All Write, War Bonds

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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I rarely blog book reviews, but this lovely book has a World War II theme and I adore a good love story with some deeper historical contexts.

Plus, we just watched the recently-released Netflix movie and to my joy the movie was wonderful and very much in keeping with the book.

Until I sat down to write this, I hadn’t realized that the author, Mary Ann Shaffer, died before the book was published and that her niece helped her finish it.

The added poignancy made the story feel that much sweeter.

So. Surprise!

This isn’t a book review. Just a recommendation to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society AND watch the movie. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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War Bonds

War Bonds Hero Dies on Memorial Day Weekend

War Bonds Louie Anderson

On Sunday, May 27, Louie Anderson slipped the bonds of Earth and flew to be with his beloved Barb.

He and Barbara enjoyed 71 years of marriage and because they lived close to my home, I got to spend quite a bit of time with them.

The photo below watched over me from my filing cabinet as I wrote War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

Louis and flight crew 1944 low res

It shows Louie and his flight crew looking impossibly young and irrepressibly confident. Their 22-year-old leader, first pilot Louis Anderson sits on his haunches in the front row, far left. The photo was snapped as the 10 young men prepared to depart for Chelveston, England. It was May 1944 and the crew of the G-model Flying Fortress eagerly anticipated getting their licks in against the enemy.

Thirty-five missions later, Louis returned home, having lost only one of his original crew. Amazing because he said, “There was only one mission that we didn’t get shot at.”

Below is an excerpt from their chapter, “Keeping Time.”

“A ship in our left wing got hit,” Louis said. He and his men watched in dismay as the ball turret gunner fell from his turret and hung suspended by his foot. Many B-17 crew members considered the ball turret the worst position on the aircraft. The gunner was confined in a sphere fastened to the underside of the plane.

Louis cleared his throat. “I had to explain to the fellows that he was no longer with us.” After 45 seconds the gunner fell from the aircraft.

“We had quite a bit of difficulty talking the crew into getting back in the plane to fly a mission the next day,” he continued. “We had to have several conferences with the chaplain to explain that the gunner hadn’t been hanging there, suffering.”

When Barbara died in November, Louie’s already declining health, worsened.

He just wanted to be with her.

And he got his wish, but not before he was awarded a special Quilt of Valor made by the quilting group at Fairwood Retirement Community. Barbara was an avid quilter and she would be delighted to know of Louie’s gift.
He received the quilt, Saturday. He passed away Sunday.

And on Memorial Day I will be thinking of them both.

War Bonds with the Andersons at Fairwood

 

 

War Bonds

She found love in the right place

When Janet Hegdahl, 16, found out her family was moving from Portland to Spokane in the fall of 1955, she didn’t jump for joy.

“I’d just gotten a job at the library,” she recalled.

She’d also discovered boys.

“I was really interested in boys, a little too interested,” Janet said. “I was looking for boyfriends in all the wrong places.”

Her unhappiness about the move melted away the first Sunday her family attended Trinity United Presbyterian Church. That’s when she saw Jack Arkills singing in the choir and thought church just might be the right place to meet a guy.

Jack noticed her as well and made a beeline for her as soon as the service ended. He was the youth director and Sunday School superintendent, and he wanted to invite her to the youth meeting that evening.

“The Italians have what they call a thunderbolt,” Jack said. “It’s when you see someone, and it’s instant recognition.”

He smiled at Janet.

“It was instant for me,” he said.

She felt the same way.

They both attended Lewis and Clark High School and saw each other between classes and after school. On one of their first dates, they saw the movie “High Society,” and when Bing Crosby crooned “True Love” to Grace Kelly, it became their song.

From their Riverview Retirement Community apartment in Spokane, Jack sang, “I give to you and you give to me, true love, true love …”

Jack already had a connection to Bing Crosby – he’d caddied for Crosby at Indian Canyon in the late ’40s.

“Bing was a big tipper,” he recalled.

In May 1957, Jack dashed into the downtown library where Janet was working. It was the day of the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, and he was scheduled to march with his National Guard unit.

