A WWII Romance, Part IV
Wilma and Al did as they promised and wrote to each other daily, but there was no way Al could get to the only phone on his floor at the Tacoma Hospital. That was not because he could not physically get there. He was now able to use a wheel chair to get around the ward and down the hall to the solarium and to the small PX stand at the end of the hall where he could buy cigarettes, toiletries, newspapers, magazines and such.
But the rule about using the phone in the hall outside his ward was different for each patient. In his case he was told that he would be able to use the phone when he could walk to it unassisted. And while that rule seemed unnecessarily cruel it would turn out to be the best incentive for intensive therapy that he could have had.
The physical therapists at Tacoma took one look at his wounds and told him point blank that the doctors were wrong about him never being able to walk and they even claimed that they had seen worse loss of muscle tissue than his. And, most importantly, they all said that they had taught those soldiers to walk again. Al was startled by that good news and determined all the more to prove the therapists right and the doctors wrong.
When next he saw Wilma he wanted to walk up to her and take her in his arms, not greet her in a wheelchair and see pity on her face. From that day forward until the end of his life his unstated highest priority goal was to be able to do as much physically as any other man. And in each instance where he was challenged by that goal he met or exceeded it.
(Years later when I was old enough to understand I would look at Dad’s legs when he wore a swim suit and could not imagine how he did it. From about 6” above his knee there was simply no muscle in the front of the legs up to where his leg joined his body. There were long, thick tendons that the doctors had spared, but it was possible to see the bone just under the skin. Viewed from the side it was like someone had simply scooped out the front half of his upper legs.)
While Al now had a plan and a potential surprise for Wilma when he saw her, Wilma too showed a determination in spirit that her friends would tell her was simply “not like Wilma.”
Wilma had always gotten pretty much anything she wanted. As the youngest girl in the family she was her Daddy’s favorite and he saw to it that got she what she wanted.
Even when she got married at a far younger age than her parents had hoped she at least picked a man who was from a well known family in the next town, a graduate of Kansas University Journalism School who came from a long line of small town newspaper owners. And the fact that he was seven years older than her seemed to her parents a good thing since he could provide some stability in a life that seemed to be perpetually on the brink of being out of control.
And Wilma’s husband, my biological father, Monte Eugene Canfield, Sr., simply took over giving her anything she wanted. He was good to her and gave her all of the things she said she needed. But he could not give her childhood back to her. He could not remove a baby that came far too soon into the life of one who was in many ways but a child herself. And so after two years of trying to be the wife everybody said she should be, she left him, not for another man, but in a desperate attempt to go back to where she was when she quit school and married on a whim. That she was trying to live the years of freedom she had lost was evident when she decided to leave her son with her mother for an indefinite period. If she regretted doing that she never said so.
Now Wilma felt that she was old enough to know exactly what she was doing, which was unlikely, but as long as she felt it was so she would stubbornly follow up on her conviction. So she started saving money and not spending it as soon as she got it and then asking Daddy to bail her out if need be.
And she got a real daytime job at the Princess Dress Shop, a upscale shop that catered to what little “society” there was in Topeka. She chose to work on commission rather than for wages because she was convinced she would be a good sales person. And that proved to be the case. The society women loved the way she was attentive to every detail and she far outshone the other sales girls at the shop. She saved all of that money and lived on the money she made singing, which she continued to do, both at the lounge and with the big bands that would come to town.
By August Wilma had saved more than enough for a train ticket to Tacoma and back so she then told her parents of her intention to go to Washington state to visit Al. Up to that point Wilma had told them essentially nothing about Al and so her mother was more than a little concerned.
Her mother, who had essentially no education herself, was angry that Wilma had left Monte Sr. and dropped the boy into her lap without notice. And while she loved the boy she called “Monte Gene” and treated him as one of her own large brood, she felt that Wilma had stupidly walked away from a good marriage. So her mother, Lola Mae Isaacs, from whom Wilma had garnered every possible gene relating to relentless stubbornness and torturous investigation of the activities of their children, started in on Wilma to find out who this Alva Amos Galemore really was.
Wilma eventually told her mother everything she knew about Al, and also gave Lola the names, address and phone number of Al’s parents in Humbolt. Lola got that information out of her on the pretext that she wanted to call them and tell them what a good and brave boy Al was and such other lies as she needed to convince Wilma to cough up the information.
With the information in hand Lola promptly called Monte Sr.’s mother, Ola Canfield Shade, a prominent Kansas newspaper woman and owner/publisher of the newspaper in neighboring Scranton. Both women thought the divorce was a mistake and were convinced that once Wilma got a bit older and calmed down she could be talked into going back to Monte Sr. and to raise the boy properly.
