On a warm, humid, Midwest, summer night a little breeze stirred just enough air to allow the elderly couple to spend the final hours of the day on the veranda. They shuffled out, sinking into opposite ends of the chaise. It was so hot this summer. The heat slowed them, melted their rations of energy. No words passed between them; none were needed. The woman surveyed the sunset, marking day's end. Alone in her thoughts, she thought to herself, "The sun is setting on our days, too." She accepted it; their life had been a full one. Sixty years together, children, grandchildren, a successful business passed on to their sons.
"Life is so short," she mused, "but we made the most of it."
Her introspection was broken by a low rhythmic sound contrasting with the crickets' chirping a few yards away in the grass. She knew, without looking, that it was George sleeping. She looked anyway and gazed upon him.
"Poor George," she sighed, "he was always so fit and strong. Look at him now."
Recent years had taken their toll on him. The prostate cancer had been the worst of it. She couldn't know, but sensed, that his days were numbered in the scores, not hundreds. Then, her turn couldn't be far off.
"Oh, stop!" She chided herself. Self-pity had never been their refuge. "When one takes a partner for life, there is a beginning, middle, and an end."
She wiped a trickle of perspiration from her brow, reminded of the warmth of the season. She resumed her thoughts, traveling back in time to another hot summer night. A calendar would mark it a past tense memory of long ago. In her mind's eye, she was in the present. It was a story that she pulled often from the secret shelves of her memory. It always stirred her.
It was 1946 in a small city in Iowa. Helen and George had just been married that afternoon. The wedding had been long-postponed. They planned to wed in June 1942 after their graduation. A romance had blossomed in their senior year at the University. He would graduate in Civil Engineering; she in Library Science. He would probably work for the State Highway Department, she in the local schools. They would have a family and be happy.
Everyone who knew them considered Helen and George a good match. Both were children of farmers, used to hard work and hard times. They had been teenagers in the dustbowl—not much chance for fun. Their parents saw to it that their hard life did not embitter them. They looked forward to better times, with their training at the University punching their tickets.
George was a lanky young man, reserved and steady. His math skills and hard work made him excel in his courses. He might have appeared bookish, but his lean frame betrayed a wiry musculature that surprised many. He never smoked, only took an occasional drink with friends. In every way, he was a straight arrow. George was a quiet young man but whenever he did speak, he meant each well considered word. Those who didn't know him thought he was gruff. His close circle knew better.
Helen grew up on a farm in the same county as the one that George's family owned. Even as a girl, she pitched in with the farm chores. She developed a strong frame in her growing years, but one would never know it. It lay beneath a trim figure and a feminine smoothness. She stood about five-six; topped by wavy honey blonde hair she kept shoulder-length. Many college boys' neck craned to ogle her cute behind as she passed by them, but whatever they might have seen was created in their imaginations.
Helen did not tease, nor flaunt. Her femininity needed none of the weak reinforcement that flirting could bring her. Teasing was good only good for prompting action, and she desired none from those that ogled her. If ever a time came when provocation was in order, she would tease well-enough at her choosing. She kept her figure neatly covered in the practical a-line skirts that she usually wore that were popular in that day. Helen's chosen field of Library Science belied her personality. She was precocious and friendly, filled with energy. But, she did not suffer fools easily. She had a pretty face. Her smile was infectious; everyone liked her. She was like George in one respect; she was the female equivalent of the straight arrow. That was the norm in the days before the war.
When Helen and George met, they soon knew they had found their future mate. Her vivaciousness balanced his quiet demeanor. She helped him to put aside his shyness. Helen craved George's steadiness, reliability and the respect and trust that he earned from others. She was always proud to be with him. She found that he was kind and gentle. It was easy for George to be kind to Helen, he loved her.
A phone call on December 8 thrust a new, unwelcome chapter into their storybook. His Navy ROTC unit was to report in a week's time for duty in San Diego. He would complete his engineering degree there, then duty in the Pacific in the Seabees.
"Let's just elope now, while we have the chance," Helen pleaded. She loved him, and her body ached for him. They had delayed the act of consummation until after the wedding. They had not actually gone much further than passion-filled kissing. In the 1940's the shame of unmarried pregnancy, single-sex dorms with vigilant house mothers, the difficulty of finding a private place—sex before marriage was just not common in Midwest America in 1941. On December 6, they contemplated only six short months to wait to hold one another. They were a conventional couple and waiting the right thing to do. The following day, their expectations turned upside-down.
"You know that I love you, but it wouldn't be right," he replied. "Who knows what will happen to me? A widow with a baby would have a tough life".
George was always the wise one, the planner. Helen sadly agreed. George had steadied them, but he took comfort in her impulsive suggestion because it reassured him that she would wait for his return. He went to San Diego with his unit. Helen finished her degree and returned home. She got a job at the Public Library; she waited.
Through those long war years Helen longed for George. She waited for his letters, faded and out of date, little holes carved into them by military censors. Each day that the Western Union man did not deliver that dreaded telegram brought her a sigh of relief. She knew that they were right to wait, but the aching in her heart and body wouldn't fade. She never doubted that George would be as faithful as she, and so he was. The end of the war did not bring the end to George's military service. Finally, he was mustered out in June 1946.
For Helen, those final months of waiting were some of the loneliest. Other soldiers and sailors were returning home. It added a nasty sting to their separation. It was unfair. George had been one of the first to go off to war, but his skills were needed in reconstruction. She was grateful that he was out of danger. Her woman's body kept reminding her that she was now twenty-six years old and longed for that ultimate physical connection.
She dreamt of him holding her, shameless and naked. He would enter her, taking his pleasure inside her, emptying his essence deep within. At first, her sexual thoughts shamed her, but she came to revel in them, taking solace in her imagined satiation. Her mind's eye pictured his lean body, his square and resolute jaw line set on wide shoulders. She hoped that she would find the desire in him that she felt throbbing deep within herself.
As Helen's friends married, they whispered their sexual secrets in their coffee groups. They spoke of passion and pain. They recounted the breaking of their inner bodies to please their men, the later pleasures. All this inflamed Helen. She struggled to stop listening to them, but she could not. She didn't know how much of the stories were factual, or embellishments. She kept her silence. She only determined to experience it for herself when George returned.
Despite the carnage George witnessed, he remained kind, decent, and a little self-conscious. He earned two purple hearts. He never told Helen; he didn't want to worry her. His experiences had changed him. Still tall and lean, he added muscle to his frame. Any softness that he might have taken with him to the Pacific had long been worn away by jungle deprivations. Command experience added maturity beyond his years. He started the war as an Ensign, finished as Lt. Commander. His years of building landing strips on Pacific Islands had endowed him with confidence and abilities that a classroom could never teach.
Again a civilian, he craved a relaxation of the hardness and discipline that were necessary in his wartime service, but the ability to fully release would never quite come to him. Still, when he thought of his beloved Helen, he melted like butter in a skillet. She was so good; she had been so patient, so pure. He molded his image of her to a model of perfection, and it buoyed him through his years at war. True, he had placed her on a pedestal. It was a vision that suited him.
.... There is more of this story ...