Comforts of Home
It was the “Golden Age” of American history. The realization of the American Dream: The nuclear family as a classic model of aspiration, in which Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids and a dog share a home in the suburbs with a white picket fence, where Dad brings home a solid annual income that supports the entire family, while Mom sees the kids off to school, bakes cookies and tends the home.
Or so some tell it, anyway.
Maybe it happened that way.
Maybe the truth is all in how you spin it.
In the wake of rampant McCarthyism, with the emergent trends of the beatnik generation only just beginning to reach the suburbs, the culture of conformity was a country-wide epidemic, the pressure of conventional norms creating a crushing force throughout society. A man was expected to marry and have children in order to be accepted, to get a good job and maintain solid standing within his community. A woman was steered from birth to find a husband to take care of her, and to give him children she could take care of. The divorce rate was only 2%, because once you were married, you stayed that way, no matter what. Divorced women suffered not only the stigma of social rejection, but ostracizing economic hardship. An unmarried woman’s best hope of survival was to procure traditional “women’s work” for employment, and a divorce could put a 60% decline in her chances of doing so.
And so it was in that environment that Margaret Leona Fogerty, having found the courage and serenity to leave her violently abusive alcoholic husband, set out from the middle class suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee, to the promise of gainful employment in the big city of Dallas, Texas, in search of a better life for herself and the three of her five children still living at home.
Maggie’s youngest daughter, Pauline, was devastated by the transition.
It was August, and Pauline had just started “going with” George, a young boy in her class, at the end of the previous school year. Pauline and George were only just starting the 8th grade, so they didn’t really say they were “dating,” but it was the first time she could point to any connection with a boy which could be considered a “real” relationship, and that summer had been an exciting new experience for her. You see, Pauline had had a crush on another charming lad from her town for as long as she could remember, and neither her three older sisters nor her younger brother ever let her forget it.
The object of her true affection was Daniel Abbott, the youngest son of the local barber, and two years her senior. Pauline would watch him with dreamy eyes in church, where he would lead hymns and prayers at evening services, and he could be so outspoken at youth devotionals. He was charismatic and smart, an all-around decent fellow. She kept tabs on him when they crossed paths in school, and he’d always have a kind word for her whenever they ran into each other, which she tried to arrange as often as she could manage. Through their church’s young adult outreach program, they regularly attended youth events together, and Pauline often tried to situate herself to sit next to Dan on the way to wherever they were going. She secretly delighted on one occasion when Dan held her hand for the trip, though her delight was somewhat squashed when she realized he was also holding hands with her best friend Lizzie, who was seated on the other side of him at the time.
Oh well. Christian brotherly love was better than none at all, right?
Pauline's siblings teased her mercilessly. They may have meant nothing harmful, but Pauline was sensitive, and their ribbing always made her feel inadequate compared to her sisters. Her sisters, being older, were naturally more mature, but they also liked to remind her that they were smarter, prettier, more feminine, and better with boys all around, as well. Pauline felt that she could never hope to be good enough for a young man as well groomed and dynamic as her dream-beau, so when George Preston showed an interest in her by being nice to her in class, carrying her books in the hallways, and walking her home, she looked past his big ears, his crooked nose, and his raging acne, to his shy but sweet disposition and soft but gentle demeanor, and settled herself with accepting the best that she could get.
It was difficult for Pauline to tear herself away from the comfort of her teenage romance with George, but they promised to stay in touch, and over the next few months, Pauline looked forward to her daily walk to the mailbox, where she would eagerly await a thoughtfully handwritten 3-4 page letter from her faithful boyfriend, which would sometimes include a stick of a gum for his sweetheart. Of course, Pauline would never dream of chewing the gum... she would carefully tape each gift of his affection to the inside of her jewelry box for safe keeping. But adolescence is a funny, fickle counterpart to growing up. There’s only so much two 8th graders who aren’t keeping company with any regularity can find to talk about before they start to repeat themselves, and begin to bore one another. Eventually, the mailbox seemed less of a priority, and George’s congeniality wasn’t enough to make up for his absence, or his less than photogenic features.
