Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor: A Different Kind of Story

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, a day to remember the many Americans whose lives ended or were forever changed by the bombing at the Hawaii base. My life, however, is a direct result of that horrible day.

My mother was a young girl of 14 at the time of Pearl Harbor, growing up in the small village of Cambridge, England.

Dad grew up in New Orleans, and at the time of the bombing his family had moved to Washington, DC when his father was transferred there by the government. When the bombs fell, Dad, like many other American men and women, signed up to fight. He was sent to the Army Air Force for training, and then to Steeple Morden Air Base near Royston, England. He wasn't happy to be there--he wanted to be in Europe fighting the Nazis or in the Pacific fighting the Japanese. Life in England wasn't all that easy, though; it was the Battle of Britain, when bombs fell nightly, blackouts were mandatory and the air raid sirens frequently sent out their alarm. But Dad chafed at not being at the front; his letters home were at first full of vigor and excitement about being in the war but gradually shifted to impatience at being only support for the US bombers and not being in the action itself.

One day while on leave he visited a local tea shop on leave one day. My mother and her mum and sisters were in line in front of him, and he started up a conversation. To hear Dad tell it, he fell in love immediately. They invited him to have tea with them; he accepted. Afterwards they went shopping, and he was invited to go with them--and he went, of course.

I asked him one day what they were shopping for, and he said, "Oh you know, ladies undergarments and things like that."

"In front of YOU?" I was stunned.

"Oh no, no," he said. "I mean they were looking at things..."


Anyway, Mom told him about a dance that night in her village. Would he like to come?

Dad was so excited he said yes immediately, and returned to the base on cloud nine.

He got cleaned up and then realized that he didn't know her name or the name of her village! Another soldier told him that there was a dance in a little village seven miles aay called Caldecote every Saturday night. Perhaps he'd find his girl there. With no other choice, Dad got on his bike and headed to Caldecote.  As he entered the village, he met a man and asked, "do you know where a beautiful redheaded girl lives around here?"

"Oh yes," the man said. "Turn right, and it's the last house on the left." Dad hurried down the road and followed the man's directions. When he reached the last house, he knocked confidently on the door. He'd found his English beauty!

But the lady who opened the door...well, she was no lady, or as Mom would say, she was no better than she should be. She was wearing a skin-tight dress, flame red lipstick and her hair was bright, bright red.
"Hel-lo, Soldier," she crooned. This was not the girl he was looking for! Dad made hasty apologies and beat a retreat. He was crushed. How would he ever find his girl? As he retraced his steps to the main road, he saw her. She was coming down the road with her mother, on her way to the dance.

What forces intervened to bring them together, I do not know, but come together they did, on August 5, 1944. Their lives changed forever from that chance meeting. Dad wrote home  intended to marry. Grandma wrote back that he would do no such thing, that he would return to America and attend Georgetown University like his siblings.

He never did go to college. Instead, he married his English girl at the Church of the English Maartyrs on January 11, 1945.

He was sent to Germany at the end of the war, and Mom was sent to one of the interment camps for war brides, at Royston. Dad returned to the US on November 18th; Mom had to wait to be declared legally married, healthy and fit to travel by the authorities at the camp. She left England in February 1946 and arrived at Ellis Island on March 8th. From their marriage came 13 children, much love and a story that started with war and ended after 61 beautiful years together.

You can hear this story on my upcoming CD of family stories, which will be published by March 2013.

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Brighid said...

What a beautiful Love Story...

Jenny said...

I love this story. I never tire of hearing it as I'm sure you don't either.

'How we met' stories are some of my favorite. I guess it's the romance in them that I love so much. My grandparents only saw each other three times before they were married. They fell in love through letters & I love reading the huge stack of letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother. Bey the way, their story is a WV story from the 1920's.

Nance said...

A beautiful story and a lovely couple. And so timely.

Nance said...

A beautiful story and a lovely couple. And so timely.

Michelle said...

Wow. What a wonderful story about your parents. True love, no doubt.

Ronda said...

That warms my heart! A similar thing happened between my husband's parents. Love springs eternal!

Sue said...

I can see why he fell for her!

And she, him.


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