I composed this bit of doggerel, based on interviews with both my parents, for the occasion of their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
From Poetic License to Marriage License in Fourteen Dates
(The Unauthorized but Official Version)
In Lawrenceburg, in Tennessee,
In A.D. 1943,
There lived a girl with hair of red
Who was much too choosy, her friends all said.
“You’ll never find a mate,” they warned,
But their advice she wisely scorned,
And graced the halls of LawCoHigh,
Arousing many a wistful sigh
From beardless lads who took her classes
(She was equally popular with the lasses).
Each of the boys had conceived the plan
That he’d grow up to be her man.
But she refused to lower her sights
And saved herself for Mr. Right.
Meanwhile, far away in Kentucky,
A first lieutenant most unlucky
Was giving up on finding love:
From three girls already he’d gotten the shove.
But he had no time for feeling blue;
The 92nd MRU
Was sending him round the countryside
To army bases far and wide
To see the records, if you please,
Of all the troops bound overseas.
And so it happened that he went
To a place he’d earlier been content,
And while inspecting at Fort Benning,
He looked up old friends in Columbus,
[This is where the poetic license comes in.]
And so, by one of life’s crazy flukes,
He telephoned Mrs. Thelma Dismukes,
Who asked him to dinner as soon as she heard,
And then—a miracle occurred!
Two single people, miles apart,
Were brought together with loving art
By friends and landlady, oft insisting,
Despite the couple’s firm resisting,
That the two would find each other sweet
If only they’d agree to meet.
So Tom had heard with many a yawn
Of the charms of the neighbors’ friend Miss Vaughan,
While Virginia’d been told till she wanted to scream
Of Tom’s complexion of peaches and cream
And his elegant manners so deluxe
That he went out every night in a tux.
But now the conspirators’ chance had come,
For Tom was in the Dismukes home,
And Virginia was scheduled to arrive
At the station, to which the Gilders would drive,
Accompanied by Tom, who would finally meet
The lovely Miss Vaughan and be swept off his feet.
There was only one hitch in this excellent plan—
The match nearly ruined before it began:
They’d mistaken the time and arrived very late,
And Virginia was furious at having to wait.
Seeing Tom in his Liaison Officer rags,
She ordered him tersely, “Here, boy, take my bags.”
Which he did—and continues to do to this day.
But I’m getting ahead of my tale—anyway,
They returned to the house, where it soon was made plain
That Tom didn’t play redcap for everyone’s train.
Despite the false start, something clicked right away,
And Tom asked for a date for the very next day—
And they dated each day till the time he must go,
And then, so as not to appear to be slow,
He tried for a kiss on the station platform,
But this haughty schoolmarm gave him whatform.
With a turn of phrase that was quite laconic,
She said, “Let’s have no histrionics.”
Well, he knew she was smart; he could tell by her diction.
And now he determined to win her affection.
He continued his travels and, while at Fort Rucker,
He turned to his parents for comfort and succor.
“I’m in love,” he announced, “but the girl is too coy.
So what can I do her reserve to destroy?”
His mother suggested a cure for his plight.
Her counsel was fateful: she said, “Why not write?”
“But she’d never write back,” he protested. “I think
It would just be a waste of my paper and ink.”
But none of his ideas appeared any better,
So he ended up after all writing a letter.
Virginia admits that her own first impression
Of Tom fell a little bit short of obsession.
He was perfectly nice, and their dates she’d enjoyed.
But she’d had lots of beaux; he was just one more boy.
What he didn’t know then, when he started his siege,
Was her sense of epistolary noblesse oblige.
She’d been properly raised; she felt truly compelled
To respond to all mail with her name rightly spelled.
And it didn’t hurt, either, that she wanted to try
Some gag stationery she’d just had to buy.
At Fort Knox in the meantime Tom was getting advice
From his sergeant, Bill Maxwell, who’d seen once or twice
That in driving Tom overlooked signs that they passed.
“Lieutenant, you need to get glasses—and fast.”
So Tom went to the doctor and got his eyes checked
And received a prescription his sight to correct.
But his eyes were dilated, and he still couldn’t see
When Bill brought in the mail. “Any letters for me?”
He asked hopefully. Bill gave a yell.
“There’s one here that comes from the Honeymoon Hotel.”
Tom thought he was joking; “Well, read it to me.”
What a shock he received! It was from Tennessee.
In Fort Riley, Kansas, the mail brought him another.
(By this time he must have been thanking his mother.)
His memory of all of Virginia Vaughan’s charms
Was refreshed by her missive postmarked “Loving Arms.”
It was then he determined, to his recollection,
That the troops in McMinnville required an inspection.
Although Lawrenceburg was his real destination,
He first went by railroad to Chattanooga station.
