When Love and Dreams Met ...
by Jerry Carpenter
The young man stumbled around from place to place with nothing substantial in the ether of his mind. He made his way through school with no concrete idea of any kind of plan, joined the Navy Reserve right after his 17th birthday to avoid the impending draft, went to Boot Camp and had his first “cruise” by the time he graduated high school in 1961. He avoided active duty until March of 1962 when the Navy’s call sent him to the Transient Station on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay where he languished for a month before getting orders to his first ship home-ported in Yokosuka (pronounced Yokuska), Japan. He boarded the MATS flight, an aging TWA Constellation converted for military use, with a deep feeling of loss. Loss of what he’d come from. Loss of what he’d hoped his life might lead to and a loss of any previous identity. Now he was away from all family and friends for the first time in his life and he didn’t know if he could make it through life all on his own. They landed at Tachikawa AFB (Tokyo International Airport) after 32 hours in the air. It had been a harrowing flight with heavy turbulence and the resulting illness of other military personnel and dependants. He hadn’t gotten ill but had no reason to say he’d enjoyed the ride.
He and several other sailors and Marines boarded a military bus for the trip to various bases where this Marine would disembark, or that sailor would leave for his respective assignment. He and a few sailors left the bus at Yokosuka Naval Base Transient Station, checked in and waited for their assigned ships to either come into port or acknowledge their arrival and send orders for them to report aboard.
His orders came through a few days later and he reported aboard the old rust bucket then in dry dock for a fleet rehabilitation and modernization refit. A fancy Navy term for “plug all the holes, cover ‘em with paint and get this thing back in the water”. Over the next year and eight months he, crew and rust bucket lumbered and sloshed around the Western Pacific from near the Aleutians to the Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea, the Formosa (Taiwan) Straits, the Quemoy and Matsu shielding action and the waters off Southeast Asia in support of the government of Laos. There were close calls from typhoons, waterspouts, steam turbine blades disintegrating and blowing an eight-foot hole through the side of the ship just above the waterline and later, a barrage of cannon fire from the Red Chinese during the Quemoy/Matsu operation. They had missed intentionally just to demonstrate their disdain for America’s support of the Nationalist Chinese who controlled the islands. He went ashore on liberty in several ports in Japan, in Hong Kong several times, Kaolung and Keeshung Formosa, and of course, the Philippines. During one memorable day he helped his ship and crew set an all-Navy record transferring supplies to the USS Kitty Hawk. But by the fall of ’63 he was out of sorts with the Navy and was transferred to another ship and wasted the rest of his enlistment until he was mustered out at Long Beach in March of 1964.
From ’64 until ’68 and several unremarkable jobs and a couple failed relationships he tried to re-establish some pattern or plan for his life. Early in ’68 he began working for the phone company in Santa Monica and thought he finally had a career.
Love was merely a cloud moving across the empty sky, no definite form, no actual substance, but perceived and hoped to take on some recognizable character. Love was something described by those he’d met and considered smarter than he. He’d experienced a kind of longing and attachment in the past, the kind linked to family and friends. He’d placed that longing on a few girls he’d known. As any guy does. The need for closeness beyond a buddy. The comfort of trust in one special person who made you feel that no matter what happened there was a safe place to be. In his heart, his soul. Then, through all the mistakes of youth he grew to the realization there was not likely to be anything close to what he’d hoped and dreamed for.
Then one day in late ‘68 a lifelong friend asked if he would like to go to a wedding in Oakland on Saturday November 30th. The friend was to be the best man for a brother-in-law. A wedding wasn’t usually the kind of event a young man cared about unless it was his own, but he had nothing better to do and the groom was an acquaintance of his also. So he joined his friend and wife on the long drive from L.A. to the Bay Area.
They got to the church around 2:30 in the afternoon just a short time before the wedding was to start. They started into the church and as they walked past the front door they noticed a small-framed young woman coming down the stairs from the choir room where she’d changed into her maid-of-honor’s dress. It was a velvet dress that was much too bulky for her slight boned body. The dress was like a tent imposing its bulk on a butterfly. They were introduced and he thought, “Nice, cute enough, but out of my class.” He went in to take a seat for the ceremony while the girl and his friends took their places for the ceremony.
