I haven't posted for some weeks now, and for this reason: my 86-year-old mother-in-law has been struggling all this time, mightily, bravely, with broken bones, a weakened heart, and a blood clot that despite the strongest medicine would not dissolve and let her be. Last week, we lost her. Momma squeezed our hands until the end. She tried to hang on. But she couldn't.
Of all the stories that she told of her life, this is the one I want to share with you now:
It is 1942. She is standing on a station platform in Houston, Texas, waiting to begin the first long journey of her life, reaching up to hold on and get on board. She's dressed carefully in a light blouse and skirt, a short jacket, and a hat that sits over her puffed hairdo. She's a brunette Betty Grable, with full, round lips and shapely calves. She is twenty years old.
She's never been out of state before, and she's nervous, and she wants to look good. Real good. She's on her way to Illinois, to an Air Force training base where she'll be married to a man she's known for a little less than a year--that handsome, square-jawed boy she met on the floor of a local polka hall, even though she came, that night, swinging with another boy. Still, you don't always have to dance with the one that brung ya. Not during war-time. Not with all those hungry, eager faces around.
The young soldiers cramming that train tease and remind her of this through half-a-dozen states. She's the only pretty girl in the car, and so of course, how hard they try, oh how hard they do try to dissuade her, the whole way: Now don't you do it, sweetheart, not so fast, not when you haven't even gotten to know me yet, now don't you go chasin' after some dumb fly boy, honey . . .
And how she smiles and laughs and flirts with them, and how young and handsome and sweet they all are, but they don't change her mind, not for a second, not one of them, because she's going to marry that square-jawed turret gunner.
She's dressed to look good, real good, and she does her best to stay neat sitting up in a stiff seat the whole way.
If only it hadn't been so hot that summer of '42. No air conditioning in the cars, not a breath of fresh air unless everyone kept their windows shoved open, which they did. And so the soot flew in and rolled around the inside of the cars, and gave sweaty boys mustaches over their hairless lips, and any poor girl who thought she might arrive looking spruce for her wedding day black eyebrows and a grimy neck and a layer of dust all over her clothes as if a pencil had been sharpened right over her head. And that was how she showed up at the station. Not to be greeted by the turret gunner--thank goodness--who was busy training. But by another girl, who was already married and on the base and who helped her to get ready and cleaned up. And then it was time to put on the suit she'd brought in her one suitcase, and in a few minutes she was standing in front of all those handsome young boys who were there to be trained, trained to fight, but for the moment stood alongside her in the chapel, amazed by her, and there was her turret gunner, also amazed, and just as handsome as she remembered, and maybe even more so . . .
It was 1942, and it was war-time. You didn't hesitate. You took your chances. You stood up, and you said your name:
"I, Victoria Theresa"
and you said 'I do' to everything still to come.
November 2, 1922-June 28, 2009