and the name never bothered her. “Even the boys at Mississippi State who played football with Robert James called me ‘Fat Mama.'”

Bob got out of the service after the war and, in 1946, the family moved home to Reganton, or Cross Roads, where Fisher Ferry intersects with Old Port Gibosn Road, just across the Big Black River in Claiborne County. They opened a store on March 1, 1946, selling staple and farm goods and gasoline. The hill beside the store was steeper than it is today, and Polly said they called it “the cranking hill” because people would roll their cars off to start them.

“You could know who your customer was by the sound of his car,” she said, for most everyone who traded with them was a neighbor. She remembers one customer who always bought just 50 cents worth of gas – but that was several gallons.

Across the road was another store, operated by Sam and Aden White, and the two families were always good friends. Bob recalls a salesman coming by one day and finding the two competitors visiting. He didn’t see situations like that very often, he said.

The Templetons, Vaughans, Greers, Hills and other families organized the Midway Church of Christ, and Bob’s melodious bass voice added significantly to the a capella singing, but that’s not where he first sang in public.

“I always liked to sing,” he said. “When I was a boy, we had a Victrola and we’d play those old Jimmy Rogers records and I’d sing along.”

It was in the Army, however, when he started going to old-time singings in Alabama with two of his buddies. One night, they went to a new place, the Bama Club, in Phenix City, and when the band took a break, one of the guys said, “Let’s sing ’em a song. In a few minutes, here came the girls. They wanted to hear us sing rather than for the band to play.”

Bob said it has been a long way from the Bama Club to the Church of Christ.

Polly is sentimental, loves items from the past and her heritage, and she’s also very creative. She used to draw and paint and make things, and Bob said, “When she learns to do something, then she doesn’t do it anymore.”

One heirloom she has is a comforter, 73 years old, but it isn’t just any comforter. Polly was 15 when she told her daddy she wanted some sheep. He wanted to know why, and she told him she wanted to make a comforter.

“Oh, you’ll never do it, but I’ll get you the sheep,” he told her. She sheared them, washed and carded the wool, and made the comforter, still in perfect condition.

“It’s 100 percent wool,” she said.

And 100 percent Polly.

They used to garden, but Polly now has what she calls her “piddle patch” out back where she throws discarded vegetable scraps. Last year, she gathered 75 cantaloupes – one of them weighing 9 pounds – from the patch.

In addition to running the store, Bob also farmed and raised cattle. He replaced his last row crop in 1984 with pine trees. In later years, he turned the cattle business over to Rita and Frank, and now they’ve also gone into raising trees. For 16 years, Bob was on the Claiborne County school board and for eight years on the election commission. Both he and Polly liked to hunt and fish, but she said, “I’ve gotten too old.”

On their 50th wedding anniversary someone asked Polly if she and Bob were going to renew their vows. “Why?” she asked. “MY word was good the first time.” She said it is easier to be happy than sad but added, “There have been times when we weren’t smiling.”

At 90, despite a stroke five years ago, Bob still cuts their large lawn, and Polly at 88 is busy with housework and enjoying her great-grandchildren.

“There’s no need in anyone living this long,” someone teased her recently, but she gives all the praise and all the credit to the good Lord who has taken care of them and “will call me when He’s ready and when it’s my time.”

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.