A Wartime Wedding (from my memoirs)

My husband-to-be, Lynn and I first spotted each other when I was 14 and trying to learn how to ride a bike in my front yard. Two of my brothers had pooled their paper route money to buy their first bike, a well used relic, and I had to sneak it out when they weren’t around.  I’d just fallen off for the umpteenth time when I glanced across the street to see a curly haired blonde guy sitting on the back steps of our neighbor Ruth’s house, watching me intently.

I threw the bike down, ran into our house, slammed the door and hid. I later recalled hearing that Ruth’s younger brother was home on leave from U.S.Navy boot camp. This was 1940 and he had enlisted at 17

with his step-mother’s help, a year before he was legal.

I babysat Ruth and Erv’s children and had often seen Lynn’s graduation picture in their living room, a sober looking face with hair slicked back in a dark, greasy looking pompadour. I’d shudder, my only thought being “Yuck!”

It would be almost 3 years before we actually met, typical years for me, eventful for him. In March of 1943 I was a 16 year old high school senior working a part-time job at S.S.Kresge 5&10 cent store, and making plans for my future. Lynn’s years had been spent on a Navy cruiser , World War ll  being now an ugly, terrifying reality. His ship was sunk in a battle in the South Pacific with a tremendous loss of life. He’d suffered major injuries, spent months in a U.S.Naval Hospital facility in Auckland, N.Z., and had just arrived home for a 30 day convalescent leave.

His curly hair was no longer slicked back, he wore a white sailor’s cap jauntily cocked on the back of his head, and he kept breaking out in a huge happy grin. My “Yuck” turned into a “Hmmm” as we met in Ruth’s kitchen, ever after referred to as the scene of the crime.

It was a Saturday and I was in a hurry to catch my bus for a 12 hour day at the 5&10.  I had agreed to go in early so I could say goodbye to a Naval Air recruit who was leaving for training. As things worked out the curly hair won out over the departing recruit and I was swept up in a whirlwind 30 day courtship. We were both surprised to find ourselves engaged on the last day of his leave.

Lynn returned to the Bay Area and a new assignment, another cruiser bound for the South Pacific.  I celebrated my 17th birthday, proudly wore my tiny diamond to my graduation and a few days later was on a train headed west, leaving our 2 stunned families worried and upset.

Lynn had made what few arrangements he could for our wedding, renting a cute little studio apartment in San Francisco for our starter home. It had no kitchen which didn’t seem like a problem at the time.  Lynn would be eating most of his meals aboard his ship, anyway. It did have a Murphy bed, a real novelty to me. He asked one of his new shipmates to be his best man and even located the wife of an acquaintance from his hometown to stand up with me. He also reserved a date for the ceremony in the office of a large Methodist church in Oakland, his idea being to make peace with our mothers, both staunch Methodists.

With all the major arrangements made, our first step was to take a 3 day blood test for venereal disease, now known as STD.  This was a legal requirement in those days. Next we headed for the license bureau at the courthouse and picked up our marriage license, going through a few very anxious moments. I had just turned 17 and had to fib my way into convincing the clerk that I was 18. She looked like the motherly type and must have had a romantic soul. After a good hard look at me as I tried to look 18, with my baby face, she signed anyway and wished us well.

Our wedding day dawned dark, drizzly and cold. No one had warned me about San Francisco weather in June and my graduation outfit, a black and white checked sharkskin 2 piece with a peplum, topped by a white straw hat was totally inappropriate. I donned my raincoat, stuffed the straw hat in a paper bag, and met up with my groom on our way to the church. I was already learning that the Navy ruled our lives as he’d been on duty most of the time since I’d arrived. He did manage to swap enough hours with other sailors to get 2 full days off for the wedding.

I met our attendants for the first time, both very nice people, and we greeted our minister who had spent a useful hour counseling us the night before. She was her husband’s assistant;  a female pastor in 1943 was a real novelty.

Flower carts stood on most downtown corners in the cities in those days and gardenias were the flower of the 40s. We picked out a fragrant corsage of gardenias and red roses on our way to church and we were all set. I removed my wet, soggy raincoat, pinned on my corsage and donned my hat long enough to mumble and shiver my way through vows I never could remember afterwards. Lynn wore his Navy blues of course. This was wartime and all servicemen wore their uniforms at all times in public. He insisted in later years that I had repeated the words “to obey”  in our ceremony and I insisted I never would have agreed to any such thing; one of those arguments that never got settled.

