Monday, July 9, 2007

A Wartime Romance

Every cloud has a silver lining. My grandfather used to tell us that if it weren't for Hitler, none of us kids would be alive. He grew up in the tobacco fields of North Carolina; my grandmother on a farm in extremely rural Kentucky. Here is the story of how they met and married.

Pappaw was stationed in Fort Knox, where he met and became friends with Mammaw's brother Edwin. It was the summer of 1941, and the boys were given the weekend off. It was too far for Pappaw to go home, he wouldn't have time to go there and back, so Edwin invited Pappaw to come home with him. Pappaw couldn't help but notice Edwin's pretty young sister peeking out at him from behind a tree when they arrived at the farm.

It was Friday evening, and Pappaw, Edwin, several of Edwin's siblings including Mammaw, and some friends in the area all went out driving around. Mammaw spent the entire evening by Pappaw's side, and he kept his arm around her.

Unbeknownst to her, Edwin had a talk with Pappaw that night. "Keep away from her," he warned. "She has to finish high school." She still had a year to go before she graduated.

The next evening, the group went out again, and decided to see a movie. Mammaw fully expected that she would be paired up with Pappaw again, but was surprised when he paired up with her older sister Clara instead, leaving her to sit with a girlfriend at the movie. She thought to herself, "Well how did THAT happen?" He spent the remainder of the evening with Clara.

The next morning, the family left to walk to church. Pappaw was asleep on the couch when they left. Mammaw forgot her sweater and went back in for it, and Pappaw opened his eyes and beckoned, "Come over here."

"What for?" she asked.

"Because I want to kiss you!" he said.

"You can't kiss me!" she declared in shock. "You're going with Clara!"

"No, I'm not!" he responded, but she refused to let him kiss her.

The boys went back to Fort Knox that afternoon, but Mammaw knew that Clara and Pappaw wrote letters back and forth. In September, however, Clara married another boy! After her wedding, she gave Mammaw Pappaw's address, saying, "You're the one he likes anyway."

Although it was only September, Mammaw sent him a Christmas card. :) He wrote back, and they continued to correspond throughout the winter. For Easter, he got some time off and came to visit. Mammaw knew he was coming and waited up, but as the night grew later and later and he didn't come, she finally decided he wasn't coming after all, and went to bed.

Meanwhile, he had ridden a bus to the nearest town, several miles away, asked around for a ride to the farm and gotten a couple of boys to drive him out, but the creek was up and the boys knew they couldn't drive their car over the bridge when the creek was that high. Pappaw begged them to do it anyway, but they knew it was far too dangerous and refused. They pointed him to a footbridge that he could cross and told him how to get to the farm from there.

The footbridge was nothing but a board about a foot wide. The locals were used to it and could cross it easily without a second thought, but Pappaw was terrified. He got the boys to carry his bags across, for he felt he would never make it carrying them. He slowly made his way across despite his fear -- what one won't do for love... :) and made his way down the road. Fearing he was lost after walking for some time, he stopped at a farm and asked again for directions. He was glad to learn that this was the nearest neighbor and it wasn't much farther to go, for it was very late at night. The farmer gave him directions, and Pappaw started off down the road in the direction he had been told. But when he heard the creek rushing by, he became frightened that he would fall into it in the dark, so he turned away and began wandering into the fields. The neighbor had been watching to make sure he went the right direction, so when he saw him crossing the fields, he ran out and stopped him. Upon Pappaw's confession that he feared the creek, the neighbor ended up walking him all the way there. And after all that, he arrived only to discover that Mammaw had already gone to bed.

The next morning, when he saw her, he asked her, "Do you love me?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Do you love me enough to marry me?" he asked. No beating around the bush for him!

"Well... when?" she asked.

"Now!" he exclaimed.

