(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)
Hastings, Nebraska, September 1939
[In September 1939 — More than a year since their marriage — Kate Jacobsen and Al Cullen reveal their marriage to her father, Lars Jacobsen.]
Kate and Al sat in Al’s car, a Model A Ford, parked a block away from her home.
“Now, Kate. No more delays. We’re going to tell your father now. You turned twenty-one last week, and I‘ve already started my job in Saronville. You’re my wife and you belong with me. I should just go in there and tell them — now.”
Kate frowned and squirmed in her seat. “Dad won’t even let you in the door, Al. And once he hears the news, he’ll be livid. I’m afraid of what he might do.”
Al put his hand on Kate’s knee. “I know you’re scared, Kate, but he won’t do anything because he can’t. We’re married. That’s that.” He reached over and grabbed her hand. “Let’s get this over with, Kate.”
“We need my mother there, Al. She can usually calm Dad down.“ She paused and stared at her hands. Her palms felt damp and she couldn’t keep her hand from shaking. “Oh, let’s just get someone else to tell him,” she moaned. She looked at the ceiling and out the window. “Whatever we do, you won’t do this alone. Dad will blow his wig.“ She touched her forehead and feared that a headache might be coming on. “Let’s just tell Mother, Al, and she can tell Dad.”
“Kate, you’re all over the place on this. We did this together, so let’s tell him together. I won’t let your mother do the dirty work. If you won’t let me go in there alone, then let’s go in together. But no more delays.”
The hot weather forced them to keep the windows down. Kate felt faint but she didn’t know if it was the heat or the conversation. “Al, please. No. I can’t go in there.”
“Yes, you can, Kate. Think how good it will feel to see your father’s face when you tell him that we’ve been married for fourteen months — and he never knew!”
Kate smiled. Yes, it would be good to see that, she thought. As she turned to say something else to Al, she noticed her younger brother, Frank, heading towards them. Frank had always known that Kate and Al had continued to see each other, despite his dad’s disapproval, so he wasn’t surprised to see them in the car together, parked a block away from the house. He had always supported his sister because he had also felt the sting of his father’s temper. As he strolled by with just a wave of his hand, Kate leaned out the window. “Hey, little brother,” she said. “Get in for a moment.”
He joined them without hesitation. “What’s up?” he said, as he arranged his tall frame in the back seat of the car.
“Frank, Al and I have something to tell you. And we’re serious, so don’t make a joke of this.” Kate looked at her brother as sternly as she could.
“I dig,” Frank said, giving his older sister a big smile and a wink. “What did you two do? Get married?”
Al and Kate looked at each other, and Frank knew instantly that he had guessed right. He let out a whoop and began to laugh. “Oh, that’s kippy,” he said. “You really did it, didn’t you? When? Where? How? Does Dad know yet?” Frank wanted to know all the details. Kate and Al obliged by telling him the bare essentials, but they did not tell him how long ago the marriage had occurred.
“Frank, we need your help,” Kate said. “We want you to tell Dad that we’re married. You can kind of soften him up for us.” Kate looked at her brother pleadingly.
“Oh, no. Not me,” Frank snorted. “There’s no way that I’m going to be your patsy. You can darn well tell him yourself and leave me out of this altogether!“ Frank laughed again and said, “Although, I must admit, I want to be there to see Dad’s face! Oh, whee, is he going to be mad!”
“Thanks, Frank. We already know that.” Kate raised her eyebrows at her brother and he stopped laughing.
Al took over. “All right, Kate. I agree with your brother. Like I said, this is our responsibility. We’re going to go into that house and you’re going to ask your father to sit with me in the living room, and you’re going to go up to your room until I’ve told him.”
Kate shook her head. “No way. If you’re going in there, I’m going to be there, too. I want to see my father’s face when we tell him. There’s no chance in Hell that you’re going to do this alone. Al, we’re going to tell him together.”
“That’s the spirit, sis.“
Al nodded his head. “Fine with me. Let’s go!”
“Sweet!” exclaimed Frank, as they all climbed out of the car. They walked together up the narrow sidewalk to the brick house which had been Frank and Kate’s home since they had been young children — with Frank laughing all the way. “This is going to be good. Oh, this is going to be good,” he chanted. Kate considered smacking her brother a good one, but she refrained from doing so. She understood her brother’s desire to see his father, just once, get what was coming to him.
As they entered the house, Kate called out to her mother who came into the living room, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. “Yes, Kate, what is it?” she asked. When she saw Al, she stopped cold. “What are you doing here, Al?“ Then she looked back at her daughter: “What’s going on, Kate?”
“Mother, Al and I need to talk to you and Dad. Where is he?”
