Family Legacies Chapter 22

(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)

Bartlett, Nebraska, July 1938

[Kate Jacobsen and Al Cullen ignore everyone else and do what they believe is right. It’s a tough decision.]

Kate stopped on the steps leading up to the Bartlett, Nebraska courthouse door, turned to Al, and said, “I can’t go through with this, Al. I can’t do it! Dad will never forgive me. Mother will be hurt that she was not here. I can’t do it!”

Al stared into her deep blue eyes. He reached out and took her in his arms. “Kate, listen,” he almost whispered. “You know this is the only thing we can do. That father of yours will go to any lengths to keep us apart. Don’t think about him or your mother. Think about us and our future. I love you, Katy, with all my heart. Please trust me. We’re doing the right thing.” He stepped back and looked at her directly. “Kate, please,” he begged again.

Kate shrugged her shoulders and sat down on the step. Her heart pounded. She tried to catch her breath. From the moment Al had made the proposal, he had whittled away at her defences and she had eventually capitulated. She knew Al was right, but her father still frightened her. After a year of exile, she had been permitted to return home. She could only get back her lost year of education if her father let her stay at home. A truce had been established; if her father found out that she had married Al, she wasn’t sure what he would do. “I can’t go through with this,” she repeated.

Al took a deep breath and sat down beside Kate. It had taken a long time to get to this moment. Their first disagreement was when to get married: Al had suggested that they marry on his 21st birthday in August, but Kate had opposed that. She wanted to marry on a day when they would both have to lie about their ages, while they were both still twenty, but Kate’s birthday was not until September, and they could not wait that long. They had settled on Sunday, July 17, while Al was still twenty and Kate was still nineteen. They had carefully planned the trip, telling their parents that they were picnicking with friends, but instead driving north through three counties, hoping that would be far enough away from Hastings that they would not run into anyone they knew. Al had promised Kate that they would return no later than six o’clock that evening — the regular Sunday dinner time at the Jacobsen household. He knew that they could not afford to spend time sitting on this step debating what they had decided together a little more than a month before.

“Please, Katy, don’t do this. Your father hates me; he will never let us marry, and you know he could still send you away again. We have to do this. Now. Today.”

Kate looked deep into Al’s large brown eyes and she knew he was right. This was the only way. They had to control their destiny. She stood up and looked down at her fiancé. “All right,“ she sighed, “let’s go.“

Enthusiastically, Al jumped up and gave her a quick kiss, took hold of her arm, and together they walked through the courthouse doors. Inside, it was cool and dark. They took a moment to let their eyes adjust and then found the door to their left which displayed a sign that said, “Licences.” Ordinarily, of course, the courthouse would not be open on a Sunday, but Al had made arrangements for a clerk to be there to prepare the papers. A local judge, who planned to be working in his office that day, had agreed to witness their signatures.

They opened the door to the licensing bureau and stepped in to find a young woman sitting at a desk behind a counter. “Hi,” she greeted them. “You must be the young couple who wants a marriage license. Al Cullen?”

“Yes, that’s us,” Al replied.

The clerk bustled around her desk, picked up a piece of paper and placed it in a typewriter which was sitting on the counter. This was the moment that Kate and Al had been the most concerned about because they had to be good liars. In the car on the way, they had practiced their mixture of lies and truths. To make it easier, they had chosen false names for their parents which were from their family trees. Fortunately, they were not required to produce birth certificates, but the questions still had to be answered. And they had to look confident and certain when they responded.

The clerk started with Al.

“Full name?” she asked.

“Alan Sheraton Cullen.”

“Residence?”

“Douglas County, Nebraska.”

“How old are you, Al?”

Without batting an eye, Al looked straight at the clerk and said, “Twenty-one.”

The clerk asked for his birthplace and occupation, but those he kept correct: Hastings, Nebraska and student, respectively.