It was also Janet’s 18th birthday.

“I had a ring in my pocket,” Jack said.

He proposed.

She said yes.

And off he ran to march in the parade.

Jack had graduated from high school and was working for the Great Northern Railroad.

“I wanted to go to Whitworth and be a minister, but pretty soon I was making more than my friends who were teachers,” he said.

Janet had received a scholarship to Eastern Washington University, so they married March 21, 1958, during spring break.

She sewed her tea-length lace wedding gown, and they said their wedding was the last one held at Trinity United Presbyterian, which soon closed its doors.

They settled in an apartment in Browne’s Addition, and almost a year after their wedding, their son, Chris, was born.

“We had a 2-week-old on our first anniversary,” Janet said, smiling.

Thirteen months later, son Scott arrived and Janet’s college education was put on hold.

Daughter, Amy, completed the family in 1962, and they settled into a house in the Garland District.

The family made First Presbyterian their church and it quickly became the center of their lives. Janet became the church librarian, a position she still holds, 55 years later, and Jack joined the choir, and yes, he still sings in it.

Their lives took a drastic turn in 1966 when Jack was severely injured in a train derailment. He was on top of the train to tie a handbrake and got knocked off during the derailment.

“I landed on my back on the track,” he said.

He broke his arm and had six fractures in his sacrum. For two long weeks, he had no sensation in his legs.

“They said I’d never walk again.”

Janet, 25, didn’t know how to drive, but a neighbor taught her during her frequent trips to the hospital.

With three children, a mortgage and her husband’s recuperation uncertain, Janet returned to work at Spokane Public Library. She ended up working at all three Shadle branch locations, as well as the Indian Trail branch.

“I’ve always been addicted to reading and to studying,” she said.

Indeed. She started night school, picking up a class here and there, until 25 years after she began her college career, she graduated from EWU.

Meanwhile, Jack was able to return to work on the railroad. Not only was he able to walk, he started to run. And run. And run some more. Eventually, he ran five marathons.

The family moved to the South Hill in 1979, and when the kids flew the nest, Jack and Janet built their dream house – a passive solar home on Moran Prairie.

In 1987, Jack was diagnosed with polymyostis, a rare inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness. He retired from the railroad in 1991, though the disease eventually went into remission.

He’s always been the head cook in the family.

Janet laughed.

“I’d put something on and go off and read and wouldn’t you know it? It burned,” she said.

She retired from the library in 2004. Her career spanned the years from handwritten check out cards, to bar codes. From card catalogs to digital catalogs, and she relished every minute.

For many years, the couple have been members of Friendship Force International, a nonprofit organization and hospitality service with the mission of improving intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence via homestays.

The Arkills have traveled across the globe, including stops in Australia, France, Germany and Tasmania.

“We love to travel,” Janet said. “We’re both extroverts, so we love to host people here, too.”

Jack survived a bout of esophageal cancer, and 14 years ago they moved to Riverview, where they continue to be active and involved.

Janet marvels that the move to Spokane which she so despaired of, ended up giving her the love of her life, and she sees the hand of the Divine at work.

“The Lord led us together and He’s kept us together,” she said.

Looking at Jack, she smiled.

“We’re best friends.”

As for Jack, the thunderbolt that hit him more than 60 years ago, hasn’t worn off.

“So many couples say they fall out of love,” he said. “I don’t get it. I guess I never fell out of love.”

War Bonds

When Opposites Attract

She was an only child. He was one of seven.

He was a Catholic. She was a Protestant.

She joined the Air Force. He joined the Navy.

He’s an extrovert. She’s an introvert.

The adage “opposites attract” certainly applies to Becky and Harry Flanigan.

They met as children growing up in the same neighborhood in New Albany, Indiana. But Becky had no intention of dating Harry, two years her junior, let alone marrying him.

Harry, however, had other ideas.

In their Kendall Yards apartment, he grinned as he recalled his first sight of Becky. His speech has been impaired by a stroke, but he communicates with hand gestures and short sentences.

