We have had a lot of company due to my wife, Christine’s 91st birthday, and there has been no time to be thinking about a column, so I am taking a chapter from my book that I wrote for my grandchildren. Often when we meet a couple of new friends we are usually asked, “How did you two meet?” Just recently I was interested in reading about how John Glenn, the astronaut met his wife, Amy. Their families were neighbors and very good friends, and the two actually met in a play pen when they were babies. In my book, titled “I Met Her When She Was 13,” I wrote in a previous column about how we saw each other when we were 14 and 13 years old, and being shy, we only smiled at each other for weeks, not even having the courage to say hello. The next chapter of our little love story tells how we finally met.
It was an accident
God has an odd way of doing things and an awful thing happened, but it did put us together. It was in November, the week before Thanksgiving and Christine wasn’t in school one morning. The previous evening she had gone with a bunch of kids to a Luther League meeting at the Lutheran Church in Chapin. Billy Buescher was a sophomore in my class and he was the driver in his dad’s 1926 Ford. There was no such thing as a driver’s license, so he could drive a car at age fifteen. His dad let him use a car that night since it was for a church event. The car was loaded with too many passengers and the car was definitely not made for speed. After the youth meeting ended, Billy had the idea that they could go home through Jacksonville, and then return home to Beardstown by going through Virginia. Going this way they would have a longer ride, and after all, he had never been allowed to have the car without his parents being with him.
As the happy bunch entered the edge of Jacksonville there was a sharp turn on the narrow highway. The newspaper report was that they were going too fast to make the turn. The turns weren’t sloped as they are today for the faster cars. The Buescher car left the road and the car turned completely over on its back. Most of the kids were thrown out of the car and none were hurt except for a scratch or bruise, but Christine was sitting in the middle of the back seat, and somehow she was pinned under the car. The hot engine oil began dripping on her neck and her stomach and she was severely burned. She was taken to Our Savior’s Hospital in Jacksonville; the others turned the car upright and went on home.
The next morning the news of the accident spread throughout the high school, and although I didn’t know Christine, I was quite concerned. There was a senior boy, Harry Bergman, who was one of the paper boys, as I was, and he knew I would like to know Christine more than just smiling at each other in study hall. Every Wednesday, Harry’s mother would take him to Jacksonville where he took violin lessons, and he would stop at the hospital to see Christine. Harry became the matchmaker; he came back after a visit with Christine and told me that Christine would like me to come see her, and at the same time, he was telling Christine that I wanted to come see her. Both were false, but then I wasn’t sure, maybe she did say that. On the next Wednesday, there wasn’t any basketball practice, and I would be able to ride with the Bergmans to Jacksonville.
The Roberts kids had rules, though, one being to always let our Mother know where we were. We even had to leave a note, pinned to the wall if Mother wasn’t at home. Now I have to go to tell my Mother that I want to go to Jacksonville to see a girl that she doesn’t even know.
“You want to go to Jacksonville to see a Jacksonville girl?” Followed by, “How in the world do you know a Jacksonville girl?” was my Mother’s quick response when I asked her if I could go.
I explained to her that it was a Beardstown girl who I knew at school, and she is in the hospital and that I would be going with Harry and his mother. I knew my sweet Mother would give me permission, but I could just imagine her telling my Dad that night that his 14 year old son went to Jacksonville today to see a girl.
We went to Jacksonville and I thought Harry would go into the hospital with me, but no, I was to visit while he took his violin lesson. The Bergmans let me out at Our Savior’s Hospital, more nervous and frightened than ever before. I had never been in a hospital before and when I entered there was no one in the lobby, but the front door rang a bell so I was soon greeted by a nun, dressed as they did back then, in their black habit. I had never seen a nun before. She said, “Hello young man, may I help you?” Right away I felt like I was being attacked by this old lady. This was so different than the hospitals of today; there was not even a desk in the lobby. It was too late to back out now, I quietly said, “Yes Mamm, I wondered if I could see Christine?” She gave me a comforting smile and said, “You certainly can, she will be delighted to see you, are you her brother?” “No Mamm,” was all that came out of my mouth. I didn’t know who I was, at age 14, I couldn’t say I was her fiancée, we really had never met, and I was glad when she said to follow her. Why be nervous, after all, it was three months ago when I first saw her that I said that I was going to marry Christine, we didn’t even know each other. I couldn’t say I was her boyfriend and we were going steady because we had never even spoken a word to each other, so that wouldn’t be right.
In a matter of seconds I was walking into her room and the nun was saying, “Look who came to see you.’ The nun didn’t know who I was either.
There she was, smiling and prettier than ever. She was laying there with what looked like a small covered wagon over her body with her head out one end and her feet out the other. It was over 75 years ago, but I can remember every word that was said in that hospital room.
“Hi, how are you?” and she said “Hi, how are you?” I was glad she didn’t ask what I was doing there. I asked, “What is that thing over you?” She explained,” It holds everything off of me where I was burned; what have you been doing?” That was a break, from that moment on I told her about a movie I had seen called Magnificent Obsession with Robert Taylor and Merle Oberlin. It was a great movie and has been remade at least twice since then. So word by word scene by scene I did the talking and then the nun came to tell me my ride was here and it was time to go. I told Christine goodbye, and she thanked me for coming. The meeting was a success, now we know each other, I have talked to her, I was thrilled and she is every bit as nice as I had imagined.
Some called it puppy love, others said there were cases of love at first sight, but whatever it was, at that moment in the old Jacksonville hospital we both sensed that we cared for each other and had the thrill that two young kids, or any two people would have with their first love. We were very happy and are thankful for the memory of having met in the old Jacksonville hospital.