In a couple of weeks, Alice and Paul Williams will gather with friends at Polly’s La Mesa on Pio Nono Avenue.
Paul and Alice are regulars at Polly’s, the oldest Mexican restaurant in Macon. They eat there almost every Wednesday and Saturday night. They’re such loyal patrons that, when they don’t show up, the folks at Polly’s have been known to call and check on them.
This dinner will be extra special. The Williamses will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
Chances are, you have met Paul and Alice, although you might not recognize them when they’re not wearing pink. For 10 days in March, they are sidekicks to the most photographed pink poodle on the planet.
They are co-owners of “Pet Grooming by Paul & Alice’’ and have shared a long line of showstopping dogs during the Cherry Blossom Festival over the past two decades. It began with Casper, followed by Lacie and now Blossom. Next year, they will roll out Blossom’s heir to the throne — Cherry.
They never had children, but they consider their fur babies as their next-of-kin. They have owned a dog every year of their marriage except at the beginning, when Paul was serving in the Marines.
They named their first poodle Tammy, after country singer Tammy Wynette. They called another Skeeter, after Skeeter Davis, also a country music artist. A third pet, Dandy, was a rescue dog.
Alice and Paul’s eyes met for the first time on a Saturday night in August 1966 at the Bibb Skate Arena on Hawkinsville Road, affectionately known as “The Barn.’’
Paul was 19 years old. He had graduated the year before from Willingham High School for Boys and was a freshman at Middle Georgia College. His summer job was working at the paper mill, where his father had been employed at Georgia Kraft for more than 30 years.
Alice was 16 and going into her junior year at McEvoy High School for Girls. She had just returned from a family trip to Pennsylvania to visit relatives. It didn’t matter that she had been riding in the car with her parents and sister for 17 hours. She went roller skating with her friends, because that’s what a 16-year-old girl did on Saturday nights in South Macon.
Besides, she might meet a boy.
She had seen Paul before, but he had never noticed her.
She was wearing tight, white jeans. That got his attention.
During the “flashlight” skate, the boys would stand in the middle of the rink with the lights dim, while the girls would skate. If a young man wanted to skate with a certain girl, he would ask the monitor to shine a light on her.
Paul cast his beam on Alice, and she proceeded to sweep him off his skates. Literally. Their feet got tangled, and he took a tumble. She never lost her balance.
They spent the rest of the night talking. He offered to take her home and invited her to attend Avondale Baptist Church with him the next morning. They later went swimming.
They saw each other every day, until Paul showed up to take her out later in the week. Her mother, Jessie, met him at the back door.
“She said it was too much, too soon,’’ Paul said.
He cooled it for a few days, then the courtship was back in full swing.
A year later, he proposed over a plate of shrimp at the old Saratoga Restaurant in the alley behind Cherry Street. He probably should have waited until after they finished their meals before popping the question. “She didn’t eat a dollar’s worth of food after that,’’ Paul said, laughing.
When he took her home, she woke up her parents to tell them the news.
Her father rolled over in bed and mumbled, “I thought you had more sense than that.’’
It is customary for a young man to ask the bride-to-be’s father permission for her hand in marriage. Paul skipped that part.
“I didn’t know any better,’’ he said. “I was just a country boy.’’
They were married nine months later on June 15, 1968, at Liberty United Methodist Church. It was Father’s Day weekend. Alice’s mother made her wedding dress.
Paul was attending radar school for the Marines at the Naval Air Station in Millington, Tennessee, north of Memphis. He couldn’t leave until late Friday afternoon, so he missed his own rehearsal dinner.
The Marines, of course, frowned on marriage. Said Paul: “They tell you if they had wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.’’
He drove through the night in his 1966 Mustang. He caught two hours sleep, rented a U-Haul and still made it to the church on time.
He was married in a dress-blue Marine uniform he borrowed from a buddy.
The newlyweds arrived in Tennessee on Sunday night in a heavy rainstorm. They barely made it back to the base before midnight, or Paul would have been AWOL. He had to get up at 4 a.m. and be back at the base for something called reveille.
The honeymoon was put on hold for eight months. They went to Stone Mountain in February, stayed at the inn and rode the steamboat around the lake. It was cold, and Paul had a bad earache. But they made memories.
They rented two rooms in a house for $40 a month from a retired schoolteacher in Munford, about 20 minutes from Millington.
Although it was the height of the Vietnam War, Paul never was sent to Southeast Asia. He spent four years and four months in the service and got out on Dec. 5, 1971. Two days later, he borrowed $2,500 from his mother and opened Paul’s Pet Palace and Grooming Salon in Macon.
For 47 years, Paul and Alice have owned and operated pet grooming businesses in four locations, all along a 2-mile stretch of Pio Nono.
“Being married for 50 years is one thing. Being in business together is unique, totally different,’’ he said. “Working side by side for 45 years has made us stronger.’’
Said Alice: “We don’t have any drama. In the grooming room, we never have a fight. We’re too busy.’’
They are two peas in a pod. They share the same likes, dislikes and love of animals, camping, music and food … except for Alice’s disdain for liver and onions.
Aside from a few weeks early in their marriage, when Paul was sent away for military training, they can count on one hand the number of times they have been apart.
“She’s the reason I get up and breathe in the morning,’’ Paul said. “She’s the most important thing in my life.’’
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy and is the author of nine books. His columns appear on Sundays in The Telegraph.