55 years ago today my mom and dad were married. So in their honor I'm sharing my favorite love story, as told to me numerous times by Mom...
We begin when 19-yr-old Sara Lee Booth was in her first year of nurses' training in Ohio, sometime near the middle of 1950, doing homework with her best bud and classmate, Caroline. This was a habit, as was both girls' bringing any recent correspondence they might have had for sharing with the other. Caroline in particular wrote to a handful of US servicemen overseas. (Bear in mind that this was in the day and age where girls did date around --in a nice way-- and where it was perfectly normal to take one's time deciding who was worthy of a more serious commitment. Men and boys knew this and dating was viewed usually as something entailing good-natured competition.)
One evening Caroline was writing to a certain Paul Sherman Clay, a 20-yr-old U.S. Air Force mechanic who was stationed in Germany during post-WW2 reconstruction there. Caroline thought it would be funny if Sally put in a letter to Paul with hers; Caroline had a joking vein in her and Sally, being one of the orneriest people I've ever known, was happy to chime in. I can still hear Mom's voice as she told this part, giggling delightedly and making it quite easy to hear the cackles of the girls as Sally wrote whatever 19-year-old flirties she thought to impart to the unsuspecting Paul.
Of course you can see what's coming. Paul and Sally hit it off. And how. Long distance, without phoning, without email, even without seeing photos of each other. They started writing directly to each other, and continued even after Caroline and Paul had ceased to write. As Mom used to describe, it surprised them as much as anyone. After that first flirty letter they kept writing without really knowing why. The one certainty in both their heads according to her was that for whatever reason each assumed that they would never meet and so they regarded the correspondence as a place where they could say whatever they wanted without any holding back whatsoever. Consequently they let it all hang out, talking of their deepest secrets and thoughts and being thoroughly candid about absolutely everything. (My whole life, even though I heard this story a gazillion times I found it really hard to see them that way, especially my dad. Now, it's funny but I find for the first time, thanks to age or perspective or whatever, this no longer surprises me in the least. I guess I never really stopped to think what incredibly open people they were, with us and the rest of the world, and certainly even moreso with each other.)
After they wrote to each other for several months, they began to realize they had a pretty big connection, so they sent photos to each other. When Paul's arrived, in addition to showing him in his admittedly quite handsome glory, it was hand-colored by the German photographer, something which wasn't done at that time in the U.S. and added a sort of other-worldliness to the photograph. In Mom's words, "I started laughing because he looked so handsome I was convinced he had sent me a picture of a German movie star. I really did think that! There was no way I could be writing to someone that handsome. My stars!"
After a little over a year Paul was due to come home for a brief leave. His family was in southern Ohio, hillbilly country actually, but he made plans to see Sally in Bellefontaine (central western Ohio) before going down home to the Clays'. "I was impressed to no end. I couldn't believe he wanted to see ME before going to see his folks!"
Apparently the face-to-face meet was pretty successful. Paul stayed in Logan Co. for four or five days before heading south and the relationship was more rooted than ever by the time he headed back to Germany a couple of weeks later.
Here's the fun and oh-so-Mom part... (paraphrasing but of course being as true as possible to Mom's voice)...
"Well, Daddy went back to Germany and we kept writing but that winter somehow we had an argument." In snail mail. "I don't remember what it was but it started with something kind of dumb and turned into a big disagreement and pretty soon we were fighting." In snail mail. "The important thing was we never stopped writing." But according to her this was not due to a commitment necessarily, rather it was because each was too stubborn to let the other one have the last word. "However it started, pretty soon what happened was we kept writing to each other but we were really mad each time. One of us would fire off some nasty remarks to the other one, that one would get the letter, steam for a week or two, and then fire off a retort to the first to retaliate. That one would get that letter, sit on it a while getting madder and madder, then finally fire off another nasty letter back." According to Mom, this lasted several months. Sometimes they would wait longer or shorter times before "firing off" (every single time I heard this story throughout my life this term punctuated the interchange - quintessential SLC storytelling that still makes me smile) another angry rebuttal, but the key was even tho they thought it was basically over, they couldn't resist writing back.
They were still fighting, long distance, in snail mail, at the beginning of July, 1952. Paul returned from Germany and went straight to Bellefontaine. "We made up on the 5th, got engaged on the 6th, and got married on the 11th." They had known each other two years and had only been together in person for about a week and a half total.
Sally died February 13, 1994, at which point they had been married 41 and a half years. Solidly. It wasn't always easy, at all. There was the occasional disagreement, sometimes sizable and highly emotional, and those of you who know me best know that our household and upbringing was far from idyllic, but in general even tho they were so incredibly different, they were two of the most intelligent people I've ever known in my life and were dedicated to working things out whenever there was discord. They maintained their mutual regard and love and a huge dose of romance and attraction for each other their whole life.
I've wanted to write about this for a long time and kept thinking I'd wait til Valentine's Day. But this is probably better. Bookmark it tho if you think you might need a lift next February 14. Something to remind you of the possibilities.
I should perhaps clarify that Mom never became a nurse. When she and Dad got married, she dropped out and followed him to his next U.S. stationing in, I think, El Paso (to be verified with my brother someday). One of these days I'll get round to the Mom/Dad blogs I have planned and you can hear about the cockroach/rifle story that happened at that base, among others, as well as the million different professional callings each of my parents pursued in their lives.