Grandmom’s Birthday

My grandmother’s birthday was on December 22nd.

We got to celebrate her birthday by going out to dinner with my parents, my aunt and uncle and my sister (with no kids). We ate at Jack Allen’s Kitchen which has become my favorite restaurant. Everything is so good!

My grandmother is such a wonderful person and someone I truly treasure. A few months ago she gave us some memories she had typed up of growing up, how she and my grandfather met and their wedding story. Such a special thing for us to have to pass down as the kids get older.

My grandfather passed away just over 3 years ago and I know she misses him so much. Their relationship was truly a special one. The kind of relationship that I hope Jon and I continue to have for many years to come. In fact I wrote a little about it here just before my grandfather passed away and then I shared what my mom read at his funeral here.

Recently I asked my grandmother if I could share some of those memories on my blog. Their story is such a great one and one I know others would enjoy reading.

I thought what better time to share than near her birthday. So Grandmom, Happy Birthday! I love you so much and am so thankful for the example that you and Grandad were able to show me about how to truly love someone.

Our True Story, by Nancy Mueller

It all started with my friendship with Vada Helen Barnes.

When we were freshmen in Austin High, in the 10th Grade, Vada Helen and I had the same first period class. She had a real crush on this boy that went to their church. So when we got to school early, we would walk around the halls where his first period class met and she would get to see him and once in a while he would stop and talk. That’s when I met Tommy. He later said he remembered seeing me when we were in Allan Junior High (7th grade). I guess he did, because he said that my hair was blonder then – and that was right, my hair darkened the next year or two.

Vada Helen wanted to write him notes, but couldn’t figure out what to say. So I wrote some very silly “love” notes and she would hand them to him. I was very bashful; and since he was her boyfriend, I didn’t flirt with him. I did think he was terribly good looking. Tommy said he would hardly look at the notes. He just threw them away. (He didn’t know until way after we had married that I was the one who wrote those notes.) This was the 1939-1940 school year.

Early in the summer of 1940, Tommy called me and asked if I would go to the picture show with him. I jumped at the chance to see him again. The only problem was that he didn’t have a car. So, he rode his bicycle to town and I rode the bus and met him at the Queen Theater. This theater was on the west side of Congress Ave, across from the Paramount. He had 25 cents – the balcony tickets were only 10 cents each. Before I got there, he bought the tickets and then went to the dime store that was next to the theater and bought a nickel sack of candy so I wouldn’t ask for anything at the show. After the show, I rode the bus home, and he rode his bicycle home. That was our FIRST DATE!!!!! Tommy was 15 and I was 14. His family lived on Blanco Street and we lived on Park Blvd.

Later that summer I invited him to a Youth League Sunday picnic at my church. He came in his parent’s car, so of course everybody wanted to ride with him to the park. He had a certain time to be home; so he had to leave early, and I guess my folks came to pick me up. That was date number TWO!!!

The next school year passed with us just seeing each other in the halls and saying “Hi”. By this time, his family had moved to Hyde Park and Tommy’s Dad had found him a 1916 Model T. He said he used to drive past our house on Park Blvd. hopping I would be outside. He was too bashful to stop. (Park Blvd. is just east of Hyde Park, near 43rd and Duval).

Near the end of my junior year, we moved to 3100 French Place. Mr. and Mrs. Meier lived next door to us and sometimes on Saturday mornings, I went with her to work and I would do odd jobs like sharpening pencils, alphabetizing things, etc. and then she shopped for groceries at the Checker Front store at 15th & San Jacinto Street. Tommy worked at that store, sacking groceries, so I would see him off and on.

We did not have a Senior Prom at Austin High School. Instead, we had club dances. Out of the blue, one day Tommy called and invited me to his club dance. I accepted and had a great time! He took me by their house to meet his family before we went to the dance. He said he wanted me to see his little niece – Sharon was only 6 months old then. I don’t remember who I invited to my club dance, but it wasn’t Tommy. This was the spring of 1942 – right after Pearl Harbor and everything was very toned down.

The Sunday before our graduation, we had a Baccalaureate Service at First Methodist Church at 12th & Lavaca. We did not have to sit in any order. We just gathered, and filed into the church. The whole class was seated in the balcony, and Tommy sat next to me. He said he managed somehow to get in line behind me.