The wedding wound it’s way to completion. When it was finished everyone moved to the fellowship hall in the cellar of the church. It was a conservative congregation that didn’t indulge in alcohol or dancing, so it was a fairly dry and dull affair. People were spread around the hall fairly evenly in small groups that seemed to know each other. The wedding participants were with the photographer. As the young man wandered around aimlessly trying to find a place to fit in, the best man called out and said, “Go get Evelyn. We need her for the pictures.”
He walked across the room to where Evelyn was facing away from him talking to two young men. As he came up behind her he simply said, “I want you.” She turned, took his arm and walked off with him without a single word or question. It was a surprise and a warm satisfaction. She’d actually accepted him completely. He didn’t tell anyone of this for a long time afterward, but he’d hid it in the depths of his being.
When the reception drew to a close near 4:30 the best man was asked to collect and transport the gifts for the newlyweds. Enough presents were loaded into his car that there wasn’t room for the young man. So the best man asked, “Evelyn, would you take Jerry to the bride and grooms party. We don’t have room in the car with all the gifts.” Evelyn said, “Sure. But I have to take Sue and Allan home and then go to my Mom’s and change first. Is that o.k.?” It was.
The young man got in the back seat of her ’66 Mustang convertible with Allan while Sue sat in front with Evelyn. Evelyn drove them, first, to her friends’ home and as they started to exit the car Allan asked, “Are you sure you’ll be o.k. alone with this guy?” And, after her reassurances everything would be fine, Allan relented and allowed the young man to move to the front seat next to his “charge”.
On the drive to her mother’s home she explained that Allan had assumed a position as her protector. The young man appreciated Allan’s concern and quite apparent love for this special person. While she was changing at her mother’s place he sat in the car and wondered about many things working their way through his mind.
She came out and drove back to Sue and Allan’s, picked them up and drove to the bride and groom’s party.
They arrived at the groom’s home about 6 for the “real” reception. They walked in to music, joyfulness and dancing and went their separate ways, her to her friends and he near those he knew. After a few songs he screwed up his courage, walked over and asked her to dance. It was a nice slow dance and he was infused with the wonder of her body so close to his. She was pleasant to talk with and seemed to exude a wry bit of humor at his bumbling nervousness. They had been near each other for almost an hour already, so why would he be nervous? But he was not self-assured and had always been shy around girls. Especially if they were attractive. He’d dated less than a dozen times in all his life. Nothing for a guy of 25.
When the song was over they parted to their previous positions and he wondered why he had to be such a dolt. She was everything he’d envisioned for himself throughout his life. Small, great figure, fine sense of humor, very apparent intelligence and a poise that gave comfort to all around her.
The next song started and he crossed the room full of purpose and asked her to dance again, prepared for a refusal. To his ultimate pleasure and surprise she took his hand and as they danced he fell completely in love with her. They talked of their ages, their jobs, their future hopes and nearly forgot to stop dancing when the record ended. The music gave them opportunity to explore a connection neither would grasp fully until after this second dance ended. He now knew he was in love. Even when others interfered by breaking in insisting on a dance their connection grew deeper.
Somewhere near 7 the bride and groom excused themselves and left for their honeymoon and a short time later Sue and Allan asked to be taken home, so the four of them got in the Mustang with Allan on the passenger side rear seat and the young man in the seat behind Evelyn. As she drove, she and Jerry surreptitiously held hands, much to Allan’s concern and displeasure. On reaching their house Sue got out and Allan hesitated then asked again, with much authority and concern, if Evelyn would be all right alone with this guy. Assurances given, Allan hesitantly allowed this, to him, unwelcome stranger to move to the front passenger seat again.
By nine o’clock or so the liquor was running low and someone asked if anyone would make a booze run. He looked at her and said, ”I’ve had enough to drink. How about you? Want to get the booze for them?” “Me too. Yeah, that would be good.” They collected the money and she drove to the liquor store. On the way they talked of many things and it was clear they were on the same wavelength in just about everything. By the time they got back to the party they’d decided they were partied out and would like to have more time together. They took the liquor and chips back to the party, made their excuses, said goodnight and left for a drive around, to where, they didn’t know. It was simply correct that they were together. They hadn’t directly talked about it, it was just mutually understood.