Then came the tough questions:

“Name of father?“

“George Cullen.“

“Name of Mother?“

“Charlotte Corbin Cullen.“

Al revealed no hint of nervousness. Kate had stood beside him, seemingly like a typical nervous bride. The clerk, unaware of the deceptions, turned to Kate and began to ask the same questions:

“Full name?” she asked Kate.

“Katherine Lois Jacobsen. And Jacobsen is spelled with an e.”

“Residence?”

“Nemaha County.”

“Age at last birthday?”

“Twenty-one,” Kate replied clearly, though she would not even be twenty for another month.

Like Al, Kate was honest about her birthplace and occupation, but she gave her parents’ names as Richard Jacobsen and Jeannette Porter instead of Lars Jacobsen and Elizabeth Donohue. In minutes, it was over. The clerk did not seem to notice their nervousness and said she would have to run down the hallway to get Judge Scott. She smiled and walked around the corner of the counter, pushed the door open and said, “I’ll be right back. Promise.” As she left, she winked at the young, nervous couple.

Al looked at Kate. “Well, we did it, Kate. I don’t think that clerk suspects a thing.” Kate nodded, but she looked nervous. They both waited anxiously for the clerk and the judge to return; the silence was broken with their arrival. The judge smiled, shook their hands, and asked their names. Then he crossed to the counter, picked up the paper and asked each of them to sign it. He certified the authenticity of their signatures with a seal. “Good luck to you,” he said, as Kate and Al headed out the door. Step One of Mission Marriage was complete. Now for Step Two.

Al had already arranged for the marriage ceremony to be performed by a local Methodist minister. Kate and Al hopped back into Al’s black Model T Ford and found the house easily, arriving slightly ahead of schedule. They sat in the car for a few minutes, quietly waiting for the time to pass. Kate had made a special dress for this day — a white sundress that she would be able to wear again — and she wore a stylish pair of white sandal pumps. Last week she had had her hair permed, so it was tightly curled. Al had bought a small pearl necklace for her to wear with her dress, and he had given her a bouquet of daisies to carry. He was wearing a white suit and tie. He looks very spiffy, Kate thought. Deep down, though, Kate wished that things had been different. I would have liked to have been married in the Presbyterian Church, she thought, surrounded by my friends as bridesmaids and the church filled. That would have been special. Kate closed her eyes and imagined the beautiful long white wedding dress she would have worn.

The parsonage was a simple dwelling, basically a square box with a peaked roof and a small porch with columnar supports which looked out-of-place on such a small house. Three large oak trees towered over the house — two in front and a third in the back. It looked like many houses of the 1930s — in need of paint. Kate and Al stepped up on to the shaded porch and knocked quietly at the door. They were greeted by Mrs. Hargiss, the minister’s wife, who led them into the living room. “Please sit down, Kate and Al,” she said to them. “Rev. Hargiss will be with you in just a moment. I’ll be one of your witnesses, and Miss Davis, our organist, will be the other. Can I get anything for you? Some water, perhaps, or lemonade?”

“No, thanks,” Al replied for both of them. Let’s get this over with soon, Al thought. Like Kate, Al would have preferred a different wedding — open and accepted by friends and family — but he knew it was not as important to him as it was to his young bride. Al‘s parents had chosen a small, simple wedding in the pastor’s home, so he felt that it was fitting that he was doing the same thing.

Rev. Hargiss arrived, introduced himself, and then asked the young couple if they would like to begin. Kate went to the entrance of the living room and turned just slightly into the hall. Al stood by Rev. Hargiss at the hearth and they waited for Kate to emerge. Miss Davis began to play the wedding processional which signalled to Kate to enter; she turned the corner and caught Al’s eyes. He smiled at her and mouthed, “I love you.” Kate, her head held high, took six short steps and stood beside Al. He took her hand and they turned and faced the minister. The vows were short and simple, each of them repeating their lines without a single error, though Kate’s voice was so low that it could hardly be heard. At the end, Al kissed Kate and held her tightly.

