[NOTE: Almost a year ago, I put up what I thought would be the final installment of the series, “Betts: A Mother’s Memoir, 1923-1964.” But I hadn’t considered my “Historical Pack Rat” gene. . . .
In the middle of Part IV of the “Betts” series, I had found it necessary to fill a gap between the two parts of her memoir, which Betts whimsically referred to as “Slub of Slife.” I noted that, despite the fact she’d become engaged to J.B. before he reported for duty overseas as a U.S. Marine, “for reasons that remain unclear, Betts and [J.B.] broke off their relationship during the war.” Then, in January 1943, Betts married Ben Lamplugh, who was on active duty with the U.S. Army.
A few weeks ago, while re-reading my journal, I came across an entry that helped fill in that gap in the “Betts” post, notes I’d made during a phone call to my mother in 1996. I had forgotten about the call–and the notes on it! And, yes, my journal, which I’ve been keeping since the summer of 1968, is a fine example of my pack rat “gene” and how it occasionally has helped me to continue “doing history after leaving the classroom.” And this is another instance. Because of what I found in that journal entry, I have now revised Part IV of the Betts series to reflect a fuller understanding of what transpired among Betts, Ben, and J.B., and why those things mattered.]
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On April 12, 1996, I had received in the mail a copy of J.B.’s account of his service as a U.S. Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, sent by Betts. That night, I phoned to tell her I’d read the memoir and liked it. Here’s what transpired thereafter, according to my journal. The italicized passages are taken from the journal (lightly revised); unitalicized passages enclosed in bold brackets are reflections on the 1996 journal entry twenty-two years later:
. . . During our conversation, I got her to talk about J.B., Ben, etc., and I learned a lot I hadn’t known. What follows is a series of notes on that conversation:
1940—Betts graduated from Newark High. She worked with Ben’s brother Bill and his wife Maxine [at Continental Diamond Fiber in Newark, Delaware]. Betts was introduced to Ben at Bill & Maxine’s farm near Newark (i.e., Bill and Maxine “set her up” with Ben). Ben was in the Maryland National Guard at the time. He reminded Betts of her father, because he was quiet. During this period, Betts also occasionally dated “college men” from the University of Delaware, including one I’ll call “Joe Delaware.”
[What surprised me here is that Betts had apparently met Ben in 1940, about the same time she met J.B. I had thought she’d met Ben after J.B. left for the war. Dating Ben, J.B., and even a “college man” like Joe Delaware, makes perfect sense when one remembers that, growing up, Betts had not been able to do lots of things her girlfriends did (like dancing, dating): her doctor and her parents tried to limit her physical activity because of her bout of rheumatic fever. With her graduation from high school, and finding a job at the fiber mill, Betts was officially “on her own” and free to do things that had been denied her because of her illness, including dating.]
1941—When Ben came to Newark, he’d ask Betts out. Sometimes she’d go, sometimes not. Yet, Betts must not have thought very much of Ben at the time, because, by the time the United States declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, Betts and J.B. were planning to marry. However, J.B. enlisted in the Marines in February 1942, so their wedding plans were put on hold.
[Betts apparently dated several boys casually after graduating from high school in 1940, including “Joe Delaware” (probably a freshman at the University of Delaware in Newark); Ben; and J.B. Notice her statement that, when Ben asked her out on his visits to Newark to see Bill and Maxine, she wasn’t always able to go. She had a job at the fiber mill, so dating during the week might not have been feasible; or, perhaps she’d agreed to go out with J.B., Joe Delaware, or another friend or “college man” and couldn’t accompany Ben.
I don’t know how often she dated Joe Delaware, but Betts remembered his name over fifty years later, so they almost certainly went out more than once. Yet, J.B. must have drawn her more strongly than the others—she met him in 1940 and, by late 1941, he’d given her an engagement ring, and they’d planned to wed early in 1942. Then came Pearl Harbor, and war.]
1942—While deployed with the Marines in the South Pacific, J.B. met several guys from the Newark area, one of whom was the aforementioned Joe Delaware. As they talked about life “back home,” Betts’ name came up. Delaware told J.B. that not only did he know Betts, but he’d also dated her.
J.B. evidently took this to mean that, following his departure for the Marines, Betts had dated Joe Delaware; he wrote Betts an angry letter, demanding to know why—not if—she was dating boys in Newark while he was overseas. Betts took his letter to mean that J.B. didn’t trust her. So, she sent J.B.’s ring, as well as her collection of clippings about the war in the South Pacific, to his mother in Iowa; then she wrote J.B. a “Dear John” letter. (J.B. later told Betts that Marines who received bad news from their “girls back home” posted those letters on a board for their buddies to read.)
[After Betts sent her letter to J.B., his dad arranged for the woman he wanted his son to marry to begin corresponding with J.B. Through some of her friends, Betts learned that J.B. had “moved on” in his life and had asked the young woman his father preferred, to marry him. Aware of this, Betts began to see Ben again, more steadily.]
1943—Betts and Ben marry. (January)
1944—their first child is born. (May)
The strange thing about this is that, until tonight, I had always assumed that Betts’ relationship with Ben was the reason she and J.B. broke up, but that’s apparently not the case.
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject: