Relationships like ours are more common in the Carolinas, where my parents came from—but, no, relationships like ours aren’t common anywhere. I just got lucky, I guess. What I meant was that in the Pacific Northwest, where I met Ben, many people looked askance at our relationship, which would not have been the case—or not as much—in the South. Even in the West, though, everyone seemed to accept our relationship as normal after the first seven or eight years.
Ben passed thirty, about my dad’s age, a couple of years before Dad brought him home from a jam session and introduced him to me and my siblings. I told people who asked I was “going on fifteen”, which was true although I wasn’t going on for another four months. Dad had me and my siblings serenade our visitor with a couple of trios, and Ben complimented us on our harmonies. He and Dad mostly sat and chatted, but they sang a duet from time to time—and they sounded great together. Dad has a really good voice; Ben has a great voice and sang beautiful harmonies to Dad’s lead lines. I don’t think I fell in love then and there, but Ben’s voice excited me.
My husband’s name is not Benjamin, by the way—it’s Benton. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Benton Clark Jamieson, who was named after some political figure admired by Ben’s great-grandfather. You will have heard of my Ben Jamieson because of his many successful novels and the movies made from several of them. While I’m discussing names: mine is Georgia Mae Jamieson, née Barnes. You might have heard of me, too: two recordings of my song “Lucky Woman” got on the charts about twenty years ago. My recording just barely, but Marie Dimatto’s version reached number twelve. A few of my other songs got some airplay, but that was my biggest hit. Nobody has ever recorded Dad, which is a pity—he is a terrific singer, especially with Ben.
When Ben came into our lives, Dad worked as a saw filer at the local lumber mill, as he had since I was a toddler. He was the fellow who kept the saws sharp, so the mill could keep turning out high quality lumber. He also brought home the retired, discarded saw blades, huge strips of steel—giant bandsaw blades, as he said—and used the steel to make hunting knives, which brought him almost as much income as his job. Dad said the heat generated by the friction with the logs tempered the metal very slowly and made it ideal for knife blades.
My dad made us a gorgeous set of kitchen knives as a wedding present. We don’t use most of them as much as other people would, I suppose, because I persuaded Ben to adopt my vegetarian diet about the time we got married. Nevertheless, the knives, and fork and sharpening steel, exhibit superb craftsmanship, and the set is a real work of art. Dad made the hilt of each knife from one Oregon native wood: madrona, chinquapin, black oak, Garry oak—even one of tanbark oak, which isn’t an oak at all, and one of manzanita, which isn’t exactly a tree but grows big enough to provide plenty of wood for even a big knife handle— yew, locust, both of Oregon’s maples, and the whetting steel’s handle of red alder.
My dad made a case out of two of Oregon’s three cedars—which Ben pointed out aren’t really cedars but are really beautiful—one for the top, and one for the bottom, and a knife block out of the third. Dad was going to line the case with felt made from rabbits he had shot, but I talked him into using a pretty green felt from the fabric store instead. As Ben says, “It isn’t like Australia, where rabbits are a seriously destructive introduced species. Rabbits were here before humans.” Ben and I don’t think like predators.
That sort of brings me back to the point of this piece, from which I have wandered rather far. In conversation, I tend to go off on tangents, so of course I tend to do the same when writing. I began by writing about our relationship and intend to make that my main theme. One of the nice things about that relationship is that Ben and I think alike on so many topics. Not that we never disagree about anything, but we also appreciate the other’s outlook and learn to accept it. Usually, we forge a consensus made of elements of both our points of view; sometimes, one of us persuades the other, which is fine, and occasionally I have outmaneuvered Ben. I don’t feel guilty about that, because he never regrets or resents the outcome.
One example of the last: Ben maintained that having more than two children would be environmentally unfriendly. I agree in principle but thought—correctly, as it turns out—our children would have exceptionally high levels of environmental awareness and commensurately small environmental footprints. Ben loves me so much, I find it easy to seduce him despite any rational objections, so we have four children and, so far, ten grandchildren.