After the “I do’s”,  the soggy raincoat went back on, the hat was returned to its paper bag and we ducked through the rain to a photographer’s shop nearby. Off with the raincoat one more time, on with the hat and we were ready to pose for the pictures.  Just as we approached the setting, I fainted dead away for the first and only time in my life, throwing the entire procedure into turmoil. No, I was not pregnant, not in those days. I soon recovered, but our wedding pictures were so awful I hid them for years.

I look at them now and see a very young woman, glassy eyed and trying to wear a sickly smile. I look as if  I’d just spent 3 or 4 days in exhausting activity, nervous, asphyxiated from the overly heavy smell of the gardenias and nearly frozen to  death. The gardenias and the hat held up better than I did. As for Lynn, there he is, white hat cocked on the back of his curls with his usual slap-happy grin.

We stopped at a mom ’n pop grocery on our way back to the apartment and picked up a quart of milk and a packaged layer cake. It wasn’t until we opened our door that it dawned on us, no kitchen, no dishes. Taking turns gulping milk out of the bottle, we toasted one another and ate the cake with our fingers.  Somehow this seemed like the funniest thing ever and we were soon laughing our heads off. It was great comic relief after so many days of tension.

As weddings go, the only things we missed were our families and friends. Our wedding may have seemed meager and lonely to some but it was our wedding and it lasted for 65 years. The multiple bridesmaids, ushers and the sweeping trains were for others.  I’ve often thought about the thousands of other wartime weddings occurring at the same time, hoping they were as successful as ours. And we both remembered and could always laugh about our first look at one another over that rickety old bicycle.

Oh yes, our mothers did come around to accepting our marriage when they finally realized we hadn’t been quite as crazy as we seemed.

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Some Really Old Oldies

Those of you loyal readers and listeners,  all 10 or 12 of you who follow my blog or chance to sit in on one of my readings, have probably realised by now that I have a great fondness for old music, the goofier the better.   Being a bit of a lowbrow I especially love the really old Vaudeville and British Music Hall entertainments.

True, I also enjoy the classics. I can get as fired up as anyone when the first notes of  “Toreador, O Toreador” ring out, and I get downright weepy over the rich voices of Dame Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas, but my real love is for the oldest of the Oldie Moldies.

As I headed for a shower one recent morning (it happened to be a  Sunday) I suddenly found myself belting out one of my favorites:

“From the Indies to the Andes in his undies,

Oh he nevah took a bawth except on Sundays.

He nevah took a shave except on Mondays.

And he didn’t eat a thing but chocolate sundaes.

“T’was a veddy veddy daring thing to do.”

Now that’s a classic! And right up my alley.

Originally a poem, it was put to music and became a standard in British Music Hall entertainment and American Vaudeville.  Both Music Halls and Vaudeville flourished from the mid 1800s to the 1930s when silent movies became talkies and took over their popularity.

Some of the zaniest songs of the day, including “From the Indies,”  started out as poems and were later set to music. Does anyone besides me remember “Abdul Albulbul Amir” and its many verses? Sheik Abdul and his arch enemy, Count Ivan Skivinsky Skvar, fought their way  through 25 or 30 verses before Ivan was finally dispatched into the Black Sea wearing cement boots. Their duel made a great song.

Another huge hit in Music Halls that had started out as a poem was  the great Gracie Fields sensation:

“The Biggest Aspidistra In The World.  It Stood Beside The Wotnot By

The ‘at Rack  In The “all.”

Gracie would stretch out the first syllable, ASs-s-s pidistra,  just long enough to get the big laughs. Her audiences loved her. A cockney accent was a must in those days.However, one of the most famous of the Music Hall performers, Sir Harry Lauder, was a rare exception with his heavy Scottish burr. He was a huge success in both England and Scotland. I’m not sure if he ever performed in American Vaudeville.

Among other favorites of those early years were Lilly Langtry and Sydney and Charlie Chaplin,  who went on to become huge stars on the stage and in American Vaudeville.

Some of the most famous performers who made it big in movies and early television got their start in vaudeville. I was surprised to learn that Don Ameche started out as a comedian.  Frank Fay, Fred Allen, Abbott and Costello, the Andrews Sisters , Fred Astaire with his sister, Adele, and Robert Alda were all seasoned vaudevillians. One of the Gumm Sisters found fame as Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney performed as a child with his father, Joe Yule.

