Many others have extolled the virtues of our parents and grandparents who survived the Great Depression and fought in World War II — saving America and the world from unspeakable evil. My mom and soldier dad were no exception in this Greatest Generation.
That is, except for the story of how they met and later married on July 4, 1944, about a month after D-Day. The story still polishes up like a bright new diamond of a tale.
My dad was born in 1916 in this country. He was the only child of a Roman Catholic German baron and his Episcopalian English-Irish bride, both legally naturalized citizens from their respective countries via Ellis Island. My mom was also born here in 1921 amid a slew of naturalized relatives from Roman Catholic northern Italy. As children and teens, five years apart in age, my parents never met as youngsters, though they both resided in and attended public school in Tenafly, New Jersey, a small, conservative and rural borough bustling with business and just a short trolley car, train, and ferry ride away from New York City.
A few years later, my mom’s first encounter with Dad occurred during the big-band era of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, in early 1940. Dad was a first-chair trumpet player and made a good living in local clubs (or “watering holes,” as they were called then). My young mom and her girlfriends were excited to learn that a young crooner named Frank Sinatra would be singing one wintry Saturday night — and made arrangements to book a table at the venue.
To their surprise, however, my mom wasn’t interested in Sinatra. Instead, she couldn’t take her eyes off one member of the brass: a handsome and brilliant trumpet player, my dad.
Although Mom was too shy to make the first move, she managed to get his name from the club’s owner and tucked it away for safekeeping. In those days, young women didn’t behave outside of traditional, family and faith-centered constraints when it came to introductions, let alone a potential date. Yet Mom was cut from a different cloth, with its almost bursting-at-the-seams independent American spirit. When she set her eyes on Dad that night, she wasn’t about to let him walk away.
She bided her time, and learned more about him through the local grapevine. Most of Dad’s friends were not only musicians but also accomplished equestrians who taught riding lessons on the side for extra money.
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And that was her “in” — to save enough money to take riding lessons from Dad in Englewood Cliffs, where he worked part time. Lucky for her, she had a good job as a secretary at U.S. Steel in New York City while living with her parents.
No one “sat a horse” like my dad, and she had no better teacher. His problem, however, was an immediate attraction to Mom. He also wanted to strike out on his own and move out of his parents’ home in Tenafly to live freely of advice or judgment from others.
They dated for a while, but soon after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Dad was drafted into the Army as part of America’s entry into WWII. Surprisingly for him, though, their separation was tougher than he expected. “There was something about that young woman — beautiful, intelligent — but more,” he used to say when he recalled it all. (go to page 2 for the rest of the story) [lz_pagination]