JB and his childhood buddy Lloyd were at loose ends in January of 1941. The winds of war were stirring but not yet raging as they would be after December 7, 1941. JB and Lloyd had been working as crop dusters but there was no such work while winter lasted. They had some money saved, but were now both between jobs and so they considered their options, which were not great in winter in SW Arkansas. They decided to hitchhike to the big city of Little Rock to seek work. Fate had something totally unexpected awaiting them, especially JB.
They got a ride as far as Conway, Arkansas. It was early afternoon when they were again standing by the side of the road outside the town.
“What do ya think, Lloyd?" asked JB.
“Don’t know,” Lloyd answered.
“Let’s flip,” suggested JB and continued, “heads we put our thumbs out and tails we walk into Conway.”
Great idea,” Lloyd responded enthusiastically. “Either way is good by me. I’ve got a cousin that lives here on my dad’s side, and I haven’t seen her in a while.”
JB pulled what he called his Lucky Silver Dollar from his pocket. Calling out “Heads we go. Tails we stay,” he flipped the coin.
“TAILS!” They both cried out together.
JB and Lloyd nodded, swung their small duffels over their shoulders and walked the short distance into the college town of Conway.
They found a local pharmacy with a soda fountain where they stopped to get a soda and a burger. They talked to the soda jerk and found out that the most happening place in town was the student union at the local college called Arkansas State Teachers College. Before heading for the college, they rented a locker at the local bus station to store their duffels.
Grinning at each other with their heads full of adventurous thoughts, they headed for the college and that happening place, the student union. It was easy to find.
JB had learned to play Bridge from one of his older sisters who had taught him when he was still in high school saying, “You never know when being able to play Bridge will come in handy.” It turned out, that day in the student union at Arkansas State Teachers College, his sister was oh so very right.
When JB looked around the student union, he noticed three pretty young women sitting around a table. One was shuffling a deck of cards. As he neared their table, he heard the one shuffling the cards say, “We need a fourth to play properly.”
JB wasted no time.
"Hello,” he greeted them. “I just heard you say you need a fourth. My name is JB. I’m thinking about enrolling here, and I play Bridge. Would you accept me as a fourth?”
The three women looked at each other and all nodded. JB sat down and cards were dealt.
Until that moment, the notion of enrolling in this college had not crossed his mind, but it seemed to explain his presence in the student union. Lloyd who had been wandering around came by the table.
“I see you found a Bridge game,” he commented nodding at the three women. “You think you’ll be a while, JB? Ladies, this man is a Bridge playing fool.”
JB nodded affirmatively and flashed a big grin.
“OK, then I’ll look up my cousin. Be back later.” Lloyd sauntered away whistling.
JB found himself partnered with a soft spoken, gorgeous, fair skinned, blue-eyed brunette named Margarette. They played a rubber of Bridge. They took a short break, talked, laughed, and then played another rubber of Bridge. JB fell under the spell cast by the lovely Margarette.
When the game was breaking up, he asked her if she could help him with registering for the new semester which he had learned through Bridge table talk was starting soon and then registration wouldn’t be allowed until fall. She thought it an odd request but harmless, so she politely agreed to do so.
So, that very afternoon they went to the registration office. Margarette helped him. He got the phone number of her sorority house where she lived on campus. He thanked her and they parted ways. Lingering outside the registration office, JB watched her walk away.
As soon as she was out of sight, he went back into the registration office and again went to the desk for new registrants. The clerk looked up with surprise because he was back so soon. JB explained he would need a job to pay the full tuition fees. He had paid the small fee for processing his application. The clerk nodded and handed him another set of papers which he filled out without any help. He was told to check the job board in the hall outside the office daily. He thanked the clerk and left.
Leaving the registration office, he walked back to the student union and found Lloyd looking for him.
“JB, I was about to send out a search party. Where ya been?”
“I’m in love, Lloyd. I registered for this college.”