After graduation, I went to Nixon Clay Business School. Since I had taken all the shorthand, typing and bookkeeping classes that Austin High offered, it didn’t take me long to learn the office machines and build up my speed in shorthand and typing and pass their final tests. They placed me in a job at Texas Public Service Gas Company. The Attendance Clerk at Austin High liked Tommy and asked him if he was going to college. He told her that he knew he would be drafted as soon as he turned 18, so he was going to get a job and work until then. She knew of a job at E.L. Steck Company, and she sent him there with her recommendation. He went to work in the basement filling office supply orders. At that time, Congress Avenue was the center of Austin. Everyone shopped there, caught the bus there, ate lunch at the cafeteria, etc. I remember seeing Tommy a few times. He said that I was always walking fast and seemed in a hurry, so he never stopped me. He did call me once, and arranged a blind date for me with a fellow who worked with him at Steck’s. I told him later, that was a flop! At that time, Tommy was dating Billie Jean Bennett and I was dating several different fellows.

Fast forward to June, 1943.

I was still working at the Gas Company and was going to spend my weeks’ vacation with Aunt Hallie & Uncle Bobby in Beaumont. I got off work at noon that Saturday. Mother met me at the train station with my suitcase and my first letter from Tommy! I didn’t even know he was in the army. I read the letter on the train and answered it a few days later from Beaumont. I thought he was just a lonesome soldier wanting to get some mail. I did wonder how he had my address.

I was writing to several boys from the church and other fellows that I had dated. I was fairly serious about our preacher’s nephew- an ex-Aggie – who was in the Air Corps, and had sent me his “Wings” (that was a pin to wear). I felt I was helping the war effort by writing friendly letters to the soldiers away from home. So, I added Tommy to the list.

The first of November, Tommy wrote that he was coming home on furlough, but he did not say a definite date. One Saturday morning, the phone rang and it was Tommy. He had just gotten home, and wanted a date with me that night. I told him that I was going on a picnic that afternoon with Doris Simmons, her cousin and some friends from Bastrop. Since I didn’t know what time we would be back, I couldn’t make a date with him. I asked him if he would like to go to church with me on Sunday. He couldn’t go Sunday morning, but would like a date on Sunday night. So I invited him for Sunday evening Youth League and church. He said “fine”. (He took Vada Helen out that Saturday night).

That Sunday night date was the starting of the greatest week of my life! I was working every day, but got very little rest because we went out every night. I can’t remember what all we did. I know we saw some movies, bowling one night, one big family night where I met all his family – had supper, danced to records, and just really got acquainted with everyone. It was a little over-whelming since I was not used to a big family. Everybody was very nice to me.

On Saturday night, the last night of his furlough, we saw a movie, and then went to Mount Bonnell. We went to the very top, and the lights of Austin were beautiful. Tommy said he wanted to remember Austin that way. And that was the first time he said “I love you”. I’ll never forget that evening. I was so surprised and stunned that I didn't even answer him! But I do remember what I was wearing – a lime-green lightweight wool dress and a coat that was my pride & joy – beige and white tweed with a big white wolf collar. It was a night to remember!

When he took me home, we stood on the porch and talked and talked for a long, long time. The last thing he said was “don’t worry, I’ll have another furlough in 6 months and I’ll see you then.” As he walked to the car, he didn’t dare to look back. I cried a lot of tears that night.

Needless to say, the tone of our letters changed drastically after that week. And I quit writing all those other boys.

Uncle Sam changed those plans for a furlough – that “6 months” turned into 2 ½ years before he came home again.

I wrote a letter to Tommy almost every day during that 2 ½ years, and he wrote as often as he could – I have every letter – 2 large shoe boxes full! We really got to know each other through the letters. Sometimes I wouldn’t get a letter for over a week or two, and then a bunch would come at one time. He said his mail was the same, especially if they were moving around in England and later in France and Belgium.

In January of 1944, in a letter, he asked me to marry him; and, of course, I said “yes”, so we planned to get engaged when he came home in the spring. Tommy even wrote my folks a letter asking for their permission for us to get engaged. I’m so glad they said O.K.

Tommy was with the 62nd General Hospital Unit in Atlanta, Georgia. When they were told that they would be shipping out the following day, he got a buddy to go to town with him to buy my engagement ring. He said he was heading to a large jewelry store; but the fellow stopped him. This was a Jewish boy, and said he knew of a better place to go. They went to a small place where the man lived above his store, and he bargained for Tommy. My ring cost $19.00, and Tommy had to borrow $5.00 of that. He put it in the mail that night. So, I was officially engaged before he left for overseas. The ring was too big for my finger; but I didn’t want to take it off long enough to have it sized, so I wrapped adhesive tape around it and wore it like that until after we were married.