That December, Pauline’s mother told her that the family would be making a visit back to Memphis for the holidays. Pauline could hardly wait. They would be staying with Pauline’s best friend, Lizzie Jacobson, because Maggie and Lizzie’s mom were friends. Maggie had supplemented what income she could scrape up in Memphis as a seamstress for hire, making school uniforms, wedding gowns, business attire, and any other sort of piecemeal work she could find. Mrs. Angela Jacobson, a widow herself, was one of Maggie’s best customers, always making sure there were curtains, table cloths, or kids clothes that needed to be mended or made new for the current season, and Maggie had spent enough time at the Jacobson house letting out hems, patching holes, and redesigning patterns from yesterday’s styles to match today’s fashion trends that Angie set up her study as a sewing den for Maggie to work from. Pauline was looking forward to spending some girl time catching up with her best friend, and as much as she knew she should be excited about getting back together with George, she couldn’t help but be more tickled at the idea of seeing her not-so-secret crush, Daniel Abbott, again.
Not surprisingly, as soon as they were back in town, George put himself on Pauline’s short list of suitors for a bit of her time during her brief stay. He asked her to go to a movie with him. Pauline commiserated with Lizzie over her waning interest in her current young boyish hopeful. She was dreading getting together with him, especially alone in a dark theater. What would be the expectation of her? She shuddered to think. She wished that Lizzie could go along, but three being a crowd, it just wouldn’t be acceptable.
Not to be undone, though, she and her best friend cooked up the solution. They would make it a double date. All they needed was another boy willing to go along with Lizzie. And of course, the first eligible bachelor to come to Pauline’s mind was always Daniel Abbott. Lizzie knew of him, had seen him at church and school, and was receptive to the idea.
Pauline wasted no time getting the details set up with all parties involved.
She picked up the phone, gave the operator George’s extension, and when they were connected, she explained to George that since she wasn’t going to be in town long, she didn’t want to miss out on quality time with her best friend, and asked if he wouldn’t mind if Lizzie brought her own date and tagged along. True to form, the ever-amenable George agreed without complaint. Pauline told George she would call him back once she worked out logistics for the movie, then hung up quickly and just as quickly picked up the receiver to dial Daniel.
Step one down.
Pauline gave an excited thumbs-up to her best friend, and the two giggled wildly in eager anticipation while the operator connected her to the Abbott house line. As soon as the link was made, Pauline, talking faster than the jitters in her stomach, talked Daniel Abbott into joining Lizzie Jacobson for a social outing to a movie with herself and her steady, George Preston. They made a bit of small talk, discussed their movie choices, and coordinated their schedules to match their selected option. When they said goodbye, a flurry of nerves, Pauline pressed the release and picked up in a flash once more to get an operator to reconnect her with George and finalize the event.
Step two down.
Pauline squealed with delight. Lizzie squawked her approval. They spent a few giddy moments in girlish glee, Pauline breathlessly envying her friend the coveted prize of a date with the tallest, blondest, bluest-eyed hunk in town. He was so handsome, and he dressed so sharp! He was so witty, and what a smile – that grin could make anyone twinkle, and what a sense of humor! He was such a gentleman, too, so suave and debonair!
About that time it registered with Pauline that the operator hadn’t asked for the number she wanted to be connected to yet.
Pauline’s heart pounded, and she scarcely contained a whimper of terror. With a lump in her throat, she held her breath and listened.
Please don’t let it be Dan still on the line, please don’t let it be Dan still on the line, please don’t let it be Dan still on the line!
“Hello?” she managed to quiver.
The voice on the other end confirmed her worst fears.
“What’s the matter with George?” Dan asked with a mildly amused cough.
In a panic, Pauline threw the phone back into its cradle with a shriek and spent the next several minutes rocking back and forth, begging Lizzie to tell her she’d actually just been dreaming and that moment of horror hadn’t really just happened. But the occasion otherwise went off without a hitch, and Dan even manipulated the seatting arrangement to maneuver himself so he could sit next to Pauline during the film. And before the Fogerty family went back to Dallas, George and Pauline came to terms with the understanding that long distance simply wasn’t going to work out for them, and it was time to move on, but they wished each other well.
Of course, being newly officially single left Pauline free to go back to pining after Daniel Abbott. From Texas, naturally.
The turn of the following year brought about an unforeseen turn of events to the Fogerty household. A few months following their arrival back on the Dallas homefront, it came out that while Pauline had been exchanging letters with George, Mrs. Fogerty had taken up a fairly in-depth correspondence with Daniel Abbott’s father, Neville. Mr. Abbott, who was also tragically divorced, after his wife had unconventionally left him for another man a few years prior, had been courting the widow Jacobson, Lizzie’s mom, but had realized that he enjoyed coming to call on Mrs. Jacobson as much to visit with her hired help, Maggie. Their natural chemistry eventually developed into an attraction, which they’d come to realize was mutual in the course of their letter writing. It seemed that the trip back home had been as much to make sure that Angie would be comfortable with the idea of Maggie and Neville pursuing the possibility of a romance with one another, to which Mrs. Jacobson was only too happy to give her blessing.
Mr. Abbott and Ms. Fogerty were married before another Christmas rolled around, and Maggie and the Fogerty kids moved into the Abbott home.
Pauline was genuinely thrilled that her mother had finally found happiness, and she couldn’t ask for a more wonderful stepdad than the kind-hearted, noble-minded, able-bodied and free-sprited Mr. Abbott – whom she had come to know as “Pops” – but her own dreams of happily-ever-after had been dashed when her mother said “I do” to the father of the love of her life. She resigned herself to loving the ideal passion of her heart only as a brother, and nothing more.
*** 1962 *** Pauline’s new stepbrother had graduated high school and moved away to college out-of-state, and Pauline herself was just a few months into her second year of nursing studies at the local tech university. In the year and a half they’d shared space under the same roof, Dan and Pauline had become closer as friends, making jokes over breakfast, occasionally catching a movie or a ball game together, taking walks or going skating with each other whenever the notion would strike. Pauline appreciated the deepening relationship somewhat wistfully. She could not have anticipated what would happen between them that winter break.
The whole gang came home for the holidays. All three of her sisters and all three of her brothers (two by marriage), with all of the miscellaneous in-laws and correlating grandkids returned to the roost to celebrate the season. The tittering giggles and furtive glances, clucking tongues, and sideways looks exchanged amongst the various members of the family whenever she and Dan were in spitting distance of each other let her know that something strange was up. When he wriggled into the tight squeeze of a position to sit at her feet for the gift exchange, the cat calls mounted. When she opened a bottle of Chanel No. 5 from him, the hoots and hollers practically raised the roof. Pauline blushed in eight different shades. She hadn’t even gotten anything for him – the adults weren’t supposed to give gifts to each other! (With six grown children and a dozen grandkids, Christmas in the Abbott house was supposed to be all about the little ones.)
Pauline had no idea what to make of this unexpected twist. Was Daniel Abbott, her girlhood crush, showing a romantic interest in her? Or was this just the sentimental attachment of the sibling she’d grown closest to? She resumed classes that winter in a state of bewilderment, trying to make sense of it all.
And feelings that had been buried deep within her for years began to resurface.
The following few semesters were a turmoil of missed opportunities, failed attempts at connections, and general frustration for both Pauline and Dan. The next time they saw one another at home on Spring Break, Pauline had determined to be more receptive to Dan’s approach. But to her dismay, she found his fires had cooled, and she didn’t know how to rekindle them. She supposed that was the natural result of him feeling slighted at Christmas, but she couldn’t do anything about that then. It had been so unexpected, she simply hadn't known how to react. When summer rolled around, Dan once more seemed to only have eyes for Pauline, but by then she had already given up on him again and didn’t notice until it was too late that time. Things went on like that for a while between those two. One would be on while the other was off. One would be infatuated while the other was oblivious. One would be surrendered to the throes of enchantment while the other was just starting to get over the surrender of hopeless unrequited longing. Like two ships passing in the night, they could never seem to be on the same page at the same time.
