Family Legacies Chapter 21

(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)

Hastings, Nebraska, May 1938

[Al Cullen misses his girlfriend and knows her father will never accept him as his daughter’s husband. He makes an important decision.]

Al dribbled the ball down the court. It hit the rim and bounced, and Al shook his head. It had been a difficult year. Every time he failed to make the basket, it seemed symbolic of his relationship with Kate.

“Hey, Al!” Roy yelled at him from across the court. “What’s up?”

Al smiled and waved; he dribbled a few more steps, stopped, took aim, and shot the ball again. This time it went through the weave and Al caught it as it came down. He dribbled down the court, switched the ball from his right hand to his left, leaped, and dropped the ball neatly into the basket. The local sports reporters referred to this manoeuvre as Al’s “southpaw toss.“

“I’ve got it!” Roy caught the ball as it came through the basket. The two friends and teammates worked the ball back and forth and up and down the court and shot several baskets. After thirty minutes of competitive but informal play, Roy stopped, holding the ball, and told his pal that he had to get home. “Want to walk along with me? he asked.

Al welcomed the chance to talk with his buddy. They left the gymnasium and stepped out into a beautiful mid-May late afternoon. Warm, but not yet hot and sticky like the summer months. They walked along a green tree-lined path, past McCormick Hall, and towards the edge of the Hastings College campus. Students were lying on the grass, some studying for final exams, some sleeping, others just talking.

“How’s Kate?” Roy asked as they walked along.

“She’s fine. Her first year of teaching is almost over.”

“Has she liked it?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Roy, as Al’s best friend, knew all about Kate and Al’s struggle to have a life together despite her father’s disapproval. “You don’t sound very enthusiastic. I suppose she’s been pretty lonely.”

“Yes. Very lonely. Whenever I go to see her, she seems to get worse. I can’t cheer her up.”

“Take her some flowers. Don’t women always like flowers?”

Al laughed. “I would if I could afford them!”

Roy kept walking. “So is she coming back next year?”

“We hope so. She’s saved enough money to pay for her tuition.”

“What about Mr. Jacobsen? Is she going to live at home again?”

“We’re not sure. Kate really needs free room and board, but she doesn’t know if she can stand living there again.”

“Tough choice.” Roy stood nearly a foot taller than Al, but since the early years of their childhood they had been close friends, and the disparity in their height had never, ever mattered. “What are you two going to do?”

Al knew that his friend’s question was not about school, but whether or not Kate and Al would marry soon. “I’ll be twenty-one in just two months.”

“I know. But Kate’s got another year before she’s got the magic number, right? Her dad will never give his approval for you to marry, will he? And you’d still have to see if HC would allow you and Kate to attend if you’re married.”

“We can probably manage HC, but Kate’s dad is just about the most insufferable, impossible person I‘ve ever met. There’s no way he’ll ever willingly let his daughter marry me.”

Roy chuckled. “Yeah, and usually you’re such a charmer.”

Al smiled. His friend was teasing, but it was actually the truth. Usually, he was a charmer. “Well, at least you aren’t the king of England who wants to marry a divorced American woman. I’d say their problems were bigger than yours. What is it that Mr. Jacobsen has got against you, Al?”

Al shook his head. “Darned if I know. I’d willingly give up a kingdom if Kate’s dad would just let me marry her. He hasn’t liked me since the first time I dated Kate. Did I ever tell you about that?”

Roy smiled. “Only about a hundred times, but you can tell me again if it makes you feel better.”

“No, I won’t bore you with the details again.” In the seconds it took for the conversation to change course, Al vividly remembered the first time he took Kate home. Lars Jacobsen had been drunk and argumentative. He had ordered Al off his property and told him to stay away from his daughter. Kate had been embarrassed and frightened and had tried to placate her father. Al had vowed, then and there, that he would not let Kate’s father stop him from dating his daughter. His thoughts turned to happier times. “Well,“ he said to his friend, “at least our team did well this year. It’s helped me to keep my mind off Kate.”