“I was 4 years old when I met her. I was 11 when I knew I wanted to marry her,” he said.

It seems when he was 4, a button popped off his snow pants, and Becky’s mother sewed it back on for him. That’s how they met.

At 11, he was stricken by polio and from his bed near the living room window; he watched Becky and his older brother walk to school each day.

“I told Mom I was going to marry her,” he said.

But marriage would have to wait.

After high school, Becky went to nursing school at Ball State University. When an Air Force recruiter came to talk to the soon-to-graduate nurses, she and three friends signed up, and were soon sent to Minot, North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Harry, who hoped to be a doctor, attended St. Louis University until he ran out of funds. After working for the Army Corps of Engineers for a couple years, he enlisted in the Navy.

In 1966, he was attached to the Marine Corps unit in Chu Lai, Vietnam. He and his fellow corpsmen sent up and ran the field hospital there. He doesn’t talk about his experiences in Chu Lai.

When asked if he lost friends during the war, he hung his head and buried his face in his hands.

Becky said, “He brought home a machete and once I asked him where he got it. He said, ‘You don’t want to know.’”

One of the first things he did after returning home was to call Becky and ask her for a date.

“I said yes,” she recalled. “Then I told my mother, ‘What have I done?’ I’m older than he is. I’m taller than he is. And now he knows I was sitting home alone on a Saturday night.’”

It was March 25, 1967, and when Harry picked her up, she was relieved and surprised to find he’d grown.

“He was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, the last time I’d seen him,” she said.

Her mother waited up for her, and when Becky returned she told her mom she’d had a nice time, but wasn’t interested in seeing him again. Harry planned a career in medicine, and she definitely didn’t want to marry a doctor.

The next day he brought her an Easter card.

“He was charming as all get out,” Becky said, smiling.

He must have been, because they got engaged on April 16.

Coming from a large family had its disadvantages – namely little sisters.

“I had no idea he was going to propose,” Becky said. “But we stopped by his house and his little sister said, ‘Do you like your ring?’”

There went the surprise.

The boisterous Flanigans were a bit overwhelming.

“He invited me to a family party, and there were 100 people there,” she recalled. “I wanted to run away.”

She didn’t, and they married Aug. 12.

“His mother told people at our reception, we wouldn’t last six months,” Becky said.

Then she grinned.

“She did eventually apologize, but it took her 30 years.

Harry enrolled at Indiana University, but was disappointed when he wasn’t admitted to medical school. Even though his grades were excellent, he was told the university had no interest in retraining him from his military experience.

He studied business instead and took a job with Union Carbide after graduating in 1970.

Becky gave birth to their daughter, Amy, in 1971, and the family embarked in a series of moves across the country as Harry rose in rank and responsibility within the corporation.

Tragedy struck while they were living in California. Harry, age 46, suffered a stroke. His carotid artery had dissected and life as they knew it changed forever.

The stroke affected his speech and partially paralyzed his right side.

“The last thing he said to us was ‘I’m sorry,’” she recalled.

His prognosis was grim, but Becky said, “He felt since he beat polio, he could beat this.”

Harry, a driven, Type A, workaholic, channeled all of his energy into recovery, making it his full-time job. He learned to walk, to drive and to care for himself, though speech remained an issue.

But despite his amazing strides, he couldn’t resume his career.

“The worst day of his life wasn’t the day of his stroke, but the day they retired him,” Becky said. “He loved his job, the people, the travel. …”

Harry nodded.

Their daughter was attending law school at Gonzaga University, so they decided to move to Spokane. They’ve never looked back, because soon they had three grandchildren to dote on, including a grandson who is now attending the United States Air Force Academy.

When he could speak more clearly, Harry told Becky, “I think the stroke is the best thing that happened to me. It slowed me down, brought me to a stop and allowed me to appreciate my family.”

With his left hand, Harry, 75, gestured upward.

“My grandkids and Amy lift me up,” he said.

