Words by Al Blanton | Images by Blakeney Clouse
Sometimes, a gas station can be the site of a budding romance. Such was the case with Wade and Linda Clark.
“He chased me for months in DeFuniak,” Linda says, describing how the couple first met.
DeFuniak meaning DeFuniak Springs, Florida, of course, where Wade had just been transferred for work with Great Northern Paper Company. As the story goes, the man who worked at the gas station where Linda traded kept suggesting that she meet Wade.
“I’m not interested,” Linda would say.
The man was undeterred. Every time Linda would show up at the gas station, he would call Wade immediately and say, “Wade, get here. She’s here!” But by the time Wade could get there, Linda would be gone.
This went on for a while and eventually it took a little ingenuity for the man to bring the couple together. Let’s let Linda tell it: “So one day I had been to the beauty shop, and my hair was in rollers, and I had my ol’ green polka dotted shorts on and the guy started tinkering under the hood of my car so [Wade] could get there. That was our first date.”
That evening the couple drove over to nearby Freeport because there was little to do in DeFuniak. “I went with my hair in rollers and green polka dotted shorts on because I wasn’t interested in him,” Linda recalls.
“Three months later, we were married. And Thursday will be 49 years.”
The couple tied the knot on January 17, 1970, at Eastside Baptist Church in DeFuniak Springs. They moved into a little bitty 12’x45’ trailer but would eventually graduate to more comfortable housing as the years went by and they welcomed two boys, Doug and Wesley.
For the next few years, Wade and Linda made several moves with Wade’s work. First they lived in Richland, Georgia, before moving to Albany, Georgia, and then to Jacksonville, Florida. While in Jacksonville, Wade, a Georgia fan, and Linda, a Florida fan, would enjoy attending the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”—the annual Georgia-Florida game. It was something they looked forward to every year, and although they were fans of different teams, the ribbing was always in good fun.
At the time, never would they have guessed that life would take them to a small Alabama community nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. But by 1978, Wade’s company, Great Northern Paper, had acquired Brilliant Coal, which had an office on Walston Bridge Road in, of all places, the town of Jasper, Alabama.
During the interview process, moving to Jasper seemed to be hunky-dory for Wade and Linda. But by the time the couple arrived, there was a bit of a culture shock. They had been used to living in the big city of Jacksonville, where businesses stayed open all night; they were taken aback when they discovered Jasper businesses rolled up the shades early. “Once we moved here, my comment to Wade was ‘you have moved me to the end of the world,’” Linda said, “because you couldn’t buy a gallon of milk after 5:30 at night.”
Eventually the couple settled in and got used to living in Jasper. Later, they put down roots.
Living in Jasper meant that they could no longer go to the football games. It wasn’t that Jacksonville was too far, necessarily. Since Georgia was winning at the time, Linda didn’t want to have to listen to Wade gloat the entire car ride home.
So instead they set up shop in their living room and transformed the space into a Florida-Georgia shrine. Wade decked out his side with red and black, and Linda dressed up hers with blue and orange. Across the years, the couple has accumulated paraphernalia from each school. Normally, these are not items that they have bought personally, but rather items that have been given to them by friends and family (if someone buys a Florida item, they must find its Georgia twin).
Game days at the Clark residence, they’ll admit, can get a little testy—especially the week of the Florida-Georgia game—but remember it’s all in good fun. At least, that’s how Linda feels.
“A lot of times we have people over,” Linda says.
“They come over to referee,” Wade quips.
“We don’t get violently fighting or ugly,” Linda adds. “It’s just a ballgame.”
“Sometimes,” Wade says.
“See, I don’t get ill about any of them,” Linda says. “He’s like the typical Alabama fan. They get all riled up.”
“You better watch out!” Wade interjects.
“It’s just a ballgame.”
“No it ain’t,” says Wade. “It’s blood and guts when you go tee to tee.”
Linda says that during the game, neighbors will often call to check on them. “Y’all OK over there?” they’ll say.
And things always are. Every year, they survive. And every year, one of them gets bragging rights over the other. It’s just one of the things that makes Wade and Linda’s life together a little more unique.
Linda says the key to a successful marriage is to just keep going. “You have your ups and downs, but you don’t throw your hands up and walk away. That’s the way we were raised. I was raised that you worked through your problems. That’s just the way we were taught. You work it out,” Linda says.
Wade admits that when he gets irritated probably the best thing he can do is head to his “office”—a detached shed out back with a refrigerator, recliner, cable TV, and phone. But that doesn’t always work. Sometimes, Linda follows him out there. “She comes out right behind me,” he jokes.
Wade has had some vascular problems recently and Linda worries about him. But after 49 years, there’s no reason to throw in the towel now. “We’re going to hang in there [with each other]. We’re going to hang in there until then end,” Linda says.
People can’t understand why Wade and Linda don’t move away from Jasper and enjoy someplace more luxurious in the twilight of their lives. But for them, this is home. “We are not leaving Jasper. We’re not going anyplace—we’ve discussed that,” Linda says. “We’ve got our plots out at Walker Memory. Everything is taken care of. We are staying right here. We’re not going anywhere. Nope. Mmm-hmm.” 78