“You did what?” exclaimed Lloyd.
“Registered. I’m not leaving here until, well until Margarette knows me better and maybe, just maybe, is in love with me too. In the meantime, I’ll be a college student,” JB calmly explained.
“Sure can’t argue with any of that. I wish ya luck, pal, and I mean it.”
“Thanks. How did it go with your cousin?”
“Great! Cousin Sally said we could bunk in her spare room til we’re ready to move on.”
“Thanks, pal. That’s a big help. Let’s get our duffels and pick up some groceries to take to Cousin Sally to show our appreciation.”
JB checked the job board daily. Just in case he might’ve doubted his decision, on the third day the job board listed a job he knew he could do. He interviewed and got the job. He immediately reported to the registrar to tell the clerk and make a payment plan for his tuition.
As they finished their business, the clerk said to him, “Young man, if you stay true to your word as you have with me, you’ll go far in this world, I’m sure.”
"Thank you, mam," JB answered.
JB’s mother had taught him that God worked in mysterious ways, so he saw these unsolicited words as a stamp of approval from God.
That night he and Lloyd talked it all over. Lloyd told him that he was going to move on and seek work in Little Rock. They would talk to Cousin Sally the next day about what was happening.
“Good morning,” Cousin Sally greeted them with coffee and a smile. “I heard you two talking last night. What’s next for you two?” Cousin Sally never minced words.
JB and Lloyd thanked her for her hospitality and told her their plans. Lloyd explained he would be moving on to seek work in Little Rock, but would stay in touch. JB told her a little about meeting Margarette and how he had registered for college here in Conway. Cousin Sally listened and offered to let JB stay on until he got another lodging for a small boarding fee that would include breakfast, because she believed breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Everything settled, JB walked with Lloyd back to the road where they had flipped the silver dollar. They promised to stay in touch through Cousin Sally.
Before he stuck his thumb out, Lloyd said, “JB, I hope your dreams come true.”
“I hope the same for you, Lloyd.”
“Thanks. Hang on to that silver dollar,” with those final words, Lloyd stuck his thumb out.
“I will.” Those words were no sooner out of JB’s mouth than a car pulled up a little ahead of where they were standing. The driver waved for Lloyd, and like that, he was gone.
JB hurried back to Cousin Sally’s to tell her Lloyd had caught a ride. He asked to use her phone, assuring her it was a local call. Cousin Sally pointed to the phone, smiled, nodded, and left the room leaving him some privacy to make his call.
JB picked up the phone. “Number please," said the operator. He gave her the number of Margarette’s sorority house. The phone rang a couple times, and providence again intervened. Margarette answered the phone!
“Hello,” came the sweet sound of her voice.
"Margarette is that you?” JB thought he recognized her voice.
“Yes, this is Margarette. Who Is this?”
“It’s me JB from the Bridge game. Do you remember me?”
“Yes, I certainly do. You played well,” she answered. "You made me laugh too."
“I would like to invite you out to dinner for tomorrow night, if you are free,” said JB.
“That would be delightful. Do you have a place in mind?”
“I thought you should pick your favorite place since I’m new in town.”
“Fancy or casual?” she asked.
“Casual please,” JB answered.
“I know the perfect place.”
“Is it within walking distance of your sorority house?"
Margarette laughed softly, “JB, everything is within walking distance of my sorority house.”
“Great, I’ll come by at 7 and we’ll walk there together and I’ll walk you home. I don’t have a car,” he paused, “yet.”
He could almost hear her smile, as she said, “Sounds good. See you tomorrow evening at 7. I’ll be ready.”
“Thank you for accepting my invitation,” JB answered politely.
“You’re welcome, and bye for now,” Margarette said.
“Bye,” said JB just before he heard click and she hung up.
He was floating on air. The next twenty-four hours couldn’t pass fast enough.
