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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Always Means Forever

The song, Always, was “our song” but we almost lost it over a 60 acre ranch amidst the Siskiyou foothills of southern Oregon. Here’s the story:

It began shortly after my birth in December of 1925. My grandparents’ neighbors’ little five and a half year old boy came over to our house in Minneapolis as he often did to bring my mother some little thing from my grandmother. As usual he came up the steps of the kitchen porch. 

“Wally, Come here in the kitchen,” Mother called when she heard him knock. “I want you to meet Joycie, our brand new baby girl!” She had just lifted me out of a basin in the kitchen sink and wrapped me in a towel after a warm bath. After we married about nineteen years later, Wally always said, when people asked how we’d met for the first time, that I was naked.

(Now, just for the record, Wethe is a Norwegian name pronounced like you’d imagine it to be if it were spelled this way: Wethy. I was Mrs. Wallace Wethe for forty years.)

After Wally’s twenty-some year career as a U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot we lived several years in Laguna Beach and then eight years on the country place we’d promised ourselves we’d find sometime when retired from the service. 

After the first year on the ranch Wally was ready to leave. "I expected all we'd need to do was to sit on our front porch rocking chairs and enjoy the scenery," he'd said. I, on the other hand, had spent all the previous years looking forward to just such a home as Forest Gate Ranch. My heart had found home. How could we forget our promise of Always over this? The compromise that kept us there for seven more years was sharing our home with Wally’s mom and my aunt. It saved our marriage and “Always” remained our song. Then we sold our place and  moved to Bellevue, Washington. I was happy in our new home overlooking Lake Sammamish but within three years my aunt, my mother-in-law and even Wally all died! I decided to move to So. California to live near my daughter and her family. They all came up to help me pack.

Jenny, my little granddaughter, was curious. “Is this a city, Daddy?”

“No, Honey, it's a suburb, but we’ll take a day off tomorrow and drive over to Seattle. That’s a city.”

After lunch on the Space Needle the next day we wandered into a tall office building. The many floors were connected with stairs and balcony halls winding around a central  atrium. In the center on the ground floor there was a concert grand piano with an older man playing beautiful old love songs. At about the fourth level we stopped to just listen. He had paused for a few minutes but then started playing again. I said to myself, “Oh, Wally, you should be here now. This is our kind of music.” Then I suddenly realized it was not only our kind of music, it was our song, “Always!”

I looked around, half expecting to see Wally standing beside me. Instead I heard, “I’m right here, Mrs. Wethe.” (That was his only pet name for me.) 

I didn’t hear our song again for a long time but one day after my move to Orange County, there it was right where the cassette tape had stopped halfway through the last time Wally had played it! How was I to know? I hadn’t ever played that tape! 

A year or so later I decided for a change to take the freeway to work one morning. I didn’t know why. I’d slipped another tape of Wally’s into the car’s player. One of his favorites, Respighi’s Fountains of Rome. I felt so caught up in it that as it reached the climax I waved my hand over toward the passenger seat as if Wally were there sharing the moment. At that very instant a big truck passed by the window on his side and I read in giant red letters the words “ALWAYS MOVERS.
I can’t remember the last time I heard our song until last night when I sat on an aisle seat in the balcony at the Laguna Beach Playhouse. As the lights dimmed I heard a slowly emerging tune. Yes, it was Always! One of Irving Berlin’s earliest compositions, “our” song! Hershey Felder gave us a one man show about the life of that remarkable song-maker, an evening of tears, laughter and music that I’ll never forget. I've come to expect hearing ALWAYS only at unexpected times. I know it is not only our song; you don’t need to tell me. Countless others have claimed it. Maybe even you?

When I lived with my grandmother and went to the college near her home she had Captain Wally Wethe’s picture on her mantle. She’d been writing to him during his two years of combat duty in the South Pacific and I met him when he got home. He came from his base nearby to visit his childhood neighbor, Mrs. Darling, and her young granddaughter, me. Weekend dates led to falling in love and a lovely wedding in The Flyers' Chapel at The Mission Inn in Riverside.You might say ours was an arranged marriage, that Grandmother picked my husband for me.  