As to his wife of 50 years, well, he’s always believed marrying her was his destiny.

He curled his left arm into a muscle-flexing pose.

“She’s strong,” he said.

Becky, 77, said, “People ask me if I’d do it again and I say, ‘Yes, in a heartbeat.’”

When asked why, her eyes filled with tears.

“I guess it’s just true love,” she said.

“Yes,” Harry said, nodding. “Yes.”

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War Bonds

Visiting my three year-old at the bookstore

Every author will tell you it’s a nail-biting moment.

Your book has been out for some time and you pop in a bookstore for a visit. Just to see how its doing– maybe sign a few copies.

There’s always the fear that you’ll find the book you labored over with blood, sweat and tears languishing in the clearance bin. Or worse. You won’t find it at all.

That’s what happened to me last week. Kind of.

I’m getting ready to pitch my second book, so stopped by my local Barnes and Noble to scan the shelves for similar titles. Of course, I checked on my firstborn.

But War Bonds was nowhere to be found!

The book launched February 22, 2015 and is still generating sales, but still it’s three years-old.

Gathering my courage I approached a bookseller and offered to sign any copies– if they had any.

“What’s the title?” he asked.

I told him.

“Oh, War Bonds! We always have copies on hand. Let me check.”

Nervously, I watched him click the keys of his computer.

“Wow! We sold out again. That’s a happy problem to have.”

I took a breath.

“Are you going to…?”

“Yep,” he interrupted. “We’ve already ordered more.”

I said thank you and left with my purchases. Amazed, thrilled and blessed that readers are still finding the love stories of the Greatest Generation worth reading. And worth purchasing.

Thank you dear readers. And Happy 3rd birthday War Bonds!”

10929058_10203559455213962_6120318413619356176_n[1]War Bonds at Barnes and Noble Northtown

 

War Bonds

A love that encompassed 600+ boys

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They met in eighth grade.

Fell in love while attending West Valley High School.

And eventually Betty and Brian O’Donnell’s love would grow to encompass their own children, plus more than 600 boys.

Betty vividly remembers her first encounters with Brian.

“He had so much charm!” she said.

He was also impossible to miss on the football field. He played fullback and sported the No. 1 jersey all through high school.

They graduated from West Valley in 1946, and three months later, Brian went overseas.

“I volunteered to be part of the American occupation of Japan,” he said.

Before he left he gave Betty a ring and a promise.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry about me, because I’m coming back,’” Betty recalled.

While they were apart they wrote letters to each other every day.

“I still have all of them,” Betty said, smiling.

Brian enjoyed his time in Japan. While there, he and some friends scaled Mount Fuji. But it was the citizens who captivated him.

“I’ll always remember the people of Japan – they were the nicest people. I almost feel like in another life I was Japanese,” he said.

After 18 months, he returned to Spokane, ready to embark on his life with Betty.

“We were sitting on the davenport in her mother’s house,” he recalled. “Betty said, ‘My mother keeps asking me when we’re going to get married.’ So, I told her to set the date.”

Twenty-four days later, on Jan. 24, 1948, they married at Millwood Presbyterian Church. Betty’s mother made her gown.

The 19-year-olds settled into an apartment in Browne’s Addition. Betty worked at the Paulsen Center, and Brian attended Kinman Business University.

By the time their first child was on the way, Brian was working in the payroll department at Washington Water Power Co.. They moved to Millwood and lived in a trailer in his parent’s backyard, and that’s where they brought son, Kurt, home in September 1949.

Daughter Colleen arrived in 1951, and Brian wanted to attend college. Betty’s father encouraged them to join him in Texas and offered to help. They moved to Beaumont, Texas, and Brian enrolled at Lamar State College.

One year in Texas was enough. The couple found the racial prejudice of the area intolerable, and as soon as Brian finished his first year, they left.

Son, Rory, arrived in 1956, and the young family moved to Seattle, where Brian enrolled at the University of Washington.