There weren’t many interesting places in Oakland to go, so she aimed for the Bay Bridge and then the Golden Gate. As they crossed the international orange old bridge they realized not much would be open by 10 o’clock on a Saturday night but she drove into Sausalito anyhow. Only cocktail lounges and bars showed any lights or activity. Sausalito is beautiful and quaint but kind of boring that late at night so she drove back toward 101, found an onramp and headed back toward Frisco. As she was driving she mentioned that some friends had told her there was an overlook somewhere close that they could park for a while and rest from all the driving. She found the road, pulled onto it, navigated to the quiet, secluded parking area and stopped in one of the spots.
As they talked he leaned over and kissed her tenderly. Her response was, as everything had been between them to that time, natural, warm and complete. They luxuriated in each other’s embrace. Although he wanted to experience all of her she demurely avoided intimate touches or advances. He deeply appreciated her respect for herself and her innate morality.
By 3:30 in the morning they were sleepy and she asked if he would drive home to her apartment. They were quiet and comfortable all the way to her place somewhere near El Cerrito. He didn’t know the Bay Area and only knew to follow her directions. When they got to her apartment they were both so sleepy they could hardly keep their eyes open. She went into her bedroom and changed into the most gawd-awful orange and yellow pedal pushers he’d ever seen. Suddenly he thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” Up to that time the clothes she had worn camouflaged most of her physical attributes. She came and sat by him on the sofa and they slipped down next to each other. They lay on her sofa and napped in each other’s arms until 7 a.m. when he realized he had to get to the groom’s parents’ house to meet his friends for the ride back to L.A. He kissed her and announced that he’d be back in a couple weeks and when he came back he WAS going to take her to bed. Her eyes grew very wide and she gave him a tenuous peck goodbye and he left, grudgingly, for the short walk to his ride home.
His friends were just finishing preparations for the drive home as he got to their car. His lifelong buddy said something like, “Well. The wandering stranger! Looks like you had a good time. Out all night. Everything o.k.?”
“Just fine” was all he said.
They piled in the Chevy and made their way to the freeway. As they drove, a few nebulous questions were asked about his time with Evelyn and he finally said, “I’ve met the woman I want to marry. Don’t know if she’ll marry me, but I found the one I want.” He guessed he’d shocked them, because, aside from a couple of brief exchanges, little more was said about it during the eight-hour trip home and he napped comfortably along the way.
At his friend’s house he got in his old ’59 Ford and drove home to his now desolate feeling apartment, went in and drifted off to a most pleasant sleep. He woke at around midnight and wished he could call her, but just dreamed the dreams of hope and fell back asleep until the alarm wakened him for work.
What a razzing he got from his married coworkers when he told of his weekend and of his being in love. It was merciless and continued all week. He didn’t care and called her every evening after work and they talked for hours. It was a good thing he worked for the telephone company and got a discounted rate, otherwise he’d have gone in debt just to talk to his dreams 400 miles away. He had no money saved and had little to offer any woman much less this miracle so far from his arms. As they talked, their conversations were much like a married couple separated by necessity, not choice. They talked of family, personal history, careers, travel, friends, finances and shared thoughts and concepts intertwined as if they’d known each other for all their lives.
He had two dozen roses sent to her with a card that was supposed to say “Mmmmmmerrry Christmas”, a bit of humor between them derived from their first night together. Their embraces often had been accentuated with a slight humming as if to say, “Mmmm, good!” But as can happen with flower services, the message only said the normal “Merry Christmas” by the time it got to her and when he found out how the florist had ruined the intimacy he was deeply disappointed because he knew it would have been completely understood without anyone else knowing.
