Although we were strictly disciplined, our social lives went on during weekend liberty. We were encouraged to attend events rather than hang out in bars and were expected to project a gentlemanly image. Once we were in our grey midshipman uniforms, I rarely went back to the Music Box. I did stop one evening for a drink in the bar but the oldy at the organ did not recognize me in my officer-type uniform. After that, Johnny Berry and I had “happy hour” at the bar in the LaSalle Hotel where we taught the bartender how to make an “Ile Nou Cocktail” from grain alcohol and grapefruit juice. On our free Saturday evenings, we went to movies, bowled, or attended a USO or St. Mary’s dance.
The end of World War II same came on 14 August 1945 after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was not a liberty night for we midshipmen and we were not given special liberty. We had to be content with listening from our dormitory windows to the celebrations in South Bend. Already knowing that the end of the war was imminent, it was almost anti-climactic to us. We listened for a while then went back to our studies and to the scuttlebutt as to what would happen to us.
Off and on there were many rumors passed around. One was that we would simply be discharged and sent home. Another was that upon commissioning we might either apply for transfer to the regular Navy as ensigns or else go on inactive duty as Ensign, USNR. A third, shortly after V-J Day, was that with so many officers out there wanting to return to civilian life, we would be commissioned in the regular Navy. Al proved to be untrue. (In actual fact we were commissioned ensigns in the Naval Reserve and were required to serve at least a year on active duty before making the choice of transfer to the regular Navy or going on inactive duty but with continued participation in a Naval Reserve unit.)
Early in September we ordered and were fitted for our officer’s uniforms, dress blues and khakis. That was when I met “Midge”. When I went ashore for my fitting at the uniform shop, it occurred to me that I had seen officers carrying suitcases instead of seabags. After my fitting, dressed in my sub-battalion commander’s greys, I dropped into a luggage shop to order a leather suitcase.
I was struck dumb and tongue-tied when I confronted the young lady behind the counter. She was one of the most beautiful girls I had ever met. She was small with a slender but mature figure beneath a simple dress. A mane of chestnut hair framed an exquisitely molded face with eyes more blue than my own. She was a sort of combination of today’s Christie Brinkley and Vanna White. I had barely enough presence of mind to note that the small hands resting on the glass countertop held no rings. I judged she must be about twenty years old. Her voice was low and musical when she said, “Yes—may I help you, sir?”
When I explained what I wanted, together we selected a brown leather suitcase. While she filled out the sales slip and I tried not to stare dumbly at her beautiful features, I stated that I would like my initials stamped in gold on the suitcase. She assured me that could be done right there at the shop.
She then asked, “Will there be anything else, sir?”
I smiled and took the direct approach, “Yes. I would like your name and telephoe number. You happened to be the prettiest girl I ever had the good fortune to meet!”
The girl was silent for a minute while she coolly looked me up and down then those gorgeous eyes came to rest on my campaign bars and she touched them with a finger. “How did a midshipman get those?”
I explained that I had been in the Navy for two years before I was selected for the officer training program. She was silent again for a moment then her eyes, now twinkling like first magnitude stars, met mine.
“Well, my name is Elizabeth, but my big brothers call me ‘Midget’. I prefer ‘Midge’.”
Meanwhile, she finished the sales slip while I reached for my wallet. When I looked at the slip for the total, I saw a local telephone number written across the top. I did not want to overdo it with this one so I paid for the suitcase, folded the sales slip, placed it carefully in my wallet and said with a grin, “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll be back Saturday to pick up the suitcase and I expect you will be hearing form me!”
Hear from me, Midge did. I telephone her that evening and she accepted a date for dinner and a movie on Saturday. We never made it to the movie. I selected the best restaurant in South Bend and we sat and talked so long over dinner and dessert that the last show had started before we realized how the time had gone by.
It developed that Midge was a very intelligent young lady. She was sensible and she knew as much about the course of the war as I did. She was twenty-one, not twenty, and she lived at home with her parents. She had two older brothers, both of whom were in the service—one Army and one Navy.
While we were getting acquainted over dinner, Midge asked if I had a girl back home. I was honest up to a point, “Sure I do, but home is a long way away. I expect most fellows have, just like I expect that you have a boyfriend around somewhere as beautiful as you are!” (I stopped short of telling her I was engaged.)