“He’s out in the back cutting the grass. Why? What’s happened? What do you need to tell him?” Lizzie nervously continued to wipe her hands on the towel.
“Mother, just go and get Dad and tell him that Al and I are here to talk to him. We need to see both of you here in the living room. Now, please.”
Lizzie Jacobsen asked no further questions. From the sound of her daughter’s voice, she knew that this was something of major importance. Oh, god, she thought, they’re going to get married. They’re both twenty-one now. Lars will have a fit! Lizzie had always placed herself squarely in the middle of this debate. She did not totally dislike Al; in fact, she found him intelligent, witty, and quite good looking. He had recently won Hastings College’s prestigious Bronco Award, an honor bestowed each year on the senior who best represented the ideals implied in the term “constructive college citizenship.” He’s a very handsome young man, she thought. I can see why Kate is attracted to him. At the same time, Lizzie had always wanted a society wedding for her daughter, a husband who came from money and class. Al Cullen had neither with a father who was nothing but a poor farmer and a failed businessman. The fact that she too had come from working-class farmers had nothing to do with her feelings. She had wanted better for her children. Oh, dear, she thought. What have these two children done? With dread for what might be ahead, she went outside to speak to Lars.
While they waited, Al and Kate sat down on the couch. Frank took a position at the hearth, sitting on the cold tile in front of an empty, mid-September fireplace. Al had taken Kate’s hand in his and winked at her. Kate heard her father’s footsteps and then saw him enter the living room. He had paused at the door, trying to size up the situation. “What’s this about, Kate?” he said, as he glanced at Al but did not acknowledge his presence.
Despite Lars’s question to Kate, Al spoke first. “Mr. Jacobsen,” he said, as he stood up and extended his hand to his father-in-law. Lars did not reciprocate the gesture and remained standing at the door. Al had carried on: “Kate and I have something to tell you. Would you please sit down?”
“I will do whatever I damn please in my own house, young man. What is this? What’s going on?” He did not move from the door frame, nor did he sit down. Lars had the feeling that everyone else in the room knew something he did not. He felt a loss of control — under his own roof — and his muscles tightened and his throat felt dry. He looked at young Al Cullen and he felt hatred — Al Cullen was everything his father had once wanted him to be. You will not get the better of me, young man, he thought. “This is my house, young man, and therefore my rules. If I ask you a question, I expect an answer.” Whatever it is you’re here for, Lars thought, I will not make it easy for you.
Lizzie, who had been delayed by removing some biscuits from the oven, arrived as Lars said the last words. “What is it?” she said. “What’s happened?”
“Nothing, woman. Just shut up.”
Al cringed at the way Lars Jacobsen spoke to his wife. I will never like this man, he thought, and he will never accept me as his son-in-law. Al felt an urgent need to get it over with. Kate stood up and came to his side, and Al blurted out the fateful words: “We’re married, sir. Kate and I are married. And we have been since July of last year, sir.”
Everyone looked at Lars Jacobsen, waiting for his response. He clenched his fists and his face turned red. “You’re married?“ he shouted. “How? When?” His response had been strangely similar to Frank’s, wanting to know details. His mind raced: You will not win this, you cocky son-of-a-bitch.
Al stood close to Kate. “We’re married, sir. We got married last year. In July. I picked up Kate and we drove to Bartlett. Here’s the marriage certificate, sir,” and Al held up the document so that Kate’s father could see it.
Lars reached for the document, but Al pulled it away. “No, sir, I’ll keep that.” You’d tear it up, if you could, Al thought.
“I don’t care what any damn piece of paper says!” Lars took two steps towards Al, and he pointed to the front door. “Get out of here! Get out of here now! You’re not married to my daughter. I’ll have it annulled. You can’t marry her! You didn’t have my permission! You were both under age. This is a joke! A farce! I won’t hear of it!”
Al and Kate did not move. Frank stood up and went to the other side of Kate. “Calm down, Dad. You can’t change this.”
“Dad,” Kate pleaded. “Please listen to Al.”
“Sir, our marriage is legal,” Al said. “We are both twenty-one. You cannot un-do this, sir. It’s legal and binding and Kate is my wife — forever. You might have been able to do something when we first got married, but you can’t now.” Al’s stomach churned and he felt his knees shake, but he stood his ground.
Lizzie stepped closer to the young couple. “Kate,” she almost whispered, “have you — have you — you know — have you done it?”
Kate looked at her mother and felt a hint of pity. “Yes, Mother, we have.”
Lizzie moaned. “Oh, then, there really isn’t anything we can do, is there?”
“No, mother, there isn’t.”