“We got faculty housing and paid $85 a quarter because we had three kids and a dog,” he said. “I went to school from 8 to 12, then worked at Boeing from 3 to 11.”

Brian graduated with an education degree, and was quickly offered a job teaching seventh grade in Otis Orchards.

He served as president of the PTA and Betty was the vice president. One evening at a PTA meeting, a counselor spoke about a troubled 14-year-old boy who desperately needed a home.

Betty’s hand shot up.

“I’ll take him,” she said.

They became licensed foster parents and eventually adopted their son, Ray.

After a year at Otis Orchards, Brian transferred to East Valley High School where he taught business classes, and became the school’s first wrestling coach and eventually, its first special education teacher.

“It was love at first sight,” he said of his special ed students. “The kids were so needy. They just needed someone to love them, to help them.”

Meanwhile, Betty was finding more and more troubled boys to love. By the time daughter Heidi arrived in 1965, they regularly had up to four foster boys living with them and knew they needed more space.

They purchased 140 acres at Newman Lake that had once been the Circle KD Ranch, a kids’ summer camp.

“The original owners wanted the property to be used for children,” Brian said.

They had plenty of those. They renamed the property Shamrock Acres Boys Ranch, and it became one of the first group homes in the state.

Betty took charge, doing the cooking, cleaning, shopping and supervising for 10 to 14 teenage boys, as well her own five children.

“It didn’t seem like work,” she said.

Brian grinned. “Betty’s philosophy was everybody will eat breakfast together, and everyone will come down with a smile on their face.”

The diminutive lady didn’t bat an eye when boys twice her size rebelled. If there was a discipline issue, she’d ask the boy, “Do you want to settle this with me? Or do you want to wait till Brian comes home?”

They almost always chose to settle the issue with Betty.

Their property didn’t only house kids. A wide array of animals including llamas, emus, chickens, dogs, cats, goats, rabbits and even a wallaby made the ranch their home.

In 1979, the ranch became Shamrock Educational Alternative, a private boys home, and teenagers from across the country lived with the O’Donnells.

“Some stayed for dinner, some stayed four years,” Brian said. “If you give kids love and a family, they’ll be OK.”

They hired additional counselors and were able to take time off to travel each summer.

When their youngest child graduated from East Valley, Brian retired at age 55, after a 25-year teaching career.

“Then I worked full time for Betty,” he said, chuckling.

In 1987, he built a house across the road from the boys’ home. But his wife had one stipulation.

“I had to put the pool in first because Betty didn’t like swimming in the lake,” Brian said.

They traveled often, taking 12 cruises, including a return visit to Japan for Brian.

“We’ve felt so fortunate in every turn we’ve made,” Betty said.

In 1995, they closed the group home, but they still hear from boys who lived there.

The celebration of their 70th anniversary last month, brought back many memories of the boys who came through their doors, and they expressed gratitude that their love ample enough to include so many.

But now they enjoy the simple pleasure of time together.

“He still has lots of humor. He makes me laugh,” said Betty. “He was and is the one for me.”

When asked how others can achieve such lasting love, Brian answered succinctly.

“One day at a time,” he said, smiling. “One day at a time.”

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War Bonds

The Bomber Pilot’s Secret

Conaways low res

Constance (Connie) and Wilson (Bill) Conaway on right

The first time I interviewed Bill and Connie Conaway, Bill didn’t talk much about serving overseas as a B-17 pilot during WWll, but his eyes lit up when he talked about the planes.

He recalled every aircraft he flew and who trained him on it.

But on a subsequent interview he told stories of harrowing missions over Germany, of how he nearly froze when a piece of shrapnel pierced his flight suit as he soared miles above the ground.

And then he told the story that has haunted him for 70 years.

His radio operator, Lynn, a good friend, was killed on a mission.

“The night before we left, we all had dinner together, and his wife and little baby came– that was the last time she saw him.”

He sighed, shaking his head.

“The airplane floor was covered with his blood,” he said, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. “I tried to get in touch with his wife for many, many years. I wanted to tell Lynn’s daughter about her dad.”

