Since this “blog about nothing” is turning into a “blog about everything,” I have decided to post a few entries about my parents’ “arranged marriage.” Their stories had some conflicting details, but, as with most family legends, a canonical version had emerged. What follows is my father’s version, in a letter, dated August 31, 2003, to his four children (Virginia had died on June 6, 2002).
As you know, today is the 88th anniversary of the birth of your dear Mother.
I’m sure that you have been thinking about her a lot today; I sure have.
She was such a wonderful person, and I’m glad that I got to know her so well for over 59 years. As you know (I’ve told you the story many times), I met her in the railroad station in Columbus, GA on a Monday night. It was an arranged meeting on the part of two young matrons who lived across the street from each other in Columbus, and they couldn’t stand to see an eligible bachelor (me) and a charming young unmarried girl (Virginia) not meet each other, and they talked endlessly to us about each other.
We later agreed that we couldn’t stand the sound of each other’s names, and we separately told the two well-intentioned matrons to knock it off. One of them was my landlady and the wife of a very funny funeral director (who was, I’m sure, very serious and composed around the bereaved). The other was the mother of a friend of Virginia’s who had moved from Columbus with her family before she married—and whose husband was away in the military.
I had lived in Columbus, working for IBM at Fort Benning, for several months in 1941, and had then moved to Fort Knox, KY. On January 10, 1942, a month after Pearl Harbor, I enlisted in the Army at Ft Knox, and, after being trained as a Tank Driver, I went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Ft Washington, MD, graduating as a 2d lieutenant on August 8, 1942. I returned to Ft Knox and was soon promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Part of my job at Ft Knox was to visit all the Armored Divisions and check out their personnel records before they left for overseas.
So, in April 1943 I went to Ft Benning to check out the 2d Armored Division (commanded by General George S. Patton), to determine their readiness to go overseas. It usually took a week to inspect all the units in the division. So, I arrived at Ft. Benning on a Sunday night early in April 1943. I called my former landlady in Columbus just to say “Hello”, and to my surprise she invited me to dinner Monday night. In all the months that I roomed in their home, I had never once been invited to a meal.
I accepted her invitation, and when I arrived she said, “We’re in luck! Virginia is arriving tonight, and we’re all going to the station to meet her.” To which I replied, “You tricked me!”
The country had recently adopted War Time (now called Daylight Saving Time), but the railroads were still operating on Standard Time.
We got mixed up and were an hour late getting to the Columbus Railroad Station.
There was this beautiful redhead tapping her foot, and that’s when I got my first lesson in punctuality.
Her first words to me were, “Here Boy. Grab My Bags!” And, of course, I did.
As I got to know her a little better on the way home to her hostess’ home across the street, I suggested that we have dinner together the following night. She accepted, and we had dinner that night and the next night and the next night, etc.
I had to leave to go to another Army location on Saturday, and she came to the RR station to see me off. When I attempted to kiss her good-bye, she said, “Let’s not have any histrionics.” As I didn’t know what that meant, I withdrew and got on the train for Birmingham.
My sister, Lue, who was a student at the University of Alabama, had arranged to meet me there with one of her Sorority sisters as a date for me. No offense is intended when I say that I can’t remember a thing about that girl—all I was thinking about was that redhead I had left behind in Columbus.
That weekend I moved on to Camp (now Fort) Rucker, AL, and my father and mother were there to meet me. They were on their way back to Nashville from Florida. I told them about this girl I had met in Columbus, and my mother said, “Why don’t you write her?” I replied, “Oh, Mother, no one writes letters anymore.” Ha!
When I got back to Ft Knox, my good friend Master Sergeant Bill Maxwell said to me as we were driving on the Post, “Lieutenant, have you had your eyes checked lately?” “No,” I said. “Why do you ask?” He said, “Because you just missed that last sign post.”
So, I had my eyes checked that afternoon, and while they were still dilated, Sgt Maxwell came to me and said, “Lieutenant, you have a letter.” And, I said, “Who’s it from?” And he said, “The Honeymoon Hotel.” And I said, “Don’t kid me, Sergeant.” And he said, “No. Really.”
So I asked him to open it and read it to me, and he did—the first of many letters I received from the world’s greatest letter writer.
The next week there was a letter waiting for me at Fort Riley at Manhattan, KS.
And so it went.
As you know, we were married on October 23, 1943, having had a total of 14 dates including the wedding rehearsal.