A Christmas Beyond Compare

April 6, 2009 - 1,178 views

We, like all students, looked forward eagerly to the Christmas holidays. My plan was to spend most, if not all, of the vacation with Mamma and Dad on the farm on Bug Ridge. Arriving at the farm and greeting Mamma joyfully, it was like a stunning blow when she said, “I hear that Madeline (Watts) is married”.

True, I had had no contact with Madeline for at least a year or two. In fact, there was no romantic interest in my life at this time. But the sudden word that Madeline might be married gave me of feeling of loss and panic.

Previously in this book you learned that Madeline’s grandparents lived just a mile or so from our farm. So, to check on what was happening to Madeline, I took a basket of fruit and walked to the Watts home. There I quickly learned that Madeline was not married. How reassuring it was to be shown her college senior picture they had just received in the mail.

Next I made a quick decision. I must net in touch with Madeline and I will go to Salem on the chance that she and her parents will be visiting the Tullys. Madeline wrote later in a letter she thought the chances of our getting together again were about one in ten. I would put those chances at nearer one in a hundred.

The Salem college alumni banquet was scheduled for the next night in Salem. So, on the excuse of attending the banquet, I took a bus to Salem and arrived in the late afternoon the day of the banquet. Walking up main street I looked across to where I knew Madeline’s dad would park his car. IT WAS THERE!

After tidying up a bit at the Bill Price home, I rushed over to the Tully home to find Madeline and the family at the table eating dinner. Our greetings were full of surprise and friendly. It was too late to invite her to attend the alumni banquet with me but she agreed to go to the basketball game after the dinner.

Memory escapes me of what happened at the game. I do know Madeline and I were having a good time getting reacquainted and after the game we joined alumni friends for a good time at a little night spot on the west end of town. Madeline’s Dad had loaned us his car and we sat in it and talked until two o’clock in the morning.

There was no doubt we had much “catching up” to do. She was having an exciting senior year at Fairmont State College. I was happily involved in study for the ministry and in Scouting. I do believe that in those first hours we had a mutual understanding that now our separate ways were moving toward “togetherness”.

During the Christmas vacation we enjoyed several days together In Salem and on my return trip to Alfred I stopped off for a day at 700 Pittsburgh Avenue (the Watts home in Fairmont). That day two or three of Madeline’s suitors came to see her and I waited patiently while she sent them on their way.

The parting was painful when I left for Alfred but I was thrilled to be given a framed senior portrait of Madeline that often warmed my heart through the coming months. (Interestingly, she had intended to give the portrait to a man who failed to keep his holiday appointment with her.)

Returning to the School of Theology and my friends with the exciting news of my holiday experiences, I surprised everyone. Crich and Van looked at Madeline’s picture, turned the frame over several times and Crich said, “That’s a nice frame, Randy”. This response from them was not unexpected.

Dean Bond’s reaction when I showed him Madeline’s portrait and shared my serious love for her was reassuring. His enthusiastic word was, “Elmo, this can’t happen too fast”.

Letters began to be exchanged between Madeline and me two or more times a week. We have preserved them and review them with joy from time to time. It seems strange that we never talked by phone during those months apart. It just wasn’t the thing to do in that faraway year 1937. The letters were wonderful!

Madeline has sometimes complained–not bitterly–that I never proposed to her. Reading over our correspondence from the early weeks of 1937, it is evident that we both were committed to marriage at some not-too-distant date. I do remember following her father all the way to his attic workshop to ask his permission to take her hand in marriage. I don’t remember when that happened but he was graciously approving of our plans.

On Valentine’s Day, 1937, Madeline received her engagement diamond ring in the mail from me. Mr. Russell McHenry of McHenry’s Jewelry store in Hornell was a friend who was a member of the Executive Board of Steuben Area Council Boy Scouts. He sold me Madeline’s ring at a special price. I’m embarrassed now to remember that the diamond ring cost me $25.00. How times have changed.

Classmate Marion Van Horn was courting Erma Burdick in the same time frame of Madeline’s and my engagement. Both Erma and Madeline would bake cookies for us that we shared with Luther Crichlow. When Van would bring Erma’s cookies, Crich would taste them and say, “Randy, I believe Erma has a little the edge on Madeline.” Then, when cookies came from Madeline, Crich would cagily inform us that her baking was slightly superior to Erma’s. The cookies kept coming from both sources and Luther was a beneficiary.

