Continuing the story of my parents’ “arranged marriage,” this is my mother’s version, from her autobiography, written in the early 1990s.
Tom always tells our Japanese friends that ours was an “arranged marriage,” and indeed it was. He means that our friends Josephine Gilder, mother of Gloria, and Thelma Dismukes, across the street from the Gilders, with whom he had roomed while working at Fort Benning, had been trying for three years to get the two of us together, raving about “Tommy’s peaches-and-cream complexion” and extolling to him my many supposed virtues. The result was that we hated the sound of each other’s names and tried desperately to time any visits to avoid each other. However, the “arranging” of our marriage was not only the result of their wiles, but was also arranged by the Lord. I am convinced of that, for how else can one account for the coincidence of our meeting and the ensuing happy years?
As I was steaming along on the train to Columbus, getting cinders in my eyes through the open window of the UNair-conditioned train, Tom happened to be at Fort Benning to inspect the personnel records of the 2nd Armored Division before they left for overseas. When he called Thelma to say hello, she invited him to dinner. When he arrived, Josephine and Gloria were also there, and to his great dismay, they exultantly told him, “There is a real treat in store for you: Virginia is arriving tonight!”
“You tricked me!” he exclaimed, but he obediently went with them to the station to meet the dreaded paragon of all virtues, Virginia.
His story at this point is of his own making and has no basis in truth, but no one could convince our children of that, as they have heard for years about how I saw his uniform, thought he was a redcap, and commanded, “Here, boy, grab my bags.” It was true that I was indignant and exasperated: although the country was on Daylight Saving Time, the railroads had stuck to Standard Time, and therefore there was a mix-up about my arrival time, and I had been waiting for an hour when the entourage arrived to meet me.
Given my anger, it was odd, in retrospect, that I agreed to have a date with “the redcap” the next night…and the next…and the next! When the time came for him to return to Fort Knox, I went with him to the station, where he reluctantly said goodbye and wanted to kiss me in fond farewell. I rebuffed him with “Don’t let’s get histrionic!” He was intrigued, not recognizing that word, so he says, and then his story goes that, as he left, he felt that that was probably the end of an encounter. However, when he saw his mother a few days later and told her of this girl he had met, she suggested he write to her.
He replied, “Oh, she wouldn’t answer.” Little did he know me! He did write, not realizing that when he got a reply, he would have just had his eyes dilated and would have to have someone else read the letter to him. As it happened, I had gotten a box of stationery with crazy letterheads, like “Honeymoon Hotel” and “The Loving Arms,” so that when Tom asked his friend Bill Maxwell, who had brought him the letter, whom it was from, he replied, “The Loving Arms—do you want me to read it to you?” And thus my first missive to Tom was not even seen by him at first.
Tom always says that we had fourteen dates, including the rehearsal party, before our wedding, and that is true. However, it does not take into account the intervening six months and many letters through which we got acquainted with each other’s thoughts, goals, and feelings. Since it is much easier for me to put my feelings and thoughts on paper than it is to verbalize them orally, I feel that the letters were a more meaningful way to get to know each other than being together during that time would have been.
I went back to teaching after a vacation in Miami Beach with my beloved friend “Peyt”—Jane Peyton Oakes, who was there with her Air Force husband, and the next time I saw Tom was during the summer when he wangled a trip to the Tennessee Maneuver area, and I visited his sister Susan in Chattanooga, after which he came to Lawrenceburg. He has since said how apprehensive he felt driving to Lawrenceburg with me that day, as he had never dated anyone from a small town, knew nothing about small towns, and began to wonder what he had let himself in for: Would there be indoor plumbing or a privy? Would my home be a farmhouse, shack, or whatever? He was infinitely relieved to walk into my very respectable house, meet my lovely parents, and realize that small towns did not necessarily indicate privation or lack of savoir faire.
The next time I saw him was in September 1943 when he came to spend a few days with his parents in Tuscumbia, Alabama. His father was at that time traveling for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and just happened to be that near to Lawrenceburg—40 miles away. His parents invited me to come and spend the weekend there with them, and it was on that trip that Tom proposed to me.
I was not ready to hear any such declaration, much less respond to it. Tom maintains I was mad at him for not having taken me to the football game, as Lawrenceburg was playing Tuscumbia that night. I think my mind really was on that game instead of anything more romantic, and finally after he had made several attempts to get an answer from me, I snapped, “Do we have to talk about it every waking moment?” That was a sufficient dash of cold water to cool the most ardent swain, and he replied stiffly, “No, indeed,” and understandably did not mention it again.
The next day we went to Lawrenceburg with his parents, en route to Nashville, where I was to accompany them for the rest of the weekend. Tom says that my mother took one look at his disconsolate expression and adjured him not to give up. In Nashville, we went to a movie, the name of which we neither one have the slightest memory of, and during the time we were standing waiting for the first movie to be over in order to get seats, we discussed his proposal further, and when he told me that he would be going overseas, I relented, thinking that although I was not sure I was ready for marriage, I certainly did not want to let this person escape. I realized that he was the only man I had ever known who met all my criteria for a husband and that I would be foolish to keep saying no. So as we stood in the theater lobby, I finally said yes to his proposal of marriage.
After our return to the hotel where his parents were staying, he pulled from his pocket, where he said it had been burning him for two days, a small jeweler’s box and handed it to me, saying, “Try this on for size.” It was the beautiful engagement ring left him by his Scoggins grandmother. I had to wind ribbon around it to keep it on, but keep it on I did, proudly, and I have worn it proudly ever since….That was on the twenty-fifth of September, and we set the wedding date for October twenty-third.