ONCE UPON A TIME
It was a very difficult year—Tom’s first job as chairman of the History Department at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. If you weren’t wealthy and/or Presbyterian, it was difficult to gain traction there. And for Lipscomb grads with traditional Church of Christ family histories, the strangeness was made worse because there wasn’t a local congregation. So we drove to Greenville every Sunday to attend church there.
The first week we visited, Tom Furlong invited us to lunch with his family. And from that day on, we spent every Sunday afternoon with the Furlongs. A successful executive at Monsanto, Tom was handsome and intelligent. He had engineering degrees from Auburn and MIT and even studied theology at Harvard. He and his beautiful brunette wife Iris were from Montgomery, and had married quite young. They were a decade older than Tom and I, with four delightful children—two sons and two daughters.
They had a lovely large home in Greenville, with the newly popular open design—kitchen, dining area and family room with fireplace. Sometimes they would take us to lunch at Capri’s but usually Iris prepared a hearty meal of beef stew, lasagna or fried chicken. Dan was the oldest (about 10) and looked like his dad, Emily was next and she looked like Iris. Next was Clark—who was such a funny and lovable kid that I wanted to name our son Clark—and the sweetheart of the family was little Amy (about 5). At lunch one Sunday, Amy suddenly piped up, “Sally, you don’t have any moles!” Her dad patiently explained that I was fair-skinned and not everyone did have the tiny brown spots they all did.
We would spend afternoons playing bridge, working puzzles and talking for hours. Sometimes Tom and Iris drove down to Clinton for dinner with us. They saved our lives that year.
Although they were a picture perfect family, there were serious undercurrents. Tom had been in a serious auto crash a few years earlier and had a severe concussion. Since then, he had undergone a major personality change. He became much less conventional in his lifestyle, and the changes were painful for Iris. He began drinking, pushed her to learn to dance (strictly forbidden in their church) and go to company parties with him. She was making a valiant effort to be what he wanted her to be—but eventually, it was too much for her.
After we moved to Mississippi, we stayed in touch—Iris would call to talk about their growing estrangement. She decided to take the children and move back to Montgomery. In 1968, they stopped by our home in Starkville as they were driving to Alabama—and they loved seeing our baby daughter Heather. That was the last time I saw them.
Both Iris and Tom eventually remarried. This photo of the Furlong four was in a Christmas card from Iris in 1974. A few years later, she wrote that Clark had gotten married—and took his bride to the Chattanooga Choo Choo on their honeymoon—staying in the caboose!
We lost touch sometime in the seventies—after Tom and I also divorced. Yesterday I found a 2011 obituary for Tom Furlong, still in Greenville. And a fascinating 2019 article from a television station in Searcy, AR about Amy. In 2006, she was a medflight nurse at a Little Rock hospital when she had some type of sudden psychotic break. She couldn’t remember how to do her job, had dark episodes, and then fell from a second story window of her home onto a brick patio. Injuries left her paralyzed from the waist down. A woman who was a Pentecostal pastor came to her hospital bedside. Convinced that Amy was demon-possessed, she performed an exorcism, after which Amy said her mental state cleared up almost immediately. In this interview, Amy said she wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t happened to her. Sweet little Amy.