Wilma Hughes: The War Ends, and Love Begins

Excerpted from Wilma’s personal journal which she wrote in September 2002 and May 2019. I have reordered her entries so they are chronological, and have edited for flow and clarity. My additions are in [brackets].

President Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 [a day before my mother’s birthday]. I was in music class when the announcement came on over the intercom, and a few students felt that school should close for the rest of the day. When they found out it wouldn’t, they opened the windows and ran away.

We were still at war, still buying War Bonds and still running to the train station to wave at the troops. And I was asked to be a temporary leader of a Girl Scout Brownie troop. We mostly played games, did crafts and took nature hikes around the neighborhood. I graduated from junior high school in June 1945.

The war finally ended in September. The city went wild. Cars were driving fast and honking their horns, and everyone was shouting. It was a great day.

I enrolled in R.A. Long High School in that month. It was a new start, away from the kids who had taunted me in junior high school. [Interestingly, I did the same thing, for the same reason, by enrolling in A.C. Davis, the “other” high school at the other end of town from where we lived in Yakima.]

I wanted to become a nurse and two things that were required were Latin and chemistry. Our Latin teacher insisted that we call him professor. He took us through Latin 1 in the first semester but only one student passed. He had been to seminary school and had taken Latin in order to become a priest. I also failed chemistry in the first two weeks, so my teacher made arrangements for me to get into a retail selling class. I made “A” grades for the first time in my life.

I made friends with four other girls, who like me, were misfits – Marjorie Hanson, Doris Tyler, Audrey Gulickson, and Iris McDonald. Margie was very tiny and slightly hunchbacked. Dores was very shy. Audrey giggled all the time. Iris was fat like me, and had been adopted by a judge. (As of 2002, Doris had passed away; Audrey was an art dealer with a gallery in Longview, and Iris became a real estate agent in Tillamook, OR. Marge dropped out of sight. During high school we were very close, but after graduation, we lost touch except for Iris, we still write.) [As of January 15, 2020, Iris was still alive and had recently moved to a nursing home. She was very saddened to hear of mom’s passing, and relayed fond memories of Wilma during my phone call with her that day.]

It was in high school that I had my introduction to Negroes. There were none living in Kelso but there was a large community of them living in Longview. I was so surprised to see that the palms of their hands and the bottoms of their feet were almost white. There were three Negroes on our football team and they were great players. One in particular, was tall, well-built, handsome and the star of the team. A white girl kept hitting on him for a date, but he kept telling her ‘no’. Finally, he took her by the shoulders and said: “Girl, I wouldn’t lower myself to go out with you.” She stopped bothering him after that.

I went to all the home football games. My cousin Clair played on the Kelso team and we always had a bet on who would win the Thanksgiving Day game. When he turned 16, I suddenly had a strong attraction to him. I would go to his house on Saturdays and we’d put on shoe skates and skate through his house while his dad and step-mom were gone, and take drives in his folk’s car. I was very much in love with him and hated the fact that we were cousins. He gave my my first kiss one night. I made a comment to my parents that I wished he weren’t my cousin because he made me feel so special.

A few weeks later a boy named Bruce Talbott (from a very prominent family in Longview) asked me to go to the movies. I’m sure Mom set this up as she knew the family from church. I said ‘yes’, but all through the movie he stared at me and I was very uncomfortable, which I later confided in Clair. After that, the three of us went out together. A few weeks later, Clair called me and told me to keep clear of Bruce. Seems Bruce had paid Clair a visit and had come on to him. Boy, Mom could sure pick the guys…

I spent the summer of 1947 at Grandmother Purdy’s house at Ocean Park. What a wonderful summer it was, filled with fun and romance. It was there that I met Neil De Figh.

I met Neil at the post office when I picked up Gram’s mail. He invited me to his father’s soda fountain shop for a cherry coke. We saw each other every day. He would walk me back to Gram’s house about a mile away. He was an amateur photographer and had his own dark room behind the soda fountain. I spent time with him there while he developed his films. We would cuddle and kiss but he never tried to go any further. We would go to the dunes on the beach to watch the sunset. He was such a gentleman.

One weekend my Mom drove down from Longview to bring me my bike and to visit my Gram. While I was in town, she found and read my diary, and made fun of my ‘summer romance’. By the end of the summer, Neil told me that his dad had told him we could no longer see each other. I wondered if Mom had something to do with that. I burned the diary and never kept another one. [She would eventually return to journalling in the 1970’s to document her travel with a Girl Scout trip to Washington DC, and only sporadically after that].

Neil and I wrote to each other during our senior year in high school. After graduation he moved to Fargo, ND and I didn’t heard from him again until a couple of weeks before I got married. He had been in and out of an engagement and wanted to renew our friendship, and that he still had deep feelings for me. Writing a farewell letter to him was very hard. I still think of him often [when she wrote this journal in 2002], wondering if he is still alive and if he continued photography as a profession. [I also tried to find him but failed. She requested that her ashes be scattered at the place “where I met my true love – not your father…]

He and Clair were my first deep loves. Although they were different in stature – Clair was tall with blue eyes, Neil was short with dark hair and deep-set brown eyes – their personalities were very much alike. Both gentlemanly, caring and polite, their kisses both gentle and loving.

Back in 1945-46 I joined the Mariners – a senior scout troop whose activities were related to the water. We learned navigation and sailing, and had many mutual activities with Sea Scouts (the Boy Scout equivalent to the Mariners). They had a large open sailboat called the Amberjack. A couple of times a month we’d all go sailing, with the boys teaching the girls. I always had fun because I was ‘just one of the boys’. I didn’t spend time fussing with my hair or brushing dirt from my clothes. I would wrestle with them and did my share of manning the rudder or the running lines [the ropes that control the sails].

Each year we would have a Halloween dance and a Christmas formal dance. The formal dance was held for both Sea Scouts and Mariners from Longview, Kelso, Vancouver and Portland, and would alternate between Longview and Portland. We’d charter a bus to go to the Portland dance.

I believe it was 1950 that the Sea Scout unit got a new assistant leader. I first saw him at a formal dance we had. He was wearing a fancy naval-style uniform and was escorting a very nice looking lady. I asked one of the Sea Scouts who they were and I was told it was Cal Fifield and the lady was his mother.

Calvin Lennan Fifield

The next girl-boy cruise was on the Sea Scout motor launch. Of course when we hit the beach the boys wanted to wrestle, and this jerk, Cal, made them stop. Whenever I sat or stood, he was there. I’d move and he would follow.

Several weeks later we had a costume dance. I provided the record player and the records. At some point Cal had trouble getting the record to change, so I went over to assist him. When I came back and sat down, this woman sat next to me and said: “that is my son, and he’ll never get married.”

That was my first encounter with who would eventually become my mother-in-law.

Calvin Lennan Fifield and his mother Dorothy

Published by augustphoenixhats

I'm a self taught hatmaker who handcrafts new hats from rescued textiles and found objects. My designs are inspired by my travels and historical studies.

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