“Yeah, first place in the conference isn’t bad.” Both Roy and Al had been star players. Roy, as the tallest, played Center. Al — at five foot seven the shortest on the team — played Forward. Both men scored high in any game, though Roy was the highest scorer on the team since he could grab the ball away from anyone and easily plunk it into the basket. Al earned his points by simply outspeeding his guards with his rapid-fire dribbling and leaving them “standing in the mud,” as one reporter had written. Once, a coach from nearby Grand Island had said about Al: “A fellow simply shouldn’t be that fast on a basketball floor.” Al had loved it, but it hadn’t impressed Kate’s father. Nothing impresses him, Al thought.

The two young men left the Hastings College campus and walked west on 7th Street. “I wish I could predict the future,” Al said.

Roy shook his head. “Maybe you don’t really want to know the future, Al. As I see it, things aren’t very good. You’ve been so busy with your worries over your girl that maybe you haven’t noticed. We may be out of the Depression, but that Hitler guy scares me.”

“Yeah, but Roosevelt signed an act of neutrality. If there‘s a war, I don’t think we’ll be in it.”

Al’s confidence did not convince Roy. “Maybe,” he said, “and then again: maybe not. I don’t know. I just want to graduate and get a job, and that’s a whole year away yet.”

“No marriage for you?” Al grinned.

“Maybe some day, but I haven’t met the right girl yet.”

Al patted his friend on the back. “You will, Roy. And when you do, you’ll know it’s for good, just as I know that Kate’s the one for me.”

Roy nodded, and they walked together in silence until Al said, “Say, that Howard Hughes has done it again! Did you read about it? He flew in his own airplane, the Hughes H-1, from Los Angeles to New York in something like seven hours.”

“No,” Roy said solemnly. “Seven hours?” He whistled and shook his head. “That’s amazing.“ He paused and then said, “I just read about Joe Dimaggio. Who’s Howard Hughes?” And then he winked at his friend.

“Hey, I can beat you to the corner,” and Al took off at a fast sprint. Roy, who had much longer legs and got a late start, still caught up to Al right at the corner. “Beat you!” Al chuckled.

“No you didn’t. I didn’t have a chance.” Roy stood for a moment at the corner and looked at his friend. “I hope things get worked out between you and Kate, Al. I’ll see you tomorrow in class. Have you got your English essay done?”

“No, I’m doing it tonight.”

“Yeah, me, too.” Roy headed north on Kansas Street, while Al headed south. As Al walked on alone, his thoughts returned again to Kate. There had been so many incidents between Kate and her father that he couldn’t decide which one had been the worst. The only good thing about their separation this year was at least he didn’t have to worry about Kate being in that house with her father. How little I knew when all of this started, he thought.

Al reached his parents‘ home but lingered on the back porch as the light began to fade, sitting in the porch swing. He didn’t like Kate living in Pauline, but he was glad that she didn’t have to put up with her father. He had tried to visit her as often as he could. But he had seen her unhappiness and he knew that she hated being away from Hastings College, their friends, and the activities they used to do together. Sometimes, it seemed to him, she was almost paranoid about what he did, and with whom. He could never cheer her up. To ease her worries, he had curtailed activities, but this had been hard because he enjoyed them. He had remained on the basketball team and kept his position as business manager of the Bronco, the school’s yearbook. Despite these efforts, though, it seemed to Al as though Kate expected him to be as lonely as she was. She just feels left out, he told himself. That’s understandable. I would feel the same. She’s missing a whole year of her education — all because of her father. And then his thoughts went once again to Mr. Jacobsen. I have no idea how I would deal with that man if he were my father. He’s a bully, and her mother makes it worse by either ignoring it or defending him.

Briefly, he thought about driving to Pauline that night. Kate would be so surprised to see him that she couldn’t be mad at him. On the other hand, she might be upset that he was not concentrating on his exams — and, of course, she no doubt had work to do to be ready for tomorrow’s day of teaching. No, he thought, I’d better not go. Not tonight.