I sometimes think Wally may have picked my second husband for me too. He'd often mentioned as we crossed the country where we'd see layers of geological strata, that he loved to fly but if he might have had more of a choice he'd have become a geologist. He never met Dr. Forbes Robertson the professor of Geology at Principia College who taught our children, or knew that this man had not fought in WWII but had contributed greatly by discovering in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic the bauxite aluminum ore that went into the airplanes he flew. I'm sure they'd have been good friends. It’s one reason why I added Robertson to the name Wethe.  But that’s a story for another day. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Few Good Words

Wally’s new tour of duty in the winter of 1953 took us to Glenview, Illinois. There was only one motel there then and it was definitely not first class. With two lively little boys and a dog in one small room and  weather so dismal it could dampen the spirits of an optimist like me, the task of finding a house to rent seemed overwhelming. 

We couldn’t afford to buy a house and the only rental we found was a two story weathered frame house that leaned, literally, like the Tower of Pisa. The floors were covered with worn out torn linoleum. Wally was already working at the Naval Air Station and our real estate man said, “People here usually buy. There’s hardly ever a house for rent.” 

When Sunday came along we made an effort to go to church. It would take divine help to drag me out of the mental pit I was in. And I found it, surprisingly, in the words of a little white-haired, blue-eyed lady.

“So, you’re new to our town?” she said. “Where do you live?”

“Well, in fact, we’re in the process of looking for a place but things aren't going so well,” I said.

Immediately she smiled and her sparkling blue eyes conveyed joy and confident assurance as she said, “Why, my dears, your house is looking for you!” I could have hugged her and was about to say, “It is? Where? You know of something?”

Then I realized she was merely saying that God knew where and would make it known to us soon. I was cheered by her words. The sun had come out and we found a good restaurant, had dinner, bought the Chicago newspaper and drove back to the motel. The boys spread out the comic section and Wally took the dog for a walk. When he got back he said, “I saw the manager and he gave me a message.  Someone saw the ad our real estate man put in the paper. He said it’s another country place, but you’ll like this one better." Wally pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. "Here’s the address. Let’s bundle up the boys and go take a look.” 

We found the address on a mail box but could not believe the agent would have sent us there. The house was like a country estate, large and white with a long curving driveway lined with elm trees and surrounded by spacious lawns with a fruit orchard on one side and a three car garage on the other. Under the blanket of snow it looked way out of our league. The owner was waiting for us. He was short and talkative as he eyed us, openly admitting that he’d been a bookie and when the city would not let him buy lumber because of the shortage during the war he simply bought three smaller houses and moved them onto the property creating one big house by putting them together. Then his wife changed her mind and told him she didn’t want to move out of their old house after all. So it had stood empty for years. He showed us through. 

A living room with large bay windows had a baby grand piano and Oriental rug. A family room with a stone fireplace had a sofa and comfy chairs. A huge refurbished kitchen came with a breakfast room that accommodated a long table and chairs. A spacious dining room for formal dinners would be perfect for our mahogany set. The large master bedroom with a sunroom and bath along with another bedroom and bath completed the downstairs. Upstairs were three bedrooms with cedar lined closets and a bathroom. 

This house seemed just perfect for us. Even the scant furnishings would compliment our own perfectly. I knew we’d not be able to afford it but it was good to see something really nice. The rent had not been mentioned so I asked, “Mr. Connors, how much are you asking for rent?” When he answered with a figure just matching our budget I was shocked. Wally too. Then Mr. Connors added, “But I don’t want to hear about any problems. If something, say the furnace or plumbing, goes wrong, you pay to fix it. There’s a gang mower and a sit-down mower in the garage. You keep the lawn mowed.” We readily agreed!

In the two years we lived there nothing major went wrong and the gang mower was fun for Wally and the boys. The boys couldn't drive the mowers but they loved to ride on their dad's lap pretending to steer. Wally’s sister came to live with us. She had the upstairs all to herself, and got a job with an advertising firm in the city, riding the commuter train to and from work. She met the young man who became her husband and they had a beautiful wedding in the small town Presbyterian church. The reception was in our house. 

Best of all the sun room off our bedroom became a nursery for our third child, a little girl! Wally’s tour of duty was one of his best and we acquired a church family of friends with whom we had great times. The little woman who first greeted us became a dear friend and her first words, “Why, your house is looking for you!” had given one little family the lesson that whatever we need is never withheld by a God who loves us. All we have to do is hear a few good words and believe them.

Have a Happy New Year!