On a windy and moonless night in 1956, a young couple, Jerry and Patsy Bowman, paused on their way to the Masonic Theater in the coastal town of New Bern, N.C., to share a laugh.
The two had discovered a freshly poured sidewalk and decided to scribble their names in the wet mush.
With a finger, Patsy wrote "Jerry + Pat" on one of the soft squares of cement, and then held a lit match so Jerry could see to repeat the message on another patch of sidewalk.
"We were just overgrown kids," says Jerry, now 81.
Eventually, the two moved away from New Bern and settled in North Georgia, near Chickamauga, where they raised five children — two boys and three girls — in a white frame house on Mill Wee Hollow Road.
But they never forgot the sidewalk.
The slabs of concrete from 1956 have been salvaged, planted in a little flower garden in front of the couple's house. As the Bowmans celebrate their 60th anniversary today, they consider the sections of sidewalk the cornerstones of their marriage.
For years, when they went back to New Bern to visit relatives, they'd visit the sidewalk. Then, a few years ago, on one of their trips, they befriended a well-connected New Bern resident named Patrick Henshaw. The Bowmans mentioned their sidewalk, and wondered aloud if there was some way they could eventually move the concrete slabs to North Georgia. By then, years of weather had begun to erase their names.
"We were afraid it was going to disappear," says Patsy, 76.
"It was like part of us was still there in New Bern, as silly as that sounds," Jerry says.
Henshaw told folks in New Bern that a sweet older couple from Georgia wanted to claim the chunks of concrete if the sidewalk was ever replaced. It would help them remember their younger years, he explained.
Jerry and Patsy met as kids in Soddy, Tenn. He was 17 and she was 12, and their friendship turned romantic as they got older. Jerry served a stint in the military and came home. When he finally got up enough nerve to propose marriage — he was 21 and Patsy was 16 — he did it over the telephone.
"She said she'd call me back and let me know," Jerry recalls.
"I wasn't sure I wanted to get married," Patsy says. "I needed to sleep on it."
Eventually, though, she said yes, and the two appealed one night to a preacher in his pajamas to marry them. Later the Bowmans moved to New Bern, where Jerry worked as an auto mechanic.
Five years ago, a call came from New Bern to come and get the concrete. A new streetscape was being built there, but workers had carefully preserved the names. So the Bowmans drove over, loaded the two slabs in their pickup truck and brought them back home.
Before they could do much with the slabs, tragedy struck. Their son Chris, only 54, died of a heart attack, and the couple lost interest for a time in their cement heirloom.
Then, last month, the other children bought Jerry and Patsy tickets to "Ring of Fire," the Johnny Cash-inspired musical, at the Cumberland Playhouse in Crossville, Tenn.
While they were away, their children made the concrete slabs the centerpieces of a small flower garden of begonias and impatiens.
The next day, Patsy sat beside the flowers and mused, "Who would have thought this would be in our front yard 60 years later?"
Tammy Durham, a daughter, said the slabs will be always treated as family treasures to be passed from generation to generation, even after her parents pass away.
"I'm proud of my parents," she says. "Not everybody stays married for 60 years."
Unlike grave markers, which are somber and stern, the concrete slabs represent life preserved in a tiny, joyous moment.
A windy night. A couple in love. The birth of a family.
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFP COLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.