Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Extra-Old-Timey Tuednesday

I bet you thought I had forgotten, didn't you? In truth, I have a special post for you and I wanted to save it for today. Today would have been my Grandma Dot's 92nd birthday. (I mistakenly thought that Grandma Dot's birthday was also her and Grandpa Jim's anniversary, but they got married on Grandpa's birthday, October 29. I knew it was one of the two!) Anyway, having just passed what would have been their 65th wedding anniversary, and seeing as how today is Grandma Dot's birthday, I thought I would go extra-old-timey today and take a look at my paternal grandparents' wedding.

In his retirement, Grandpa Jim wrote an autobiography, so I'll let him tell it in his words. This may get long, but I think it's pretty fascinating.

Quick background -- Ralph Wilkening, my grandmother's brother, was the cousin of Grandpa Jim's college roommate. That's where we pick up...

"Ralph took me home with him in September 1938 to get acquainted with his folks. It was the week-end of Homecomers at Jackson and Dot [pictured at right] went with her regular boy friend to that. So I didn't get well acquainted with her on that first visit to the Henry Wilkening family. Again, what a wonderful experience, such hospitality and what good eating! That was only exceeded by a visit I made with Ralph the following spring when the strawberries were ripe. Dot was home too and I got a very good impression of my future wife who could not only cook but was very pretty as well. I filed all those good impressions for future reference."

Skipping ahead, it's now 1943, when Grandpa was training as a radar specialist in the U.S. Navy in Princeton, N.J.

"We were given a 72-hour pass in late April and I elected to go home on the Pennsylvania, taking a bus from St. Louis to Cape Girardeau, for the sole purpose of dating Dot. We spent a day together and then I had to reverse the journey and get back to Princeton on the third day of leave.

"Dot and I had a great time together and I made a few mental notes that we needed to see each other longer and more often. Shortly after I completed my training at Princeton and went by train under orders to MIT in Boston, Dot went to Washington to work for the Navy Department and we were able to arrange a number of dates on weekends. At first I took the train (9 hours by train) from Boston to Washington and then we arranged to meet in New York which is 4 hours by train from Washington and 5 hours from Boston. We stayed at Hotel New Yorker [in separate rooms, as later detailed] and, since it was hot weather, went out to Jones Beach on Long Island. On one of those trips I gave her a diamond engagement ring and we began to talk of getting married. The best chance to get married was to wait until my training was finished at MIT which would be around the first of October. So we planned for it then.

"Our wedding plans were built around the extra four days I expected to have as 'proceed' time inherent in a change of duty station. But the Navy crossed us up by losing everyone's orders! So the whole class had to wait until new orders were written; which took about a week. Dot worked for an officer in the Navy Department who, when he learned of our problem, went over to the Bureau of Naval Personal and asked where I was to be sent... That evening, when I called her, she was able to tell me where I was being sent days before the substitute orders were issued. ...We had expected to receive 'proceed' orders but didn't until the orders came, ultimately assigning me to a permanent duty station. ...We put the wedding plans on hold until we got more definite dates to go on.

"In the meantime we had more training given us at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station, and we stayed in their BOQ (bachelor officers quarters) which was absolutely spectacular, especially the food. My buddy and I agreed that being in naval aviation was an especially good assignment. We were entitled to wear the uniform of officers assigned to that branch of the Navy so I bought a green uniform to surprise Dot with. It became my wedding suit.

"Finally, on October 28 I received 'proceed' orders to report to the Naval Air Station at Oceana Virginia (right next to Norfolk). I caught the next train for Washington and called Dot. The next morning was Sunday and we went to Mt. Vernon Methodist Church where Dot had been attending and heard the usual excellent sermon given by Dr. Rustin. Earlier, when we had hoped to get married in early October, we had complied with D.C. requirements which required a license which named the minister. The license, luckily, was still good an we decided to get married that day if Dr. Rustin could do it. It was my 27th birthday, (Dot claims that I wanted the anniversary to fall on my birthday so I could remember it.) We called Dr. Rustin about 2:00 p.m. and he said he was to fly to the West Coast about 5:30 that afternoon but he could do it about 4:00. He said he had another wedding to hold in the chapel around 4:30 and if we came at 4:00 he could marry us right there before the other wedding party showed up.

"So, we had a church wedding of sorts. We never did know who had the chapel so beautifully decorated but we appreciated it all the same. We went by the historic Hotel Mayflower and I dashed in and twisted the arm of the desk clerk to give us a room. I told him I needed the room for a three-day honeymoon and really would appreciate it if he could help me out. That did it and so we spent our three days in the most luxurious and best hotel in Washington. It is still the finest. We had a wonderful wedding dinner for two in the Presidential Dining Room."

Dot and Jim in 1945, about a year after they got married

Times certainly are different, aren't they? No wedding photos, no wedding dress, no guests, no cake, no anything that all of us planning traditional weddings today obsess over. Though I imagine this type of story was not all that unusual in those days. I hope you enjoyed Grandpa's account -- if you made it all the way to the end of this post, thanks for sticking with me!

1 comment:

  1. What a great post! Thank you for sharing these family stories with us readers!