Strength, Love and Grace by Lindsey Curtis
As Grace sat in her chair by the window daydreaming of happier times, a slight smile on her face, she was transported to her youthful years.
Grace had a best friend named Ruth that looked so similar to her, she could easily pass as Grace’s sister. Both were beauties, with olive skin, high cheekbones and raven colored hair. Jackets with shoulder pads, pencil skirts and stiletto heels adorned these sharp dressed ladies. Ben Hur perfume and Tangee make-up were tucked inside their purses, along with cigarettes and matches for a smoke.
Grace and Ruth were putting in their applications for jobs as clerks at the dime store and were also seeking employment as mill workers down the street at the the local Landis cotton mill. Times were hard, jobs were scarce. After putting in their applications for work, Grace and Ruth stopped at the tiny drugstore on Main Street for a Coca~Cola and a cigarette, time to catch up on the latest gossip.
Grace and Ruth were single gals that loved to dance on Saturday nights, after getting all dolled up. After the drugstore break, they were going to walk to Ruth’s house that was near by in the mill village section of Landis.
As Grace and Ruth were sauntering down the sidewalk, idly talking, when they heard a loud car engine soar by. The black Buick came racing back up to them, the brakes squealed as the car came to a halting stop.
Behind the steering wheel sat a good looking man built like a football player with ash blond hair and blue eyes. The guy on the passenger side had dark eyes and light brown hair with a slight build, nothing to write home about.
The big blond guy said, “What are you ladies up to today?”
Grace smiled and said, “We are out hunting for a job.”
The driver of the Buick said, ” I’m Larry and this is my friend, Joe.”
Grace said, “Hey, nice to meet you. My name is Grace and this is my friend, Ruth.”
Larry spoke and said, “Well, Grace if you are looking for a job you can take care of me.”
Grace was speechless, but found Larry charming. She and Ruth felt safe with these two new strangers and accepted the offer to be dropped off at Ruth’s house. Grace thought Larry was handsome and she preferred the strong, blue eyed and blond type. Ruth didn’t feel an attraction for Joe and was in to being single at the time, didn’t want to answer to a man just yet.
Grace and Larry dated for a few months and it wasn’t long before they fell head over heels in love. Grace loved cooking and showing off her skills in the kitchen to her new guy. Larry was more than happy to savor all the delicious meals Grace prepared.
Larry liked showing his girl off, taking Grace out for dinner and dancing. He picked up the phone and dialed the familiar phone number at the house where Grace still lived with her parents, the Baker’s. It rang three times before Grace could grab it.
Grace picked up the phone, “Hello.”
Larry said, “Hello, babe. How are you?”
She said, “I’m doing good, honey. How are you?”
He replied, “I’m doing good, babe. Look, I would like to take you out to dinner and dancing this Saturday night. Does Saturday work for you?”
Grace thought for a moment before she answered, “This Saturday will be fine. What time are you picking me up?”
“Six thirty okay with you, Grace?”
“That’s perfect. See you then, honey.”
Grace had no idea that her Saturday night date would be so special. Larry had been thinking about getting Grace a diamond and proposing to her. He grabbed his keys and was on his way to Pearl’s Jewelry.
Larry entered the jewelry store and saw an attractive tall lady in her twenties behind the counter. She had auburn hair scooped up off her shoulders with a decorative hair pin to hold her curls. A nice periwinkle dress made her sapphire blue eyes stand out. With a friendly smile she stepped out from behind the counter in high heels that matched her dress.
The lady said, “ Hello, my name is Pearl. What can I help you with today?”
He outstretched his hand to shake Pearl’s hand and said, “I’m looking for a diamond ring so I can propose to my girlfriend in a couple days.”
Pearl asked, “Do you know what style you’re looking for and what size ring she wears?”
He replied, “I know Grace wears a size seven ring, but I have no idea what style. I’ve never bought a girl a ring before, but I know she likes yellow gold.”
Pearl went behind the counter and pulled a large tray of diamond rings out, placing them on top of the glass counter.
“I don’t have a lot of different styles, but most of them are set in yellow gold. I have some round, oval, square and pear shapes. Pick out a few you like and we can negotiate on the price.”