They went to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to wait for their ship. Some fellows took the mumps, so they were quarantined there for about a month. Meanwhile, all the mail for their unit was stacking up somewhere. So, it was a good while before Tommy got my letter that I had actually gotten the ring.

During that 2 ½ years, I only heard Tommy’s voice two times. He called at Christmas, 1943 from Atlanta. The connection was so bad that I could hardly understand what he was saying.

I got a telegram from him on March 10, 1946 that they had landed and would be calling soon. I hurried home from work every day for fear that I would miss his call. I even skipped going to Mattie Ann Konarsky’s wedding. Sure enough he called that night! It was wonderful to hear his voice!!!

He was discharged March 14 at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas because Fort Sam Houston was so swamped with discharges. They gave him a bus ticket and he got to Austin very early the next morning.

Since he had no way of letting anyone know when he was arriving, he caught a taxi and got to his parent’s house just as his dad was leaving for work. You can imagine their joy and surprise! At that time Raymond, Wanda, Marie, Earl and Sharon were all living with his mom and dad. He visited with them for a little while, then borrowed their car and hurried over to my house. But I had already left for work. Mother told him that I rode the bus down to the Littlefield Building at 6th & Congress and would be waiting there for the shuttle bus to pick us up to go to Camp Mabry. So he drove down town, but just missed me again. He must have driven terribly fast, because he beat the bus to the Department of Public Safety building out there. We were all getting off the bus, talking as usual, then everyone got very quiet. The girls all moved away from me. I looked up and there was Tommy standing at the side of the bus, several feet from me with the greatest grin on his face! I think I froze for just a second – I couldn’t believe it was actually him – after 2 ½ years he was home – but when he gave me a big hug and kiss, I knew it was really my Tommy!

My supervisor knew that I would be taking the day off when Tommy got home, so all I had to do was to see her and sign out. He waited in the car for me, and I was back in a flash.

Since he had been on the bus all night, sleeping in his uniform, he was anxious for a bath and shave. He took me home, then he went to his house to clean up and get into clean clothes. He had a new uniform in his duffel bag. When Tommy came back to get me later in the morning, he said he wanted to go downtown and buy some civilian clothes. He had worn nothing but army issue clothes since he was inducted in 1943. (At that time, soldiers could not wear civilian clothes at all.) There were no shopping malls then. The better stores were all on Congress Ave., the cheaper stores were on East 6th.

We parked on Congress Ave. about 5th Street. Our first stop was Merritt Shafer & Brown men’s store in the 600 block. He picked out a beautiful gray Hart-Shafner & Marx suit with 2 pairs of pants and a vest. The salesman said for a returning soldier, it would be altered and ready for him in a couple of hours. He wore that suit for our wedding, and it was still his "best suit" for years).

Tommy said he wanted to walk up Congress Ave. and just look at everything. He said that by doing that, he would feel like he was really home. So we walked up the east side all the way to 11th Street, and back down the west side. We looked in the shop windows, went in the dime stores, looked at the movies' “Coming Attractions”, ate lunch at the Picadilly Cafeteria, and coming back down the west side, stopped in at Dacy’s Shoe Store and he bought a pair of black dress shoes. He said they felt like house shoes compared to the army issue shoes he had been wearing. When we got back to pick up his suit, he bought a dress shirt and a tie. I remember him saying, “Now we can go on a date tonight”. We went to a movie that night and saw "How the Bells Toll".

Tommy had grown some and definitely matured in those 3 years of army life, so he had more shopping to do later that week. I don’t remember how much cash he got at his discharge, but he had a good amount and he had been sending home an allotment each month.

It is amazing how clear my memory is of him standing by the side of the bus at Camp Mabry and of this first day home; as well as the memories of that last night of his furlough. I can see it as if it was just yesterday. It has been a little hard to type and proof read through tears.

Tommy was the love of my life and I still miss him every day. He will live in my heart forever. – Nancy Mueller

Next week I will share their wedding story because it is a great one as well!

-Lauren-

1 comment :

Neena said...

This really brought tears to my eyes! Dan and I have been so blessed by his parents' special relationship. This story just comes to life! Grandmom, thank you for writing this all down---I know you must miss him so very much.
Lauren, thank you for sharing their wonderful love story on your wonderful blog!