“Come over near the table and watch us sign the certificate,” Rev. Hargiss said, and Kate and Al held hands while they waited. The certificate was signed by Rev. Hargiss, his wife, and Ruth Stern. The minister and his wife encouraged them to remain and eat something, but Kate and Al gave their thanks to all of them, shook hands with each, and left.

Al found the main street through town and then headed south back to Hastings. A few miles out of town, he brought the car to a halt by the side of the road, pulled on the brake, and turned to look at Kate.

“We did it! We did it!” he shouted. “We’ve beaten that father of yours, and you’re my wife forever and forever.” He leaned over and gave her a long, loving kiss. She returned it with some reservation, concerned that someone would see them on the road. And then she giggled and said, “Yes, we did it, didn’t we?”

They spent the rest of the afternoon together, driving slowly and stopping for a small picnic. But they watched the time carefully. Al had promised Kate that he would have her back to her parents’ home in time, and he had no intention of breaking that promise. Once back in Hastings, their moods darkened. Al drove toward Burlington Avenue and stopped a block away to let Kate walk the rest of the way on her own.

The experience was surreal for both of them. It was almost as if nothing had happened, for here they were — close to her home but not directly outside — just as always. They had known, of course, that this would happen, but both felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Any other young couple would have been able to be together on this special night.

Al sighed and asked, “Kate, how are you doing?”

She looked down at her lap. “I’m fine,” she said. But Al knew that she wasn’t fine. He knew how much she hated to return to that house. They sat together, quietly, for a few moments.

Then Al said, “Kate, I’ll pick you up tomorrow night at Inella’s. I have reservations at a little hotel in Ayr. We’ll drive down there and we’ll -- “ Al paused. He wasn’t sure how to say this delicately, but he and Kate had discussed this for months. They both wanted to consummate the marriage, but Kate was frightened of losing her reputation. “We’ll do it, Kate. I’ll show you just how much I love you, and your father will never be able to end this marriage.”

“All right, Al,” Kate whispered. She stared at the floor, unable to look into Al’s eyes. Then Al got out and came around to the other side and opened the door for Kate. She climbed down and their eyes embraced. “Remember, now,” he said. “You’ve got me. Always.”

Kate nodded and headed down the sidewalk towards her parents’ home — she had long ago stopped thinking of it as her home. She turned around once and smiled at Al, then disappeared from his view when she entered the driveway. Al stood staring at the empty space where Kate had been and felt a tremendous sense of sadness. Then he remembered that he had just said good-bye to his wife. He was confident that they had done the right thing and he whistled as he returned to his car and drove away. “She’s mine,” he said aloud. “She’s all mine at last!” And then he whistled softly as he drove home.

Kate entered the house to find her father sitting on the couch reading the evening paper. She could hear her mother in the kitchen, no doubt preparing dinner. Neither of them took notice of her arrival, and it occurred to her that they had no way of knowing just by looking at her that she was now a married woman. She took the stairs two at a time, entered her bedroom, closing the door quietly behind her.

It was here that the reality hit her. This afternoon I married Al Cullen, my childhood sweetheart, the man Dad dislikes immensely, she thought. We have protected our futures, Al’s and mine. It was the right thing to do. She repeated it over and over again in her mind: It was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do. If Dad learns the truth, I’m dead, she thought. He’ll never stand for it. And, so, he mustn’t know. Not now. Not yet.

Kate and Al had already agreed that they would reveal their marriage only if her father again threatened to send her away, or after they were both twenty-one. It‘s going to be a very strange year, Kate thought. As she slipped off her sundress-wedding dress, her inner voice asked, My God, Kate, what have you done? Kate, now Mrs. Al Cullen, shook her head and dismissed the fear. She stretched out on her bed and stared at the ceiling. Then she closed her eyes and pictured herself back at the minister’s home, standing next to Al and saying their vows. She smiled and for a microsecond she forgot her fears. She might be married but nothing changed the fact that right now, at this very moment, she was alone.

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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