Larry looked at all the sparkling stones more confused… He thought this would be easy. Pearl saw the unsure look on his face as he picked up one ring at a time, then returning each one back into the velvet tray.
Pearl spoke up and said, “Okay, would you like me to try some on so that you can see what it would look like on your future wife’s hand? I wear a size seven also and most of the rings come in a size six or seven.”
Larry smiled, “That would be great if you wouldn’t mind.”
Pearl laughed, “I don’t mind at all. I love helping people and I love diamonds, that’s what I’m here for. You know, you are not the first guy that needed a woman’s opinion on which engagement ring to buy their future wife. It takes a woman to know what another woman would want.”
After about thirty minutes of comparing one diamond to the next, Larry picked out a beautiful square shaped diamond set in yellow gold. He settled on a plain gold wedding band for Grace.
Originally he was only going to buy the diamond, but since he planned to marry Grace very soon, he opted to get her wedding band now. Pearl inserted the diamond ring and the gold wedding band into two separate black velvet boxes and dropped them in to a white bag with Pearl’s Jewelry written on the outside of the bag in black old English letters. Larry thanked Pearl and she wished him good luck.
As he walked to the parking lot to his car, he was feeling confident that Grace would say yes to his proposal and love the rings he had just bought her.
Saturday afternoon, after Grace had finished all of her chores, she wanted to take her time getting ready for her date with Larry. After brushing her teeth to they gleamed, she settled down into the big claw footed tub to soak. She dried her skin and slid on her ivory robe. She had her under clothing and nylon stockings laid out on the bed. Grace reached into her closet for the dress she had set her mind on wearing. It was a red clingy sheath that felt like silk on her skin. The belt attached to the dress would accent her waist. High heels were not the best choice to wear dancing, she thought as she buckled the straps of her black high heels around her slim ankles.
Grace stepped in the bathroom for some finishing touches. The house was really quiet because her parents were out visiting relatives and her brothers were off to war. Her only sister, Clara was two years older and had married Vince Christie a year ago.
She relished the peace and serenity of being in the house alone. Grace brushed her hair, applied a coat of black mascara to her lashes and slid red lipstick over her full lips. She clipped pearl earrings on her lobes and looped her matching pearl bracelet on her wrist. The finishing touch was dabbing on her perfume to her pulse points and behind her ears. She looked in the mirror and was pleased with her look.
She heard a car pull in to the driveway and grabbed her black purse. There was a knock at the door and there stood Larry. He had on a navy suit with tiny white vertical pin stripes that complimented his starched white shirt and navy tie. Larry was tall and had a football player’s build.
Grace was smiling as she opened the door
Larry whistled as soon as he saw her.
He said, “My you look sharp, babe. You look beautiful!”
Grace walked toward Larry and embraced him in a hug. She loved the clean smell of his aftershave as she nestled her nose in to his shoulder. Then, pulled slightly away to look in to his eyes and kissed his cheek.
“You look very handsome. Let me turn off the lights and I will be ready to go.”
She grabbed her purse, switched off the lights and they were on their way to dinner at a popular steak house in Concord off highway 29 called Harrison’s Fine Food and Wine. It was a short ten mile drive from where Grace lived.
Larry came around and opened Grace’s door and escorted her in to the restaurant. Mister Harrison, the owner greeted them at the door. He was a short stocky man with thin dark hair, dressed in a long sleeve white shirt and black slacks.
“Larry, it’s so good to see you and Grace again! Where would you like to sit tonight?”
Larry knew when the weather was nice the restaurant had music and dancing out on the patio.
He said, “A table and chairs near the back patio would be nice if it’s available.”
“Right this way, please,” he said and motioned them to follow him.
Larry pulled out Grace’s chair and seated her. Mister Harrison handed them each a menu and told them their waitress Helen would be there to take their orders shortly. Larry and Grace thanked him and started looking at their menus.
Grace was hungry and had not had anything to eat since breakfast.
Their waitress approached their table wearing a white blouse and a black skirt on her thin frame with black low heel pumps. She had her brown hair in a bun and the only trace of make-up on her face was her muted red lipstick.
She said, “I’m Helen and I will be taking care of y’all tonight. Can I start you out with something to drink?
