This is more of my grandmother’s story. The year is 1945. My grandmother, Beth Locke, has just turned 20, and she works at the nearby Navy base, where troops are returning from the war. (I think you see where this is headed….)
Along about this time, my social life was at a complete standstill. I had no dates, went no place except to work, all the boys were only in our area temporarily and all our local boys were gone. I guess I was happy enough, but sort of lonesome. I went to work, Mom and I would go to town on Saturday if we had enough gas coupons. She would well eggs, maybe we would go to a movie, still went to Sunday School and Church and our youth activities, visited with neighbors, but I had no personal life.
One of the few outings that I had was with my best friend Lydia. We would ride the bus from work and go to town and eat and go to a movie. Our favorite thing to eat was a lettuce, bacon and tomato sandwich, a glass of milk, and a piece of cherry pie à la mode. My, we felt sophisticated ordering that. Well, one evening in the fall of 1945, we were meeting another good friend of ours and were walking up and down Main Street, waiting. As we walked to the corner in front of the bank, there stood the cutest sailor I had ever seen. Now, of course you have to understand, ALL sailors — ALL boys — were cute to me. But this one was exceptional. Beautiful brown eyes and the cutest smile. I looked at him, and he winked…. Well, I almost swooned. We said nothing, we turned and walked back up the street. We met out friend and I told her about him, so of course she said, Oh, I know who he is, that’s J.C. Locke.” But we never spoke or anything like that, just went on about our business.
Well, a couple of days later, I was spending the night with this same girl, and my new sister-in-law Norma was with us. Both my friend’s husband and Norma’s husband Doc were in the Navy and at the time were gone overseas. This friend, Dorothy, had a little Ford coupe we called “Salty,” and we were always singing “Bell bottom trousers, coat of navy blue, I love a sailor and he loves me too!” Well, that night we decided to go to roller skating in town. It was a rainy night, and I had borrowed the rain coat from Dorothy. We were walking down the street and all at once, out of a parked car along the street, popped this handsome guy, J.C. Locke. He spoke to Dorothy and said, “I know that you’re married, what about you other two?” Well, I was taking no chances of getting lost in the shuffle, so I said, very loud and clear, “Me! Me! I’m not married!” So J.C. said, “Well, you get int this back seat then. We’ll go get a coke.” I needed no second invitation, I crawled in the back. As it turned out, J.C.’s Uncle Silas, a guy just a few years older than J.C., was driving his car. Norma and Dorothy got in the from seat with him. I don’t know about J.C., but I fell in love on the spot.
We did go and get a coke and talked and talked and Silas complained for years about being stuck with two old married women.
J.C. and I made a date for the next week. He was home on leave from the Navy, and I knew that had to go back soon. I was so thrilled, I bragged to everyone I knew about my big date. But when the night came he never showed up. I was sick, humiliated, and MAD! I knew I’d never see him again and I had really fallen for him, but I had my pride. I never could stand to be disappointed.
On the next Saturday, my mama and I had made plans to ride the bus to Lake Charles and go shopping. I would save my paydays until I had several dollars and then go on a big shopping spree. As we were waiting for the bus, again walking up and down the street, all at once up stepped J.C. Well, I was not expecting to see him, I thought that he was long gone, but I wasn’t about to act happy to see him. After all, he had stood me up and embarrassed me! But he was very sweet and apologized, said he had trouble with his transportation. He tried to explain, but I was rather cool to him and told him that I had to catch the bus with my mother. He was very nice, and as far as I knew, that was that. Needless to say, I was very sad all day. I thought he was leaving that day to return to the Navy, and he hadn’t asked to see me again, asked for my address or anything. I figured that was the story of my life. I had always figured I was destined to be an old maid, and now I knew I was and had let the man of my dreams get away.
[A few interceding events occur, mostly regarding work and the humdrummery of everyday life. J.C. did write, but they were only polite notes.]
One night in January, 1946, Mama and I went to a movie in town. Mama still loved movies, and so did I. When we came out of the movie house — suddenly, out of the shadows stepped J.C. I was in shock. I had thought of him often but hadn’t expected to see him ever again. He spoke to me and asked if he could take me home. I told him no, that I had come with my mama and would go home with her. He said OK, and he didn’t say a word about seeing me again. Of course, I figured I had blown my last chance with him.
As usual, on Saturday, when Lydia and I weren’t working, we were together. We had both rolled our hair — on Saturdays we always washed our hair and set it in those endless little pin curls. We always wore our oldest clothes and in general looked very tacky. Suddenly, someone knocked on her front door. We went and peeked out the window, and it was J.C. and Silas. Well, we ran around trying to find head scarves to tie over our pin curls, and of course we wore no make-up. I went to the door and invited J.C. in. Silas stayed in the car. I asked him how he knew where I was — you have to remember, in those days we didn’t have such conveniences as telephones — and he said, “I drove up at your house and your dad was out mowing. He didn’t give me a chance to ask where you were, he just pointed over toward this house and said ‘She’s over there.'” Well, that sounded like my daddy, he never got too excited over my boyfriends. Anyway, J.C. asked me to go out that night and asked me about getting someone for Silas, since he had the car. I said, “Well, I don’t know,” not knowing whether Lydia wanted to go or not. Suddenly, J.C. turned to Lydia himself and said, “What about you?” Lydia said, “Who, me?” And that started a six month’s romance and courtship.
This isn’t to do with any of my tutoring exercises. I’m still working on my Civil War novel, and I’m adding some details about the sort-of romance between two of the main characters, but, unlike last week (when I was farming this material for the novel), this isn’t about the book, either. This is just something I read as I was perusing my grandmother’s work, and I’ve always thought the story of my mother’s parents was one of the best damn love stories I’ve ever heard. In fact, I try to model my own marriage on the marriages of both sets of grandparents. I certainly feel just as lucky to have found my wife as my grandmother felt to have found her husband.
By the way, my Grandma’s best friend Lydia and my Papa’s uncle Silas married each other on the same day — and in the same ceremony — as my grandparents: it was a double wedding. 🙂
Oh, and that song my grandmother and her friends were singing? It’s “Bell Bottom Trousers,” an old sea shanty that was wildly popular in 1945.
PS: The other great love story in my family — the marriage of my paternal grandparents — is just as wonderful, by the way. And I wanted to make sure I said so, because both my paternal grandparents are still with us and still very much in love. And also, today is my grandpa Ted Snoek’s birthday. He turns 92. 🙂