TIME OUT TO GET MARRIED
When Addie Leah moved with her parents and three sisters into the Zenith Community as part of the community's newly found oil wealth, I was a sophomore in high school, very mature and grown up. I noticed her right away, and boy was she a beauty! But she really never said anything, and I was uncertain as to what was behind all those good looks, and endeavored to find out. We were together in the church's young people's program, and that was a big help. Ultimately I decided she was worth some considerable attention.
I first asked Addie Leah for a date in February, 1940. Dad let me have the car which was a 1938 Ford Convertible--I was in the big time! Addie Leah and I have had years of debate about the exact day of that first date--Feb 12, 14, 15? But it was a Valentine's Day affair, the high school Sweethearts Banquet. What an environmental setting for a first date! All was not necessarily simple. There were always other high school boys in the wings, and the thought of any competition can cause a l5 year-old's knees to be pretty weak.
By the time I went to college in the fall of 1941 I was pretty certain that Addie Leah was for me, and thought a lot about becoming engaged. Family traditions were difficult, however, for the family mostly had a history of its men marrying in the middle to late 20s, or even later. Seventeen! It was unthinkable that I should want to get married. And besides, there's a war on! I'll have no way of making a living for who knows how long. When will I ever get back? Or would I? Etc., Etc. But I thought about it anyway, and oh, what a way to pass the time while farming, or while sitting at a desk, pretending to study.
Even though you all know how this comes out, I'm having such pleasure out of remembering that I'm going to continue the saga.
In October of 1942 I bought an engagement ring, and with my own money, too. It was money I had saved to put myself through college as Dad and I had agreed. The promise of being on my own in college had an absolutely entrancing ring to it. Even though college tuition was a pretty reasonable cost, I had saved only enough for two years of college. But the war had obviously intervened on my behalf, for I wouldn't be staying in college any longer anyway. And as a mature, intelligent college freshman I suspected that whenever I was in a really tight bind, I had my Dad in a bit of a bind too, as he would certainly want me out on my own, and might ride to my rescue.
So in the fall of '42 I laid out $125 for that diamond ring like there was no tomorrow. Wasn't Addie Leah something?! Wow! And she put up with all my faults, and said she loved me in the bargain, and it would be foolish to entertain doubts. Now that I had joined the Army, what next?
The Army preached incessantly that you had to leave wives and sweethearts at home. There was a war on, you know. If you weren't married, don't get married! There’s a war on. Don’t think about home. There’s a war on. And to help the policy along, you couldn't get passes, or leaves, or even be gone overnight. But never mind--I wrote Addie Leah a letter from the army in the early summer, '43, suggesting we get married as soon as we could arrange it, and started planning and scheming to outwit the army if I could. Naturally the need for intense training had nothing to do with it--just army petulance, and another way for them to specialize in being irrational, or even mean.
When the time arrived for Addie Leah to join me and for us to marry, I got a bad case of cold feet--and cold shivers all over--and frequent sinking spells. What had I done? Just 18, no money, no future, no time--so I called it all off. "Lets’ wait" I said. And she said "OK". No complaining, no arguments, no weeping. ALARM! Now what had I done?
When I arrived at Mt. Pleasant Iowa, at Iowa Wesleyan, I noted there was a tiny bit of room to maneuver. One heard of rooms being available for rent. As a cadet, my pay was up from $50 a month, a decent sum, to $75, a right smart sum. It was true that I couldn't get a night off, but I did have Saturday afternoon available, and all day on Sunday. That's a lot of time being wasted! So I finally called home, asked Dad to go get Addie Leah and bring her to the phone. The Wise family had no phone, and that I was unable to fathom at the time, but once I learned what daughters might do to the surrounding community, I "wised" up. When Addie Leah finally made it to the phone, I said, "How about coming up next week, and we'll get married?" There was a pause, and then she again said "OK", with no complaints, nor arguments, nor crying. I began to see that the situation wasn't as marginal as I had imagined earlier. Subsequently I learned that she had used some of the intervening time to complete sewing her wedding dress!
