By Brenda Buchanan
By the luck of the draw my February post falls three days after Valentine’s Day, but I’ll tell you a love story anyway.
Seventy-four years ago, these crazy kids eloped.
On the left are my folks, William “Buck” Buchanan and Irene Kane Buchanan. He was 22. She was 20.
The other two are Sis and B.G., their friends who also eloped that day. It was February 14, 1942 and love was in the air, intensified by the knowledge that both men were about to be shipped overseas.
My father and B.G. were members of the United States Army’s First Infantry Division—known as the Big Red One—training at Fort Devens in Central Massachusetts. My parents met on the base, where Mom had a war-time job delivering mail. She was vivacious young woman, the fifth of six children raised by Irish Catholic immigrants in a nearby mill town. Her mail delivery gig involved zipping around Fort Devens on a motorcycle with a sidecar, and it’s no surprise she caught my father’s attention. Mom was an auburn-haired looker with a fun-loving personality. I never got a satisfactory answer about what most attracted her Dad, but I think it was his soft spoken manner and big heart. Or perhaps those beautiful brown eyes.
They’d been a steady couple since the previous year, but Mom had never brought him home to meet her father. She knew better. My father had been raised Methodist in Western North Carolina/East Tennessee, but he may as well have come from the moon as far as my tough-minded grandfather was concerned. John Austin Kane’s wife had died of cancer years earlier and his eldest daughter had joined the convent. He was not about to allow his next daughter to marry someone who wasn’t Catholic.
So Irene and her handsome Buck eloped, together with their friends. In a double wedding ceremony at a nearby Catholic church where each couple served as the other’s maid of honor and best man, they pledged their eternal love. Then my folks took the train to New York City for a weekend honeymoon, thrilled to have defied the forces that attempted to put a brake on their love.
On Sunday they returned to my mother’s hometown of Fitchburg and walked from the train station to my grandfather’s house. There my dad met his father-in-law for the first time, a meeting that reportedly went quite well. Dad already had converted to Catholicism, which must have helped, but I expect it was his quiet confidence that won my stubborn Irish grandfather over. That, and my mother’s evident love for her new husband.
He got his orders that spring, landing first in Tunisia, then Sicily, and finally England, where the Big Red One (“the point on the spear at Omaha Beach”) prepared for D-Day. Six days after that historic invasion my father was involved in a firefight in the Cerisy Forest that earned him a Silver Star for valor.
As proud as I’m sure my mother was of his medals, she must have lived with her heart in her throat in those first years of their marriage, praying for him to come home in one piece.
That finally happened in mid-1945. They settled down in her hometown of Fitchburg, built a small business together and raised four kids.
They were getting ready to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day in 1992 when my father fell suddenly, seriously ill. Seven weeks later he died at the age of 72, having had the opportunity to say goodbye to his children and grandchildren (though one was subsequently born) and most importantly, to his beloved wife.
She is 94 now, and her illness makes it difficult for her to communicate. But on Sunday, when my sister told her that it was Valentine’s Day—her 74th anniversary—a wave of emotion washed over Mom’s still-beautiful face.
True love does indeed endure.