ScreenShot2015-01-30at1.35.44PM-008bb3c2Al & Lauren Dallas

A Match Made in the SEC

Al was 33 years old, recently returned to Augusta and transitioning to a new job with a logistics company. Lauren was 24 and had just relocated to Augusta from Lexington, Ky., for a job in web design. “I was immediately attracted to her,” admits Al. “I kept Lauren at arm’s length. It was maddening to her and that attracted me to her even more.” Al met Lauren on her first day in her new position in August 2009. “You know how they say timing is everything?” says Lauren. “The time was just so right for us.”

Even so, it took Al six months to ask her out. The NCAA basketball tournament was in full swing by that time. For their first date, Al took Lauren, a diehard Wildcats fan, to dinner at Mellow Mushroom, where they watched number four-seed Kentucky’s regional finals tournament game against West Virginia. Afterward, they went to a Robert Earl Keen concert at the Imperial Theatre. “We only stayed about 15 minutes,” Lauren says. As an explanation, she adds, “Because the Wildcats lost.”

Al understood. Being from the SEC himself, he has experienced a day ruined by disappointment. He’s a lifelong Dawgs fan. To verify it, he brought his English Bulldog, Dolly, into the relationship. “We survived a Wildcat loss on our first date,” he says, providing proof that he and Lauren were meant for happily ever after. Two years later he was making a one-day, round-trip drive to Lexington to ask Lauren’s parents’ permission to marry their daughter. He planned to ask her at the annual Kentucky Derby party he and Lauren host for their family and friends.

Getting their back fence neighbors involved, Al asked everyone to gather there before the party. While Lauren rushed to take care of last minute details, Al slowed her down and asked her the question. As he hoped and predicted, she said yes then called her mother, whom she thought was in Kentucky. Sixty seconds later, a crowd, including Lauren’s parents, swarmed through the backyard and in the back door. “You know that weird moment of we’re getting married, now what, and then within minutes 30 people walk in?” Lauren asks. The Derby party transformed into an engagement affair.

This past spring, a smaller Derby gathering transformed into a party to welcome home their newborn daughter, Bennett. “She makes everything more fun,” Lauren says. “Everything has a purpose now.” Bennett has brought a new dimension to Al and Lauren’s marriage. Teaming together to care for a little one unveils new levels of respect and love and gratitude for each other.

Being doting and responsible parents, they have duly inducted Bennett into the SEC, taking her to Athens with them when they attended the UGA-Clemson game in the fall. “As long as Kentucky wins at basketball and Georgia wins at football, everything’s good,” Al laughs. “It’s best when status quo holds.” The schools have strengths on different domains. When each school focuses on doing what it does well, as the Bulldogs did in Lexington last November, everyone is happy. These are lessons Bennett will internalize as she grows.

Al and Lauren call their merger the best SEC relationship. No other SEC marriages match up as perfectly as UGA and UK. 

Nonetheless, the winter they went to a Georgia verses Kentucky basketball game in Athens that theory was tested. Somehow the stars fell out of alignment and the Wildcats fell to the Bulldogs and Al said a few words too many in that regard and Lauren let him have it. They’d made reservations to stay the night in Athens, but by the time the couple reached the car, Lauren didn’t think she could tolerate one more person shouting, “How ’bout them Dawgs!” She wanted out. “I want to go home right now,” she demanded. Al understood exactly how she felt.

    It’s that mutual understanding when the balance in the SEC—in life—is tipped that keeps them committed. They survived another Wildcat loss and are the stronger for it. Theirs is as perfect as a match made in the SEC can get.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1_36_22 PMJames & Mildred Kendrick

Live Long, Love Hard, Care Deeply

Mr. and Mrs. Kendrick, James and Mildred—better known as Mikky among her friends and family—met each other when Augusta was a small town, when downtown housed the heartbeat of commerce, before the city sprawled to the suburbs. Introduced by a friend at the Red Star Restaurant, former home of the Palace Theater, on Ninth Street, they embarked on a journey in 1965 that has taken them far without taking them away. Their meeting place still stands, though empty and lonely now, as a reminder of those heady days of youth when the future promised a multitude of possibilities.

Mikky, with animation and expression in her voice, explains that she was a bashful child. Her 10 siblings teased her that she’d never find a man if she didn’t talk to anyone. But she says of James, “My friend introduced us and I paid attention. I liked him as a person.” She runs her index finger across the glass top of the long table in the upstairs conference room of Augusta Blueprint, the Reynolds Street business James bought in 1971 and still operates today. Tucked beneath the thick glass are pictures of their grandchildren. 