After two weeks he could stand the separation no longer and in a mid-week phone session they agreed he would drive up and spend the next weekend with her. Right after work Friday he left in his old sedan and could barely keep it on the ground, he was so anxious to be with her. As he was going up old 99 near the center of the San Joaquin Valley a Highway Patrolman threw on his lights and stopped him for speeding. He’d been traveling at a speed that gave the smoothest and most comfortable ride he’d estimated at most 70. It just so happened his speed was over 85 miles an hour. But the officer gave him a break and only cited him for 77 in a 65 zone. If he’d written the ticket for the actual 88 it would have been an automatic trip to the local jail. The speedometer had never worked so he had no idea how fast he was going and depended on cars near him to gauge what speed he might be going. When the cop clocked him there were no cars near enough to mimic. The rest of the trip was spent with much more care about traffic laws. He would have a hard enough time paying for the speeding ticket as it was.
He found her apartment about 1 a.m., fairly floated up the steps to the second floor and was greeted with a warm embrace and a soul-inspiring kiss. They moved to her sofa and everything was right with the world. To be with her again was beyond description.
Within an hour he told her he thought they should get some sleep. She agreed and started toward her bedroom, remembered his announcement of taking her to bed on their next time together, and got so nervous she walked into the doorframe rather than through the door. She was mortified. He felt terribly guilty for causing her any pain and tried to console her with light self-deprecating humor. She got ready for bed and when under the covers called to him a subdued “Good night”. He went slowly to her, turned off the light and joined her in her bed. He bumbled at every move to try to make love to her, realized she was crying, froze, apologized and asked her to forgive him. He suddenly felt like he’d molested her. Through her muffled sobs she told him he hadn’t hurt her, that she was overcome by all the things she was feeling. They hadn’t consummated it, but had fulfilled the definition of love, and fell asleep in each other’s arms. He dreamed the most pleasant dreams he could ever remember. He’d hoped she would also.
The most of the day after they woke became a hazy blur in his mind. All he could remember was as they were leaving her apartment to have dinner with the bride and groom, whose wedding had occasioned their meeting, he was using her keys to lock the door, she said his name softly, he asked “Yes, sweetheart?” and she said “Jerry, I don’t care if we ever get married. I just know I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
Nothing else in his life mattered. Love and dreams had finally met. He had a purpose. A reason for living. A reason for joy and a reason for hope.
The dinner was pleasant and enjoyed by all. Chip, the groom, teased that Jerry’d have been out of luck if he’d asked Evelyn to dance first on the night he’d met her and Linda, his bride. That she’d have married him and Jerry’d still be out in the cold. Whether that sat well with his bride, Linda, or not, she kept it to herself and laughed too. After dinner they all spent a couple hours together. They talked of inconsequential things, told jokes, visited the “new” loft apartment above a butcher shop Chip had moved he and Linda into and the two couples parted company, Chip and Linda to their loft and Jerry and Evelyn to her apartment.
That night and Sunday it was clear they were already married in their hearts although marriage itself was not planned or even discussed. They took a drive through the wine country of Napa County and fairly swam in the warm waters of blooming love. As they passed a root beer stand he asked, full of confidence she would say an enthusiastic yes, “Hmmmmmm, would you like a root beer float?” Her “No.” floored him. He actually thought he knew her inside and out.
She was so much more intelligent than he and kept displaying new aspects of her being, knowing instinctively not to reveal too much at a time. He began to appreciate her more and more with each moment and lusted for the next delicious bit of surprise she had in store for him. If only he’d been smart and caring enough to do the same for her. But all he was and all he had he dedicated to her in his heart and left nothing hidden or reserved for a future time. The here and now was all there was.
Sunday night it was pure agony to think he’d have to leave her and drive back to L.A. to go to work Monday. So he stalled. And stalled. And stalled, until he forced himself, with her gentle prodding, to get the heck in his old jalopy and grumble off to some indescribable hell of loneliness 400 miles apart from his reason for existence. He made it, not home, but to his job. Late. And to the ribbing of his workmates again. They were fully enjoying torturing him. Including his boss. Sternly reproving him for allowing some skirt to keep him from resting and being ready to perform his job. All the while allowing for the joy exuding from this lovesick fool.
After work he rushed home and called her. They spoke love over the phone. Like adolescent teenagers, long moments nothing was said. The sound of her breathing filled him. As they talked, plans developed for her to fly down and spend the next weekend with him so he could take her to meet his Dad and Stepmother. The rest of that week was another blur.