The rest, as they say, is history. JB made friends and joined the fraternity that was closely connected with Margarette’s sorority. She had introduced him around to some of the young men in that fraternity. Margaret and JB became “pinned,” which was a step before becoming engaged to be married.
And then came December 7, 1941. It was Sunday and after church, JB and Margarette went to the picture show at the Conway Theater to see How Green Was My Valley. Margarette had read the novel and wanted to see the movie. JB just wanted to be with her.
During the movie, the film stopped. The theater manager came out and announced the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He said that anyone that needed or wanted to leave would have their ticket money refunded. There was a stunned silence, some crying, and the shuffling of feet as the audience left the theater.
JB and Margarette left with the rest and walked to Margarette’s sorority house holding hands and not saying a word.
Upon arriving, JB told her, “This changes everything.”
“Yes,” she agreed.
That day in December that would “live in infamy” standing outside Margaret’s sorority house, he asked her to marry him. She said yes, but when she discussed it with her parents, they asked her to finish her schooling. So, JB and Margarette waited.
JB enlisted the next day and because he already knew how to fly an airplane from working as a crop duster, he was put right into the Army Air Corps as a 2nd lieutenant pilot in training. Eventually he became part of the Army Air Corps Ferry Command. All during WW II, he flew to all the theaters of the war bringing airplanes to various fronts. The first flights he flew were fighter planes already contracted under Lend Lease by Roosevelt to Churchill in Great Britain. These were fighter planes he delivered to the RAF. He also carried supplies and weapons to the fronts and sometimes brought wounded home to the USA. He flew wherever the Army Air Corps sent him. He hated war, but he loved flying.
JB flew missions and Margaret studied. Many letters passed between them. The war intensified throughout 1942 and 1943. Neither JB nor Margaret wanted to wait another day. Young men they knew were dying. JB flew into many war zones. Then, providence intervened again in their lives. JB was given an assignment to fly into Little Rock’s Adams Field to pick up a load of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies. He would have two days before everything was in place and he would fly out again. He sent a telegram to Margarette asking her to meet him in nearby Little Rock at his older sister’s home. With his sister’s help, he arranged a church wedding, like Margarette wanted. They wouldn’t have much time, because he would have to fly out within forty-eight hours after arriving. Margaret was overjoyed. She telegrammed her parents. But her mother was ill, and her father couldn’t leave her mother. They sent their blessings, which meant a lot to both JB and Margarette.
On Dec. 2, 1943, JB and Margarette were married in a little church in Little Rock by a preacher with JB’s sister their only witness in attendance. JB bought their wedding rings in Little Rock, simple gold bands. They were very much in love.
After the ceremony, ever practical, JB did two things. He took Margarette to a bank and opened a joint account where a portion of his military pay would be deposited beginning immediately, and he bought her a brand new hard back copy of The Joy of Cooking. She laughed because they both knew she didn’t know how to cook since she had often lamented this lack of knowledge. She promised to study and learn how to cook. They spent one night together in a hotel in Little Rock and then JB flew away on his assignment from the Ferry Command. He was a first lieutenant now.
When WW II was over, they had a proper honeymoon at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and enjoyed the march of mallard ducks that famously occurred there. On many occasions over the years, giving each other “duck” memorabilia became a private way of reliving the special memories of their official honeymoon.
JB always said that with the flip of a silver dollar his entire life journey was altered for the best because it came up tails and he found his beloved Margarette and got to fly all over the world serving his country in war and peace. The Army Air Corps became the US Air Force and he stayed in the service for thirty years, retiring as a full Colonel.
Margarette kept the silver dollar in a special place all her married life.
They were married for sixty-one and half years, both dying in the summer of 2005. She went first, and like always, he just wanted to be with her and so followed after her three weeks later. Theirs was a truly miraculous love story.
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Thank you, Wendy. I am touched that you loved it.
This was just beautiful, Julia! What a simpler time, and you've portrayed it so well. Loved it!