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With Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought I’d take my column in a different direction this week.
Thanks for sharing, Donna.
Dirt, grit, sweat, heat — and showers in short supply. That was the recipe for lasting romance for one Roane County couple.
It was August 1978 and still in the early days of Roane State Community College and its annual Southwestern field trip.
That trip — two weeks with students in two campus vans traveling to New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona to learn about anthropology, geology, archeology and sociology — sounded like fun to Donna Crass of Harriman and some of her friends, including Kim Kittrell.
The trip also appealed to Jim Scroggins and a group of his pals.
In fact, he and his buddies decided to wire a tapeplayer into one of the vans so the girls would want to ride with them.
The trouble was, when the girls saw all those guys congregated around that van, they naturally climbed aboard the empty one.
That situation sorted itself out later.
Donna was dating a clean-cut CPA-type at the time.
Jim was bearded, with shaggy hair and reflective sunglasses that hid his eyes.
To this day, she remembers the first line he ever spoke to her.
Those memorable words?
“He asked me what time it was,” Donna said. “Kim and I thought, this is just going to be awful.”
Later, because Jim was going to be in a play at Roane State, he found another reason to spend time with Donna. He asked her to help him read his lines.
Most of the time, the two vanloads of students and their teachers camped as they moved from Bandolier, Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon.
Each had assigned chores.
“I’d be cooking while everyone else was setting up camp,” Donna said.
It was there she discovered one of Jim’s idiosyncrasies.
“He always wanted to taste the food before it was done,” Donna said. “He’s still getting food out — that hasn’t stopped.”
They really got to know each other as they’d sit around the campfire and talk.
There were a lot of things that could have gotten in the way, but didn’t.
“Jim’s a night owl,” Donna said. “I’m not.”
Then there were the conditions of the trip.
“No makeup. No hair curlers. No consistent showers.”
They grew closer by the day on that two-week trip.
“It was like dating for three months,” Donna said. “I think we got to know each other as friends before anything else.”
Donna got to spend even more time with Jim after one of their companions badly cut her leg at Chaco Canyon, and they made the long drive to the nearest medical facility for treatment.
While the waited at the hospital, they looked to the future.
“We were having a conversation about what we were going to do in the future,” Donna said.
“It felt like he’d been there forever,” she said. “It’s kind of like when you have your kids. You don’t know what you did without them.
“I just knew I wasn’t going to get rid of him,” she added.
Besides, there was that stop in Texas on the trip back and the gumball machine ring he’d given her.
“He came outside swaggering like a big ol’ cowboy and asked me to marry him — and have six or 12 kids with him,” Donna said.
The next semester, she went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
“The whole semester, he was there constantly,” Donna said. But she hadn’t worked up the courage to break up with the CPA she was dating, and things were coming to a head.
Finally, Jim told her he was going to shave his beard and start dating other people if she wasn’t ready to commit to only him.
At that point, Donna had never seen him without his beard, and she worried about what he might look like without it.
In fact, he showed up at her workplace to show her what he’d done, and she tried to run and hide because she was afraid she might not like what she saw.
Jim tracked her down, though, and they talked.
“I’m looking at him thinking, not bad,” she said.
She broke up with her boyfriend and accepted Jim’s proposal.
They were married in May.
She still has the toy ring he gave her in Texas.
“It’s my engagement ring,” Donna said.