Al Jolson was one of the biggest stars of all with his resonating voice. His black-face humor and his speciality song,  “Mammy,” would never be accepted in today’s world but people loved him back then. Eddie Cantor, of course, had no problem breaking into early television.  One of his trademark songs, “Barney Google with the Goo Goo Googly Eyes,” was unforgettable, as were Eddie’s own enormous googling eyes.

I’m not a great Country-Western fan although I do have a fondness for some of the goofiest of those tunes. Hank Williams senior had a classic that was my favorite.

“I Picked Her Up In A Pickup Truck On The Tennessee Bor-DER”  was always good for a laugh.

However, I just came across a new C-W that is billed as “The Perfect Country-Western Song” and it  just may become my new favorite. Supposedly it has everything needed to become the best. You decide;  It goes like this:

“I was drunk the day my Mama got out of prison

And I went to pick her up in the rain.

But before I could get to the station in my pickup,

She got runned over by a damned old train.”

I haven’t heard the music to this yet but the words have to be a winner.

On the other hand, maybe I’ll just stick with the old Music Hall and Vaudeville tunes, all tried and true.  They’re hard to beat.

The Awful Truth about Ageing

They never give us the real low-down,  those advertisers, authors and authorities who make a living catering to any adults who have passed the ripe old age of fifty.  FIFTY!  I ask you!   Fifty is barely the prime of life! Most of us are just beginning to think we should get serious about our futures.  Our kids are on their way to finding their own lives and mortgages are being paid off as we catch that first glimpse of old age off in the distant future.

Gently gilded ladies in heels, and lightly silvered gentlemen with maybe a wrinkle or two here or there, start pitching financial planning, retirement communities, medications and other lucrative angles to ageing. They’re invariably engaged in dancing, tennis, golf, horseback riding, hiking, biking, swimming or sailing, They happily smile out at us with perfect teeth and they never wear glasses or holler  “HUH?” as they hold a hand up to their ear.

And we think to ourselves, “That doesn’t look so bad.  I can handle this old age stuff.”  Even the actors portraying the unfortunate souls who show up on television stretched out on the floor calling for help don’t look a day over sixty. Their attire is always fresh and neat, hairdos in place.

What about us, the real age afflicted, who’ve begun to suspect that The Golden Years are badly tarnished? Why don’t the illustrations show us as we really are? We’re out here in our faded sweats with the baggy knees, creaking and groaning as we work our way out of our recliners, wrinkled, bent over and anxiety-ridden.

We eagerly scan the magazine articles, watch the TV ads and listen to the spiels for medications for every ailment known to humankind, wanting to believe the hype. We can watch with relief as our money grows; all we need to do is invest with such and such a company, investment banker or credit union. We can revisit our younger years in carefree comfort just as soon as we get settled into  “Heavenly Haven, Home To Active Adults”  or  “Eden For The Elderly.”  We might even enjoy perfect health once again, just by using their advertised product.

Who would have dreamed the human body could suffer so many varied afflictions? We used to get the rheumatiz, the grippe, the gripes, or possibly a skin problem, quickly eased by a liberal rub down with Raleigh’s Salve. Hot packs, mustard plasters or Carter’s Little Liver Pills were other treatments of choice.

Nowadays we’re offered a miraculous panacea for every  possible joint, organ and bone we have. Our medicine cabinets overflow with tiny containers we can’t get open without a hammer and pliers, and slippery bottles of vile colored liquids concocted to cause, not cure, stomach aches. Still, hope springs eternal, as the old saying goes, and we use them all.

So do we end up looking like the vigorous, youthful models who supposedly represent us?  Well, let’s put it this way, if the shower has steamed up the bathroom mirrors enough, and we’ve misplaced our trifocals, there’s a slight possibility of recognizing our younger selves.

Just don’t count on it.

On the other hand, could a balding codger with a shaky voice inspire enough confidence to peddle tooth whitener by removing his full set of dentures and dropping them in a glass full of the product being pitched?

Would you be interested in moving into a senior residence where everyone sat around dozing in a wheelchair or staring at a wall? How  about negotiating at a Savings and Loan with a blue haired old dear who admitted she’d flunked math every year since the fifth grade?

Maybe the ad-men know what they’re doing with the younger, more glamorous representatives, and we can believe what we want to.

THE SEVEN AGES OF WOMAN: In Collaboration with Will Shakespeare, Feminist

(The Seven Ages Of Man, from Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT, was read recently at a reading group I belong to.  Someone suggested I rewrite it for women. Never one to resist a challenge, this is my effort.)

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players.

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one woman in her time plays many parts,

Her act being seven ages.

At first the infant, mewling and puking on her father’s chest.

