A Valentine Love Story
By Bill Shepard
They called it “Puppy Love.” She was thirteen; he was fifteen, impatiently awaiting his sixteenth birthday. That would be the time that he could drop out of school and begin work at the big cotton mill where everyone on the village worked.
The girl was thirteen, the oldest of five daughters that belonged to the family of the new preacher who had come to be pastor of the small church near the village.
The two had met that day when he was returning home from school, riding on his bicycle. As he approached a group of playful boys and girls, he noticed that there was one face he had never seen before. As he neared the group, one called out to him, “Bill, have you met the new preacher’s daughter?” Bill had not known there was a new preacher. At that moment he saw her. His heart skipped a beat; never had he seen one so lovely. She had the face of an angel! She did not turn to look at him, nor did she lift her eyes from the ground where she seemed to be looking for something. Bill had seen enough, and he knew he would be seeing more of this girl that suddenly entered into his life. He sped by on his bicycle and as he did, he called out in her direction, “Wanna ride, hop in the rumble seat.” He moved on in the direction of home but the face he had seen in the crowd of happy youngsters would not disappear from before him. He knew he must see it again. Bill knew the group would soon be passing the little store where he sometimes worked, so he entered the building and positioned himself at a window where he could see the children as they passed by; he did not have long to wait. There it was again, her face came into plain view. Her hair was a chestnut brown, platted and pinned tightly to her head. The brown coat she was wearing was pulled closely around her small body. Her cheeks were the color of the first rose of summer and though he could not see them, he knew her eyes were as blue as the sky above. She moved on in the direction of her home. “That’s it,” he said to himself, “she is an angel” and he was determined to know more about her.
Everyone was surprised that next Sunday when Bill showed up for Sunday School. His mother had been just as surprised when he had awakened earlier and asked where his only pair of Sunday pants were. “They are where you hung them the last time you went to church,” she had answered. She watched him wash his face, pour Brilliantine hair oil on his hair and comb it down. The oil had the smell of roses. He liked that!
Bill entered the church and took a seat at the back where he could have a good view of the side door near the front. His eyes searched the small congregation that was already seated. It as a lively group and they laughed and talked as though they had not seen each other in a long time. He sat, taking it all in. He knew all the people there; they were all front the village where he lived. It was amusing to see them and listen to them talk but the one person he had come to see was missing. Oh, where was his angel face? He saw heads turned toward the side entrance door and he did the same. There she was! His heart beat faster. He watched as she and her mother and sisters entered and took their seats. He would have given anything he had if only she would look at him; she did not. Perhaps it was best that she didn’t; his heart would surely have stopped beating.
Bill stayed for preaching, something he had never done before. Of course, he could not have told anyone what he had heard the preacher say; his mind was fully occupied on the girl that was seated at the front of the church.
It was not long before everyone at the church knew that Bill was in love with the preacher’s daughter. His interest in church had taken on a new dimension. He even attended Wednesday night prayer meeting. Always be went with one purpose in mind, that of seeing his angel face! He cherished each moment when they were close enough to speak to each other. Her dad would not think of his daughter having a dating relationship with a boy. After all, she was only thirteen!
That first Valentine’s Day, February 1938, Bill handed a small valentine to one of the church members. The words, “Give to the preacher’s daughter” were written across it. Over the next two years they saw each other at church, on their way to school but never were they allowed to have a date or to be alone with each other. Everyone said their feelings for each other was only puppy love and it wouldn’t last. Some said they were too different and it wouldn’t last. Some were praying that it wouldn’t last. Under such conditions it was no wonder that the feelings they had for each other would fade. Even love needs to be nurtured in order to survive.
In 1941 Eufaula, I had learned her name by then, moved from Darlington to Greenville. I had landed my job at the mill. At first I heard from my angel through the church folk but then the news stopped coming. I thought of her often and wondered what she was doing.
December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. We were at war!
February 1942, I entered in the army and spent my first winder at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas. From there I went to an air base near Tampa, Florida and from there to Bolling Field, an air base outside of Washington D.C. All that time I heard from Angel only once. I learned that she graduated from high school and had taken a position as secretary at her church’s headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee. I wrote, suggesting that she take a Civil Service Exam and come to Washington. It was said that during the war, there were fifty girls to every man in Washington D.C. I didn’t know that she had already done that and was waiting for an assignment.
I was on my bunk when the voice came over the intercom in my barracks. It was the voice on my First Sergeant. “Corporal Shepard, you have a message to call one Eufaula McDonald, she is in Washington…come to the office and make your call.” It had been nearly five years since we first met hat day when he were returning from school. Bill could not wait to make that call, and to see that face again. Angel was working with the Civil Service and living in this crowded and crazy city of Washington, D.C.; that thought was overwhelming! The two young lovers who had never one time been alone together were now together in this mad city that was filled with sweethearts who were living in fear of being separated by a terrible war, and who might be together for their last time.
They were married in the following year, February of 1943. This year they will celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary. The ‘puppy love’ that many said would not last is still holding fast. It has been tested and tired, and frayed at the edges, but still secure.
On this Valentine’s Day, she will take from its resting place the little valentine that was given to her nigh seventy-nine years ago. The words, “Give to the preacher’s daughter” are faded but still visible. Together they will share memories of that long ago time and the journey they have had together. She will then put her valentine in its secure place until the next time. It is a beautiful reminder of the ‘puppy love’ that so many thought would not last but it has!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673.