June 1945. North Little Rock, Arkansas.
As Mamie blotted the excess lipstick, leaving a perfect red imprint of her lips on the folded tissue, she thought with satisfaction that even Aunt Iva Lynn would be proud of her. She was as dressed up as she ever got. Her gold brocade dress fitted well and accented the gold tones in her hair, and her high heels gave the outfit a nice party look.
Jake was relaxing in his favorite chair in the living room with his pipe and the evening paper when Mamie went out to model her outfit. He looked around the edge of his newspaper as she twirled around so that he could see all sides. He nodded his head in approval and said, “Very nice, Mamie.”
Too nervous to sit still, Mamie paced and then sat down until she got so anxious she started pacing again. Jake noticed her nerves but kept quiet. Mamie thought Papa might be more excited if he knew what a big night it was and maybe that Bill Edmond planned to propose.
If Bill proposed, she wanted to say yes in the worst way, but she couldn’t until she came clean with him, and when she did, she worried it would be a deal breaker. She dreaded telling him, as she had never told her secret to anyone else outside of the family except for Eleanor Newkirk. Eleanor was a low risk confidant anyway since she was a missionary off in another country. Her family never spoke of it again. Why would they? There was no use in it. Her secret had cast a long shadow over her adult life. It was why she had kept men at arm’s length.
Getting ready in his quarters at Camp Robinson, Bill felt insecure wearing a suit and tie. He had been in uniform for so long civilian clothes felt strange. This was a special occasion, though, and he wanted to make a good impression on Mamie. He ran the comb through his hair again, straightened his tie, and slipped the small jewelry box into his coat pocket.
He had selected the dinner location after a private consult with Claudette. He didn’t think Claudette knew why he was asking, but she was pretty sure he was going to propose to the sweetest girl in town. Bill didn’t know that Claudette knew his secret, but Gwen Weintraub had kept her promise and Claudette knew quite a bit about Bill Edmond’s personal life. She knew Mamie’s secret too. She wouldn’t be much of an FBI agent if she didn’t.
During a lively discussion about restaurants with Bill, Claudette said, “If you’ve got a local girl in mind, a Yankee such as yourself would get points if you were to spring for a date at Mexico Chiquito in North Little Rock. I warn you, though, it’s kind of rustic. Dirt floor.”
She paused, interrupted as she was by Bill, who had clapped his hand to his forehead and exclaimed, “Dirt floor? I don’t know, Claudette, what kind of place is that? I was hoping to impress in a good way.”
Claudette shook her head and waved her hand to dismiss his worry, as she continued, “It’s in Protho Junction, just outside the city limits, that’s how they get away with it.”
As Bill started to speak again, she fixed him with a firm eye and continued, “Stop looking at me like that. I’m trying to help you. All right, so they’re playing fast and loose with the health regulations. Folks like to go there for their cheese dip and fruit punch. Generally speaking, Arkansas girls like cheese dip. Take your appetite, though, because their combo platters are big. Your friend might like the Ladies Dinner, that’s my favorite, or maybe she’d prefer the Summer Plate. They’re both really good.”
Armed with advice from a native, Bill drove to #800 East Eighth Street. His thoughts were turbulent. Maybe he wasn’t considered much of a catch. His degree from West Point should count in his favor. What he worried would count against him were his two half grown children, a boy and a girl, that he had not told Mamie about. She might consider them a liability. Of course, he’d rescued her in that tight spot in Pine Bluff. Arriving with grenades strapped to his legs had made for a high visibility save.
The children had been living with his mother in Pennsylvania since he went on active duty. His wife had died seven years ago, and he’d had no choice but to leave them in Erie. They were great kids and he loved them with all his heart, but it would take a special woman to step into a situation like that. He had no idea what Mamie would think of all this. Most probably she would want children of her own, not two of somebody else’s. Not a hand-me-down family. And then he wasn’t as young as he once was, maybe it would be too hard for him to start over with a young family. It wouldn’t be fair to ask a woman to not have children of her own.
He knocked on the front door of the stone house at seven pm. Mamie answered the door smiling nervously but looking like a million dollars. Bill thought she liked the corsage of red rose buds and baby’s breath he gave her, and she stood still but trembled a little while he fumbled with the pin. He got it attached to her dress without bloodshed. When Bill shook hands with Mamie’s father, he was heartened to note that Mr. Holt didn’t seem worried watching his only daughter leave with him.
He and Mamie walked out to his newly cleaned Oldsmobile. Ten minutes later they pulled up in front of the long, low restaurant with the neon sign over the entrance. Mexico Chiquito was a popular place, but they didn’t have to wait long before they were seated. Mamie laughed and said as she dipped a chip in the cheese dip, “I have to be careful not to fill up before the main course.”
They talked and talked, the conversation moving from politics to the war. Mainly they rehashed events of the last month.
Bill thought the dinner went well. It went so well that after the fruit punch, cheese dip and chips, thank you, Claudette, for the suggestions, and the main courses, and yes, she wavered between the Ladies Dinner and the Summer Plate, finally going with the Summer Plate, when they were on to coffee, he felt emboldened to make his move.
Bill pulled the jewelry box from his pocket and placed it in front of Mamie with a hopeful expression in his eyes. She opened the box and inhaled when she saw the narrow platinum band studded with diamonds. Then she closed it, handed it to Bill and started crying.
He didn’t know what to do. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and passed it across the table. He said, “I guess you didn’t like the ring? Or maybe you don’t like me?” He felt miserable.
She sobbed, “Don’t be an idiot. I love the ring and I love you too!”
“You do? Then what’s wrong?”
Mamie gave a long shuddering breath and said, “You won’t want to marry me after I tell you.”
Bill looked around the room, hoping they weren’t too conspicuous. Fortunately the lighting was muted and their table so secluded for a romantic dinner that no one in the crowded room of laughing happy people seemed to notice that one of the diners was having a breakdown.
“Try me, Mamie. It can’t be that bad.” He was puzzled. He couldn’t imagine what she could possibly say.
Mamie drew several shuddering breaths and confided her secret to Bill. He had to lean far in to hear what she had to tell him, and even then he had to strain because she was talking through gulping tears.
Mamie said, “When I was eighteen years old I went to the doctor with a female complaint,” and here she turned bright red and Bill did too, but Mamie forged on, determined to make it through. “He recommended surgery. Well, I went in and had the surgery, and then when I was back in my room recovering he came in. He told me that while he was in there he might as well do what he called “clean house” and he gave me a hysterectomy.” Mamie looked down at the table.
Bill exclaimed, “That’s awful, Mamie! Did he have any reason to do that?”
Mamie shook her head, “No. It sounded like it was a matter of convenience. I never did get a good explanation. He couldn’t tell me why he did it. But he did. Bill,” she said, after a long pause, “I love children, but I can never give you any. You might want to look elsewhere for a wife. I’m not good enough.”
Bill smiled, reached over to cover Mamie’s hand and said, “Mamie, have I got a deal for you.”
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