He was never able to find her when he returned to the States.

Bill Conaway died January 11.

His widow, Connie who served in the WAVES called to tell me the news. He died just days before their 71st anniversary.

She’s never forgotten how fortunate they’ve been. Many B-17 pilots never returned.  She said, “I’ve told him many times, ‘I’m lucky to have you, honey.'”

And I’m lucky that I was able to include their story in War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation. 

But mostly I’m grateful that this gruff pilot, turned school teacher, turned artist, trusted me with his secret.

During an interview he leaned forward in his chair, glanced at Connie and said, “I’ll tell you a secret; I love her more today than I ever have.”

CONAWAY LOVE

War Bonds

Good Cooking Fueled 70 Years of Wedded Bliss

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Logging in the Olympic Peninsula is hard, hungry work, and hearty meals provide essential tree-felling fuel. If those meals are cooked by a pretty girl, well, that added inspiration can give a young man something to dream about while he works.

At least that was James Hollandsworth’s experience. He’d taken a job felling trees in 1945 and quickly noticed the camp cook.

He recalled thinking, “There’s a gal that when she gets old enough, I might see if I could entice her to marry me, ’cuz I know she can cook.”

Melba Hollandsworth was just 16 at the time. Born in a log cabin, near Osburn, Idaho, she quit school in the sixth grade, plagued by health issues caused by the nearby smelter.

As the oldest of seven from a large extended family, in addition to cooking at the logging camp, Melba traveled from relative to relative, helping out when a new baby was born or when someone was ill.

James’ family knew hers, and he’d see her occasionally at church in Spokane Valley when she was visiting.

“I probably had eyes for him, too,” she admitted.

It would have been hard to miss him, since he and his brother played guitar and sang special numbers at the church.

“When I found out she’d turned 18, I decided to ask her out,” James said.

He called on her at her Aunt Cora’s home and took her for a drive. However, her aunt was concerned that he wasn’t moving quickly enough.

“Aunt Cora knew I thought a lot of Melba,” recalled James. “She told me, you’d better get serious if you want Melba because she’s going to leave the area.”

Indeed, she moved to Kalispell to help another family member, so James drove to Montana to see her.

“She wasn’t expecting me,” he said, smiling. “You don’t want ’em to know you’re coming.”

Melba liked him well enough to ask him to buy her a guitar.

She laughed.

“I got the guitar, but I had to learn to play it.”

On another visit, James said, “Let’s go look at rings.”

Melba agreed to marry him, but with one stipulation.

“I didn’t want kids right away,” she said. “I wanted time to get more acquainted – we didn’t really have a courtship.”

On Dec. 20, 1947, the two married at a relative’s home in north Spokane. There was a lot of snow that winter and family members from Kalispell had a hard time getting off Tea Kettle Mountain to go to the wedding.

“So, they got a logging truck and put a wooden shack on the back of it and made a makeshift camper,” James said, chuckling.

There was no time for a honeymoon as James was due back at work at MorrisonKnudsen Monday morning, but their first breakfast as husband and wife has never been forgotten.

James took his bride out for hamburgers at a diner in Spokane Valley.

“That was a new wrinkle for me,” Melba said, shaking her head. “I’m used to breakfast. I didn’t know what to order because I wasn’t used to restaurants.”

James grinned.

“She was upset, but we lived through it.”

Soon, they bought their first home on East 12th Avenue in the Perry District. The house cost $5,000, and James earned $1 per hour.

Their home came fully furnished.

“I bought it from a widower who was going to live with his son and said all he wanted to take with him was a suitcase,” James said. “He sold me all the furnishings for $500.”

Melba was thrilled.

“It had everything,” she said. “All we needed were groceries.”

They lived there until they bought their present Spokane Valley home in 1955.

Work kept James busy, and Melba was ready to start a family. She’d wanted to wait to have children but had no way of knowing they’d have to wait 11 long years.

“It was baffling to wait so long,” she said. “We saw doctors, had tests. So many people had babies, but I didn’t.”

