I re-discovered a great story in Byrne’s personal journal the other day and though I haven’t included it in the memoir, it’s too good to leave on the cutting room floor. Consider it a bonus for blog followers. Byrne and Duncan were married for almost sixty years, so it seems almost impossible to imagine a man before Duncan in Byrne’s life. Until I think about how she looked in this picture, in her 50s, and realize how even more stunning she must have been in her 20s.
Enough said. So before Duncan, there was Jefferson Davis Ehrlick. He was older than Byrne, far too old for much to exist online about him. I’ve snooped; I’m sure he’s long gone. But in Byrne’s journal, he’s a deliciously life-like cad.
“Bright and ambitious… he’d acquired his law and engineering doctorate and planned a corporate bigwig life. He was looking for a woman who would be the proper wife for this kind of life and chose me. To his surprise (and mine) we fell in love and planned marriage. For all his brilliance, he was strange – obsessed with fear I might be marrying him for his money. My father had found work, as a family we were on our feet. “
Here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. I remember this reference to her father finding work, from countless tellings of the story of why Byrne and Duncan married the first time in secret. The family depended on Byrne’s income and Byrne couldn’t bear to let her unemployed father know she was holding off on moving out until he was back on his feet. Oh well, she was writing this journal in her late 80’s — so some of the dates got mixed up.
“Not only did his money mean nothing to us, but because his doubts and suspicions and trials had me crying myself to sleep most nights my parents wanted me to break the engagement. For some reason, we were to have only a civil service and when he arrived to take me to city Hall, my mother had called the entire clan – uncles, aunts, cousins – to talk me out of it. I returned his 2 carat flawless diamond engagement ring that I felt was too flashy I wore it, stone turned in, so none ever saw the ring. My uncles had given me a big check, saying “take a 6 month cruise and if at the end you still want to marry him, no one will try to stop you.”
What a crisis! What would you have done? Byrne, being Byrne, gave him back the ring AND tore up her family’s check. To hell with all of ’em.
“Weeks passed. Jeff sent me flowers. I sent them back. Books sent back. Theatre tickets sent back. Letters sent back. It was a dreary time. I weakened.”
She weakened? When she told me this story I always imagined that she had wild make-up sex and she never corrected that assumption. In the journal, she is circumspect.
“Went to theatre with him once again. He was charming, loving. Had always attracted me physically. At the close of the 2nd date he said “Why don’t we marry? I still have the license.” I was tempted, said “Do you still have the ring?” He answered, “Yes, but I don’t want you to be bought off again – you’ll get the ring after we’re married. ” I sent him off, for good. Could I spend my life with a man who so completely misunderstood me?
How right she was to turn this man away. Call me a romantic, but I shudder to think that the greatest love story I’ve ever known came this close to never happening.