Let me digress briefly to report that I sang in the Hornell Episcopal Church choir during the 1936-37 seminary year. It was an enlightening ecumenical experience. I was interested, but not overly impressed, with the high church formality of the Episcopal service. Learning to sing the chants was most enjoyable. (I’ve never succeeded in persuading Seventh Day Baptist church choirs to master chanting.)

In a letter from Madeline she told me that her best friend, Ruth Powers, wanted to know what we were going to live on after our marriage. In reply I sent an itemized budget for a year that, if not amusing, was indicative of the times. The budget total of expenditures was $300. There was a question mark for how the total income would be achieved. It was significant that rent and utilities for our apartment in the Gothic amounted to $30.00 a semester. I also anticipated working part time for the Boy Scout Council during the school year. I was not told if Ruth was satisfied with my financial future.

A surprise opportunity came for me visit Madeline in West Virginia in late April. Dean Bond’s wife’s sisters, Mrs. Wardner Davis, was ill and the Dean had me drive Mrs. Bond to Salem in their Ford V8 for a few days visit. Alerting Madeline that I was coming, I arrived in Fairmont at 11:00 P.M., picked Madeline up and drove with her and Mrs. Bond to Salem. From Salem the two of us drove to the farm on Bug Ridge, near Sutton, to visit Dad and Mother. The morning of May first, after driving all night, was glorious in the West Virginia hills. We heard cardinals calling. Dogwoods and azaleas were blooming on the hillsides. The world was warm and fresh with springtime and we were happy together. I was thrilled to have Madeline visit Dad and Mother.

I surprised Madeline by coming to Fairmont in late May for her college graduation. The weekend of her graduation (Monday morning) I directed a Boy Scout Camporee for 700 Scouts at Camp Gorton. Percy Dunn learned that Madeline was graduating and urged me to drive the Council Pontiac to attend. After the Camporee was over on Sunday afternoon I started the 350 mile drive to Fairmont, West Virginia, arriving at 700 Pittsburgh Avenue before daylight Monday morning. When Madeline looked out her window she was really surprised to see me. I must have had to fight sleep during the commencement exercises.

We were all thrilled to see Madeline receive her college degree. Her parents did not want her to go to college but now that she was graduating, they were proud and happy. She attended summer school to finish her degree work.

When Percy Dunn appointed me to direct Camp Gorton for the 1937 season I asked to have my friend, Bill Price, come on our staff as craft director. Bill agreed to come and I drove to Salem to bring him to camp for the summer.

On the way to Salem I stopped to see Madeline and her mother showed me a newspaper clipping that stunned me momentarily. The clipping announced that Madeline had signed a contract to teach English and library at East Fairmont High School for the 1937-38 year. (She was a graduate of East Fairmont High.) I went to the college to find Madeline and we went to an Italian restaurant for a spaghetti dinner. I was eager to hear an explanation of her decision to take a teaching position rattler than complete our plan to be married September 1. At some point in our conversation I said, “We will either be married September 1 or we will no longer be engaged”. It was a stressful time for both of us.

Madeline told me that the school board representatives had approached her and pressured her to sign a contract for the teaching position. This in a time when college graduates were finding it difficult to secure teaching jobs. She thought, “Should I turn such a fine offer down? Would Elmo want me to delay our marriage and improve our financial status?” So she signed the contract knowing that she could change her mind and cancel it promptly. It was clear from our sharing that Madeline definitely wanted us to be married according to our plan. She gave up the teaching position and chose to marry me.

Directing the 1937 season at Camp Gorton was an experience of major responsibility for me. The high quality veteran staff was cooperative and the program went smoothly. Having Bill Price with me was a real bonus. In addition to being craft director, Bill brought his experience and expertise in Indian lore to the program–especially to the campfire programs. Bill and I slept in a tent together and his advise and counsel as I looked forward to marriage meant more to me than I can express. Madeline’s wonderful letters all summer highlighted my days and weeks.

The Camp Gorton season ended just days before our September 1 wedding date and again Percy Dunn went the “second mile” to be helpful to me. I was driving the Scout Pontiac back to Salem to take Bill home and the Chief sent Floyd “Beef” Crane, the camp cook, with us to drive the car back after the wedding. We stopped to see Madeline briefly on our way to Salem and then Beef and I drove to the farm on Bug, Ridge where we spent the last day of August with Dad and Mother–my twenty-fourth birthday.

What an eventful wedding day! Beef and I first drove from the farm to Gassaway where I picked up a new 1937 Chevrolet from the garage where brother Brady was manager. As a wedding gift from Brady, the Chevvy cost me $600.