Published in Family Fortunes, The Irish Times, 16 April 2015.
April, 1943 – in Ashland, Ohio, the snow had melted but the trees weren’t budding yet. Newlyweds Dale and Jean Sigafoos were dressed up for a night on the town, such as it was. When Jean’s brother got out the box camera, they leaned toward each other without being told to, linked arms, and smiled. They liked each other.
My father looked sporty in his topcoat. People told him he looked like Sonny Tufts, the actor. My mother had fixed up her hair in that Hollywood-flavoured 1940’s style. My father thought it was a good joke to tell people that his wife had been Darla in the Little Rascals movies.
They were nineteen years old. My father had been drafted, but his trick knee had popped when he got off the bus coming back from his physical exam, and he’d been given a six-month deferment. They knew he was going to be sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in July. Then he’d be assigned to a ship in the Pacific or the North Atlantic, even though he couldn’t swim. The spring of 1943 might be the only time they’d ever have together.
After the war, there weren’t many photos of the two of them. My father had changed when he came back, no longer the confident, engaging guy that my mother married. He had a hard time finding a job. Ashland, with its brick streets and sagging frame houses, didn’t offer much. (“You’re back, are you, Dale? No, we’re not looking for anybody right now.”) And they had children. It would be twenty years before they could feel sure that there would be enough money for groceries at the end of the month. They were disappointed, and it pushed them apart.
But on that Saturday afternoon in 1943, my parents didn’t dwell on the future, or on the muddy lawns or the leafless trees. They liked each other, and they were building a ladder of dreams. For a while, anything seemed possible.