Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Bob and Kink Get Married
In 1935, my father, Robert Whaley (b. 1919), moved to Jasper, Indiana (pop. 10,000), from an even smaller Indiana burg named Milltown. He was just entering his junior year of high school, and was a bit concerned. His family was nominally Protestant (he himself was never religious), but as a child the people in Milltown were anti-Papists, and he had heard that Catholics actually had horns. He was relieved to find out it wasn’t true.
My mother, LeNore Kunkel (b. 1918), was one of nine children (eight girls, one boy). These children were all given beautiful names, but then called by unattractive nicknames. Thus “Antoinette” became “Net,” “Marvin” was “Bud,” “Anna Mae” was “Mazie,” etc. My mother was born with very curly hair so she was branded “Kink,” a name she hated, but which stayed with her until she banished it late in her life (her relatives and old friends still call her that). She was a feisty child, determined to get her own way. After Mom died Net told me that in fights with all of the other sisters except the oldest, Mom would win the fight and then insist the loser kiss the floor in front of her! For Xmas one year, her only gift was a lump of coal (no joke—learning of this years later, Dad was much upset at its cruelty).
Both parents were fun and easy to get along with, and when they met at Jasper High School they were soon dating. The first time Dad went over to my mother’s house (11 people, remember) he thought there was a party going on! They became a couple, a relationship that ended only when Dad died in 1980 (Mom, grieving, not meaning to be humorous, smacked her hand against his coffin and muttered, “Bobby, I could kill you for dying!” She followed five years later). The last year of high school Dad was the President of the Student Body and Mom was head cheerleader. Marriage was inevitable.
Dad went off to Indiana University, majoring in Business, but joined the Army Air Corps toward the end of his senior year; it was 1941 and war was certain to start soon (Indiana patriotically awarded him his degree anyway). He was sent to Randolph Army (now Air Force) Base in San Antonio, Texas, for training, and he and Mom agreed that she would join him there in December and they’d get married. They were both excited about this. Dad started taking Catholic religion training (mandatory for non-Catholics marrying Catholics), and promptly got into a debate with the priest who was to marry them. The priest, who Dad liked a lot, stopped suddenly and told Dad, “Wait here,” whereupon he went to another room of his residence and returned with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses, and, drinks in hand, the debaters began anew.
Meantime Mom was back in Jasper, and becoming nervous. She had once been to Detroit with her uncle, but other than that brief trip hadn’t left Indiana (ironically, she spent the rest of her life moving from one city or country to another). A small town girl, constantly put down by her parents (“Marry one of the other girls,” they told Dad, “Kink’s trouble”), global war imminent, scared of travel and big cities, she wasn’t sure she could go through with the marriage. Nonetheless, she swallowed hard and let her father drive her to Washington, Indiana, where she caught a train for San Antonio. On the trip she confessed her doubts to a young sailor, and he told her not to worry. He was therefore amazed when she abruptly left the train at Dallas, announcing she was definitely going home! He grabbed her arm on the platform. “A man who loves you is waiting for his bride in San Antonio,” he told her gently. “Don’t disappoint him.” She nodded, tears in her eyes, and returned to her seat.
Their happy reunion was blown into chaos by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th. Dad’s unit was told not to get married because “some of you could be shipped out instantly and be unable to spend the night with your bride.” Nonetheless the wedding plans went on, and they were married at the Randolph Army Base chapel on December 13th. There was no honeymoon, and in the spring of 1942 they moved to El Paso, where Dad underwent training as a pilot.
Bob and Kink had many wonderful stories from their year and a half in El Paso (and when the three of us drove through there on our way to Las Vegas in 1969, they both became misty-eyed). They rented half of a duplex from a little old lady whose husband had recently died, leaving her alone with a little old dog that she sincerely hated. She was so proud of having a military man living in her house she had a large Army Officer’s Seal (about four feet in diameter, Dad said) placed on the front lawn with a spotlight on it. “Because of that, you never had trouble finding our place,” remarked Dad later. The first time the Whaleys threw a party, things got sort of loud, and Dad’s sleeve suddenly was plucked by a guest saying, “Your landlady’s at the front door.” Uh-oh, he thought, we’re disturbing her. But when he came to the door, she was smiling, holding a bottle of wine. “It sounded like you were having so much fun,” she said, “I thought you might need this.” Taking her by the arm, he promptly introduced her to everyone, and she proceeded to have a great time. “She liked us so much,” Mom remembered, “that you had to be careful what you said to her. I once casually remarked that the bathroom needed to be painted soon, and she quickly had it redone in red, white, and blue swirls.” “Drunks would go in there and come out sober,” Dad added.
Mom became pregnant with me, Dad was shipped off to Panama for the duration of the war (he’d volunteered for a mysterious “secret mission” which turned out to be flying drones from another plane over the Panama Canal to prevent it from Nazi attacks, none of which happened—he spent the war writing transfer requests for combat duty). Mom returned to Jasper, where I was born September 25, 1943.
There is much more to the story of Bob and Kink’s marriage (see, for example, “My Competitive Parents,” Jan. 20), and later posts will explore some of their myriad adventures.
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
"Goodbye to St. Paddy's Day," March 2, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010
"The Death of My Mother," March 31, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013