In my own defense, I want to point out that all four continue their lifelong practice of active and consistent—one could almost say continual—participation in environmental campaigns, as do their older children. Likewise, our four, high achievers, are exceptionally productive members of society. The world, including the natural environment, is better off for their being in it.
Our elder daughter, Fiona, for instance, has participated in and also led research into viruses. Her work on retroviruses resulted in new and effective medications to treat many kinds of viral infections. One could say she has saved thousands or maybe even hundreds of thousands of lives and reduced the suffering of millions of virus victims.
Friends call our eldest Bird both because he likes birds and as a double contraction of his name, B. C. Jamieson III, where B-Third became “Bird”. He’s a mathematician but spends almost half his waking hours on conservation issues and campaigns. Without his organizational skills and active campaigning, two living (and recovering) species of North American birds would now be extinct.
Bird’s work as a mathematician might seem abstract to most people, including me, but he has expanded the boundaries of mathematical knowledge and understanding. Most people have also probably never heard of the Fields Medal, but it is a very big deal among mathematicians. Last year, the Fields Medal Committee of the International Mathematical Union honored Bird with the Fields Medal. His parents and siblings admire Bird and feel extremely proud of him, and his father and brother even understand some of the relevant mathematics.
Our youngest, Ciara, pronounced with a hard “C”, followed her older sister to medical school and at first, followed the more conventional path of becoming a clinician rather than a researcher. She still helps out at a local clinic one, or sometimes two, days a week, when they have a desperate need. Ciara made a career change, however, and has become well known
(and feared by some, and hated by some, too) as an investigative journalist. Her environmental and especially her combined environmental-financial exposés have won several awards and made me and Ben worry about her safety. Ciara has also published two non-fiction books and one novel. She says she is following in her father’s footsteps because Ben senior wrote as a journalist for more than a decade before he began writing fiction.
Colin, our younger son, excelled at law school and passed the bar exam with flying colors but has spent little time practising law. Colin spent his first decade of law practice doing mainly pro bono work for environmental organizations and causes. A string of high-profile cases increased his local name recognition to a level that gained him election as a County Commissioner. County Commissioners are to Oregon counties what City Councillors are to most cities. Other states have other titles for them: California calls them Supervisors; some states have County Councils and Councillors; other places have Regional Councillors
(Australia, for example) or District Councillors (New Zealand has both). Oregon has County Commissioners, and our Colin became the youngest ever County Commissioner elected in our county.
After one term in the state senate and another as a Congressman, Colin became involved in diplomacy. The current administration picked him as an envoy to trouble spots in Europe. People in Washington, D.C., and Dublin are saying he has succeeded in bringing the two long-feuding sides together in Ireland, but he says the job is far from complete. Still, he feels hopeful and apparently has more reason to than any previous envoy.
As I said, our kids are high achievers—but I have wandered away from my point again. Not that our offspring have nothing to do with our relationship—they have a great deal to do with our relationship, and our relationship has a great deal to do with them and who they have become. But I do want to focus more on my relationship with their father.
Ben treated me and my siblings with a level of respect we rarely if ever experienced from other adults. He never spoke down to us, always listened to us and responded honestly. One of the traits I particularly liked was his response to questions to which he didn’t know the answer. There weren’t many—Ben has an amazing breadth, and depth, of knowledge— but, when one of us asked him something and he didn’t know the answer, he would say, “I don’t know, but I wish I did,” or “I don’t know. Do you want me to find out?” or “I don’t know. How can we find out?” or something similar. He never dissimulated or tried to pretend he knew. He’s still that way, and that still delights me.
