A Marriage Pre Destined: Stories From my Grandfather Number One
My grandfather, Nelson Coolidge Price, was a history teacher and high school principal. He loved to teach and had a passion for history that was infectious. Most of the Price clan are lovers of history and many of us are educators. In their retirement, my grandfather and my grandmother (Barbara) expanded their love of history to include genealogy, tracing the roots of the Price and Geddes (My maternal side) as back as the fourteenth century. Additionally, they wrote several books together.
In the final two years of my grandfather’s life, I helped him put together his last book, Remembrances, which traces his personal history. While this book is of utmost interest to the Price family, I think the stories may interest others as well. What follows is chapter one from that last book. I made a few editorial and grammatical changes but it’s basically his words the way he shared the story in his book.
I think it’s important to know where we came from. These stories are preserved in book form, but I also want to put them on the web and preserve them there in case of disaster or anything else.
I hope that you enjoy these stories as much as I do!
The rain descended in torrents. I had a twenty-four hour pass in my pocket and as soon as the retreat ended, I ran for the barracks. There my younger brother Gifford waited with my best uniform. It was January 24, 1942 and it was to be my wedding night. Barbara and I had enjoyed three years of courtship in college together to reach this point in our lives.
It all started in September 1938 while we waited to register at the University of Redlands. Barbara, a freshman, looked lost as she stood in the Hall of Letters. I asked her if I could help. I was older; a junior college transfer. We talked, but several months would pass before I finally got up the nerve to ask Barbara to go for a walk in the park. It turned out we were both tired of studying for finals. Even at nine at night one could walk in Smiley Park without fear. It was raining lightly that night of January 10, 1939, but Barbara said “yes” and for the next three years, our care and affection for one another grew.
In February of 1941 I was drafted into the Army. The disaster at Pearl Harbor had not yet befallen on America, which slept on. Barbara and I announced our engagement on Thanksgiving Day 1941 when I was able to come south from Camp Roberts where by then I was an instructor, even though I was only a lowly corporal. We made the announcement at the University where we were a popular couple, rather than at Barbara’s home where her grandparents disapproved of our decision.
On December seventh, our world exploded into war. I was confined to camp and Barbara, plagued by several periods of illness, struggled to finish her senior year at the university and earn her teaching credentials. At any time I expected to be shipped off to officer candidate school on the east coast. The condition of my eyes, however, prevented me from going to officer training at that time. Six weeks later came a drastic change; one that would forever alter the course of our lives. On January seventeenth, just as I was starting the March out to one of the training areas I was handed a telegram:
“If you agree will be up next weekend to be married. Will have license and physical exam. Call me Sunday at 10 PM.”
The dye was cast.
On Wednesday, Barbara came up on a Greyhound Bus and we met at the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse. Our battalion headquarters company commander, Lt. Ferese, and First Sergeant Nicholas J. Zeelock, a Russian specializing in the use of the bayonet, liked Barbara and I and they assigned me to go into town to “buy athletic equipment” for the battalion. Barbara and I met at the courthouse and took care of the paper work. Driving north back toward camp we found a church that looked like the one in which she would like to be married, located the minister, an Army chaplain named Donaldson, and rehearsed the ceremony. Barbara returned to Redlands on the bus where, as 2:00 AM, the police, mistaking her for a “street walker”, picked her up and drove her back to the dorm.
I don’t know how it all came together in those three days before the wedding, but thanks to Barbara’s father, it did. Ernest liked me and approved of our marriage. He was devastated by his parents’ refusal to allow him to raise his daughter after the tragic death of Barbara’s mother, three days after her birth. He resented their opposition to our wedding. From someplace came an exquisite white satin bridal gown and all the other necessities.
Saturday morning, Barbara’s father, Ernest Geddes, loaded his second wife and Barbara’s two half-sisters into the car and drove the 250 miles to Camp Roberts. They had to reach the San Luis Obispo Court House by noon. At mid-morning fate intervened. Their car was trapped in an Army convoy that wended its way slowly over the hills towards Camp Roberts. As it started to rain, the hands on Ernest’s watch moved inexorably toward twelve o’clock.
He pulled off the road and found a telephone and, using the persuasive talent that which later proved important in his leadership of the California State Legislature, convinced the county clerk to stay at her desk until he arrived.
Upon arrival, the chaplain’s wife opened her home to the wedding party, she played the organ and two little girls were the flower girls. Barbara’s best friend from college had driven up with her fiancée. She was the maid of honor and sang. My brother Gifford was the best man and he had brought a white shirt for me. War or no war, it didn’t seem right to get married in khaki.
After the ceremony conducted by Chaplain Donaldson, the wedding party adjourned to the Carlton Hotel in Atascadero where Barbara’s father hosted a wedding dinner. I don’t remember the ring, or even if there was one at that time. The only wedding present I can recall is the clock in the shape of a wheel presented by Sergeant Zeelock and Lieutenant Ferese which still sits on my desk today. Although I had to report back to camp each morning, Zeelock and Ferese took care of renewing my 24-hour pass for each of the next three days. Our honeymoon would have to wait two years and Barbara’s wedding cake until our fiftieth anniversary party in 1992.
Barbara’s favorite uncle, Jim, and his wife, along with Barbara’s two cousins, came down from San Francisco. My mother, father and sister drove up with Gifford from Pasadena. Missing, however, were Barbara’s devoted grandparents who had nurtured Barbara since the death of her mother three days after Barbara was born. They refused to attend claiming age and ill health, though I believe their real reason was their opposition to our marriage.