Lizzie began to cry silent tears. Lars felt hot and tired. He wanted everyone and everything to disappear. He needed a drink. He stared at his daughter and her apparent husband and felt impotent to change anything. “Get out of my house — both of you!“ he shouted. “I can’t believe you did this behind my back!” He turned to Frank: “And you! You knew about this all along, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t, Dad! Kate and Al just now told me about it. But I wanted to be here when they told you!” Frank smirked. You’re getting what’s coming to you, he thought.
“Leave Frank out of this,” Kate defended her brother. “It’s just like he said. This was our decision — Al’s and mine. We made it a long time ago. We’ve done it. We’re adults. We don’t have to listen to you!”
A minute passed. Two minutes. The clock ticked on the mantle. A car passed by in the street. Kate’s eyes filled with tears, and Al’s head throbbed. Frank watched with a glint in his eye, enjoying the moment. Lars, in stony silence, glared at his daughter and her husband. Lizzie continued to choke back sobs.
Lizzie broke the silence. Through her tears, she said, “Kate. Al. Why didn’t you tell us? I would have wanted to be there. Kate, what about a church wedding? A special day and a special dress? Oh, Kate, what have you done? What will people think?”
No one responded to Lizzie’s question, and silence once again engulfed the room. Each person — Lars and Lizzie, Kate and Al, and Frank — stood like statues in a tableau, each thinking their own thoughts and each wanting to disappear. Once again, Lizzie broke the silence and acted as mediator. “Lars, let’s be calm about this. Please. Let’s all sit down and talk about this.”
Even Lizzie was surprised when Lars crossed the room and sat down in his favorite chair. He hung his head in apparent defeat. His heart pounded and his temples throbbed. Lizzie followed and touched his brow. “Are you all right?”
He pushed her hand away. “Leave me alone!”
Lizzie turned back to Kate and Al. “Sit down, please. Let’s talk this over.”
Reluctantly, Al and Kate returned to the couch. Lizzie sat in her own chair, and Frank returned to the hearth.
Lars let his wife do the talking. “Oh, Kate, why didn’t you tell me? Did you really have to do this without me?”
“Yes, Mother, I did.”
Al’s head pounded; Frank fiddled with a button on his shirt; Kate twisted a curl in her hair; Lizzie stared at her husband; Lars gazed dejectedly out the front window.
Finally, he spoke, this time with bone-chilling calmness: “I asked you once before to get out of my house. I’m telling you again. Get out and stay out, Kate. You have married this man. Now you must live with your choice for the rest of your life. I will do nothing to help you.”
Al looked at Kate, and she returned his look with a nod. They stood up together and held hands. “Sir, we will leave now, as you ask, but you must accept this. I will take good care of your daughter. I have a job and she’ll be living with me. She’s going to finish her degree, too.”
Lars Jacobsen stared out the living room window. He shook his head. “I don’t care what you do.”
“Dad, I love Al and we‘re going to build a life together,” Kate said. “Please try to accept this.”
Kate and Al went to the door. With one backward glance, they left.
Lizzie looked at her husband and screamed: “You just don’t get it, do you? Do you even realize how much you sound like your own father? What’s the matter with you?”
Lars waved his arm and shook his head. “Just shut up, Lizzie.“ He stood up and turned to go to his den. “I need a drink.”
“Oh, sure, that’ll solve everything, won’t it?” Lizzie watched Lars disappear and then ran outside, hoping to find Al and Kate. They were getting into Al’s car as she caught up up with them.
“I’ll talk to your father, Kate. He’ll come ‘round. And then I want to do something for you — a shower, a newspaper announcement. We’ll make this right. I promise.”
Kate and Al knew that her father might never “come ‘round” as her mother promised. But once they told their parents about their marriage, they told everyone. A week went by before they heard anything, but Lars Jacobsen finally agreed to place an announcement in the local newspaper and send out official announcements to friends. Lizzie held a wedding party for Kate and Al, and two friends gave Kate wedding showers. But neither Kate nor Al ever believed that her father had accepted their marriage.
Kate and Al set up their first home together — just a small, one-bedroom bungalow — in Saronville. Kate’s parents never came to visit, but Al’s parents came once. Al taught high school English and coached the basketball team, while Kate commuted to Hastings to finish her degree.
A year later, Kate participated in the commencement ceremonies, and she knew she was pregnant. As Kate shook hands with the president of Hastings College and accepted her diploma, she said to herself: “I have fought my battles and I have won. What could possibly go wrong now?"
- Continue to Chapter 24.
- Refer to Family Tree to keep relationship of characters in mind.
- Return to Family Legacies Table of Contents.
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.