He never treated us as lesser beings. In most respects, he treated us as younger, less experienced, and in my siblings’ case smaller, adults. In areas where he had more relevant experience, he would point that out but never in a condescending way, always in an uplifting way. He almost always managed to teach us something without our even noticing we’d been taught. Ben treated us like peers, adults, as I said, except in one way I wanted him to treat me, at least, as an adult. I wanted Ben to seduce me—no, that isn’t true: he couldn’t have anyway, because I wanted him so much. I’d have been all over him like a bad rash, before he could even have begun anything like seduction. I wanted to seduce him. I wanted Ben to love me.
That dear man put so much effort into being a gentleman that I didn’t recognize that he already did love me. He never let on. He treated me as kindly and well and respectfully as he did my siblings, no more and no less. One afternoon, when Ben had been visiting regularly for seven or eight months or so and become a real friend of the family, singing and chatting with my dad and sometimes with my dad and me together, I cornered our visitor, literally, put my arms around his neck, pressed my eager body against his, and kissed him.
When I freed his lips, he stroked the top of my head and said, “Georgia dear, we are not allowed to do that, or at least I am not allowed to do that.”
“Why not?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t have an answer.
“Because the age of consent in Oregon is eighteen, and you turned fifteen a couple of months ago. Besides, your dad probably wouldn’t like it.”
“My dad would be fine with it.”
“That would be nice, but there is still the matter of the law.”
Our conversation could have become an argument but never did. Ben thinks so rationally but doesn’t shy away from thinking, or talking, about feelings. So, we ended up sharing a wonderful conversation, but it didn’t get me what I wanted. Well, it didn’t get me all I wanted. That conversation included a great deal of delightful sharing, and sharing with Ben is my favorite thing in the whole world, but I would have liked another kind of sharing with him, too.
Without mentioning Ben, I discreetly and tactfully sounded my father on the topic of relationships involving his elder daughter. He surprised me by saying, “I thought you and that Tom had already gone down that road.”
How Dad knew about my involvement with Tom, a local high school boy a couple of years older than I was, I never have found out. I suppose I could ask my dad, but I never have. I’d managed to have sex with Tom half a dozen times before we sort of mutually lost interest—he went chasing after a high school girl with a bigger bust. That didn’t break my heart, because I’d decided Tom had the intelligence of a bag of hammers. In the subsequent conversation with my dad, I managed a noncommital confirmation of his supposition without actually coming right out and saying so.
My dad surprised me again in a later conversation by referring to Jimmy, another high school boy with whom I had enjoyed a clandestine, or so I thought, carnal relationship. Dad didn’t seem angry or upset about my affairs, and I again discreetly probed his feelings. After many indirect back-n-forth remarks, he said, “Well, your mother and I had been sneakin’ cuddles for half a year, by the time she was your age.”
“So it’s OK?”
“Hell, Georgia Mae, I don’t know. I reckon it prob’ly is, as long as you watch your timing and choose your partners carefully.”
I wanted to hug Daddy and thank him but decided, in view of the nature of the conversation, to wait for another time. That other time arrived a few weeks later when I gently broached the subject of more serious relationships. My dad responded by saying, “Remember what I said about choosing your partners carefully?” When I nodded, he said, “If you’re talking about a relationship you really want to last, then you’ve gotta choose your partner very carefully.”
“Mm-hmm,” I said, “yes, that makes sense.”
“If you’re planning on being with someone for years, you’ve gotta make sure you really like being around ’em. There’s gotta be more than sex.”
Thinking about those conversations reminds me that my dad is really pretty amazing. He wasn’t given to talking about relationships or sensitive subjects of any kind, but he’d had to be both mom and dad after Mom took off and returned to the South. When the occasion demanded something that might make him uncomfortable, he just stepped up and did what needed to be done. Ben’s a lot that way, too—although I’ve never run off and left him and never would—but he’s always been more comfortable talking about relationships, at least with me but also with my siblings and with our kids. I have been very lucky to have two wonderful and special men in my life, four if you count my sons.
“Jenny Lou was sixteen when we got married,” my dad told me when I asked him about his marriage. “Just. Coupla weeks after her birthday. I was almost nineteen.”
