If you’ve lived long enough likely you can look back on your life and see where there are missing chapters. My missing chapter began when I was nineteen and said yes to a young Marine fighter pilot. Although I was only half way to a bachelor’s degree in college this fellow held all the credentials I needed for a husband and he was tired of being a bachelor. He’d been looking for a woman to remedy that and, outside of my youth, (he was five and a half years older) I fit the bill. He just had to win me.
Wallace (Wally to family and friends) had grown up in Minneapolis next door to my grandparents, the Darlings, and only two blocks from my mother and father and me. But my family moved to the southern part of the state when I was five. The picture of Wally had been on Grandmother’s fireplace mantel in her little adobe Riverside California home when I’d arrived to live with her and go to the community college nearby.
I knew what I wanted to do. I would get married, have children and live happily ever after. In the meantime? I liked school, I loved my grandmother, and those two years would probably open up a path to my future. A degree in art? A model? A military career? It was all a blank. The military career was possible. I could enlist to become a WAVE or a WAC or marry a military man. But first I wanted to get started on a college degree.
The picture of that handsome young smiling cadet on Grandma’s mantel? He looked cocky and fun-loving. “Who is he, Grandma?” I asked on my first walk-through of her house. “Oh, that’s Wally Wethe. I’ve known him since he was a little boy of about eight. His family lived next door to us and sometimes your grandfather and I took care of him and his brother, Alan, when their parents went out. Now he’s been overseas in a place called Guadalcanal for nearly two years fighting in the war. I started writing to him and he seems to like getting my letters. Anybody’s letters. People write to the boys in the service just to cheer them up you know.”
Before long Grandma got a letter from this young man. “I told him you would be coming to live with me,” she said, “and when she got ready to seal her letter back she'd asked, “Would you like to add a note?” Of course I did and before long he wrote back. “You may know by now,” he said,”that I have a sister too. Her name is Carolyn and she’s about your age. My family moved out to Los Angeles when the war started and Dad works in an aircraft factory. He missed World War I and is too old now for this one so it’s a way he can contribute to the war effort. Alan is out here fighting too but I can’t say where. He’s a Marine sergeant.”
And so after about another year Wally’s tour of duty in the South Pacific was over and he and his family came to visit us. We went to a park and Wally took Carolyn and me out for a boat ride on the lake. It was fun. I liked him and his sister but we didn’t get together again soon. We sort of went our separate ways. The letters stopped. I was busy trying to keep up my grade A standing in school. Wally was stationed somewhere north of L.A. Carolyn was with her folks and in her senior year of high school.
I'd had a boyfriend in high school who was in the Army then and I wrote to him, but things hadn't got serious between us. Harry was a musician and played the trumpet. I could see myself marrying him someday but my dad had said, '"Don't marry a musician. You'll always be poor." Then one of my schoolmates introduced me to her brother one day. He was handsome, a Merchant Marine, home on leave. “I saw your picture in the paper,” he said. “The one where you had been chosen pin-up girl for Battery C out at March Air Force base. I told Sis she’d have to introduce us to each other. He gave me a flirtatious smile and added, “Will you be willing to go out with me sometime?”
That’s how I eventually got engaged to Richy Thompson. But the engagememt only lasted two weeks. “I’m sorry,” I wrote in the note I sent to him with the ring he’d given me, “we’re not meant for each other.” Richy, I could see, was only after me for one more conquest. Then he’d go on to someone else and I knew it. So did he. The ring had fooled me. I wondered how many girls had been enticed to give up their virginity to this smooth operator. Maybe I was not the first to wear that ring. Maybe it wasn't even a real diamond, but I didn't get it appraised. Don't get the cart before the horse, I told myself. I'd go back to my original plans and wait until I was at least 23 to even think about marrying someone.
Not long after that Wally’s sister, Carolyn, came down to visit Grandma and me at a little cottage she’d rented in Laguna Beach for summer vacation. When Carolyn went home she told her family about my brief engagement. “What? Joyce is old enough to have a guy ask her to marry him?” Wally was surprised.
“I had put you in the kid sister category,” he told me years later. “And I thought of you as a big brother type,” I said.
“I was never very good at dating,” Wally confessed. “I was always too shy to ask a girl out. At an age where most guys were dating seriously I was fighting a war. Whenever I got stateside I’d admire one and try to work up the courage to ask her out, but then I’d see her with some sleazy guy and before long she’d look sleazy too. Besides, I liked flying and kept busy. But then some of my buddies were getting married and invited us bachelors over for dinner. It wasn’t long before the four walls of my room in the Bachelor Officers Quarters began to look pretty dull. I wanted to get married and still I couldn’t break the ice to even ask a girl out.”
Then he told me how one of his fellow pilots was a charmer with women. “He and I decided to go up to San Francisco on a five day leave we’d been given. He told me he’d show me how get started with women. Well, we covered every bar in the city but darn if the angels must have been looking after me. Even he didn’t find anyone, let alone me. We decided to give it up and go back. I went to my folks’ house and after telling Mom about it she said, 'That’s funny. I got a call from Mrs. Darling just yesterday and she asked me if either you or Alan had ever thought of dating Joyce. I told her I’d ask you.'
“Well, when you answered the door the next day you had a big smile on your face and I said to myself then, ‘You’re crazy! You don’t go to bars to find a wife! This may be the kid sister-girl next door type but we have a lot in common. Same church. Good families. And that’s when I started coming down every other weekend to take you up to L.A. I had plenty of money saved up from when I was overseas fighting a war and couldn’t spend it. So, well, we had a good courtship didn’t we?”
“We sure did!” I said. “Gardenia corsages every time, dinner at a new and fancy restaurant along Sunset Strip, then a stage play or symphony concert. I couldn’t say no to you when you proposed. You were too good a catch!” But that little word “Yes” to your proposal closed the door on the chapter most women have when they finish college and get a job or embark on a career. We actually fell in love on our honeymoon. I knew I was going to miss my chapter of single-hood but I never regretted my choice.
The wedding had been sweet. It took place in the Flyers' Chapel at the Mission Inn. Our honeymoon was thirty days in Laguna Beach. And the 40 years of marriage? Like any marriage ours had its bumpy places. I had to learn how to cook but soon I felt comfortable enough about that to invite other of Wally’s Marine married couple friends over and our forty years together were so good I didn’t seriously miss that missing chapter where I might have had a career, earned my own way in the world and maybe even made a name for myself to be proud of.
It’s taken me this long to realize I did make a name for myself, even three names. I was Homemaker, Wife, and Mother of Three. Our lives were pillar to post but we loved it. The other chapters of my book didn't need that missing one. In my advanced years I’ve lived alone, twelve years after Wally and nearly ten years after Robby, my second good marriage. Nowadays I’m a mom, mother in law, grandma to seven, stepmom to three, and great grandma to five little ones. I live in as lovely a place as I’d ever want and I’m learning a lot about a wider and wonderful Life.
Sometimes I think back and wonder what might have become of me if I’d chosen different paths but the one, that missing chapter, doesn’t give me any regrets. Doggone it, I may even be living that chapter now! How about you?