No this is not a World News headline. It’s the story of Grandma and my biological grandfather.
I was already thinking about telling it when I read Remembrance and remembering, one woman’s loving tribute to her father and stepmother. The following is not a story I’ll share at Grandma’s funeral, but it’s too good not to tell someone.
First some background: Grandma and Grandpa (not the guy in the picture) met in 1939 and married the following year. Everything was going great until World War II broke out and he left Grandma behind to serve at Fort Hood in Texas. Grandpa’s heart murmur kept him stateside, but they were still apart.
Being the industrious woman she was, Grandma decided she’d go back and finish high school since nobody would hire her without a diploma. Since she was married, she had to threaten to write a letter to the local paper about how the town’s school wouldn’t let a serviceman’s wife finish her education before they let her enroll. Once she was in, she got good grades and held a part-time job, dreaming of the day her sweetheart would come back and they could pick up where they left off.
What happened next was really sad:
When I told him I had gone back to school he was really not happy. At that time in his life he was very controlling and told me what I could do and what I could not do. I said well I wanted to come down to Texas but you told me there were so many Army wives in Mineral Wells there was no place to live and you did not want me living in Ft. Worth or working there. We had a big argument but I stood my ground and he went back to Texas.
The argument continued by mail, and a few months later Grandma was served with emergency divorce papers. Mad and hurt, she gave Grandpa his divorce.
By May 1945 Grandma had finished school and moved to Topeka to take a civil service job. One day when she was eating lunch at the dime store near work she ran into Lawrence Johnson, a man she’d met the year before when she waited tables at her parents’ cafe. He remembered Grandma and started chatting her up — asking whether she lived in Topeka now and if she’d ever gotten her divorce.
Heartbroken and alone in a strange city, it’s not surprising Grandma started going for drives and attending church with Lawrence. Before she knew it he’d asked her to marry him. She told him she still loved Grandpa but he told her she’d learn to love him. He had a job, a house and a car, which — back in 1945 when men were still scarce due to the war — made him a pretty good catch. In her life story she skims over accepting his proposal and their wedding and fast forwards to my Mom being born in November 1946.
Through frequent moves and job changes, for several years Grandma made the best out of a bad situation. But little by little the truth about Lawrence leaked out …
First Grandma learned he was adopted, which made her furious. Next she learned he hadn’t really been sent home because he was injured in the war but because he was “unfit for association with other men.” Then one day while collecting his dirty laundry (no pun intended), she found a woman’s bra and panties in the mix. When she confronted him, he lied and told her they were hers. When she got up the courage to ask one of his coworkers why they never bunked with him on out-of-town trips, he dropped the bomb: Lawrence dressed in drag and went out whenever he was away on business. From that point on she started planning how to get out of the awful marriage to the man she never loved to begin with.
Several more years went by, because it was 1961 before Grandma finally filed for divorce. Throughout the 15 years they were apart, Grandma kept in touch with Grandpa’s mom through letters. When Grandma wrote to her of her divorce, Grandpa’s mom passed that information along to him. He too was unhappily married and heading for divorce, and for once fate did them a favor. He wrapped up his loose ends in Western Kansas and headed for Topeka with nothing to his name. Grandma let him stay in her spare bedroom and laid the ground rules for their second-chance romance. Grandpa agreed to everything, and they remarried in August 1962.
By the time I came along at the end of 1964, Lawrence was barely a footnote. The picture above is the only one I have of him; he slunk off to live somewhere else shortly after it was taken. I adored Grandpa. He was the only one I ever really knew, and I was the only child he ever really helped raise. I can’t imagine what cross-dressing Grandpa Larry would have been like, but I don’t think he would have chased me with his dentures out, or let me hang out with him in his workshop, or taught me the song about the goat who ate the shirts off the line or called me his sweet girl. Luckily, I never had to find out, and Grandma never had to worry again about finding lingerie in the laundry basket that wasn’t hers.
Image credit: zhanna / 123RF Stock Photo