She called with her flight number and time of arrival at LAX the Thursday before her trip. That Friday he left work, drove home, showered, shaved, dressed and left for the airport with visions of her running into his arms among the admiring gazes of everyone in the terminal. He found a parking spot and made his way into the confusion of the busy swarm of humanity. The gate she was supposed to enter through was a bit difficult to locate but he got there in what he thought was plenty of time before she arrived. He sat in a seat that directly faced the gate. Her plane was supposed to come in at 6:30 but by 7 he was getting worried she had changed her mind and not come after all. He found a courtesy phone and asked for her name to be announced and to pick up a white phone and let him know where she was. He was desperately searching the entire terminal for her. At 7:30 they finally spotted each other. The embarrassment was palpable. The perfect lovers couldn’t even see each other. They had been less than 50 feet apart for an hour and hadn’t seen each other. That didn’t happen to people this much in love. No matter that there were multiple hundreds of people milling around and creating enough noise that a brass band couldn’t have been heard through the din. The nervousness subsided. They embraced and began to relax with each other again. They found and picked up her baggage and found their way to his car. The drive to his apartment in West L.A. was quiet because they both were tired from a full days work and the stress of the waiting, missing each other and the airport experience. They were supposed to be on their way to his Dad’s in Porterville but their need to be together overpowered all other considerations. They relaxed a few minutes and spent precious moments in each other’s arms.
It was difficult to keep their plans going. They wanted nothing more than to be. Together. Forever. Without ceasing. But others had to be considered so they prepared and began the drive to his Dad’s place. On the way, as they were talking like they were already married, he said, “Here we are talking like we’re already married but I’ve never asked you to marry me. So. Will you marry me?” “No” was her answer. Knowing she was messing with his mind all he could do was chuckle.
They came to his Dad’s house a couple hours later than they were supposed to. Jerry helped her out of the car and walked her to the front door, knocked on the door and waited for someone to open it. Shortly his Dad and Stepmother appeared and he said, “Dad and Polly, I’d like you to meet your future daughter-in-law”. His Dad didn’t say “Come in”, “It’s good to see you”, “It’s nice to meet you”, or anything a normal person would expect to be said. He said, “We, hmm, were, hmm, wondering? How future?” Then detecting their shock he invited them in and escorted them to the kitchen where Polly had hot coffee and fresh rolls ready. Niceties were exchanged, short histories were told and the lovers searched each others faces for tangible thoughts and answered that they thought maybe sometime around June might make a nice wedding date, even though they’d not discussed any of this. Ever. Then Johnny began this weird dissertation about how well the tune-up Jerry had done on the old ’60 Chevy a few years earlier had held up and that as long as you gave the old buggy plenty of time to get up to speed she’d take you anywhere you wanted to go and do it comfortably and cheaply. All the while Jerry had no idea why Dad was going on about the old Chevy. Was he trying to build up his youngest son to the beautiful fiancé? Was he trying to sell the car to Jerry? What? Without further hesitation Dad said “Y’know, the old Chevy could get us to Vegas in less than eight hours! They have some nice chapels there and they’re open all night. Y’know Polly and me were married there. And we didn’t miss out on a thing.” Damn! The old fart was trying to get the new lovers to run to Vegas and get married that night! Before the girl realized what she was doing and dropped this guy like a hot rock! As they realized what he was saying they started laughing and stammering until Jerry finally found the words to defuse the air. “That’s really tempting. But it wouldn’t be fair to Evelyn’s mother. Evelyn’s an only child and it would probably hurt Mama Evelyn more than anything else if we took away her only child’s wedding.” Dad seemed to accept that and the subject kind of went away. Soon Dad announced it was getting late, they were tired and were going to bed. He unfolded the sofa bed, Polly collected bedding and she and Evelyn made the bed while Jerry brought in the baggage and took them to the spare bedroom. Dad said Evelyn would be more comfortable on the sofa bed as it was the most comfortable of it’s kind and the bed in the spare room was a hard mattress. Johnie’s demonstration of kindness and concern for her comfort and security solidified a deep and immediate love between he and Evelyn that would last forever.