And then the texting schoolgirl with her Smartphone and eager Facebook face,  gnawing on blue nail,  fearful of the maths.

And then the maiden,  blushing as a setting sun,  a-quiver as an arrow to the heart, streaming ballads moaned by lusty, yearning swains.

Then a soldier, proud of loyal oath,  clad in boot and camo,  medaled in valor – sudden and quick with lipstick and scent,  seeking the foul foe  even as her chopper tangles blonded tress.

And then the matron with fair girdled hip,  with rich cocoa bean padded,  with eyes mascaraed  and stilettos of risky cut,  full of self and full of worthy deeds, and modern in her romance.  And so she plays her part.

The sixth age shifts into the plump and slippered pantsuit,  with spectacles on nose and cane at hand.  Her youthful jeans poorly saved,  a world too tight for her rounded shank;  and her high, squeaky voice turning again toward childish lisp, pipes and whistles in her sound.

Last scene of all, that ends this strange, eventful history is second childishness and mere oblivion, mewling and puking on her caregiver’s shoes,

sans teeth,

sans eyes and ears,

sans most of her hair,

sans balance and muscle tone,

sans wit and common sense,

sans sandals and shift,

sans credit card and savings account,

sans love life,

sans dreams,

sans everything worth a darn.

Dining at The Oaks

Conversation over dinner at Willamette Oaks, my senior residence, can be predictable. We don’t always sit with the same people every evening but our discussions tend to follow a pattern.  After effusive greetings we get down to business, leading off with an organ recital, the heart and bladder being of primary interest.

Next we have a joint discussion, with the back and the knees of first importance, followed by hip replacements. At the mention of a new or recurrent symptom or complication, our ears prick up and we interrupt one another with detailed accounts of our own experiences with the exact same thing,  each of us privately certain that no one else has suffered as much as we have.

These comments segue nicely into details about meds, shots and other related subjects. From this the conversation turns to who the E.M.T.s picked up on their last visit, whether they were admitted to the hospital, and a complete update on everyone’s well-being.

It’s not that we’re being ghoulish, not us, we’re really very nice people, just  caring.  In our age group,  everyone’s health is important to us.

When we find ourselves seated with newcomers,  we never intend to  get  nosy,  we  just want to be friendly. We might  subject them to a barrage of questions, all meant to welcome them and put them at ease. However,  by the time we’re satisfied, they’re wondering if they’ve had to pass a test  to  be allowed to stay here, while all we want is to be able to remember their names and faces, at least for a day or two. There again, not nosy at all, just caring. We’d hate to be thought of as shallow.

We’re also never catty about one another. Oh, there may be a stray comment now and then, “Where on earth does that man buy his shirts?” or “Hasn’t she worn that blouse every day this week?”  Someone did remark once,  “Tights! With those hips? I don’t think so!”  but such remarks aren’t really catty. Or are they?  Maybe a tiny bit but we mean well.

One subject everyone agrees on is our young, energetic servers, We adore them, maybe there’s more than a touch of envy there, but they’re all neat kids.

There will probably be a brief discussion on current events, No one reaches our age without being a bit firm minded on most subjects, not opinionated, not us, just a bit firm.  As this part of our conversation continues, there may be a lone dissenter or two. We assure them that we love them anyway. These are usually the same people who wonder why we can’t have stewed prunes on the dessert menu every evening.

The idea of stewed prunes brings us to our ongoing discourse on the food, invariably our main topic. Was it hot food on cold plates or cold food on hot plates tonight?  Were the veggies over or undercooked.? Opinions are always evenly divided here. How about seasonings? Here again half of us want garlic in everything and the other half swear they were up all night popping Rolaids after finding a shred of onion in the stew.  We all agree that if the green bean crop in the Willamette Valley ever failed, we’d probably starve to death, but we usually have a nice variety.

It follows that every dish is compared to the way we used to prepare it, the way our mothers made it, and  the fact that they and our grandmothers were the best cooks ever. Never mind that those old dears used pure lard with abandon,  real butter, whole cream and lots and lots of eggs. Nutrition was unheard of and nobody cared,

And so we wind up our dinner conversations with  our favorite subject of all,  the wonderful way things were “back then.”   Wallowing in nostalgia, goodnights are warm. We’re all agreed that we aren’t really ghoulish, opinionated,  nosy or catty,  well,  maybe a tad catty once in a great while, but overall we’re pretty darn nice. And definitely envious when it comes to our young servers.

