My sister, Nan Gurley, met the man-of-her-dreams when they were attending Abilene University back in the mid-1970’s. In the spring of her senior year, Nan starred in a production of “Man of La Mancha” in the role of Aldonza. The man-of-her-dreams played Quixote. Several in the family went down to the university to see the production. I was properly impressed with the man-of-her-dreams. He held his own opposite a formidable costar. In the course of my brief trip, Nan told me that she thought she might be in love with this guy. I reported this to our younger brothers when I returned home. And when the man-of-her-dreams decided he would move to Nashville after graduation to pursue his career in journalism and took the post of managing-editor at the Nashville Magazine, my brothers and I knew this “love” was now a two-way street.
The summer of 1975 Nan and I were working at Opryland. I was about to head off to UNC Chapel Hill to begin my two-year MFA program in theater, so that summer it was a full house at the Arnold homestead. Just because Nan proclaimed that she was in love with the man-of-her-dreams, it did not mean that said object of her affection was going to automatically get a free embrace from her brothers. The male siblings had a stake in this love thing too. Now it was not as if we were plotters and schemers engaged in undermining the prospective union, but it had to be tested. Nan was wise enough not to give out regular installments on the progress of her relationship with the man-of-her-dreams to her three brothers. But when an engagement ring appeared on our sister’s finger, we knew this was proof-positive and action had to be taken.
One morning Mom and Dad hosted a breakfast on the back patio with Nan and the man-of-her-dreams to discuss wedding plans. The three brothers were not invited. This rebuff would not stand. As the parents, our sister, and the man-of-her-dreams breakfasted on the back patio, my brothers and I spied upon them from the second-floor bathroom window. That was when inspiration descended from above in the form of Cupid who whispered into our ears, “Thou shalt strip down to thy boxers and prance around the breakfast table shooting arrows of love into the hearts of the amorous couple.”
Who were we to disobey Cupid’s call? So we disrobed down to our boxers, went out the side door, and came prancing around the corner of the house chortling falsetto musical chants of love like a cupid chorus and miming the drawn bows releasing arrows from our quivers and into the hearts of the engaged couple. Our sister and the parents failed to see the humor. Nan started throwing ice cubes from her tea glass, and the parents exclaimed in horror at their semi-naked sons ordering us to make an immediate exit. But the man-of-her-dreams laughed. He laughed. This was a good sign. Could he, in fact, be one of us? Because of this we began to accept him as a potential member of the family, and so he shall be called by his given name: Wayne Gurley. In spite of the negative response from the majority of the audience, we three brothers never broke character, and pirouetted our way back inside the house. Because we had obeyed the voice of love, Cupid spoke once again and said, “From hence forth and forevermore, the Arnold brothers shall be known throughout the land as ‘The Nymphs of Plenty.’” Random strikes of the Nymphs could happen when one least expected, which brought fear and trembling among the nations.
The next step in this love process was for Wayne Gurley’s parents to meet the parents of the bride…and parents of The Nymphs of Plenty. Since his parents lived in Dallas and would be making the trip to Nashville, elaborate plans were designed for the Arnold clan to make the best possible impression. With military precision the house was cleaned, the landscape was manicured, and Nan’s strict orders regarding her brother’s spontaneous and unpredictable behavior in front of her prospective in-laws was, “Not while the Gurleys are here.” The parents were in full support of this edict: bad table manners? “Not while the Gurleys are here”; wearing sloppy attire? “Not while the Gurleys are here;” ill-kempt bedrooms? “Not while the Gurleys are here”; loud voices, coarse language, and boorish behavior? “Not while the Gurleys are here.” We ended each day with the mantra, “Not while the Gurley’s are here.” There was no escaping it. And, of course, if The Nymphs of Plenty were to show their cherub, cheeky faces at any point in the Gurley visit, well, hell hath no fury like a mortified sister.
Wayne’s family arrived for their Nashville visit. Since they were staying with Wayne at his apartment and their days were filled with sight-seeing, we brothers were kept out of the picture until the day came for the formal meal at our house. Nan could not pull off the Gurley dinner without her brothers’ assistance, so we were finally, if not reluctantly, brought out of hiding. Wayne’s parents and sister were gracious and delightful people, and even though there was pressure on both sides to make a good first impression and be on our best behavior, the conversation was pleasant and the occasion was joyful.
We brothers wore dress shirts and ties to the table; as rare a sight as Sasquatch. And we were called upon to act as servers for our guests during the meal. Things were going swimmingly when Mom asked if I would go around the table and fill everyone’s tea glass…an easy task I was happy to do. I’m not sure how far I got around the table with the full pitcher of tea before I came to Mrs. Gurley’s glass, but as I extended the pitcher with its deep bowl and long spout (an object of beauty, yes, of practicality, no), to pour the tea, I bobbled the pitcher creating a tsunami effect with the tea forming a wave from the back of the pitcher that built in force as it flowed its way out of the spout and exploded all over Mrs. Gurley’s glass. In my attempt to regain control and right the pitcher to reduce the spillage, I took a step back, and in so doing my heel got caught in the floor-length curtains that hung from the window. Still not fully in control of my body, I used my other foot to regain my balance and got it caught in the hem of the curtain as well. The flimsy curtain rod could not take so much abuse, broke from its hooks, and came crashing down on top of me. In the silence that immediately followed my acrobatics I blurted, “Aw hell, not while the Gurleys are here.”
And who said slapstick is dead?
There is only so much one should expect from trying to mold one’s life through behavior modification. Some things are just impossible to Man. Perhaps subconsciously my body was rebelling against the enforcement of the “Not while the Gurleys are here” decree, but the first person to break the stunned silence at the table was my future brother-in-law. He laughed, which has endeared him to my heart since that fateful moment. While I’m sure my sister and parents wanted to kill me on the spot, they restrained the impulse knowing the mess it would have created would be far greater than fallen curtains and spilt tea. So my life was spared, and I live to tell the tale.
Order was soon restored at the dinner table. The wedding proceeded six months later, and Nan and Wayne have lived happily ever after. As Nan said to me recently, “The blessing of The Nymphs of Plenty has kept us together for forty-one years and counting.” And as for The Nymphs of Plenty, one never knows where or when the much older cherubs will strike again. Let the nations beware.