When asked what first attracted him to Mikky, James smiles coyly and says he doesn’t remember. His hands work a notepad over, under and through them, again and again, as he talks. Everything else about him is still and unflinching. He’s amused with the process of the expedition into the past, but he gives up nothing.

“That pink outfit I wore,” Mikky offers. “Size eight. That’s what attracted him.” She adds, “The fact that I was wearing a size eight will never escape my memory.”

James smiles. “Maybe it was the pink outfit,” he says.

A first date to the Hilltop Drive-In on Martintown Road in North Augusta followed. Situated on top of a hill, it overlooked the Savannah River and downtown Augusta. Unlike the Red Star Restaurant, however, remnants of the drive-in no longer remain. Neither recalls the particular movie—a western possibly—or the scenic views. The minutia of the night wasn’t important.

On December 24, 1966, they were married in Aiken by a justice of the peace. “She was in such a hurry to marry me we went over there and got it done,” says James. Mikky gives him a look. “He didn’t want to give me two gifts,” she laughs.

“Generally, we get so wrapped up in Christmas,” James adds, with more seriousness, “we forget about the anniversary.” Then Mikky unfolds the tale about the long ago Christmas James gave her a pillow. “Here I am a young woman with all this strength and he bought me a pillow backrest!” Her hands are talking along with her lips. Even while reflecting on her irritation with him, she relishes the story. It’s part of their 48-year history. “And it was ugly brown,” she continues. “And it had arm rests on it,” she exclaims. “Who gives a person a pillow?”

This reminds her of the year James told Mikky and the children he wanted nothing for Christmas but their love. He told them not to buy him anything. They didn’t. “He was so hurt,” Mikky says. “I could tell by his face.” The morning after Christmas, as soon as the stores opened, she went out and got him a gift. She relates the scene with both humor and tenderness.

The storytelling reveals the respect each has for the other and the playfulness that keeps things fresh. It uncovers joyfulness in their bond and gentleness with their words. James says, “We have faith and trust in each other.”

    Staying grounded enables roots to grow deep. “We had to work hard, study long and pray long to raise a family,” says Mikky. They did it all right here. The thrum of Augusta pulses in their veins. They live downtown. They work downtown (she’s the alumnae director at Paine College). They attend Williams Memorial CME Church on 15th Street. And every now and again their route takes them by the old Red Star Restaurant and no doubt they both think of Mikky’s pink, size eight outfit.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1_36_49 PMBarry & Michelle Paschal

Still Friends After All These Years

Easy banter flits between Michelle and Barry Paschal. The natural back-and-forth flows seamlessly. The words are quick and kind, witty and wise, accompanied by laughter, fluctuating between gentle ribbing and thoughtful compliments. It’s not so much a telling of “the story of us” as it is the living of the story in real time.

They’re sitting almost shoulder to shoulder at the round table in Michelle’s office at Steven’s Creek Elementary School, where she serves as the principal. Barry arrived from his nearby office at Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA, where he’s the senior director of marketing and communications. Their gestures and body language hint at happiness for this snatch of early afternoon time spent in each other’s company.

Cupid assessed Michelle and Barry when they were in seventh grade. He decided on a prudent plan of patience. Michelle’s family had just returned from a two-year stint on the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean. “I was convinced my parents had moved me to the end of the universe,” she says of her new residence in Columbia County. Laying eyes on Barry for the first time at the school open house mildly registered on her radar.

For Barry, however, a 13-year-old lad eaten up with hormones and sweat, meeting Michelle made an impression. “You see a new girl in school and it’s like, ‘Wow!’” he remembers, flashing a facial expression reminiscent of that adolescent boy. Having grown up in Columbia County, he had a hard time finding a girl to gaze upon who wasn’t old hat or related to him.

They got to know each other mostly on field trips in junior high and their liking of each other carried over to high school. “We were friends, really good friends, long before we were girlfriend and boyfriend. We ate lunch together every day at Harlem High School,” says Barry. Michelle smiles and nods, adding, “He had a girlfriend and I had a boyfriend.”

But by the time junior prom was circled on the calendar, Cupid reappeared. Barry’s girlfriend and Michelle’s boyfriend no longer occupied a place in the picture. Barry had no plans to attend prom. Michelle, who was president of the junior class, intended to go alone until her mother put the kibosh on it. So she calculatedly apprised young Barry of the dilemma. Cupid poked him with an arrow and he replied, “Well, I guess I could take you.” Five years later when at last they announced their engagement on the day of Michelle’s graduation from the University of Georgia (Barry had another year, “Cause it was fun,” he says), Michelle’s grandmother pulled her to the side and asked, “You’re sure you’re not rushing into anything?”