“That’s pure blarney, sailor, and I love it! Yes, there are some that hang around but no one special. I plan to go to L.A. soon to visit relatives and they tell me I should try out as a model. I haven’t wanted any permanent attachment yet.”
I took a deep breath. “Look, Midge, Midshipman’s Ball for my battalion is coming up the 21st. I would like it very much if you would be my date. It is our one big formal event on campus.”
My heart came as near to beating fast as it had in four long years when Midge turned on that beautiful mile and simply said, “I would like that very much, Midshipman Frieze.”
That ball is a treasured memory of my days at Notre Dame. When I picked Midge up in a taxi that evening with a corsage of a single gardenia in hand, she was beautifully groomed and wearing a formal gown with a black lace top. She did not coyly keep me waiting but was ready. She introduced me to her parents, placed the gardenia in her hair over her left ear so it would not get bruised while we danced, and was ready to go.
There was a host of lovely girls at the ball with my shipmates but none more beautiful than petite Midge. On the dance floor, she was a feather in my arms. It seemed a very short time before the dance band was playing “Good Night, Ladies” and I had to take her home. On the darkened porch Midge thanked me and came up on tiptoe to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. Vancouver seemed very far away and the odor of gardenias can still remind me of that balmy September evening.
My final month at Notre Dame passed swiftly. My log indicates that we completed our final examinations on the 25th of October. I finished with a 3.8 grade average. Baccalaureate was on Sunday the 28th of October.
Midge and I dated on two or three weekends during my final month at Notre Dame. It was obvious she liked me and liked to be with me and I was quite devoted to her. When I saw her I did, indeed, have a protective feeling and even a pang of jealousy one weekend when she did not go out with me, but went instead to a football game in Chicago with one of her brothers home on leave.
If this were a romantic novel, I would have phone Shirley, called off the wedding, and Midge and I might have wound up together. The thought crossed my mind more than once during those days in South Bend.
It was not to be. The old Ozark boy had given his word, the wedding preparations were complete, and gifts were already coming in at the Mills house. I agonized over it and simply did not have the guts to do it.
I put it off until the first of November then, at the luggage shop the day before I was commissioned, I painfully told little Midge the whole truth. She reacted a bit numbly and just said something like, “Well, that’s tough.” Her impossibly blue eyes were sad when we said goodbye. I left the shop feeling like a louse and not walking very tall.
[Were this a movie, there would be the sound of a record screeching to a halt here. The elephant in the room is the question as to why my father married my mother, particularly when it seems that he didn’t intend to get engaged to her in the first place. Despite the fact that I would have not existed or been someone else (there’s an intriguing thought), I wish that he would have displayed the same courage that he did on December 7th and told her that, no, that he hadn’t meant marriage or realized that friends and family saw what he could not—they were ill suited. I was born six years into their marriage and my father stayed for me, of that I am sure. In 1968 I became engaged and not far into 1969, satisfied that he was going to turn me over to a nice young sailor (a Navy man’s dream), my father left our home in Bellevue, Washington. His explanation to me was pretty similar to what he wrote in his memoir, he simply had never really loved my mother. She did love him despite the fact that she was terribly damaged by her alcoholic mother and suffered from anger issues that made life in suburbia less than Ozzie and Harriet at times. There is a fine line between love and hate and my mother crossed it in 1969. Bitterness filled her life until my father’s death in 2002. Fortunately, for him, my father did find happiness with my step-mother Phyllis. They married in December 1973 and were very happy ever after, she keeping him at home until his death.]
(Midge did, indeed, make it as a model. Four or five years later I was diving into downtown Seattle from East Marginal Way and there on a billboard advertising bread was Midge’s wholesome, All-American, smiling face. My wife, Shirley, never understood—and I did not enlighten her—why I almost ran into a lamp post on a clear day in light traffic.
I glimpsed Midge once more about ten years later in a television commercial. I do not remember what it advertised, but she was playing the part of a young matron with some children. She was still slender and there was no mistaking that lovely face, low voice, and auburn hair. She looked, sounded, and acted very happy. I felt very glad for her.)