It may seem as if we waste a lot of time on chatter. Well, yes and no. Taking into account all the time spent trying to recall a word, a name,  or an entire train of thought, or the need to repeat ourselves, the evening passes  quickly.

Before we know it, another night and another dinner will roll around and we’ll be right back at it. And who knows , we may end up repeating the exact same discussion we’ve had the past few nights and have already forgotten.  To those of us with faulty memories, life is always fresh and interesting and dinner is the time for new memories.

How Old Is Too Old?

When do people stop making bucket lists? When are we too old to do any more long term planning? When do we stop telling ourselves  “Someday … ? and start saying  “I should have …”  or “Why didn’t I? …”   When do we officially get over the hill?

By the way, where did the term “bucket list” come from anyway? You know, that wish list you dream up referring to all the things you still hope to accomplish in life. It obviously has something to do with the old expression “kick the bucket,” a term that has always confused me. And just where did THAT expression come from?

When I think of kicking the bucket, being the klutz that I am, I wonder what would happen if I tried for a good hard kick and missed. I’d lose my balance, fall flat on my face, and then what? Does the bucket ricochet back, catching me on the swing or do I get a second chance? I’m all for second chances.

Anyway, I can only speak for myself about aging, of course. We all age at a different pace. All I know is, “TOO OLD” is getting closer all the time. I still have a bucket list, only now there are no more dreams of trips to exotic locales. I’ve traded plans for Bora Bora and Kathmandu for outings to the grocery store, the big boxes and keeping up with those everlasting appointments.

My revised bucket list now includes the names and emergency contacts for at least a dozen medical specialists, not to mention dates for back massages and toenail trims.  I’m looking at appointments stacked up for the next six months to come.

My new bucket list also contains the names, addresses and full info on all the relatives who’ve been written out of my will.  They would persist in making me mad; now I’ll persist in getting even.

A bucket list for those of us who are really elderly might include plans for a pre-paid funeral service. Some people go so far as to write their own obituaries. That way they can be sure their marvelous physical attributes, amazing mental agility and astounding array of accomplishments will not be overlooked.  Too many heirs get in too much of a hurry to head for the bank and we don’t always receive the attention we so richly deserve.

Other bucket lists reveal detailed plans for disposing of one’s worldly goods, taking no chances on our treasured valuables being left behind to fall into the clutches of a significant other or a dear friend waiting in the wings.

As for myself, most of my belongings will be donated  back to Goodwill and The Salvation Army where I got them, if they’re still usable.

Gone are the days of extravagant arrangements for an African safari or golf at St. Andrews.  Even a second honeymoon to Niagara Falls is scrapped in the face of reality. If you haven’t done it by now it probably won’t get done.

What’s on your Bucket List?

I’m Beside Myself

   That expression has always bugged me.  Just tell me how that can be possible.  Of all the ridiculous expressions we use  in casual conversation, that has to be the most meaningless.  We can be beside, below, before, behind,  ahead of, above, after or under almost any object or person we might mention, but beside ourselves?  Impossible!  Anatomically, acrobatically impossible!   Where do these goofy expressions originate?  How do they start?

   Think about some of the terms we  hear and use every day.  How about  For Goodness Sakes,  For Gracious Sakes or For Pete’s Sake?  Goodness and Gracious might be understandable if you stretch a point, but who the heck is Pete and how does he get in there?  Meaningless!

   And how about  Good Grief!  Another impossibility.   Grief is not good.  It can be heartbreaking, shattering, cathartic or any of a number of terms bt it is not good.  Here’s another one,   Keeping  Your Ears Peeled !  HUH?  I might understand Eyes Peeled, it  could be remotely plausible if not possible, but ears, never.   Also meaningless.

   Now here’s an old timer  I don’t hear much anymore;  my grandmother’s expression when she needed to relieve her feelings,  Land Sakes Alive!  What on earth does that mean?  In my opinion nothing.  Once again meaningless.  Sometimes under stress she’d shorten it to  Land Sakes, or, if deeply moved ,  just  Land or the most emotional,  just Sakes. Obviously she got some sort of satisfaction out of using it.

    Lately I’ve been hearing an oldie that seems to be making a comeback,  That’s The Bee’s Knees .  Again meaningless but kind of cute,  if you like silly.  And some new slang that does mean something if you give it a little thought, although once again, silly.  That Harshes My Mellow!  Or if you want the reverse,  That Mellows My Harsh.  So are our new expressions  an improvement or not?  

   Where do they come from? And why do I care?  The whole thing leaves me beside myself.