The Milliner and the Soldiers

Some days on my drive home from work, I listen to “40’s on 4,” the Siriusxm satellite radio station. When I’ve had a hard day, I always put it on that station. People who are closest to me know that I am a hopeless romantic for anything 1940s. I am a Turner Classics Movies junkie. Cary Grant is my all-time favorite male actor. I can watch him in anything. And, though his career spanned several decades, I most enjoy his roles from the 1940s.

I admire the 1940s American women. Their fashions were classy and feminine. Hair styles were long and perfectly coiffed. Nails were perfectly manicured. It was indeed a decade of complete glamour. Even Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon and symbol of true feminism from that era, was glamorous. When I look at old family pictures of my mom, my aunts and their friends, I am always struck by their glamour and beauty. Everyone looks beautiful. My Mom was a beauty. It’s no wonder my Dad was head over heels for her.

So, today as I listened to the music of Artie Shaw, I thought about one of my favorite stories from Mom. Dad and Mom knew each other as kids back in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood. They skated at the playground. They hung with the same crowd. Mom used to tell me she would sneak off to meet Dad because she wasn’t supposed to be with boys. When my Dad was 15 or 16, he moved to Rochester with my Grandma and my aunts and uncle. Mom said her father was pleased since he didn’t think my Dad was good enough. Mom and Dad wrote each other daily for a year or two but the letter writing slowed and eventually stopped. Mom said she would occasionally see my aunts when they visited New York, but by the time she was 18 or 19 she and Dad were history.

Then came World War II. Mom was dating another guy. She told me she was eventually engaged to him. This was a “boy” her parents encouraged her to be with, not the “bad boy” like my Dad. During the war everyone stateside was encouraged to write letters and send care packages to the enlisted men. One day my Mom saw my Aunt, visiting from Rochester, at a store in New York. Aunt Mattie told her Dad was stationed in Sicily and gave Mom his address. Mom began writing to Dad, occasionally at first, and then almost daily. She would send him care packages too. Dad wrote back. Mom saved all his letters and I have them. And so their romance began again.

When my Mom used to tell me this story, I asked about her fiancĂ©. She said she eventually talked to her parents and told them she could not marry him. His name was Patsy. Thank goodness she didn’t. I am much happier that my Dad was Joe and not Patsy. So, Mom and Patsy broke up and she continued writing to Dad for the rest of his time overseas. My brother knows better where he served but I know he was in Sicily, France and Belgium.

In 1945 when the European war ended, my Dad was shipped back to the states. The story my Mom told goes like this. One day while she was at work Dad called her from a phone booth near the docks. He told her he and his buddy were back in the states and furloughed for a couple of days. He asked her out for the evening and they made arrangements to meet after work at her house.

Mom worked as a milliner (hat maker) in a shop on Madison Avenue. Sounds so glamorous, doesn’t it? As an aside, she once told me Gary Cooper came in to have a hat made for his wife or girlfriend, I’m not sure. My mother was a master seamstress and an incredible hat maker. On the day she was to meet Dad, she left the shop as soon as she as she could and headed for the subway. My mom’s house was actually a tenement on Mulberry Street, #242. That day, when she walked down the street toward her building, she saw “all the little old Italian women” sitting on the stoop in front of her building. As she approached her building, she told me the women cackled in Italian, “Yolanda, there are two soldiers up in your mother’s kitchen.” Mom climbed the three flights of stairs to get to her family’s apartment. When she opened the door, my Dad and his Army buddy were at my Grandma’s kitchen table. My Dad was all smiles for Mom.

That evening, Mom, the milliner, and the two soldiers went “out on the town” as they used to say. Mom said they went to dinner and then Dad took them to a night club for drinks and dancing. Mom told me it was one of her favorite memories. It’s easy to see why. They look so happy in the picture. The next day Dad left and headed to Rochester to see his family.

That special night in that special city my Mom and Dad rekindled their childhood romance. Mom visited Rochester that spring and summer. It was on one such visit that Dad proposed to Mom. Mom and Dad were married on April 28, 1946 at old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry and Prince Streets in New York’s Little Italy. Today, I wear her engagement ring. Whenever I look at it, I think of those two special people.

It’s a great story — I asked my mother to tell it to me many times. Now it’s a special memory. Thanks Siriusxm – your timing today was perfect. I love you Mom and Dad.

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6 Responses to The Milliner and the Soldiers

  1. Valerie Steverson says:

    Aaaaaw!

  2. Eileen Schopp says:

    Nice story. You and your mom look alike at that age.

  3. Do says:

    Ro, thank you for sharing this beautiful story about Mom and Dad…I could listen to this every day and never tire of it. Of course, it made me melancholy for Mom and Dad…sometimes I don’t even realize myself how much I miss them until something like this.

    I love you,
    Do

  4. Lisa Parry says:

    What a beautiful story and great picture! Thank you for sharing.

  5. roz says:

    So your mom made hats but likely never wore one since I cannot imagine her with HAT HAIR. Nice story, we are so fortunate to have had time to know them and their stories. I often worry that Laura never will have that, but then again Dennise is such a good story teller that she will have those stories to share.

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