My US Sailor
My US Sailor


By the end of my first school year, I knew I was in loved and wanted to marry Richard. I even went to the jeweler in Painted Post. Richard and I had been in there before for other reasons. One day, I went in to buy Richard a gift and stood looking at the star ruby and a star sapphire in his case. I never wanted a diamond. I told the owner, “If Richard comes in, I would rather have this star sapphire than a diamond.” I got it for my birthday and we were officially engaged.
Yes, I’d not answered when he asked me to marry him, so now I had to ask him if he still wanted to marry me. I remember that we were driving to Corning from Painted Post in his 1940 Plymouth. His answer was yes. Then I said I had one more thing I wanted to ask him.


“Would you mind if I went out with Joe one more time?” Not the right question!

“What!!? Yes, I’d mind!” He couldn’t believe I’d ask such a thing.

I’m not quite sure what prompted me to think I could ask that. Joe, an engineer at Corning Glass, told me later that he had decided to be more serious about asking me out when I came back to Painted Post after summer vacation. He’d been concerned that his Catholicism would be a problem to me, a Protestant. At that time mixed marriages between Catholics and Protestants were frowned upon. If a Protestant married a Catholic, it was assumed that their children would be raised Catholic. He was right, I would have had a problem with his Catholicism at that point in my life. This seems very out-of-date in the twenty-first century.

As it turned out I didn’t exactly date Joe, but in the fall unbeknown to one to another we both tried out for major parts in a Corning Workshop Players comedy. Joe was cast as my errant husband. I spent many hours with Joe that fall. There was one small walk-on part with one line for a man in a sailor suit. I knew just the person for the part. The stage kiss was for real when Richard sat down on the bench beside me.

The next spring I also played a major role across from Don. Don was cast as the king in The King with the Golden Touch, I was cast as the princess. I realized any feelings I’d had for him had disappeared. I knew I was extremely lucky to have Richard.


When my pastor husband, Richard, and I lived in Bloomington, New York, I became the choir director. The choir was small, usually not more than ten, but we had all four parts covered.
The choir had a favorite Christmas Anthem, The Snow Lay on the Ground, which they loved to sing and did it well–almost every time.

It was Christmas Eve. Our regular organist was away and Audrey had agreed to substitute. We had practiced with her, but she was still very nervous about playing for the choir. I wanted all the anthems to go as smooth as possible. We were singing several during the service.

The Snow Lay on the Ground was the opening of the evening service. The organist played the short introduction. I brought my arms down to start the choir. The choir came in with gusto–a quarter of the note sharp(too high). I thought, we’ll get through this first part, they’ll hear the organ’s pitch and all will return to normal. It didn’t happen. The choir was in perfect pitch with one another, but not with the organ. It was if the organ wasn’t there.

If our normal organist had been playing, I’d simply waved to her to quit playing. But Audrey was so nervous, I thought if I asked her to stop playing, she would think she had done something wrong. It would have wiped her out for the rest of the service.

The choir continued on its merry way, thoroughly enjoying the music with not a clue they were off pitch. They finished perfectly together in perfect harmony.

It was the first and last time I ever had it happen. I continued to direct different choirs for the next forty years. There were times, the choir or I weren’t in sync with the accompaniment, and I stopped the choir to begin again. Never again did a group sing more enthusiastically and just enough off to be painful.

The choir redeemed itself as they sang all the rest of the anthems just as we’d practiced. Perhaps the choir members forgot that evening. It makes me smile to remember. I’m sure God smiled, too.

Embarrassing Moment

Painted Post is a village closely connected to the city of Corning. I had put out applications to all the schools around Corning because my boyfriend lived there. One afternoon, I returned from class to pick up my mail. In my box was a note: “Call Corning, Operator 2”. There was no email or cell phones in 1953. I was thinking that perhaps Don was going to come visit me for the weekend. I was excited.

I ran back to my dorm reception room, where the only phone in our section of the dorm resided. I dropped my books on the floor. My fingers shook as I dialed the operator. Soon, a male voice answered. “Hello.”

“Hello, dear, how are you?” I said.

“Miss Neff?”

“Yes.” My voice had turned hesitant.

“This Mr. Clowe, principal of Painted Post School.”

I felt my face turn bright red. I think I stuttered a “Oh.”

Mr. Clowe laughed. “That is best answer I’ve had all day.”

He went on to ask if I could come to Painted Post the following weekend for an interview.

I called Don and he found me a room for overnight with a family that he knew.

I was very nervous meeting Mr. Clowe that Saturday. He delighted in telling the school board members about my greeting. I finally relaxed. I got the job.

Fast Forward to living in Painted Post. Don and I saw each other from time to time. He wasn’t as devoted as I thought or hoped he’d be. I still believed I was in love with him. Then he confessed that he was dating the young woman, a high school senior, in whose home I’d stayed and been welcomed. I forgave Don because he brought me to Painted Post and my true love of the past sixty years.

On Being a Minister’s Wife

I have begun November Novel in a Month as a memoir of my life with my husband, a minister. This is how it begins.

The first thing you need to know is that I didn’t “want” to be a minister’s wife. Back in Fredonia, sixty years ago, my roommate and our roommate neighbors sat around one evening talking about who we would marry.
The four of us sat and lounged on the two single beds in our room. The neatest thing we did every day was to make our beds. Char and I had been brought up making our beds as part of our daily routine to prepare for the day. In the rest of the room books were piled on desks, violin cases lay here or there, closet doors stood open. Neat, we weren’t.
As often happened when we were twenty, our conversation turned to men. We had dated various classmates. I was serious about Don, whose baritone voice had captured me. He had graduated two years before me and now taught in Corning.
Char said, “I’d like to marry a minister with large brown “cow eyes.”
Dorie said, “Yes, I think being married to a minister would be fun.”
Fern said, “I could play the organ and piano. We would be like partners.”
Once the other three agreed they would like to marry a minister. I said, “I never want to marry a minister.”
“I’ve known minister’s wives and they don’t have an easy life.”
I didn’t marry a minister. I married a sailor in the United States Navy. He just turned out to be one after eight years of marriage. What could I do?