Virginia would meet him there, stay with his sister,
He’d make a big play, not go home till he’d kissed her.
The fly in the ointment was wartime transportation,
As Virginia found out at the L’burg bus station.
Every seat on the bus was already assigned
To a soldier; civilians no places could find.
Virginia was desperate and ready to cry,
“She can sit on my lap,” said a lively G.I.
So she did—or at least she contrived to squeeze in
Between him and his seatmate, both luckily thin,
And rode all the miles to Chattanooga that way
Very glad not to have to await the next day.
In a car that Tom’s father had left at the station,
Tom drove with Virginia, with some trepidation,
To Lawrenceburg, where, he was pleased to find,
The Vaughans had conveniences of the most modern kind—
Indoor plumbing, “electric,” and servants besides—
Kieffer Vaughan and his Stella had nothing to hide.
They were Lawrenceburg’s first family, models of propriety:
He the mayor, she a pillar of local society.
Though Virginia was still not encouraging him a bit,
With her mother Tom made an immediate hit.
With her in his corner, he was guaranteed success;
Perhaps she advised him his suit to press.
For Virginia discovered him ironing his pants,
And his cause it did certainly greatly advance,
For she thought, “He can iron! What a guy! What a catch!”
Did he ever iron anything after that? Nat-
Urally not, nor did she; that’s what laundries are for.
But what a great ploy for improving his score!
That was April or May, and about the next month
Tom was bumped up to captain and sent to DuPont.
Between there and Lawrenceburg many letters were sent,
Until in September Tom bashfully went
To his commanding officer, Thomas F. Keefe
Begging seven days’ leave, to the man’s disbelief.
“There’s a war on, young man,” said the colonel. “So why
Should I let you go now?” Tom’s persuasive reply
Would have melted a stone, for he blushed like a rose
And explained, “There’s this girl, and I’ve got to propose.”
And he added, while Keefe was still thinking it over,
“And if she says yes, I’d like ten in October.”
“Take the seven days now,” said Keefe with a smile,
“And the ten days we’ll see about after a while.”
So Tom got on a train t’Alabama, to Florence,
Where Virginia was waiting, along with his parents.
The evening got off in a very bad way:
For Lawrenceburg’s team was in Florence to play,
And Virginia had wanted to go to the game,
While Tom was hardly feeling the same.
His mother had slipped him the family ring,
And so on his mind there was only one thing.
Tom was acutely aware of the rock. It
Appeared to be burning a hole in his pocket.
But the time, he decided, would be inauspicious,
For the subject of marriage made Virginia turn vicious
And her words, when he brought it up, hardly well-omened:
“Do we have to discuss this every waking moment?”
The four of them traveled to Nashville next day,
Stopping by Lawrenceburg on the way.
There Tom’s mother came to like Virginia’s mother,
And the two fathers also approved of each other.
At some point, Stella took Tom aside.
His woe he had not been at pains to hide.
“How’s it going?” she asked, though she thought she could guess.
“I’m afraid not too well,” he was forced to confess.
“Keep on trying,” she urged, “and I think she’ll come ’round.
Heaven knows you’re the first likely prospect she’s found.”
Tom took her advice and bided time well.
In Nashville, they checked into the James Robertson Hotel,
And he and Virginia departed for Loew’s
And soon got a ticket for one of the shows.
There was quite a long wait for the show to begin,
But they got an usher to let them in,
And sat on the balcony steps together,
A moment to change their lives forever,
For while they waited for the feature to start,
Virginia experienced a change of heart.
Tom told her, she says, he’d soon have to ship out
For Europe to fight in the war, and, no doubt,
He’d be back in the long run, but still, who could say?
If she turned him down now, and he then went away,
She might lose her one chance with the best man she’d met,
For he might find another girl, less hard to get.
And then she’d be sorry and wish she were dead…
“I guess we can talk about it now,” she said.
Tom brought out his grandmother’s lovely ring.
Virginia had never seen such a thing.
He asked her to “try this on for size,”
And she literally did, for in no wise
Did she dream it would ever be hers to keep.
Then she went home and started losing sleep
Over whether her choice had been the best,
But she knew Tom was different from the rest,
And her mother knew, once she’d made up her mind,
No better alternative would she find,
Because she’d stop looking and be content
To follow this man wherever he went.
And indeed she has, for fifty years,
Of happiness far more often than tears.
In ten different homes, from Wilmington, Del.,
To Fairhope, L.A., they’ve come to dwell.
And in every location along the way
They’ve both been glad to love and obey,
For Tom has honored her every whim,
And she has been happy to humor him.
And both have forgiven their meddlesome friends
For playing a trick with such excellent ends,
For even a match with such heavenly spirit
Needed angels on earth to engineer it.