Larry cleared his throat and said,”Could we have two sweet ice teas with lemon, please?”
“Yes, sir. I will get your teas now and come back to take your order.”
He said, “Thank you.”
“So, what are you going to have, Grace?”
Grace looked up from her menu and said, “The rib eye steak was so good last time, I was thinking, steak, baked potato and salad with oil and vinegar dressing. What about you?”
Larry had butterflies in his stomach because he knew he would be proposing to Grace after dinner.
“Sounds good, I think I will have the same.”
Helen brought their sweet teas and took their order.
Grace asked, “How is your mother doing with Arlen and George being away from her and in the Army?”
Larry crinkled his brow and said, “Not so good… She has actually been very nervous since they were shipped off to war. Mama knows the danger they could face on the battle fields. She won’t rest until they are back home and we have no idea when that will be.”
Grace dabbed at her mouth with her linen napkin after taking a drink of her tea and said, “My three brothers enlisted in the Army Air Corp the day after Pearl Harbor was hit. My momma tries to hide how upset she really is, but I can see the worry in her face. I worry about my brothers, too.”
He said, “You know Grace, I knew if I didn’t enlist, I would have been drafted. I don’t know how I got by not being drafted a year ago. I look forward getting this behind me for several reasons.”
About that time Helen was placing their dinner on the table in front of them. She returned to the kitchen to get their dinner rolls.
Helen set the rolls, butter and A1 sauce in the center of the table and refilled their tea glasses.
She asked, “Is there anything else I could get y”all?”
Larry said,”No, thank you, I think we have everything.”
Helen nodded and left to take care of other customers.
Grace wasn’t going to be upset, she planned to enjoy her delicious dinner. She was already dreading Larry leaving, though.
Helen returned to clear their dishes from their table and to briefly wipe the table down.
She asked, “Would y’all like dessert?”
Larry replied, “Oh, no thank you. Could we have two coffees with cream, please?”
“Yes sir, right away.”
Helen returned with two coffees and a pitcher of cream. She laid the bill on Larry’s side of the table. They thanked her and she left to attend other customers.
After stirring cream in to their coffee, Larry was the first to speak.
“Grace, after coffee would you like to dance outside on the patio?”
She smiled, “Yes, that would be nice. I know you don’t smoke, but would you mind if I have a cigarette?”
“Go right ahead, I don’t mind.”
After drinking their coffee, Grace went to the ladies room to reapply her lipstick, freshen up and have a breath mint. She returned to their table and Larry led her out to the patio where music was playing softly through speakers set up outside. He took her hand and began slow dancing with his love.
Black wrought iron patio tables and chairs were scattered around the cement floor and the center of the patio was empty, just right for ten or more couples to dance.
When the song was over, he walked her to a table and pulled out her chair, carefully pushing her chair closer to the table. Grace sat her purse on the table to her right. Larry sat in the chair opposite of her. He couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful night. The stars were shining bright and the candle on the table created a softness to Grace’s face.
Larry looked at Grace and said, “You know I love you and I wanted to ask you to marry me.”
Grace’s mouth was wide open because she didn’t expect Larry to ask her so soon.
Larry reached in to the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the black velvet box and opened it. He withdrew the shiny diamond ring.
Looking straight in to her eyes he said, “Will you marry me, Grace?”
It took her about a second and she said,”Yes, I will marry you!”
Larry slipped the diamond on her left ring finger. He stood up to go around to her side of the table to hug and kiss her. Grace loved Larry and her new engagement ring. She was thrilled with the thought of marrying Larry and in the future having his children.
The wedding was a simple ceremony in York, South Carolina with a justice of the peace officiating on April 22, 1942. Grace’s best friend Ruth and her new boyfriend Bill rode along because they needed two witnesses. Wearing a tailored white suit and carrying a mixed arrangement of white flowers, Grace looked radiant beside her tall handsome groom wearing a navy suit.
After paying for a furnished apartment, a honeymoon was out of the question. Larry and Grace were happy to just be together.
Larry would soon be off to the US Army. Grace was consumed with worry because not only was her husband off to war, she had three brothers off to war not knowing if they would survive and return home again. Counting her new husband, four of her loves would be off to war… (to be continued)