June is traditionally a month for weddings, and so it was for my parents and G.E.’s mom and dad as well. While my parent’s love story started near the END of World War II, Jennie K. (aka Pat) and Charles H. (aka Chuck) met near the BEGINNING of that war. Were they alive, the two would have celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary yesterday, June 4.
It was 1941, and Charles H. and his army buddies headed for the Coconut Grove Ballroom in Salt Lake City. While ambling down the Main Street, he noticed a cute blonde walking with her mother, and he turned to his friends to report he had just seen his wife. (Note: This is a common story often told by spouses, and while I don’t doubt that my father-in-law said it, I just wonder how MANY times he made that comment after checking out each Utah cutie!)
Not long after that encounter, the young soldier from Illinois spotted the blonde of his dreams at the ballroom. Now the Grove had the largest dance floor in the nation at that time, so what were the chances that he would run into Miss Blondie again and so soon? It had to be fate!
Charles H. asked her to dance; Jennie/Pat said, “Of course,” and before long, hugs and kisses were followed by marriage. But it was hard going for several reasons.
The two hailed in very different parts of the U.S. ~ Pat was raised in Helena, Montana and Olney, Illinois was Chuck’s home. Both grew up in dysfunctional families, and Pat’s parents had recently divorced, a rare occurrence in 1940’s America.
Different religious backgrounds divided the two as well. Pat was Mormon, and Chuck didn’t really associate with any particular denomination. Maybe they didn’t think the difference was all that important when the excitement of the romance was flourishing, but as time passed, the dissimilarity did matter.
As often happened in those days before birth control, Pat became pregnant right away and suffered with morning sickness that increased in severity as she traveled cross-country to meet her in-laws in Illinois. Shortly after the trip, she lost the baby, and not long after that Chuck received orders that shipped him off to INDIA. Yes, India.
While crossing the Pacific, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and my father-in-law’s unit was held up in Australia while generals decided whether to ship their unit elsewhere. Eventually, Chuck arrived in India where he spent “the duration” supporting The Flying Tigers, U.S. volunteer group who tangled against the Japanese in China.
Pat was barely 18 when she married her soldier, who was 5 years her senior. They had spent so little time together before his deployment that the marriage must have felt more like a dream than a reality. Because of the circumstances, Pat moved with her mother to Los Angeles where she worked in a munitions factory – a regular Rosie the Riviter. When her mom met and married an army colonel, Pat returned to Montana where she served as an LDS missionary.
When he returned to Utah in 1945, the husband and wife were strangers, but this did not deter Chuck. Pat wasn’t as sure that they could make it work, but she stayed anyway. The two bought a duplex in the Millcreek area with winnings he saved from gambling with his buddies. Pat was soon expecting a baby, and Chuck joined the Mormon Church but fought the rest of his life to live the church’s strict health code – an issue that frustrated the couple.
Chuck was a hard worker, but his career as a grocer and a warehouseman didn’t bring in much money. Finances were always tight for the family of 7, and health issues among the children complicated the budget. Nevertheless, they didn’t quit. They struggled to make the marriage work for 44 years, and then Pat passed away. Charles H. always adored his beautiful blonde, and Jennie/Pat grew to love her soldier.
While some might think the two may have been happier with other people, their children are grateful they stayed together. Experts claim that’s the better route because children suffer less when parents choose stick it out rather than divorce.
When I think of the odds stacked against them – their youth, the quick romance, the long, hard separation, their very different personalities and religious beliefs – i am impressed that they succeeded. Pat and Chuck’s strong example of working through their differences as well as through life’s challenges is a testament to their belief that marriage is a serious and selfless committment. And they prevailed in keeping that committment.
My dearest Mom and Pop-in-law, I love and respect you both more than ever. Thank you for your good choices. We have been blessed because of them.