The air cooled down as darkness approached. Al swung back and forth in the swing, listening to it squeak with each forward movement. He thought of Bing Crosby’s song and he began to sing the words out loud in his clear tenor voice: “Every time it rains,/It rains pennies from heaven.” He finished the song and then thought, Maybe a rain storm could wash away my troubles. Al loved Hastings — he had been born here — and he thought it would be terrific if he could teach and coach here, either at Hastings High or at Hastings College. But, considering their problems with Kate’s dad, he knew that he and Kate would be forced to leave, and he was willing to sacrifice much to have a life with Kate.

“Al? Is that you?” Al’s mother called from the kitchen. Apparently his singing had been heard.

“Yeah, it’s me, Mother.” Al took off his jacket and hung it on a hook inside the porch and entered the kitchen. The aroma of warm, just-baked apple pie filled the kitchen. “Oh, wow, Mother, that smells great. May I have a piece?”

Janie winked. “Oh, Al, I just baked it! Can’t you wait until tomorrow? Honestly, I can’t bake anything in this house that lasts for more than an hour!”

“Sorry, Mother. I just finished shooting some baskets and I’m really hungry.” He gave his saddest, lost-puppy look which always melted his mother’s heart.

“Oh, all right. Come and sit down and I’ll give you a piece.” Janie Cullen wiped her hands on her apron.

“Thanks, Mother.” Al sat down, and in moments a large piece of pie was placed before him.

“Do you want some ice cream with that, or something to drink?“ she asked.

“No, Mother, this is just fine.”

“How was your day?” she asked.

Al hesitated, swallowed the piece of pie that was in his mouth, and said, “Fine. Why?”

Janie was hesitant to say much to Al about Kate. If she had any control over the situation, she would have wanted Al to choose anyone but Kate Jacobsen. But he was so determined, and she had to admit that trait came from her. Her heart ached for Al, and she certainly didn’t understand the Jacobsens dislike of her son. She chose her words carefully. “Have you heard from Kate today?”

“No, no letter. But I’ll go up to see her this weekend.” Al ate his pie and said nothing more. He knew how his mother felt about his relationship with Kate, but he also knew that she would not interfere. He loved her for that.

“All right,” his mother replied. “Do you need to have a lunch to take with you? I can make you something. And what about the weather? They say there could be some thunderstorms, and you know how the roads can get in a heavy rain. Heaven knows we should be glad to have some rain after all those years of drought, but you know that a downpour can be dangerous on the prairie. Maybe you shouldn’t go.”

Al chuckled to himself. His mother was always willing to help — and always willing to worry. “I’ll be fine, Mother. I think Kate will probably have something for me to eat, and if it rains it won’t be very much, I’m sure. I’ll let Kate know that I’m coming and if I don’t show up on time, she can call you and let you know. Then you can send out the bloodhounds to find me.”

Janie smiled. She appreciated his concern for her and said so.

Al finished his pie while his mother cleaned up some dishes. Only the ticking of the clock could be heard.

“Mother, Kate’s birthday‘s coming up next month. What do you think I should get for her?”

Janie pondered the question. “Well, I always think a good book is a good gift. I’ve heard that that new novel by Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, is very popular. And Kate loves to read. I think it’s a book she’d enjoy.”

“Thanks, Mother. Great idea. I’ll consider that.” Al finished his pie. “That was terrific, Mother. You’re such a good cook!” He stood up and kissed his mother on her cheek. “I’m going to my room now. I’ve got some studying to do, and then I’ll hit the hay.” His mother merely nodded her head as he left.

Al crossed through the living room and said a quick hello to his father who was reading the evening paper. “Hi, Dad. Anything interesting?”

Simon Cullen shook the paper open to the next page as he spoke. “Not really, son. Europe’s in a mess, though.”

Al did not reply to his father, but ruffled the hair of his little brother, Simon Jr., who was reading a book while lying on the floor. “Hey, squirt,” he said, “shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“I’ve got half an hour!”

Al looked back at his father. “Can I talk to you, Dad,” and then at his little brother, “in private?”

