My grandmother turns 90 this month. No question she’s lived a full and interesting life. About a year ago she started mentioning that she might like to record ‘Her Story’, as she called it. I immediately volunteered. I believe with every fiber of my being in learning from those that come before. I’m fascinated by history, and travel, and stories of a different time, all of which this biography promised to contain. We’re not done yet, but already there have been fabulous stories, some I knew already, some even my father hadn’t heard. My grandmother grew up on a farm in rural Missouri during the depression, she married a soldier during World War II, she’s visited all fifty states (plus living in Alaska when it was a mere territory), she’s canned hundreds of jars of family-famous pickles, and she remembers it all. This is my (current) favorite story. It’s about my grandparent’s wedding.
My grandmother and grandfather are both from a small town in rural Missouri. My grandmother actually grew up in a farm outside of town, but once she was old enough, she and one of her sisters moved to town. Which is where she met my grandfather. As things go, they talked, and dated, and at some point, decided to get married. I’ve seen the gazebo where he proposed, but my grandmother has always remained tight-lipped about what he said. I think my grandfather would have told, but she always got there first, saying that was between the two of them. So they were engaged. And then my grandfather had to return to base. This was World War II, and like most men his age, my grandfather was serving his country. I imagine they planned a wedding just as they must have kept in touch, via letters. I do know they planned on a June wedding. This was 1944.
At the time, my grandfather was stationed in North Carolina, he was part of a medical unit that was training for deployment. One day, my grandfather mentioned he was engaged and the wedding date. Later that afternoon, his commanding officer called him in to the office. There was no one else around. The C.O. opened the safe and pulled out a folder boldly marked SECRET. He placed a page on his desk and covered all but one line with blotters. The line said ‘. . . will depart this station on or about the 12th of June . . .’ The officer put the folder back in the safe, and never mentioned it again.The first time I was told this story, I was quite young, and I didn’t understand the significance. In a time of war and fear, my grandfather’s commanding officer broke what I can only guess to be several rules, and told my grandfather a date. The date. The date the company would be shipping out. A date that happened to be before my grandparent’s planned wedding date. The officer was letting my grandfather know, they needed to move up the wedding.
And so on Easter Sunday 1944, my grandparents were married. My grandfather wore his military uniform, my grandmother a ‘store bought blue suit with pillbox hat and new shoes’. My grandmother had ridden the train from St. Louis to South Carolina just days before. The girls in my grandfather’s office had planned a wedding with all the trimmings, going so far as to surreptitiously visit each mess hall on base and empty the sugar bowls into their purses so that my grandparents might have a wedding cake. Two months later, my grandfather shipped off, just as his C.O. had known he would. My grandmother would take a train back to St. Louis, and they wouldn’t see each other for fifteen months.
And to think, that was just the start of their story.