A High School Romance in 1942….

I was looking through a stack of old family photos a few years ago, and I came across a small photo of my Dad when he was a senior at Darlington High School in 1942. He was standing in front of his old homeplace, and his arm was around a pretty gal standing next to him. It was not my mother, but instead a girl who I recognized as one of Dad’s classmates. Her name was Helen Louise, and it was obvious that they must have been a couple at that time. Since my father and mother passed away several years ago, I showed my aunt the photo. “Yes, your Dad dated Helen all through high school…They were quite the couple.” I then inquired, “Well, what happened…why didn’t they get married?” I knew that Dad had entered the Army right after high school, had fought in Europe during World War II, and ended his military service in 1945. My aunt, who was an 8th grade student in 1942 and graduated in 1946, had no idea why the romance had ended.

I decided to get on the Internet and do a little research. Helen Louise passed away in 2012. She had married another fellow in October of 1945, and they were married for 58 years before he passed away in 2003. They lived in the Rochester-Peru, Indiana area and were the parents of ten children. I considered contacting one of their children to see if Helen had ever spoken about her romance with my Dad, but then decided otherwise. I know that many soldiers receive “Dear John” letters from their girlfriends during war, as a long absence takes a toll on a relationship, but in this instance I will likely never know what happened. Dad married my mother in 1947 and they became the parents of five kids…myself being the firstborn in 1948, and they were married 44 years before his passing in 1991 at the age of 66…Mom passing away in 2002 at the age of 78.

In many of the Darlington school yearbooks there are photos of high school sweethearts. In looking through these, I was amazed at how many couples did marry…and are still married today! With the smalltown schools, I believe this was quite common in the old days. My wife and I are one example…engaged at age 17, married at 18…and soon to be married 57 years this fall. But in today’s world only 2% of high school sweethearts marry, according to recent statistics. The divorce rate today is also much higher, but that’s another story about how times have changed. Many Darlington sweetheart couples found their “true love” in junior high and high school. And there is one couple I know who fell for each other in the first grade and were a great twosome all of their life together!

Yes, there were several high school romances that did not last after graduation. Often “first love” or “young love” is not mature enough to last more than a few years, not to mention a lifetime. When couples go off to college, enter the workplace…or one partner enters military service, relationships can abruptly end. Sometimes it may have been an unkind word, silly quarrel, or misunderstanding that caused the relationship to end. I have also seen a few high school sweethearts wed, and then grow miserable together after a few years…but stick with their wedding vows of “till death do you part” or remain married for the sake of the children. There are also a few people who marry someone else after the high school break-up, but deep down are still in love with their teenage sweetheart. Then there is the example of a man and woman who were meant to be soulmates, who would have been a happily wedded couple, but never met until later in life after they had married someone else. On a few occasions, I have witnessed someone who got divorced, or whose spouse passed away…marry a person they dated in high school…rekindling their teenage romance. That situation makes for an interesting story!

Perhaps some day I will find out why Dad’s high school romance with Helen Louise ended. My folks raised us five kids and spent forty-four years together. Yes, they had their ups and downs, argued on occasion, and had some disagreements, like any married couple. But they stuck together and were in love to the very end. And I’m certain that Helen had a happy, loving marriage, too. And that’s all that matters in the end. As poet Harriet Monroe wrote…

“Good-bye…no, do not grieve that it is over, the perfect hour; That the winged joy, sweet honey-loving rover, flits from the flower. Grieve not…it is the law. Love will be flying–Yes, love and all. Glad was the living–Blessed be the dying. Let the leaves fall.”

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.