Monday, November 18, 2013

A Fifty-Seven Year Love Story

by Julia Buckley

I was gone for much of the weekend celebrating my parents' 57th wedding anniversary.  Because of this, I wanted to share again a story I told on this blog back in 2009.  It's the highly serendipitous story of how they met.  Thanks for indulging me and letting me share it once more in their honor.

I'm always interested in books that are said to be based on true events. One of the greatest true stories I know would make a terrific book, because no one would believe all of the coincidences involved, and I'm sure the average agent would say, "Sorry--this is just too unbelievable."

The tale I speak of is the story of how my parents met.

My mother was born in Germany; my father, the son of Hungarian immigrants, grew up in Chicago in a Hungarian-speaking home. When my mother was a teenager, she and her good friend Erika decided that they would like to improve their English skills, and that they would do so by finding a nice American boy with whom they could correspond. Since they lived in a little German town, they weren't sure how to do this, but they were enterprising.

They went to a little stationer's shop and looked at the magazines, some of which were published in America.  They found a model-airplane enthusiasts' monthly, and in the back were letters from fans. They asked a little Italian girl in the store to pick a name at random for them.  She chose a name--Ed Mate--and they wrote to the address he had submitted to the magazine.

Their letter to him, written in beautiful script in a mildly flirtatious tone, began "we are two German girls who would like to correspond with an American boy . . ." They sent it off, feeling quite daring, and waited for it to travel across the sea.

Weeks later, Ed Mate approached his best friend, Bill. He said, "I got this letter from these two German girls. I'm not going to write to both of them--how about if you take one off of my hands?"

And so Bill (my father) wrote his first letter to Kathe, the girl across the sea who would one day be his wife. Unlike Ed, who soon gave up the whole pen-pal thing, my father was fastidious about writing. We still have his letters (the ones my mother will show us) and they are impeccably neat and full of interesting information about America and him. He sent my mother a photo of him in his Army uniform, smoking a pipe, and it's as dreamy a picture as any of MGM's public relations material for Cary Grant or Gene Kelly.

My parents corresponded happily for a time; but the Korean War was going on, and my father was going to be sent to the front. However, because he spoke fluent Hungarian, he was one of only three soldiers who was not sent to Korea, but instead was sent to Europe (apparently the Army thought that one European language allowed one to communicate with all of the others) and a field office there.

So my father never saw active duty, but he was, serendipitously, stationed in Germany. Soon enough he contacted my mother, and they arranged to meet. My father took the train and then a streetcar; it was an almost all-day journey, and it was dark when my father climbed off the streetcar, not knowing where to go. It was freezing outside, and he scanned the faces for the girl he had seen only in a blurry photo. My mother and her sister walked right past him (so they tell it), but then they both stopped. "Katie?" he said.

"Bill?" she responded.

He spoke no German, but her English was fairly good. She took him home to meet her parents and her four siblings.  They had rented him a room in a little hotel near the streetcar.  It was not heated--not even with a stove--just with a large goosedown quilt.  My father said that this didn't bother him, since he had encountered similar discomfort as a soldier, although he was sad to see that his washing water had turned to ice the next morning.  He had a three-day leave, but only one day to spend with my mother before he boarded the train again for his long journey back to the base.  Still, by the time he got on the train, he was, by his own admission, "sweet on her."

My mother eventually came to America with him as his fiancee, leaving her whole family behind to start a new life in Chicago.

The best part of the story? As of yesterday my parents will have been married for fifty-seven years. He refers to her as his "bride," and he is utterly devoted to her still.

What's your favorite true story?


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Julia, it's still a sweet story. And your mother looks a lot like you. :) I've mentioned before that my mother's first language was Hungarian (she came to America at the age of 4), and I have to laugh at the Army's idea that a Hungarian speaker could communicate with other Europeans!

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Liz! I never saw family resemblances when I was young, but we seem to all be growing into them. :)