When Corky Met Bea

Originally written Feb 2004  

My parents could have been/should have been in the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” It’s a classic tale about relationships. Periodically, throughout the movie, a different couple appears on the screen, talking about how they met and how their life has been. Most of them have been married a long time and they clearly adore each other. To my mind, these brief segues are a high point of the movie. My parents, Corky and Bea, have a similar story.

Since my adolescence and up to the present time I’ve watched my parent’s relationship with interest. Perhaps that’s something most kids do. It’s our first glimpse of how relationships function and it gives us some ideas about how we want ours to be. My parent’s marriage was complex. They seemed to argue a lot. My father often joked that he and Mom were “The Bickerson’s” which was an old radio program with constantly arguing main characters.

Wanting to better understand the dynamics of their marriage, I asked them lots of questions about how they met and originally got together. I was just curious. What was the glue that made them stick together when many times that seemed so hard? It turned out to be an intriguing story, one that helped me realize just how haphazardly their relationship had been originally formed; it helped me empathize with their struggles.    

In the fall of 1942, Corky had left Ortonville, MN, joined the Navy and was attending a sub chaser training program in Miami preparing for his next assignment on a ship in the Pacific. Bea had left Oshkosh, WI, was living in Miami with a girl friend and working as a store clerk. Bea seemed a bit of a rebel since during that time period, young, single girls seldom left their family to live on their own.

A couple of times a week, Bea and her girlfriend went to the Miami Servicemen’s Center, a USO-type club. It was a way to interact socially, meet new people in a safe environment and also give the soldiers company. They felt it was their patriotic duty. At the Center, they’d sit at a table until a service man approached, asking to dance. Since there were always more men than women at the club, Bea and her girl friend were always busy.

It was accepted social etiquette that when a young man wanted to dance with a woman who was already occupied, he could cut in. Then he could charm the young lady until someone cut in on him. The rule was that the man who was cut in on could not cut back until a third person had cut in. Each week, Corky came around to ask Bea to dance. He was, by his own account, truly smitten.

“Boy, I knew who I wanted, “ he told me. “I saw this gal with the dark, curly hair. She was the one for me.”

“It was really tough,” he continued. “These other guys were always cutting in. So I had to stand around and wait my turn. Then I got smart. I set it up with my pal, Herb. I told him, ‘when someone cuts in on me, you go over and cut in. Then I can cut in on you.’ Geeze, we really had things going there. Your poor Ma didn’t know what was going on. I remember thinking a few times she must be getting dizzy. Then she caught on to it and that’s when the courtship began.”

Dad went on and on. It was one of those rare occasions when he verbalized his feelings. I remember thinking: wow, he really does love her after all.

They began dating and, one of Corky’s friends started dating Bea’s roommate. Time was drawing near for Corky to report for his new assignment and he didn’t want her to get away, so he proposed. They were married six weeks after they had met and about two weeks later Corky left, reported to his ship and was off to the Pacific. Bea went back to Oshkosh. Even though she was brazen enough to live on her own as a single woman, she explained that a married woman lived either with her husband or her family.

I also know Bea went to see Corky while he was on leave in in California. On that leave, I came into the picture. Bea went back home, had her baby (me) and waited for Corky to return home. From family pictures, I can see he came home when I was about six months old. I also see that this six month old baby was wondering who the heck was this intruder.  

It was a surprise to hear this story. But then, some of their difficulties seemed to make sense. These two young people who hardly knew each other, got married and never had the time to be a married couple (except for the two weeks in Miami) before they were parents.

I often wonder if they would have gotten married had they met under different circumstances, had a regular courtship and met each other’s families. All that usual stuff. Would they have stayed together if they’d been married in another era? These days’ people get divorced more easily, perhaps too easily.

It’s only in the last few years of their marriage, Bea and Corky seem to have come to terms with one another’s differences. About time, since they just had their 61st wedding anniversary! These days they are kind of cute, still arguing and bantering with each other as they have throughout their entire married life. They also still have some pretty hard times, but mostly shrug things off and seem to consider the source. I guess that’s love.      


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