This is a boy-meets-girl story. It began seventy three years ago. America was a very different place then. The country had just gone through the grueling ordeal of a world war. Boys who should have been setting about the tasks of becoming men and building lives for themselves had instead been sent off to distant places to spend four long years amid the death and horror and wreckage of war. They saw first hand the terrible cost of it, not just to the people who had the misfortune to live where it was being fought, but to their brothers in arms, and to themselves.
But now it was 1946. The war was over. The boys had come home and wanted more than anything to put the nightmare of war behind them and get back to normal as quickly as possible. They wanted wives, jobs, families, homes of their own, all the things they’d fought to protect during those long, terrible years. They wanted the happily-ever-afters they’d paid such a high cost for.
This particular boy was the fourth of five children who wanted to finish high school so much that he was willing to work 40 hours a week in the evenings so his family could afford to keep him in school. Even so, he still managed to graduate half a year ahead of his classmates. But after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Marines and went off to war in the Pacific, island hopping from Tarawa to Okinawa, and then, after the Japanese surrender, to mainland China in what was an (eventually futile) attempt to help Chiang Kai-shek. What had brought him home was not the end of the war, but the death of his father and a humanitarian reassignment to recruiting duty in his home state where he could be closer to his newly-widowed mother. He was on a weekend pass to see his family. His sister and her husband, and he and a girl he knew from high school were going to go out dancing, but he’d brought a friend along who was not from the area and didn’t know any girls there to ask out, so his sister fixed his friend up with this cute secretary who worked for another business in the same building as the dentist office where she worked.
The girl was the last of twelve children born on a farm to a mother who, as the saying goes, had had a tough row of her own to hoe, and who had taught her youngest child two of life’s most important lessons: that if something is worth having, it’s worth working for; and if you want something, don’t wait for somebody to get it for you, go get it for yourself. She wanted more for herself than to be a farmer’s wife and saw education as the way to get it. She worked hard in school and graduated at the top of her high school class. Then she went to business school to learn the skills she would need to get a job in the city, working in an office. It was her ticket to the world. She got a job, did well, got a better job. The money she made gave her the independence to buy for herself the things she wanted — her own space to live in, nice clothes, opportunities to travel and see other places. Then, one day, her friend who worked in the dentist’s office up the hall told her that her brother and his friend were in town. She and her husband wanted to go out dancing with them but the friend didn’t have a date. Would she like to go with them?
The boy had asked his high school friend to go dancing because she was somebody he knew well enough to ask out, but that friend of his sister’s was really something.
The girl didn’t much care for the brother’s friend, but the brother was not only good looking, but very nice — but wasn’t he dating that girl he was with? No, actually, he wasn’t.
Their happily ever after began on November 16, 1946, and lasted for 67 years, 10 months, and 6 days. On September 22, 2014, he quietly went on ahead, to be there to welcome her when she comes to join him.