*** 1964 *** A break for summer came earlier that year for Dan than for Pauline. He’d graduated from Ole Miss the previous year with a Bachelors degree in Education, and was just finishing up a six-month course in Officer Candidate Training for service in The United States Marines Corps. There was a war going on overseas, and Dan was joining the fight as a First Lieutenant. He was excited to get home to his family. When he got in, he called Pauline at her dorm, and asked if she’d like to accompany him for a movie. She hadn’t even realized he was home, but was happy to accept the offer. She wondered where they were in relation to one another this time… was this a family outing, or a date? Dan picked her up and took her to the theater, where they shared a popcorn and held hands, and he dropped her back at her dorm after the film ended. Pauline felt deflated that he hadn’t asked to stop in for a longer visit, so she screwed up her courage and invited him in anyway. He agreed, and she situated him in the open-doored date room while she ran to her bunk to retrieve a special item she’d been saving for months. She’d come across it at Christmastime, while out shopping for gifts with Dan’s natural brother, Neville Jr. He’d pointed it out, and when she saw what it was, she knew she’d have to buy it then to sock it away for later use.
With trembling fingers, Pauline came back to the loveseat where she’d left Daniel to wait, and delicately handed him a card.
Puzzled, he read the aloud from the outside flap,
“I’m sure the nature of our relationship must be perfectly clear to you by now,” then flipped it open. “Would you mind explaining it to me?” He grinned.
She bit her lip.
“I guess I’ll probably have to do something about that at some point, won’t I?” he laughed, brushing a wisp of hair from her face.
Then he kissed her forehead, and was gone, leaving Pauline just as confused as ever.
Later that week he called again to join her for lunch at her dorm. She met him at the campus cafeteria, arriving with two of her male classmates, sophisticated and smart in her neatly nonchalant nurse’s habiliment. He watched her as she moved across the room to him. Standing tall between those two good friends, with her trim, 5’8” frame accenting her 18 inch waist, her tidy raven bob highlighting her porcelain complexion, looking every bit like the true-to-life embodiment of a modern day Snow White, and as lovely as he’d ever seen her, he was just sure that if he went away to Vietnam, he’d come home to find her married to one of those men. He’d always known men to fawn over her, though she never saw it, but he knew she wouldn’t remain blind to their advances forever. He even knew which one would eventually win her over. And he knew he couldn't expect her to wait for him.
A few weeks went by. Daniel learned that Lizzie – who was going by “Lizbeth” by then – had undertaken to throw him a going away party. (To this day, he remains wholly ignorant that Pauline’s best friend might ever have had designs on him.) He asked Pauline to be his "plus one" for the grand affair. Pauline made note on the way that Dan seemed to be taking the longest route possible to get there, doubling back over his own tracks several times. She might have asked anyone else if he was lost, but how can one get lost on streets you’ve known your entire life? Still, what should have been a five minute trip took more than twenty. Pauline wondered whatever could be weighing so heavy on his mind, but she didn’t ask. The two of them disembarked from Dan’s tricked-out old jalopy without incident, and started wordlessly toward the party. At the door, however, her fingers on the knob to go inside, he grabbed her by the hand and turned her around to face him.
“Hold on a second,” he spluttered. “I gotta ask you something.”
There, in that moment, on the front porch of her best friend’s house, on the night of his going away party, Daniel Jonathan Abbott asked Pauline Sharon Fogerty to marry him.
And she said yes.
They left there not a second later and got back in his car, drove to a jeweler, and picked out a ring. It had to be sized to fit her slender fingers, so she couldn’t take it with her, and after showing up an hour and a half late to the party, they had a hard time convincing their friends they weren’t playing a practical joke on everyone there. They’d never even dated! But they didn’t have to. They were in love, and they both knew, finally for the first time at the same time, that they always had been. So the party became an engagement bash, and their friends threw them both in the pool to celebrate, just for good measure.
They were married in November of 1965.
Nearly 50 years, 5 children and nine grandchildren later, the world has changed a lot since those days. But some things never do.
I haven’t spent my life believing in fairy tales. I’m decades past being over the girlish fantasy that a knight in shining armor will always be around to come charging on a white horse to the rescue of a damsel in distress to sweep her off her feet. I’ve never maintained the misconception that there’s one person pre-destined for everyone, and that one needs only to wish upon a star for a Fairy Godmother to bring the two together.
I’m of the mind that there’s a prerequisite commitment to an idea that comes first, and then a lot of perseverance needed to follow between people who love each other in order to keep making things work every day of happily ever after.
But I could never say I’m jaded.
All I ever need to do is just think about my parents, to remember…
…some things are just meant to be.
LJ Idol | Season 8 • Week 27 - Topic: ONCE UPON A TIME
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