Throughout this period, Dad had seemed willing to let me talk about marriage, but Mother was against it, naturally. Just too young, etc., etc. So I made a point of telling Dad what we had decided. Let him take care of Mother. Now there was a problem of transportation to Mt. Pleasant, but Uncle Mason agreed to drive Addie Leah up in his Model A Ford, having hoarded his class A gas coupons, and to bring Grandmother McComb! A wonderful bit of trivia here--Grandmother McComb had gone to Kansas to help her sister in l876 from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and her trip to see us was the very first time she had returned to Mt. Pleasant in 67 years!! She and Uncle Mason found the farm she had left all those years before, and while her family's house was gone, the old barn was still there!
Iowa had a law requiring a blood test for a wedding license. So the wedding had to be postponed a week. Uncle Mason and Grandmother had to go back home. Addie Leah stayed, of course, finding a room for her to stay. Aunt Pearle was in on the deal too, and she and my sister Donice came on the train. That in itself was a big deal, for the trains were all loaded beyond capacity with soldiers, etc., and passenger trains were always sidetracked for freight trains. All through the war, things always had priority over people!
So on a Saturday morning, October 23, 1943, with only one of my family and no one from Addie Leah's family present, we managed to get ready for the big moment. I couldn't get out to obtain the marriage license, and the results had to come back from the blood tests, and these results arrived only on Saturday morning, and the license bureau was normally closed then, etc., but all officialdom outside the army understood these things, and helped out. All paper work was finally ready at 1 pm.
Cadets ran on Saturday mornings, lapping the sports field until the specified distances were accomplished. We ran the lengths, could walk the ends. But that Saturday we were told we could quit after we'd finished 14 miles, so I jogged them all, slow and steady, and never stopped to walk even once. Even so, by the time I had myself ready, the earliest moment I could predict I'd be at the church and therefore the scheduled time of the wedding, 4:44 pm had come and gone. But we were only a few minutes late, and suddenly there we were in the First Presbyterian Church with my cadet squadron as guests, and three from home, and cousin Don, my fellow cadet, as best man. Our landlady, Mrs. Charles Foster was there also. Hugh McGee, a cadet from Tennessee, sang. He had a marvelous voice, and as I recall he could only sing one song—On the Road to Mandalay, so that is what we heard!
Despite the rule that there were no overnight passes, I found the courage to ask Lt. Wray, a gentleman whose name I will always remember probably because I frequently asked that it be blessed, if I could have Saturday night off to get married! The YES meant that I did not have to return for duty until Sunday evening. Of course I forget to sign out for Saturday night, and Lt. Wray saved me on Sunday afternoon when I caught up with him, confessing my horrendous sin. He smiled big, said he would take care of it. The man was quite saintly!
We spent Saturday night at Burlington Iowa. Aunt Pearle managed to get rice into my pockets without my knowledge (easy to do, as I had no mind at all) and so when we went to register at the hotel everybody in town saw the rice splash everywhere, and I was mortified. We returned to Mt. Pleasant on Sunday Afternoon.
Our wedding was distinctive not only because it was us, but also because my fellow cadets arranged, without my knowledge, to have an honor guard at the church door, complete with firearms, under which we walked. The guns themselves were used for drill, and were a motley collection of real museum pieces, unfit for war. A number dated back to the l800s. I was really surprised for the idea of having guns at my wedding, a time-honored and classically historic joke in the Zenith community, had never ever crossed my mind even once, until I saw them. I think maybe the occasion was noteworthy for the squadron because somebody was going against all advice and counseling to get married.
Our wedding was traditional too, for someone cried, namely our landlady--we remember that she was in her early 80's. She had rented out her spare bedroom to us, treated us as her own grandchildren, and said not a word when the slats came out of bed with a terrible crash on a couple of occasions.
