“Two homeless kids in 1943, that’s how it all got started for Vivian and me. She had a bedroom suite and I had a cow. that’s how me and Vivian started out.”
Those are the opening lines of “Vivian” , the song John McFalls, better known as Jay, wrote with Freedom Sings songwriters Don Goodman and Steve Dean.
Jay grew up dirt poor in Rhea County Tennessee in the years of the Great Depression. Born in the winter of 1926, Jay was a middle child in a family of a dozen children. He left home for good when he was 12 years old to hire himself out to work on farms. He made his way to Sale Creek, and then, at age 15, when World War II begun, Jay joined the Army. He thought the idea of a change of clothes and three meals a day sounded pretty good. Jay completed basic training and then, once the Army tracked down his real age, was given his first of two honorable discharges! Once discharged, Jay made his way to the textile mills in Chattanooga. He was 16 when, while working at the Margate Hosiery Mill on Main Street in Chattanooga , he met a skinny red haired girl named Vivian. Jay says he sat down next to this 15 year old girl, reached over, and took a long sip of her orange soda. She called him a bad name, “ Drink the rest of it you blankety blank!” It was love at first gulp!
Vivian’s home life was not much better than Jay’s, and, in fact, was pretty sketchy . She was the second oldest of five, and learned to be independent at an early age. Vivian was a city girl,and Jay a country boy, but they shared a commonality: they realized they had to rely on their own wits and hard work to survive.
It wasn’t long before Jay and Vivian were inseparable. They married on September 30 of 1944, and that November Jay turn and had their first child, a daughter , the following August. Meanwhile, on Jay’s 18 th birthday,he (like every other able bodied man) had to register for service. Jay was sent to the South Pacific, first to the Philippine Islands and rgrnAAf west pac, then to Okinawa. He achieved the rank of Tech Sergeant. Okinawa, where he served as techf sergeant . Jay says he was lucky. Most of the heavy fighting was over by the time his troop arrived. Jay loved music and singing and, while on Okinawa, was part of a band that performed over the radio for the soldiers and sailors of AF WestPac One of his army buddies begged him to go to
Nashville with him when the war ended, but Jay said he needed to get back to Chattanooga with his wife and daughter. Turns out the buddy played guitar with the Bob Wills band!
After the war, Jay became a pattern maker, a trade he excelled at and loved. He says he couldn’t wait to get to work each morning to see what puzzle could be solved in the making of patterns. Vivian was happy to stay home and be mom. Jay and Vivian moved with their young daughter from an apartment to a little two bedroom house. They suffered the still-born death of a son, and then had two more children. Jay’s work and Vivian’s ability to penny pinch enabled them to buy a brand new home and pay it off! A feat two “homeless kids” thought would never happen.
In June of 2013, Vivian was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer. Hospice was called in and, because of the tender loving care she received at home from Jay, Vivian lived through the winter, and died in February of 2014.
Seventy six years together. That’s how Jay sees it, and why he visits with Vivian daily at the Chattanooga National Cemetary. When folks ask him why, Jay answers, “ Well, we promised till death do we part— and I ain’t dead yet!”