“Did you have to get married?”
“No, you didn’t arrive early, didn’t embarrass us, but it wouldn’t’ve mattered. Everybody knew we were a couple. Everybody knew we were gonna get married sooner or later. We couldn’t get married any sooner, ’cause she had t’be sixteen.”
“Yeah, in the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.”
That got me thinking about differences in states’ laws about the age of consent, and about Ben. I did some research and discovered that the age of consent is also sixteen in twenty-five additional states and the nation’s capital: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, & West Virginia. I didn’t like that Oregon’s was eighteen, but four hours up Interstate 5 would put us in Washington—not far away. I hoped maybe I’d found a lever to work on Ben Jamieson.
Ben’s visits consistently proved the highlight of any day or week we got to enjoy one. His sweet, sparkling personality, intelligent conversation, and music delighted all of us, and I felt happy, if frustrated, just looking at him. Fortunately, he kept visiting after his band stopped performing at the local restaurant-bar and his work took him elsewhere. I hoped he would form a band with Dad, but Dad was always too busy with his job at the mill and his other job, as a craftsman at home, not to mention continuing his role as both mom and dad to the kids. By that time, I helped a lot with my siblings, but Dad has never ceased being a devoted parent to them, to all of us really.
My assault on Ben’s sense of propriety represented only the first of many. Before long, I cornered him at least once every time he visited. Fourteen months after his first visit, he responded to one of my attempts at seduction with a lingering bear hug that felt even better than coitus had with Tommy or Jimmy. By then, I was well and truly in love with Ben Jamieson; I admired him, respected him, and loved him with all my heart. I still am and I still do. While he hugged me, Ben asked, “Georgia, do you just want sex, or do you want a real relationship, a serious, lasting relationship?”
“I want both,” I said. “They sort of go together.”
“In the best cases, yes.”
He began to relax his hug, and I said, “No. Don’t stop.”
Ben hugged me tighter again and asked, “Don’t you think I’m too old for you?”
“Hell, no. Haven’t you noticed I’ve had the hots for you for more than a year? I love you, Ben Jamieson, and I want to be with you, in bed and out, all the time.”
My beloved friend kissed the top of my head, which rested on his chest, and said, “I think we both need to talk with your dad.”
“I already have. I didn’t mention you specifically, ’though I think he knows I love you. Anyway, he seems comfortable with the idea of me being in a serious relationship.”
“That’s a funny one. It’s actually ‘my being’, because ‘being’ is a gerund in that sentence, a verb acting as a noun, so it needs an adjective form: ‘my’ rather than ‘me’.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“I did. I thought you might like to know.”
“I do. Thank you. But I still want you—in my arms, in my bed, in me, in my life.”
“I don’t know if I’m even s’posed to tell you, but I want that, too. I love you,
Georgia. The law forbids me from doing anything about it, but I do.”
Ben’s declaration launched my heart into orbit. It soared like a bird in an atmosphere of joy, delight, and rapture. I had never felt so happy. Barely able to speak, from the thrilling feelings coursing through me, I said, “Then we belong together.”
“I hope so,” my darling Ben replied, “but we really do need to have a serious talk with your dad.”
We discussed that topic and our situation in general for about twenty minutes, then moved to two chairs in what my dad calls the parlor and talked for another two hours. When Dad came in from the garage, we asked him to join us and he did. Ben can seem oldfashioned sometimes, including this time. Sounding quite unlike his usual bold self, with an altogether uncharacteristic diffidence, he described his feelings and asked my father for permission to court his eldest daughter. Ben even used the phrase “her hand in marriage,” which I thought occurred only in books and movies.
My dear suitor, although in truth I was the suitor and he was besieged, looked stressed, nervous, worried. He relaxed, when my dad gave him a big smile and said, “It’s about time. Georgie Mae’s been chasin’ you for more’n a year.”