Barry and Michelle pause the story. Michelle says, “Barry’s very much a creature of habit. I have to convince him to go outside of his comfort zone.” Beginning where Michelle ends, Barry continues the thought, saying, “Being a creature of habit helps you get out the door in the morning.” They’re doing it again, bantering. For 30 years now he has helped her get out the door. When their three daughters, Essa, 27, Ellie, 24, and Annie, 21, were small, Barry pulled breakfast duty. He still has Michelle’s morning cup of tea ready for her when she walks into the kitchen every day.

They circle back to telling about the wedding: June 23, 1984, at Trinity on the Hill. The reception at the Old Medical College returned them to the location of their first formal date for junior prom. “I remember when you walked through that door at Trinity,” Barry says, looking at Michelle. “You were glowing because of the big white dress and everything. It was awesome.” Evidence of that adolescent boy flickers in his eyes again.

The inevitable question about the glue in their marriage is posed. No time lapses between the asking and Michelle’s response: “It has to be our friendship.” Barry echoes her: “We’re buddies.” Michelle adds, “We do almost everything together.” They’re bantering again, still friends after all these years.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1_37_18 PMHenry & Frances Claussen

Keeping the Conversation Going

September 1975. Early fall on the Augusta College campus. An exhibit of the works of Georgina Clarke hung in the lobby of the Performing Arts Theater.  R.O.T.C. was introduced to campus with the start of the quarter on September 15. Dr. Edward J. Cashin and Dr. Nell Callahan’s A History of Augusta College was available for pre-order. Joseph Leopold of Zimmerman, Leopold and Evans gave a presentation on the causes of recessions and the Students International Meditation Society sponsored a lecture on transcendental meditation. 

In the midst of that hubbub, faculty stood at podiums and students found their way to classes and to friendships. Most importantly, the worlds of Frances Robinson, an education major, and Henry Claussen, a business major, were due to collide.

Frances couldn’t help eyeing the guy wearing the Panama hat. Among a group of young men, he captured her attention. “I thought he was cute,” says Frances, who smiles broadly. Her face lights up. 

“When we ended up going out on that first date, I didn’t realize that was who was picking me up,” she says. Even though both had grown up in Augusta—she graduated from Westside and he graduated from Augusta Prep—they had never met. They’d both vacationed on Hilton Head with their families in childhood, staying in houses within yards of each other, and never met. Henry and Frances’s fathers knew each other, yet Frances and Henry had never met, until friends set them up on a blind date. She says, “He walked into the den and saw a portrait of my father and said, “Oh, no.’” 

“We’ve been together ever since,” says Henry. “I married the Baptist minister’s daughter.” 

Over the next months, when Henry delivered Frances home from dates, the two would linger in the car in the driveway, talking, talking, talking. Frances’s father would come out and flash the porch lights as a signal for the two to continue the conversation tomorrow. They dated slightly over a year before Henry proposed that they keep the conversation going through more than just tomorrow.

The prompt for more details about their life together solicits a glimpse into the unique connection they share. Unsaid words pass between them. To divulge the story or not, they telepathically inquire of each other. Giggles escape. “That’s why we’re still together,” says Henry. “We can read each other’s minds and know when to shut up.” Frances tells about the time they dressed as construction workers for a party at Augusta Country Club. Maybe this is the forbidden tale, maybe not. Henry’s face gives nothing away to anyone else. 

Throughout the party, Frances reports, she and Henry were plagued by an unwelcome fragrance. She whispered to Henry, “What’s that smell?” No matter what corner or table or floor space they occupied, it found them. Henry suggested that maybe the stink was in the tool belts around their waists. The couple discreetly sniffed their attire. Not identifying the source of the offending odor, they circulated again. Later, much later, Frances discovered she had stepped in an aromatic pile left behind by a dog somewhere along her path to the party. 

She now shakes with laughter at the memory of it. Henry enjoys the moment. When asked what attracted him to Frances, Henry answers, “Tall. Blonde. Blue-eyed. Long hair. The same things that attract me today.” He pauses for a moment and gazes at her sitting in the booth next to him. His fingers work the pilsner glass on the table in small circles. He adds, “We found it easy to talk.” 

Henry commutes to work in Savannah, coming home once during the week and on weekends. He says he enjoys the “windshield time.” It doesn’t put a damper on the ease in their marriage. “He’s my best friend,” says Frances. “I talk to him off and on all day.” The conversation has been going on for 38 years and counting, through multiple moves to Alabama, Savannah, Macon, Charleston and back to Augusta; through two children; through two grandchildren; through highs, lows, ins, outs and all-arounds. They’re still having that conversation as if it has all just begun and Frances’s father is due any minute to flash the porch lights. 

This article appears in the February/March 2015 issue of Augusta Magazine.