I fell in love with Clyde almost 50 years ago during the summer of 1971. I was a senior cheerleader at Terry High School in Terry, Mississippi, and Clyde was a city boy who won my teenage adoration because his voice sounded like Gold on the telephone. When he first started to drive down from Jackson State to see me, my mom liked him pretty well. My older brothers, on the other hand, gave him a hard time because he was as old as they were and a bit rough around the edges.
Naturally, though, as is tradition with the heart of teenage girls, the things that made my brothers so alarmed about Clyde, were the things that drew me closer to him. After a year of all-night-long phone calls, we grew inseparable. So when it was time for me to choose a school for my college education, it came as no surprise to my family and friends that I would choose Jackson State University (JSU) to pursue my Biology degree and, of course, be closer to Clyde. During my first year of college, Clyde (a popular senior) and I were seldom apart.
I was Miss Freshman, and we were known campus-wide as “the couple.” Many of our friends from back then claim they never saw me anywhere that year without seeing him following closely behind. I remember dates to The Dairy Queen and Clyde being mad because I would bring my friends along, and he would have to pay for us all! I also remember long car rides listening to The Temptations, “Just My Imagination,” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
We were head over heels for one another. I loved Clyde dearly, but I also understood what falling in love could mean for the academic aspirations of a young southern woman in the 70s. While most girls my age at the time were content with finding a suitable husband and settling into a domestic, family-life; I was not. I reminded Clyde frequently that I planned to become a doctor and that there was nothing that would stand in the way of this. Clyde took on my goals and dreams as his own.
He never tried to persuade me to be less ambitious or less outgoing. He took me seriously as an individual, regardless of my gender, and respected me as an equal when it came to my professional capacity and intellectual value. He would say to me, “Rena, if you want to be a doctor, then a doctor is what WE will be.” It is this same selflessness to which we can contribute our successes over the years, particularly, the longevity of our union.
We have never, for one second, felt alone. Clyde has always been my very best friend and closest confidant. I genuinely believe an uninterrupted bond between husband and wife, putting one another first, before everyone else (including children although some may consider this debatable), is the key to an indestructible union.
While I was a sophomore, I went off for a summer to study science at Harvard University. This was the first time Clyde and I had been apart in about four years since the day we met. I remember calling Clyde on the phone and telling him about my experiences at Harvard. I told him about this one guy who was trying to date me. I guess he was jealous because when I got back home, he was waiting for me on one knee at the airport!
I instantly said yes to Clyde without reservation. After 45 years of marriage and almost 50 years of being together, we are still “the couple” everyone remembers from those days at Jackson State University. We have two beautiful children and two beautiful grandchildren, who we love dearly. We still take long car rides to the Dairy Queen, and our song, Just My Imagination, has become a timeless, Black American classic.
It perfectly describes our love back then, and even today, it feels like a fairytale, except it is not. It is deep and intricate. It’s on-going, and it’s the REAL deal.
Reflections by Dr. Jasmin Chapman
Clyde’s version of events
Not often in life do you find a perfect package in a woman. When I first met Rena, she stood out; beauty, charm, and smarts rolled into a pair of well-fitted blue jeans. We seemed to hit it off right away. While she was a bit younger, she was intelligent and wise for her age. She always displayed a sense of family values and goals set in stone. From early on, we paired to be a couple that friends loved to be around. She would flash that big smile of hers, and I would stare into those big brown eyes, and it was ON!
She was easy to love, a loyal companion who made me feel safe and comfortable. I found some of her goals to become my goals. You see, being a poor kid growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, I had no aspirations to become a big shot, doctor. I was only focused on getting a degree because I was influenced by Rena’s determination to advance educationally, “Her move was my desire.”
In many of our early years of marriage, Rena was in school, studying hard and often tired by pursuing her goals and aspirations. Yet, she always managed to flash that beautiful smile and talk about her family and friends with so much pride. While we were away in school, our love deepened, for we were all we had together. Her exams were my exams, and her labs were my labs, right up to me being her first dental patient. “Boy, talk about love.”
Once Rena graduated, she began working as a dentist. Another important job she retained at the time was working on me and inspiring me to realize my fullest potential. I always had an interest in politics but was hesitant to run for office for numerous reasons. With the help of her family, it was Rena who managed my first campaign and ensured my success in being elected Justice Court Judge, a position I held for over 28 years.
My baby has always been determined, focused, and seemed to have a sense of direction about where she wanted to be in life. True grit has made her the wonderful woman she is today, and after fifty years of togetherness, I am still hanging in here with a smile on my face.
It’s been a wonderful experience watching Rena grow, becoming my wife and lifetime confidant, a nurturing, caring other, and an awesome mom and grandmother.
Reflections by Judge Clyde Chapman