"I can't marry you now," she answered. "I have to finish high school!" She only had about a month to go until graduation. Pappaw had hoped to get off so he could come for her graduation, but he wasn't able to. Mammaw received his engagement ring in the mail the day of her graduation. She wore it to the ceremony that night so she could show it off to everyone. One gentleman expressed great disappointment, as he had picked her out for his son, a boy she had grown up with. "Why, no, I can't marry George!" she gasped when he told her this. "George is a good friend, but I don't have feelings for him!"

Two weeks later, Pappaw finally got a weekend off. He and Mammaw took the bus to Louisa, Kentucky, where they got a motel room, then walked over to the hospital across the street to get the required blood test. They were not pleased to learn that the hospital was unable to read the results -- they had to send the blood tests by bus to Ashland and wait for them to come back. Had they known that, they said, they would have just gone to Ashland to be married!

They waited, and they waited, and they waited. Finally, around 8 pm, the results came back. But there was another hitch. Mammaw was asked her age. She was 18, old enough to be married without permission, she thought. "Oh no," answered the girl at the desk. "You have to have someone sign for you if you're under 21."

"We don't have anyone around here," they answered. Pappaw begged the girl to give them their marriage license anyway. "Isn't there anyone you could call?" the girl asked.

"My sister and her husband have a phone," Mammaw answered. "But I don't know the number." She gave the girl their names, and she called information to get the number. Unfortunately, another man with a very similar name lived in the same area as her sister, and that number was given to them instead of the correct one, so when this man was phoned, he responded that he had never heard of those people. Oops. Pappaw continued to beg the girl to let them have their license, and at last she gave in, on their word that they would return with a signature.

So at 8:30 that night, they walked over to a preacher's house and were married.

When they returned home, Mammaw's father refused to sign the certificate. He had signed for one of Mammaw's sisters to be married years before, and she was abused horribly, and he swore he would never sign for another of his girls to be married again. So her older sister signed the certificate.

And so they were wed. Amazing that seeing each other a couple of times, writing a few letters, and rushing off to be married far from friends and family resulted in a happy marriage that lasted 63 years until my grandfather's death last year, when so many couples today date forever, have long engagements, live with each other for about five years and then finally tie the knot, only to get divorced three years later.

Their early years of marriage must have been difficult, for their first child was born just under a year later, and then Pappaw was sent to Germany. Edwin was killed in January 1945, when he sacrificed himself to save the other men in his platoon from a machine gun nest. I can't imagine what it must have been like to learn that your brother was killed in a war that your husband and other family members and friends were still out there fighting, knowing that the same could happen to any of them.

Pappaw, of course, survived the war, though he was wounded in action, receiving a bullet "in the same place as Forrest Gump", as he put it, and they all lived happily ever after.

Okay, so maybe life wasn't always entirely happy, but it makes a good ending anyway. :)


Everyday Housewife said...

I love that story, so romantic.
It makes for so much more interesting telling to hear 'the rest of the story', not just 'we got married in Kentucky', doesn't it?
I'm so sorry about the uncle that died so young.

Anonymous said...

The creek was too high to cross? But he was determined to do so anyway? Mr. Edwards anyone??

A footbridge?? Laura anyone?

Sweet story with elements of Little House. :o)

Prairie Rose said...

What's amazing is that "Little House" elements from the 1870s are plentiful in a story set in the 1940s. Just goes to show HOW rural my grandmother's upbringing was. I did an interview with her last week about her past on video, and I pulled the wartime story from that to tell. Every question she answered sounded like something Laura wrote about, from smoking the hogs to put back meat for the winter to having a circuit riding preacher once a month to attending a one room schoolhouse.

Maria said...

What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it.

I'm wondering if long engagements contra short engagements has something to do with the 'success' (for want of better word) of the marriage? It strikes me that perhaps people who are engaged for ages, and live together most of that time, expect problems to magically disappear once they're married? Of course that doesn't happen, and the disillusion means that it ends up in divorce? I don't know, I'm just thinking into the keyboard here, and of course there are always exceptions. The thought just struck me after reading your comment on it and comparing with my own experiences...

A Dusty Frame said...

What a charming story!