I Began with a Bottle of Old Forester

dad in uniform for Old Forester webpageI began with a bottle of Old Forester.  The year: 1944.  The Place: Great Falls, Montana.  My dad’s inclination: savoring good bourbon.

An Army Air Corps pilot Ralph Holbrook was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base.  His proclivity for bourbon figured in many of his war stories from North Africa.  For instance, one morning, hung over from a drinking bout, he stuck his head out of the C47 cockpit window as it cruised at 100 mph.  Purpose: clear his head.  He’d forgotten he was flying through a hail storm.  Sobered, he sandblasted his face.  Then there was the time in Naples when Humphrey Bogart and his wife…

“Ralph,” another pilot stationed at Malmstrom began, “My girl and I have a date tonight, but her friend needs a date, too.”

“I don’t do blind dates,” my dad responded.

“Come on, Ralph, Diane says Lois is a lot of fun.”

“I don’t do blind dates,” my dad responded.

“There’s a quart of Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for you if you’ll go.”

“Now that’s a date worth taking a chance on.  But I’ll take the bottle and go if she isn’t any fun.”

The deal was struck, but a few hours later the pilot and his girlfriend backed out.

“I’m sorry, Ralph, but we decided we would prefer a date at her apartment.  Do you still want to meet the girl?”

“Is the booze still part of the bargain?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then sure.”

mom - web

Half the date was assured – the Old Forester half.  But what about the human half?  My mother’s father died a week before the Crash in 1929 leaving his wife with five children and one on the way.  The Depression mortified my mother, Lois, because she was chosen to carry the pail down to the soup kitchen each day.  There it was filled and she got bread.  She hated those public walks, evidence of her shame.  At seventeen she and her friend Mickey decided to quit school and get a job at the Anaconda Copper Smelter in Great Falls.  A good student, mom dropped out of school to make her own money as a mail girl.

The manager of the Smelter decided to hire “mail girls” instead of “mail boys,” since young men were difficult to find during World War II.  There were “shops” at the Smelter – electrical, mechanical, carpentry, pipe and others to which the gals delivered mail.  To get to some of those shops the girls had to climb steps – the open metal kind.  Mickey and my mom, called Dilly because her last name was Dillman, were given uniforms with light green shirts and pants.  Proper ladies did not wear pants in those days but the boss didn’t want those men who did work at the Smelter tempted to look up young women’s skirts.

A check for $85 left Mickey and mom feeling rich at the end of the month.  They developed a tradition: on pay days they went downtown shopping and had dinner at Paris Department Store.   One time Mickey, mom and a third “Smelter” gal named Squeak bought matching sequined dresses – each in a different color.  Fancy dresses were needed for the USO dances my mother loved.

I’m sure Ralph and Lois’ first date was NOT a dance and daddy must have been a disappointment.  Not only did he not like to dance, he had bad knees which made for a great excuse.  “In the Mood” might be blaring from the radio, but they had differences in what they were in the mood for.

Then there was the bourbon “deal.”  I don’t know how my mother felt about being teamed with a bottle of booze.  I don’t even know if she knew about it before they were married, although she was laughing about it fifty years later.  I do know she said yes to a second date which eventually lead to a proposal.  Mom had dropped out of high school, but she refused to marry my dad until she was eighteen, which occurred on October 18 of 1944.  They were married November 1st.

mom for web 2

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2 responses to “I Began with a Bottle of Old Forester

  1. What a wonderful story, Sherie. It’s easy for me to forget our parents were young once, too, and they lived through some of the harshest times in the 20th Century. Truly they were “The Greatest Generation”. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Wonderful story! I have your stuff, but haven’t waded through everything I need to before I get to it. Sorry… I am here. I am alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic. I AM alive, awake, alert… I am…. lp

    Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2014 22:32:26 +0000 To: lynnpribus@hotmail.com

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