Friday, December 14, 2007
Mom and Dad
February 7, 1942Mom and Dad: Love at First Sight!
“Wow mom that is quite a story! Just think you and dad are celebrationg fifty years of marriage. That’s a long time. How did you meet?”
“ That was the year of one snow fall after another. I remember it well. It seemed like it snowed and snowed and snowed. Aurora received more snow that year than in the forty previous years. December was cold. January was cold and in February there was a blizzard. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor the day before we became engaged.”
Excitement and energy were bursting in the air at the Fermazin family home. Robert finally took the big step. Robert was engaged! They were sitting around the Philco console radio in Robert’s home when President Roosevelt addressed Congress that day, saying: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date that will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan ... Hostilities exist.” For Grace and Robert that was just like yesterday.
Mom remembered the flurry of excitement shopping for her diamond engagement ring that weekend, snow or no snow. There was snow, slush, and drifts piled high along the highways on the outskirts of down town, Aurora, in driveways, and backyards all over the city. The snowfall was constant from the end of October to March. Winters in Aurora were renowned for their wind and cold. However, this year was the snowiest December in the last forty years in the Chicago area. At five degrees below zero, the Fox River began to freeze over. The snow crunched under your feet and the wind blew through your hair causing you to shiver as you walked down Broadway. Store windows were aglow with Christmas lights and decorations lined the sidewalks. Holly and glittering silver and blue lights wound around the tall street lamps which illuminated the sidewalks with glowing warmth. The radios pounded out big band leader Glen Miller’s Chattanooga Choo Choo withTex Beneke singing: “Pardon me, boy. Is that the Chattanooga choo choo...? So Chattanooga choo choo won’t you choo-choo me home
After a courtship of one month, with the uncertainties of the future, the Great Depression behind them, Robert and Grace became engaged. They met on a blind date arranged by Robert’s best friend, Walt Ahlgren and his fiancée, Dorothy. (unbeknownst to Robert, Grace and Dorothy were great friends) It was love at first sight. Robert and Grace came to know one another by enjoying many activities in a short time: movies, family get-togethers, parties with friends, and ice skating on Lake Mastodon at Phillip’s Park. Robert was the city champion ice skater for many years as a pre-teen and teenager so he enjoyed impressing Grace with figure eights, skating backwards, jumping and twisting on ice along with many other moves.
Robert Linden Fermazin was the middle child of a first generation German and Luxembourger family. At times you could hear German spoken in the home when the older generation wanted to talk privately and most assuredly hear Luxembourgish spoken by his mother, Mary, when talking to her sister, Lena. This was a loving home. They were a close knit family having weathered many uncertainties during the depression. Robert resembled his mother in looks and build. He was short at 5’7”, 160 pounds; black naturally curly hair and mischievous blue gray eyes, sometimes blue and sometimes granite gray depending on Robert’s temperament. For most of his twenty-six years, Robert was care-free and happy-go-lucky. Robert or Buddy as he was known to family and Fermy as he was fondly nicknamed by his friends was a known prankster and the life of the party. When Robert wasn’t partying his serious side held down a full time job at Thor Power Tool Company as a journey man machinist.
Robert wasn’t always so care free or well off. During the depression he ice skated three miles along the streets from 5th Avenue to Sacred Heart School and in the spring he roller skated. There were no buses in those days. As, Buddy got older he spent the summers working in the greenhouse during the day for a $1.00 a day. Once a year, Robert's duties included changing the mulch for the roses. He and the other guys used to go out in the surrounding countryside and bring fresh dirt back for replacement in the rose beds. Prior to going out for new dirt, they emptied the rose beds. One time Robert was given the job of "mulching" the rose beds. This job meant taking a big bag of steer manure around to all the roses and reaching in with your bare hand and pulling out a handful and placing it by each rose. Robert refused to do this job the next time, so he was given the permanent job of digging up fresh dirt and replacing the beds. After a long day at the nursery, he set pins at the bowling alley each evening.