Finally, in December 1958, their daughter, Cindy, arrived. The proud parents took her everywhere from bowling leagues to backpacking trips.

James loved nothing more than discovering new lakes and places to fish.

“I took a map and laid out all the lakes north of Sandpoint to the Canadian border,” he said. “I wanted to see the country. Each week we went to a different lake. Lots of times there were no roads or trails, so we just bushwhacked.”

And often his wife and daughter went along.

“I wasn’t a very good hiker, but I liked camping,” Melba said.

She enjoyed fishing and marveled at James’ skill.

“He had a feeling about fish – a special touch,” she said.

The irony was he wouldn’t eat fish – couldn’t even stand the smell of fish on his fingers.

He shrugged.

“I got poisoned by canned salmon when I was a kid.”

James worked for MorrisonKnudsen for 20 years and for N.A. Degerstrom for 25, before retiring in 1989.

The first thing they did was buy a motor home and hit the road, crossing the country from Mexico to Alaska. For many years, they traveled thousands of miles, stopping to hike, fish or visit friends and relatives.

Their adventures were curtailed when James, then 85, suffered a heart attack at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He’d been on the trip with a friend and felt some discomfort but still drove home.

“Melba called the doctor, and the next day I had five bypasses,” he said.

They recently celebrated their 70th anniversary, and Melba, 88, offered this bit of advice to couples: “Learn to go with the flow,” she said. “Learn about each others’ interests.”

For example, when she couldn’t do the hikes James wanted to do, she encouraged his love of photography.

“I enjoyed his pictures when he came back.”

James, 93, said, “She never puts up much of a fuss. She’s got a lot of patience.”

His advice to future husbands?

Grinning at Melba, he said, “Check and see if she cooks.”

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War Bonds

This Young Love Didn’t Grow Old

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When a California girl with pierced ears met a black sheep boy in tiny Reardan, Washington, sparks flew. Sixty-eight years later, the fire still burns for Betty and Larry Plummer.

“She was a loner and so was I,” recalled Larry.

Though he said he missed more days of school than he attended, he did manage to escort Betty to the junior-senior prom.

“He was panting at the door to take me,” Betty said. “I was one of the first freshmen to go.”

Larry didn’t have enough credits to graduate, and found work in a nearby sawmill. He was sure of just one thing – he wanted to marry Betty.

“I only had one girlfriend. I couldn’t afford any others,” he joked.

At 17 and 18, they knew finding someone to marry them would be difficult, so they decided to elope to Reno.

They made it to Winnemucca, Nevada, where they stopped for gas.

“A guy at the service station told us to wake up the town clerk, so we did,” Larry said. “He gave us a marriage license for $2, and went with us to the justice of the peace. I gave him a $5 tip. The whole trip cost us about $42.”

He only earned $1 an hour at the sawmill.

The clerk asked them how old they were. Several times. That’s when Larry realized they were still too young to marry in Nevada. So they lied about their ages, and on Sept. 4, 1949, they tied the knot.

For their 60th anniversary, their children sent them on a surprise trip to Reno – with a stop in Winnemucca, of course.

In 1949, when the teens returned home, Betty’s mother told her, “Well, you made your bed, you lay in it.”

Their first home had no running water and was small enough to fit in their present Spokane Valley living room.

Larry was in the Naval Reserves, and they’d been married just over a year when he was called up. It was November 1950, and Betty traveled to San Diego to see him before he was sent overseas.

“I stayed at the Harvard Hotel,” she recalled. “I couldn’t afford to eat at the hotel, so I turned the electric iron upside down in a drawer and made soup on it.”

After her husband left for Korea, she returned home and stayed with her mom.

Following his discharge in September 1952, the couple moved to Spokane, where Larry worked at St. Luke’s Hospital as a house attendant in the psych ward.

One evening, as he made his rounds, he saw a box near the nurse’s dorm. He bent over, opened it and discovered a baby inside.

The newspapers dubbed her “Baby X.”

