21 July, 2011

{this memory} 9

Every photo has a story behind it, and I have seen this photo many times over the years. In fact, I can recall looking at it in the family album as a child. All I remember knowing about it was that my parents were quarreling in New York City. It's almost 60 years old, and the older the photo the less likely I am to know the story. That’s not to say I was never told it, but I just don’t currently remember the story. That means I needed to do what any good son would do. I called mom and asked. Again. Here is the rest of the story.

My folks were married in Falls Church, Virginia, on April 23, 1942 – fewer than five months after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. We were now at war, and my father was a career naval officer stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. Having enlisted when he was just out of high school, he had already served his country for almost fifteen years, had seen some of the world, and was about to see action off the coast of north Africa.

He returned to Norfolk after the November 1942 invasion of Africa knowing that he would soon be on his way to fight in the Pacific. He told my mother that they had never really had a honeymoon, and he wanted to take her to New York City. Off they went in April of 1943. He was 32 and traveled. She was 23, from Arkansas, and had never been to the “big city.” She wanted to see everything – the Statue, nice restaurants, clubs, etc.

My father was not a party animal. He preferred to eat in the hotel because the dining room was never crowded, but it was their “honeymoon” so he did take my mother to a few restaurants. They did, of course, go to the Statue of Liberty.

The clubs? Well ... my mother had read that Lena Horne was performing at the Stork Club (closed in 1965), and she wanted to go. My father did not want to go and argued that they probably couldn’t get in anyway. He took her, of course. They approached the man holding the red rope that blocked walk-in admittance, and he ushered them right in. My mother may have clucked a little “I told you so” to which my father said it was only because he was in uniform. He was probably right. We were a nation at war, and a man in uniform might never have this chance again. They were often given preference and appropriately so.

The only problem was Lena’s last show was the night before. She was no longer performing there. I’m not sure how long they stayed or if they ate dinner, but what we see in their faces in the photograph may be less argument than just being cross because in this case no one got what they wanted.

She did get to see much of what she wanted though and loved my father. She enjoyed her “honeymoon.” Evidently my father did too; my older brother was conceived during this excursion.

The photograph was taken by one of those street photo vendors who would take random shots and then try to sell them to you. One has to wonder why they chose to buy this one – perhaps a memento of their first argument, which it was. I'm told my maternal grandmother would look at this photo and laugh at my mother’s expression – probably remembering all the times she had seen it as my mother grew up. Or maybe she recalled an occasion when my mother laughed at her after an argument with my grandfather. She had probably told her ”Just you wait, Mary Alice. You’ll see.” If so, she saw.

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