My dad returned from his nearly four years in the Navy–he got an early discharge to attend college, and a good thing, too, because he was supposed
to be in until 1 October 1939 and when Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September the Navy froze all discharges. If you were in on 2 September you were
still in in 1946.
He was to enter Iowa Teacher’s College, in October–the agricultural cycle still ruled academic time then, and college began when the harvest was
in. But, that was two months away and so he looked for and found work…..with…..Ten-Cent Jack and his carnival, still staying one bounce ahead
of the law. The olive oil, the musclebound louts, the mangy lion……but the money was OK. And then he began his Higher Education. If he took a very
heavy load of classes he could graduate sooner, and so he did. and, unable to continue the Travelin’ Life he worked here and there, sweeping and cleaning
a jewelry store at the end of the day, doing this and that, and some of those, and working in the College Library for a few hours each week. He also
wrestled and played tennis for good ol’ Iowa Teachers.
One day, as he stood behind the Circulation Desk, rubber stamp to hand, a pretty girl came in and she pushed a book across the counter. “I think you
would like this,”she said. It was a copy of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel”. (At least he heard the shot that got him.)
Her name was Marie, and she had been born in and nurtured in the little state capital of Pierre, South Dakota. In the 1920’s it had about three
thousand people in it and it was a Western town, with cowboys and Indians in the streets and horsedrawn wagons as well as motorcars. Her father
little girl. Like most fathers, he was a bit clueless in the matter of daughters, especially ones with a stubborn streak and minds of their own.
And so it went. Marie took my father home to meet the folks. My grandfather saw no use in the man. Dad did not drink whiskey. He would not
smoke a cigar. My grandfather thought dark thoughts of Baptist hog farmers from Iowa. This simply would not do.
My father and mother would wed in June of 1942. My mother, who had gone off to college aged sixteen, would graduate and then go and teach
for a year and change, far away from Iowa Teachers College, where dad was finishing up. See if the thing held. She went to Traverse City, Michigan.
My grandfather made inquiries about this Baptist hog farmer, and, to his delight, dad’s employment in Ten-Cent Jack’s carnival was discovered.
Ah. Well. Gramp had another bourbon and a cigar. Things were looking up. It was a good ten months until the wedding. Plenty of time to work
on Marie, convince her to dump the tee-totaling non-smoking…..and Gramp blew smoke at the benevolent and twinkling stars.
Dad graduated in December, of 1941. By the time they wed, he would be teaching mathematics in a high school somewhere, out west, they had
agreed. Colorado. Montana. Someplace like that. Christmas was coming, Marie would come home to Pierre, and Gramp would pounce.
Gramp was satisfied, life was good and all was well.
And then…….The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and my father was certain to be wanted by the Navy, and soon. He called my mother, they
sorted things out, and were married on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, Marie called home.
“He spent the day in his study,”said my grandmother,”biting his imported cigars in half….”
My mother knew about Ten-Cent Jack, of course, and found my dad’s work there both funny and enterprising. She had known about Ten-
Cent Jack for a long time.
Things were a bit sour for a while, until at the end of the War as my parents and I, aged two months, were driving from San Diego to Boulder,
Colorado, where dad would go for a master’s degree, the car caught fire, consuming all they had. There was no housing in Boulder, there was not
much housing anywhere. So my mother took the train, with me, to Pierre. The first grandchild….and….
The old dragon would slip into the nursery, sniff me, tap a claw, fart, and go back to his glass and his cigar, and when Dad came he put a new
roof on the house.
Peace was restored, as it usually is, if you have the time……