‘Spring, as the poet Alfred Tennyson wrote, “is a time when a young man’s” (or woman’s) “fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Judging from the number of wedding photos posted by friends on their Facebook pages the past couple of weeks, nothing has changed since Tennyson penned those words in 1842. In fact, I shared a few pictures with my family members of my own parents’ wedding who were married on April 9, 1946.
My father, who passed away a year ago only three days after what would have been their 68th wedding anniversary, said that the day they were married was ‘the happiest day of my life.” They celebrated 66 anniversaries together. It’s become rare to find couples of subsequent generations who have stayed together that long and who are still so deeply in love.
I have on the mantel of my living room fireplace a framed photo of my parents on their wedding day. They were married in Phoenix, Az., when the city had not quite reached the population of 100,000. My father had recently returned from serving in Europe in World War II. (His unit, the 2nd Chemical Warfare Battalion saw more days in combat than any other in Europe except for one.) Upon his discharge, he headed home for Kansas. No sooner had he arrived than one of his older sisters introduced him to a young woman with whom she worked at the local savings and loan bank. I think it must have been love at first sight although my Dad never put it quite that way.
My mother was a beautiful young woman who had volunteered at the local USO. She loved to dress stylishly and somehow managed to do it on her small salary as executive secretary to a bank president. She had moved after high school from her tiny hometown of Aurora, Missouri to the then prosperous railroad town of Parsons when she received a scholarship to attend the Parsons Business College. She had excelled in the courses of shorthand (a vanishing, if not gone, art of note taking), bookkeeping and typing. After graduation, she quickly landed the job at the bank where my father’s sister also worked. His sister was convinced that my Mom was the ideal girl for her handsome, younger brother.
They were introduced and two short weeks later, my Dad told her that he wanted to marry her. As he put it, “I told her that if she didn’t marry me, I was going to re-enlist in the Army.” Now that was determination. Shortly after his proposal, he left town to travel with his older sister and her husband and race greyhounds. My uncle owned a large kennel of dogs (another story for another blog post) and needed someone like my Dad to help out. My Dad said that his sister convinced him to come with them because, in his own words, “I was a mess after the War and that helped to straighten me out.”
He wound up in Phoenix where there was (and still is) a greyhound race track. I think he wired–rather than mailed–his beloved to come join him so that they could be married. My mother had, by then, a little time to think over his proposal and must have loved him as much as he loved her because she accepted. But when she asked her boss permission to take a week off to go to Phoenix for the wedding, he declined and told her that if she went she would lose her job. She went anyway. Later, my father would tell me; “She must have really loved me to take such a chance, quit her job and go to Phoenix to marry a guy who didn’t have anything at the time.”
She and her oldest sister traveled down to Arizona. I don’t know if they went by car or train but they went together. It must have been quite an adventure for neither of them had ever been out of the Midwest. I never heard the details of that trip from my mother but I’ll bet it was exciting for them both. My mother packed a gorgeous, tailored suit as her wedding dress. My aunt chose her best suit to wear as the ‘matron of honor.’
My Dad dressed in a sharp, light-colored double-breasted suit. (They don’t make those kind anymore). Whether he had brought it with him or bought it with his earnings from the dog track I don’t know. But the two of them together looked stunning and very much in love.
They were married in the chapel of the majestic First Baptist Church built in 1929 of Italian Gothic design. The church, abandoned 40 years later by the congregation, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It has fallen into decline after fire there in 1980 but just last year, historic preservationists and architects in Phoenix launched an effort to restore it to its former glory and re-purpose it for new use. When my own husband and I were to be married in Phoenix, where we were both working at the time as journalists for the local newspaper, I chose to have our own wedding in that very same church. The building was owned by the city at the time and was being used for city offices. We had to obtain permission from the city then go in and clean up the sanctuary–the chapel was closed–in order to have our ceremony there. But we did it and I’m very grateful we did.
My parents were unable to pay a professional Phoenix photographer to record their wedding day. Instead I have snapshots, probably taken by my aunt with some instruction by my Dad who was leaning towards a career in photography but hadn’t yet begun it. None exists of the ceremony itself. The few photos I have were taken outside the church entrance and at Encanto Park, a beautiful old park with a large lagoon in Central Phoenix’s still-posh Encanto neighborhood. They tell the story in themselves of a young couple, so in love, on their wedding day.