“You should have brought her home,” said Betty, as Larry told the story.

“I thought about it,” he admitted. “But we had our first baby on the way.”

Baby X was adopted by a local family, and many years later, she found the Plummers, and visited their home to thank Larry for rescuing her.

They welcomed their own baby girl, Rhonda, in 1955, followed by Rebecca in 1957. Daughter Ruth completed the family in 1958, and also got her father in the newspaper, again.

By this time, Larry was working the graveyard shift at Eastern State Hospital. Betty called to tell him the baby was on the way. He rushed home, but didn’t make it in time to get her to the hospital.

“Her water broke, and I delivered the baby on the front lawn,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been present at a birth.

“One time I got on the elevator with a pregnant woman at St. Luke’s,” he recalled. “There were two of us when I got on – three of us when I got off.”

Larry worked several jobs while attending Eastern Washington University. The boy, who didn’t get a high school diploma, earned an accounting degree from the university.

“It took me six years to finish,” he said.

After graduating, he worked for the IRS for seven years, managed a medical clinic for eight, and then worked for Spokane Public Schools for 17 years.

Meanwhile, in addition to raising their three daughters, for many years Betty was a foster mom to newborns.

“I kept them until they got adopted,” she said. “One baby stayed for three months. Then they came and got him at Christmas. That’s when we stopped.”

When she mentioned that she’d like to go to beauty school, Larry came home and told her he’d enrolled her.

Betty did hair for awhile, but then took a job in housekeeping at Providence Sacred Heart, where she worked for 18 years, before retiring as a supervisor in 1998.

It wasn’t all work in the Plummer household. Larry bought a 1957 school bus and retrofitted it as a camper – complete with kitchen and bath. They loaded up the girls and took off for Montana, Colorado and even Disneyland.

“Buying that bus was the best thing I ever did,” he said.

As they talked about their life together, Betty frequently stopped to kiss Larry’s head, or rub his shoulder. She recalled how over the years, he’d walk in the door after working a graveyard shift and ask, “Baby, what can I do for you?”

When she worked at Providence Sacred Heart, he’d stop at downtown store to buy her a gardenia – her favorite flower.

And he kept busy, even after retiring from the school district. For 15 years he worked at the Coeur d’Alene Casino as a ticket seller, finally retiring at 83.

He smiled at Betty.

“The last 68 years have been the happiest,” he said.

She nodded; puzzled that so many marriages don’t last as long.

“Nobody works at it,” she said. “Something goes wrong and people look for someone else.”

She shrugged.

“We just assumed we’d be here together and here we are,” said Betty, 85. “He’s the best man that ever was. I think we’d do it again.”

Larry, 86, agreed, with one caveat.

“I might not have waited so long,” he said.

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War Bonds

The Face that Graced the Book Cover

She never thought her face would be on a book cover.

That a snapshot taken on her honeymoon would become the face of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation. After all, the marriage and the honeymoon might never have happened if Mary Grayhek hadn’t said to heck with vanity, tied a scarf over her hair set in pin curls, and agreed to a blind date.

But at the insistence of her friend, in 1946, Mary agreed to a double date with a handsome Marine. The date with Roy Grayhek changed her life.  Six weeks later, they wed in the Naval Chapel in Bremerton, WA.

The photo snapped of Roy and Mary standing on a piece of driftwood in the Puget Sound, became the cover of book filled with stories of people who married during, or shortly after World War Two.

 

War Bonds

The Grayheks enjoyed 68 years of wedded bliss before Roy’s death in 2014.
Sadly, he passed away before the book’s release. But Mary was able to enjoy  seeing their faces on the cover. Even more importantly, she got to see the book in the hands of her great-granddaughter Grace, and her soldier husband, Ryan, shortly before he was deployed.

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Mary Grayhek died December 20, surrounded by her family.Grayhek wedding low res

I’m quite confident that Roy was the first one to greet her, and that he hasn’t taken his arm from around her shoulders. And that they picked up their story right where they left off– with happily ever after.