The war was in full swing in 1943. The allied forces were bombing the starch out of Sicily and the mainland of Italy. Churchill spoke in DC about the strength of the joint US and Great Britain effort. The Japanese air attack swarmed the Aleutian Islands on the edge of the Bering Sea like mosquitoes at a backyard BBQ.
The year before, a young 18 year old girl left her home in Walton County, GA to find her own life. She hadn’t had much of one so far. The Depression was hard on everyone. Her mother had abandoned her and her older sister when they were just little girls. Something she would carry with her for the rest of her life. Her Stepmother wanted nothing to do with raising someone else’s children, so the two girls moved down the road to be raised by their grandmother. She quit school after the 8th grade.
By the time she turned 18, her older sister was married and had moved away to Detroit. It might as well have been halfway around the globe. Her Dad worked down at the small cotton mill and he had heard that the spinning mills in Griffin were looking for girls who could sew. That was her ticket out of the dark and depressed little town of Social Circle.
Despite a mother who didn’t care for her, a stepmother who didn’t want her, and a grandmother who ruled her world harshly, she made friends easily. Somehow a bitter spirit never took root. It hid in the shadows, in the deepest hole in her heart, but it never defined her.
If you had met her in 1942 you would have thought she was on top of the world. Beautiful brown hair. Ruby red lips. A pleated skirt. Fashionable high heels. And a matching neckless and set of earrings. The war had made it possible for women to go to work. She was making decent money for the first time in her life and she knew how to be frugal to a fault.
Some of her girl friends convinced her to go with them down to the VFW Club on a Friday night after work. She was hesitant but at the same time eager to get out and live a little. Some local musicians would be playing and there was always a chance that some nice fella would ask her to dance.
Far removed from her awareness but set on a course that would collide with her small world, there was this 20 year old kid slicking back his hair with Brylcreem. “Just a little dabb’l do ya.” That’s what the ad down at the barber shop said. Any guy who wanted to catch the eye of a girl down at the VFW would put his money on Brylcreem.
His life was not as hard as hers. Let’s just say it. It wasn’t all messed up by heartache and disappointment. His parents stated together until “death do us part.” Like a lot of kids of his day, he worked on the farm with his Dad. There were cows and hogs to feed. Fields to plow behind a mule. Life was pretty solid and uneventful for him.
When he was seventeen, he took a job in Hampton at the foundry. It was hot and not very glamorous. Then one Sunday evening, everyone sitting around the radio at home, he heard FDR tell about the attack on Pearl Harbor. It stirred a sense of obligation in him. He lied about his age, packed a bag, and joined the Navy not long after that.
He had visions of sailing across oceans and fighting for America. But a vehicle accident ended his Naval career prematurely. He was on duty, driving a truck loaded with pipe. Someone pulled out in front of him. After only a year and a half he was discharged honorably and stepped back into his life at home.
Farming was not the life it once was. His folks were struggling to get by, and the foundry offered him a chance to make his own life. He had a girlfriend. Nothing serious. A Sunday drive down to Indian Springs. Back then you could pull your car right out on the rocks. Sit up on the hood, drink a beer and watch the water rush by.
One of his buddies says to him. “Hey, why don’t we go down to the VFW in Griffin on Friday night? I hear they got a good band this weekend.”
So, he’s standing in front of the mirror. Tan suit. Nice tie. Two tone Oxfords, brown and white lace up shoes. Hair slick. Eyes a hazel grey, almost blue. He was going to turn some heads tonight.
When he shows up, the place is already in motion. The parking lot is full, and people are milling around inside and out. Through the door, he sees a couple of guys he used to play baseball with. Some of the old Vets are sitting off in the corner where they can watch the night unfold. Men from The Great War. One old geezer who says he met Teddy on horseback in the Spanish-American War.
The band was making its way through a few of the Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller tunes. Five or six couples were out on the dance floor. Brylcreem guy was just easing his way around the edge of the room when he saw her. Miss brown hair, ruby lips and matching earrings lady. He knew most of the people from around these parts, but he had never seen her before.
He introduced himself. She looked at the floor. Her friend spied him suspiciously. Then the band struck up a little Harry James on “Velvet Moon.” A slow one. Less threatening. He reached out his hand.
“Would you like to dance?” And she said, “Yes I would.”
The rest, as they say, is history. My folks would have been married 77 years since October of 1943. I can’t be sure of every little detail about the night they met, but I know this. I still miss them nearly every day.
But I don’t miss combing Brylcreem through my hair.