On Valentine’s Day, we think of the loves of our lives. How sentimental we can become, often recalling stories of how two people met and fell in love. It can indeed seem magical.
And like children of all ages, perhaps we are especially fascinated with the stories of our parents, picturing them when they were young and in love. This Valentine’s Day, because I loved my parents so, I marvel how they met in 1938 and how they fell in love. And I smile at their miracle of love, partly because no one expected it at their advanced ages!
Looking back on my life with my parents, last having been able to talk with them more than 20 years ago now, I grasp at stories and even tiny details about them to bring them closer to me. I find myself picturing them in my mind’s eye, listening for their voices, and reliving our years together. Even with the fullest life today, with my own husband and our daughter and her family, I still gravitate toward my own parents so often in my mind and heart.
Sometimes it indeed seems like magic, the life we three spent together. It began in 1947 when I was born and played out for the next 48 years. Thousands of my memories picture us in Racine at 1418 Carlisle Ave., in the white Dutch colonial that Ann and Wilmer Burow bought in 1950 and which would remain the only home they were ever to own.
Oh, those pleasant memories of life together there: The Avenue lined with borders of huge maples, the friendly neighbors, the big grassy yards for playing until the street lights came on, walking with my dad down the still Avenue after dark to Marigold Dairy for a thick malted milk, or talking to Mother after a summer day as she watered her beautiful flower gardens. The memories tumble on and on into my heart.
I think of how my parents met and the unlikely love they found. As if reading a novel, I imagine their 1938 meeting in the dining room of the Jefferson House hotel, where they were both borders. I smile as I imagine how they looked: Tiny Ann in her flowered dresses and high heels, and Wilmer with white shirt and tie.
How had it happened that so many years had gone by? How had it happened that Ann, the beloved Fort Atkinson junior high teacher and who had just become a supervisor of all teachers in Jefferson County, had also become an “old maid” with the passing years? And Wilmer, the serious bookkeeper and confirmed bachelor, most assuredly was far too set in his ways to fall in love.
Overly cautious and conscientious, scarred by the Depression and their struggles for advanced educations, what made Ann and Wilmer able to talk to each other across the dining tables? When did they begin to look for each other each evening? How properly they must have acted in 1938! It took seven years to reach their wedding day on Aug. 25, 1945, waiting as did thousands of couples for the war to be over.
An aunt’s recollection
But what a surprise, even a shock, to those who knew them! Surely, friendly and amazed gossip surrounded this unlikely romantic pair! How delightful, then, that my own aunt, Marie Burow Jacobson, actually remembered those days. As my father’s youngest sibling by 20 years, she re-created those days with a fascinating picture of the times they lived in, and yes, the astonishment of those who knew Ann and Wilmer. I love her description written for me:
“When I first got a glimpse of your mom, she visited our country school as part of her duties of being a supervising teacher for the county.
“Most everyone today does not have a concept of a “country school,” as most were closed in the 1940s. Most all were of brick construction, probably a 30 by 60 structure, a platform stage where the teacher had her desk. Of course, blackboards behind her, a flag and a large globe, the “pull-down, roll-up” maps were the general fixtures. We had a piano for the morning singing class, a large gigantic coal stove in the back, a water cooler in one corner of the back and a bookcase on the opposite corner. Water was carried in a covered container from a neighboring farmer by two of the “big kids.” The bell in the tower called the school day to come to order at 9 a.m., and also rang when recess was over.
"I liked school a lot and had such a good teacher. However, there were two things I did not like and have vivid memories of each. They were the occasional visits we had from two persons. One lady who came always wore a blue dress with long sleeves, white collar and cuffs, a blue coat and a blue hat. She was the county nurse. Each of us were inspected for flat feet and also got a tongue blade in the mouth and throat for a check for bad teeth and tonsils. She also felt your neck to see if you may have a goiter. Parents got a notice of our defects.
"The second visitor who called made us kids feel uncomfortable. She was a large lady, who made “clomping” sounds on the floor as she walked. We all gazed at her as she found it difficult to slide into a “big kid” desk. She looked us over, without a smile, opened her big book and took out her pen and made notes. We were doomed, we thought, but we found out that she was really a supervising teacher. Her job was to see if the teacher was doing a good job. We were always glad to see her leave!
“Our country school had only one entrance door, which was in the back of the room. It was a thick wooden door but did not have a door knob, but a latch. Upon entering from outside, you pressed your thumb down on this metal cup-type latch and it opened the door. That latch had sort of a little ‘click” to it when it was opened.
“On one particular day, being very quiet in school at the time, we heard a “click.” Everyone turned to look to see who was coming in. As we watched, the door opened slowly and a pretty lady with a big friendly smile poked her head in, opened the door further, and just seemed to “float” in. She was smiling at everyone of us. Who can this nice lady with a big smile be? She wasn’t any one of our mothers.
“She was dressed nice and neat and tip-toed to a seat and had no trouble at all getting in to the desk with her big armful of books. She listened to classes. Later, our teacher told us that her name was Miss Ann Fadness and she was the new supervising teacher. I will always remember that day as the day an angel visited the Elm Lawn School. It was always a joy to have her visit school.
“Some time later, after I began high school, my oldest brother Wilmer came home and asked to borrow a blanket as he was taking a lady friend to a Badger football game in nearby Madison and expected the weather to be chilly. What a shock to hear all this. Serious Wilmer had a lady friend going to a football game? Unbelievable, but true. I asked my mother, “Who is she?” My mother answered, “Her name is Ann Fadness.” Well, to me, that set off shock number two. I couldn’t believe what she had told me.
“As time went on, the friendship blossomed into a marriage between Wilmer and Ann. And now the “angel lady” was my sister-in-law.
“This is how it was, Carol. I think they were a good team together and we were all happy for Wilmer when he married your mother. She was such a perfect lady in every respect when she was alive and I know she is a perfect angel in Heaven.”
- The magical meeting in 1938 and the magical bonding that love creates was to form a firm and faithful bond between my parents. I think of them so fondly on this Valentine’s Day.
- Carol Burow Gianforte’s past stories can be found by going online at journaltimes.com. Her memoir about growing up in Racine, “My Heart Leads Me Home — A Daughter’s Memoir,” is available at the Racine Heritage Museum, Barnes & Noble, and on Amazon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Overly cautious and conscientious, scarred by the Depression
and their struggles for advanced educations, what made
Ann and Wilmer able to talk to each other across the dining tables? When did they begin to look for each other each evening?