On weekends he wasn't idle. He caddied across the street from home at the golf course. At the end of the week, he turned all the money over to Mary, who used it for necessities of life. Mary gave Robert a dollar on Friday night to go out on the town. That was when gasoline was 2 gallons for a quarter and (they thought that was EXPENSIVE!!) bread was 10 cents a loaf and milk 12 cents a quart.
For food in the depression, the family ate lots of carrots and home grown vegetables. Buddy and his dad used to go hunting for squirrel, pigeon, and rabbits and in the winter time they trapped and caught swamp rats (muskrat). Robert recalled his dad was famous for a bulls eye with each shot. He was so good Robert recalls he shot them in the head. Buddy remembers his first game rabbit. He shot the rabbit with a 410 shot gun 10 feet away and wouldn't you know it he blew it to smithereens. Too close.
Grace Worthing, on the other hand, was a shy, quiet, twenty-five year old orphan, having lost her mother at age twelve from a brain tumor and her father at age sixteen from cancer of the pancreas, lived in Aurora for about seven years before meeting Robert. Grace met Robert officially on a blind date, but she knew him from his reputation of motor cycle antics up and down Broadway on Saturday nights. She would not have chosen him on her own to date. Grace was 5’ tall, petite, weighing eighty-nine pounds, of Welsh descent, with medium length, dark brown-black hair, and gold green hazel eyes which turned green when the sun hit them. She hailed from the romantic area of Truro, Iowa and the covered bridges, later made famous by Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Truro was a town of two hundred, nestled in southwestern Madison County Iowa. At age sixteen, she moved from Truro to a farm in the village of Birds Run, Ohio to live with her step-brother, Walter. This did not work out for personal reasons and Grace moved into the city to live with her cousin, Eppie, where she cooked, cleaned, and baby-sat for her room and board which prepared her for her future job as nanny and housekeeper. At age eighteen, she moved to Aurora to live with her half-sister, Blanche. By the time she met Robert, life had stabilized. She had a few close friends and one best friend, Marie Vaghey. Grace worked as a live-in nanny and housekeeper for a wealthy family in town.
Promptly the next day, after President Roosevelt’s speech, Robert and Grace became engaged, as life’s uncertainties, the war in the background, and the thought of the draft were now present. A paradigm shift occurred suddenly for them. Life changed for all the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Robert and Grace did not know what their world was going to bring. Christmas and the merriment of the season and their engagement excitement changed.
A major set back occurred in their plans. Grace was Baptist and Robert was Catholic. They went to the priest to make the wedding arrangements, but he insisted they attend marriage counseling first, Grace take instructions, and wait one year before marrying. He refused to marry them. Well, they didn’t let this stop their resolve. They were madly in love, they had also survived the Great Depression and determination was part of their make-up. Robert and Grace refused to wait. Thirty years ago, Robert’s parents encountered a similar situation. His father was Lutheran and his mother was Catholic.
Robert’s father solved the dilemma. He took them to meet with Pastor Miller at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The pastor agreed to marry them if they both attended St. Paul’s and pledged to raise their children in the Lutheran faith. They agreed. They set the wedding date.
Exactly, to the day, two months after the United States declared war on Japan, Robert and Grace were married. Mom remembered that as the day a late snowstorm moved into the area, about 4 AM dumping four inches of snow setting a record for the largest amount of snow recorded on that date with at least six inches more predicted for the weekend. The wedding went on as planned. They were married on a cold, cloudy day, the wind whistling in the air with a light flutter of snow blanketing the ground. Grace was bundled up in a brown fur coat, wrapped tightly around her thin frame to keep warm with Robert wearing a dark gray suit and hat with wool lined, black, ankle length overcoat covering his small frame for the trip to the church.
Addendum: One year later Robert and Grace were married by the Catholic Church. The priest relented after Grace completed instructions in the Catholic faith. They had their first daughter a year later in 1943 and she was raised Catholic. Grace attended the Catholic Church for many years with Robert and the children but did not convert until 1955. This union lasted fifty-nine years until Grace’s death in 2001.