Once we placed all our thoughts and feelings out in the open, we could—and did— have a good, mutually affectionate, productive talk about the situation. At one point, Dad put a big smile on Ben’s face by saying, “You’ll make a great son-in-law. I can’t imagine a better one. And I’ll have a reliable tenor singer in the family.”
The three of us talked together, then and on several other occasions, for hours, interrupted occasionally by my siblings, about relationships and even more about practicalities, including age-of-consent laws. Dad said he didn’t like that we couldn’t live nearby, and we agreed but I pointed out, “That’s only for a couple of years.”
Dad said, yeah, he reckoned he could handle that and could take care of my brother and sister by himself for that long. Thirteen and eleven, they were getting to a stage where they could look after themselves more.
Dad also said, if we were serious about getting married, he reckoned he’d have to drive me up to Washington to give me away. Ben and I both thanked him. Ben also asked my dad to learn the Jim & Jesse song “I Heard The Bluebirds Sing”, which Dad later did and which I love to hear them sing.
Ben worried, aloud and otherwise, about my age, about the possibility I might change my mind. I said I changed my mind about facts in response to new information but rarely if ever experienced a change of feelings. My dad corroborated my statements. Ben didn’t immediately stop worrying, but he seemed to worry less.
“Jenny Lou and I never had what you two have,” Dad said. “I mean, we loved each other and all, but we didn’t share much beyond that and sex and you kids. You two talk all the time about all sorts of things you’re both interested in. Apart from sex and looking after the results, Jenny and I never did anything together. I reckon you two could enjoy each other twenty-four, seven.”
Ben quietly expressed what I, too, was thinking: “I hope we will.”
Dad’s little soliloquy about his marriage and me and Ben helped ease Ben’s concerns, too, which also allowed me to relax more. We turned our attention to logistics. Ben already had gigs coming up in Seattle and a few other cities in western Washington, so while in that region he began using his daytime hours to look for a rural house to rent. In the end, he emptied his bank account and used all his savings as a down payment on a small-ish three (3) bedroom house on twelve acres off Ahola Homestead Drive a few miles east of Hockinson.
We lived there almost three years and returned to Southern Oregon when I was nineteen and Bird and Colin were two and one respectively. In the meantime, I had passed the General Educational Development test and completed almost two years’ course work toward a bachelor’s degree through Central Washington University’s Distance Education program. By then, Ben’s first novel had hit the bookstores and sold well and the same publisher had begun the process of publishing his second. About that same time, a competent and enthusiastic agent instigated a bidding war among three editors for Ben’s third novel and also sold the movie rights to his first.
Our family of four settled in the country of the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua first nations people, near enough to Dad that I could help him with my brother and sister sometimes over the next three or four years, and also close enough that we could share music often. Ben still plays occasional gigs, and I sometimes perform with him on his shows. All four of our kids, and most of our grandkids, have become accomplished musicians.
We rarely see bluebirds in our region, although we see plenty of blue jays—Stellar’s Jays, of course, and California Scrub-Jays, and the occasional Piñon Jay. The Western Bluebird mostly lives further south and breeds further east, and they like oak grasslands more than the forest environment we have. We see one or two as vagrants every five or ten years. Even so, every member of the family knows that beautiful Jim & Jesse song.
Ben, I think, has finally accepted that I will never want any man but him. He delights me physically, emotionally, and intellectually every single day. We check in with each other often, and I think he’s as happy about our relationship as I am. As I said in my first paragraph, I guess I got lucky.
Oh, and our eldest grandson, B. C. J. IV, matriculated three months ago at CalTech with a full scholarship. Ben and I are proud of him, and his parents, and his aunts and uncle, and each other.
About the Author
A full-time professional entertainer and musician, Harlan Yarbrough has written five novels, three novellas (two published), three novelettes (two published), and sixty-some short stories, of which forty-two have appeared in forty-six literary journals in seven countries. Her short story “While The Iron Is Hot” won the Fair Australia Prize.