Ola Canfield Shade knew just about every newspaper man or woman in Kansas. Not only was she a respected newspaper publisher but she had twice been President of the Kansas Press Association, an unheard of accomplishment by a woman in the years during and immediately after the war. She was also highly active in the Republican Party in Kansas, the only party in Kansas in those days. She was a Republican National Committee Woman and three time delegate to the Republican National Convention.
It took Ola less than a day to find out all they needed to know about the Galemores of Humbolt, Kansas. The word passed along from several sources who knew the Galemores well was uniformly the same: the Galemores were nothing but poor white trash. In those days that label meant something, and that something was the worst one could be if you were not “Negro” or “Mexican.” Poor white trash, Negroes and Mexicans were all held to be of the lowest caste known to exist in 1940s Kansas.
It mattered not that the stereotype may not apply to an individual or to entire groups of people in those stereotyped classes who might fight his or her way out of the socioeconomic situation they were born into. Lola and Ola simply knew that Al Galemore was the worst possible thing that Wilma had ever been exposed to. And both women would hold that prejudice until the day they died.
Armed with this information Lola called her daughter and asked her to come down to Burlingame to talk about her visit out west. She made it sound like she just wanted to understand how it would go and hinted that she might help with the cost of the trip. When Wilma arrived the following Sunday Lola was ready with both barrels loaded and cocked and pointing straight at Wilma. She told her that Al was nothing but poor white trash, that she was a fool to waste any more time on him, and that if she persisted in this stupidity she would see that all further financial assistance for her “dalliance” in Topeka would be taken away.
Wilma who was just as arrogant and stubborn as her mother told Lola to go to hell and that she should just stop trying to run her life. And it was at that very point that she decided that she was not only going to visit Al, she was going to stay in Tacoma until he was well when she would then marry him! Of course, Wilma, true to her own scheming self, told absolutely no one about this. She certainly was not going to tell her mother. So she stormed out of the house, walked next door and asked an old high school flame if she could borrow his car.
With that she borrowed the car, looked at her watch, and then decided to wait an hour at the creek side park on the edge of town. She wanted to fit her departure from Burlingame to the Greyhound bus schedule. She then drove out to one of her Daddy’s mines a few miles south of town where she knew he would be because they were opening a new tunnel at that point.
She calmly walked up the steps to the office, walked in, gave him a big hug and kiss and asked him for $200 to go visit a sick friend out of state.
Wilma knew that her mother would not have told her Daddy of her investigation of Al, that had she done so he would have stopped it, and that Daddy did not classify people into categories, having worked himself up from a 10 year old coal miner in Wales to his current position as the owner of three mines in America. To William (Bill) Isaiah Isaacs, the American Dream was real and he was living proof of it. He knew that he only had a fifth grade education as would be classified as “poor white trash” by his own wife were he not married to her.
So Wilma’s Daddy, reached into his overalls pocket, pulled out a wad of bills, peeled off $200, asked her if that would be enough, accepted a hearty squeeze, a kiss on the cheek and a saccharine “Thank you, Daddy” from Wilma. He told her, as he always did, to be careful and to let him know if she needed anything else. He did not ask her exactly who she was visiting, where, or when she would return. He loved her, indulged her in all her whims and never expected anything from her except her love. Wilma, of course, thought nothing of loving him and using him at the same time. She had done it for years.
She now had more than enough money to implement her newly formed plan. So she drove into town to Thew’s Drug Store which was also the Greyhound Bus stop, called her former boy friend, and asked him if he could pick up the car at the drug store. Shortly she boarded the afternoon bus for Topeka and decided not to look back.
All her thoughts were focused on her new plan, and she had a lot more packing to do than she had thought she would do when she had arrived in Burlingame that morning. It bothered her not one whit that she was about to walk out forever on both her job at the Princess Shop, and the job at the lounge, and the gigs with the big bands. She could not care less that she was not going to give her landlord or her roommates any notice of moving out of her apartment.
Yes, she had a plan, and that plan started with packing for a permanent move. And nobody else had a clue, including Al. But she had no doubt that he would ask her to marry him whenever she thought the time was right. Al was beautiful, sweet, kind, gentle and humble. And he was infinitely easy to manipulate. Most importantly, Al was a man, and men gave Wilma whatever she wanted. She saw, exactly as she saw with her Daddy, nothing wrong with loving Al and manipulating him to fit her purposes. She was just being Wilma.
To be continued………..