As Evelyn and Jerry prepared for sleep it was difficult to part and sleep alone again. Dad was a conservative, respectable man and sleeping together before marriage was not allowed. At least in his house.
But after Dad and Polly went to bed Jerry broke Dad’s rules. But they slept in separate rooms while in Dad’s house until after they were married. It was decided, from then on, to respect his rules and desires while in his home.
The weekend was memorable in every way. Dad and Polly provided the most secure, loving and enjoyable set of experiences possible. Breakfasts filled with love and great food. Lunches at favorite, time established places. Drives to favorite fishing holes for very short wetting of hooks and lines. Short visits with old friends and family. Dinners both simple and delicious with talking and laughing and love so precious there are no better words to describe it. When the time came to return to L.A. for Evelyn’s flight home they all knew there would be a wedding much sooner than anyone could have thought.
At LAX she boarded a flight an hour later than originally planned so he called her mother so she wouldn’t worry and said, “Momma Evelyn, I’m in love with your daughter. We want to be married. We haven’t set a date yet but if we can make all the arrangements we want to get married as soon as we can.” Momma Evelyn simply replied, “All I ask is that you take good care of her and love her with all you have.” “I promise. Thank you” was all he could say.
Over the next few weeks, plans were made, a date was set, friends and family were invited and she gave notice at her job. The days were filled with work, making arrangements, finding a Chapel and minister, buying the rings, getting the blood tests done and the license acquired, having her bridal shower, getting her dress designed and made and how she got it all done was beyond him. With help from their friends they found ways to get all this done within 3 weeks. A few days before the wedding was scheduled he flew to Oakland, packed her things into a U-Haul, hitched it to her Mustang and they drove to L.A. It was very windy during their drive and they were exhausted by the time they got to his apartment. They unpacked the trailer and drove her to Van Nuys to stay with his and her friends until the wedding.
The big day, February 1st, arrived to the great relief of all involved. Ron who’d been best man at the wedding in Oakland drove Jerry to the chapel and Ron’s wife brought Evelyn. When she appeared at the chapel he lost his breath for a moment, she was so beautiful.
Now that it was all coming together he felt so inadequate. She was so much more precious and valuable than anything he’d ever known in his entire life and he had so little to offer her. He was terrified he would fail her as he’d failed in most everything he’d ever attempted. But his desire to have her in his life prevented him from bolting and running away from everyone and everything. He had to try. With all he was and all he’d ever be, he had to try.
As the minister spoke, the words of the ceremony disappeared in the onslaught of emotions raging within him. As she fumbled to put the ring on his finger he had no idea she was that nervous. She seemed so composed. Even his best man was worried about the soles of his shoes showing when they knelt for the prayers! Weren’t shoe soles supposed to be scuffed? Why would anyone be worried about something so trivial? All that mattered was that now Evelyn would be with him forever. He just knew he was the happiest man that had ever lived. The ceremony ended, he gingerly held his love’s hand and they walked the aisle to the parking lot. People called for the newlyweds to look here and smile there and come give us a hug and, and, and………. When were all those people going to realize these two wanted to start their marriage now? And quit bothering them with all this? As they finally got into Ron’s car and led the procession out onto the street Jerry couldn’t quite grasp that all the honking cars were for them. That he had really gotten married. And to such a perfect miracle. It was all too much.
The line of decorated, honking cars wound it’s way through the valley to Ron’s home in Van Nuys and the reception. It had to be a small reception and at a private home because there wasn’t money for anything more. And the only time they had for a honeymoon was the rest of the weekend. He had to be back at work the following Monday. So they opened presents, cut the cake, said a few pleasantries to friends and family and excused themselves to drive to Santa Barbara for two days of what he hoped would be enough for this woman who deserved so much more.
It was a nice drive up the coast to their hotel. They checked in and spent those first hours making love as they’d made love before, but now as husband and wife. They didn’t take time to eat that first evening. Eating was for tomorrow. Now was for them. When they woke in the morning they were famished and hurried to shower, dress and find a Sunday brunch. What a time it was. It ended so much too soon. Reality was rearing it’s ugly self soon and they’d have to fit that into their busy schedule of learning to live together.