Simon Cullen closed and folded his newspaper and said to Simon, Jr., “Go on upstairs and get ready for bed, Simon.”

“But I still have half an hour.”

“You don’t have to go to bed yet, son, just give your brother and me some privacy.”

Simon Jr. picked up his toys and stomped out of the room.

“Simon,” his father called after him, “remember your manners.” Then he turned to Al, who had taken a seat on the sofa. “What is it, Al?”

“Dad, what’s wrong with Mr. Jacobsen?”

“What do you mean?”

“He seems like such a mean person. And he hates me trying to date his daughter.”

Simon Cullen put his hand on his beard and stroked it several times. “Al, I can’t answer your question. I don’t know what makes some men mean and some men kind. I don’t know why some men just seem bad. What matters, I think, is what our parents teach us about right and wrong. Lars Jacobsen doesn’t seem to care about anyone else but himself. He has affairs with women, ignoring his wife’s feelings. He believes some human beings are of less value than himself which, I guess, is why he’s in the KKK. My dealings with him as a businessman have been less than satisfactory.”

Al listened carefully to his father’s words. “I just don’t get it, Dad. I’m a good person. Why can’t I be the man who marries his daughter?”

“I don’t know, Al. I suspect he wants a man of money and privilege. Apparently, you don’t fit the bill on either of those criteria.” Simon smiled at his son. “But we both know there are more important things than money and privilege.”

Al nodded.

“Are you still determined to date this young woman?”

“Yes.”

“Will she be returning to HC next year?”

“We hope so.”

Simon shook his head. “You might do well to look elsewhere, Al. I think having anything to do with the Jacobsen family will bring you grief.”

“It’s Kate I want to be with, not her father.”

“But sometimes the ghosts of our fathers can haunt us wherever we go and whatever we want to do.”

Al looked at his dad. He wasn’t sure what he meant by those words, but he didn’t want to know. “I’d better go do my homework.” Simon nodded, and made no hint or suggestion that he had anything further to say. He picked up his newspaper again and began to read.

Al took the stairs two at a time, and entered his bedroom. He closed the door behind him, walked across to the window, and stared into the darkness. He lifted the sash and stuck his head out. He took a deep breath and sighed. He was glad that his older brother, James, no longer shared a room with him. They had often fought bitterly over things — many of them probably silly — but at least now Al could open the window as far as he wanted to and James would not complain about being cold. Al was glad that James had married a nice young woman — Julie — and he seemed to be much happier than he ever had before.

Al had a big essay to write, the last one for the semester. He left the window and crossed the room to his desk, opened his English text and re-read Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It was difficult to stay focused but he did his best. After finishing the poem, he checked the assignment again: a choice of ten topics, all having to do with things like symbolism, theme and moral. But Al could not concentrate on the poem, on Coleridge, or on the essay. He had two more days before it was due. Plenty of time, he thought, to do this tomorrow.

He turned off the light, rose from his desk, crossed the room to his bed, fell backwards on to it, and stared up at the ceiling. Oh, Kate, he thought, I want this to be over. We can‘t take this much longer. I must find a way for us to be safe from your father. Al closed his eyes, then opened them. He got up and paced the room, repeated his deep breathing at the window, and still felt he would not be able to sleep. Through the long, endless night he thought of their predicament, considering their options over and over again.

By morning, Al had found the answer: They would get married. They must get married. And they must do it soon. They could not wait until Kate was 21. They would have to lie and break the law. He was still two months away from his twenty-first birthday, and Kate was more than a year away from hers. But if Kate were Mrs. Al Cullen, and they consummated their relationship, her father would be forced to accept their decision. They were adults, not children, and her father did not control them. Marriage, Al thought. Yes, that was the answer! Having made the decision, he felt better. He had a course of action. He knew what to do. Now he only had to convince Kate.

Disclaimer: While it is true that my characters were inspired by my own genealogical study, I could not and did not know my ancestors with the same intimacy that I have created in my characters. Therefore, let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.

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