Until December, I continued to get off Saturday afternoon, had to be back in bed at 3 am Sunday, but could leave again at 5 am. So that's how it was. Except for our wedding night Addie Leah and I never spent a complete night together until the following March. When we stood formation during the week, Addle Leah would come to the parade ground to watch. With eyes front, as always required, but with outstanding peripheral vision, I would search through the spectators until I found her, but I don't remember ever being close enough to her to wink. I could also ache, though, and I did that. I remember pondering the incredibly odd set of circumstances which had brought us to this! The future being totally opaque I lived as much of my life as was made available to me for the time I could next see or be with her. It's a wonderful thing to be young, and in love! But painful.
One memory that remains fixed is our walking in Mt. Pleasant’s park on a November Sunday. It was a beautiful day—a perfect day—and the ground was covered to a depth of several inches with oak leaves. They crunched as we walked, and we were discussing the future. The day may have been perfect, but the future was dark indeed. This, too, was a part of the pain.
In truth, despite all my planning there was insufficient money, even with Addie Leah's allotment. Twenty-two dollars were taken from my pay each month, the government added $28, and that money went to Addie Leah. But no matter how we scraped, money was really a problem. One month I was to be paid on Tuesday, and we had just enough for Addie Leah to buy what food she needed until then. As long as I stayed on post, I could eat too. But if I were with her, I would have to go without eating. Talk about tough decisions! So on Saturday I stayed with the army in order to get one more meal, and then I was going to fast until Monday morning--a nice compromise. But because I tarried, I was on post for the Saturday mail call. Now on that particular day, here was a letter from Aunt Pearle, and when I opened it, there in the envelope with the letter was a $5 bill. I never even read the letter, just grabbed the money and fled for the sign-out book. We had a good lunch (dinner in those days) on Sunday, and were vastly pleased with our good fortune, and blessings. I was convinced that if I ever got a commission the money problem would be solved--and in a way it was, for we always managed.
I can't resist inserting a "flash up"! Ten to twelve years later, we were having the same old squeeze. I was in graduate school at Indiana University and our children Jeanne, Nancy and Wayne were with us. They were in perpetual need of new shoes, something I had difficulty in understanding, and they were also fond of eating. The graduate school had a fund from which we graduate students could borrow up to $l5 with no interest if the loan were repaid at the first of the month. So occasionally I'd borrow a few dollars to tide us over, though I would find an extra-paying job once in a while also. The best was playing a demonstrator organ for an organ salesman in surrounding churches. That money was like manna from Heaven!
Once, despite my edict at the first of the month that there would be no more shoes for awhile, we were just plain broke. Addie Leah stretched and stretched everything, and then announced on about the 20th of the month that there was no more. She said she was down to boiling the apron for soup, so no matter how upset I was, I had the word, and off to the graduate school financial office I went to borrow $15. On the way home I stopped at the grocery store we usually patronized with Addie Leah's list in hand, and there, at the front door, was a bushel basket filled with all kinds of things—little treasures that were too expensive for graduate students, with my name on it. When I asked the checkout lady what was going on, she explained they had had a drawing, but the winners had never claimed the basket, so it was all going back on the shelves that evening. I claimed it all immediately, but found the bag of coffee on top of the basket a bit disconcerting. "Could I swap some of these items for others?" A conference with the manager produced agreement, penny for penny. He had winced, but agreed probably because he knew how incredibly stupid and broke all graduate students were, and besides he was just trying to get rid of things he could not sell. So I traded all the items we could do without, which were most of them, as they tended to be gourmet items, for flour, and sugar, and things Addie Leah could stretch. Then I returned to pay off my loan, and went home.
I now had several sacks loaded down with things we needed--much more than on the absolutely essential list. I could hardly wait to see the amazement and pleasure with which I would be received when I arrived with this treasure trove. Sure enough, when I started dragging everything in, I had a noteworthy reception alright! Addie Leah exclaimed "Have you lost your mind?!"
With the exception of some times later in my career when I owed more money to the credit union than I care to think about, that was probably about the most broke we ever were. With just the two of us, confidence comes easy. But three hungry kids--that's scary.