Morriah held a place in line for Max. The sidewalk in front of the church was dry and grey and the late December wind banked around the corner from Fifth Avenue and west along E. 29th Street. It was all she could do to keep her balance against the wind, what with one hand atop her head to keep her fur Bergman-like pillbox firmly in place and with the other holding her grey overcoat gripped tight around her, and to hold the nosegay of three red tea roses and some frilled greens close to her chest.
The hat cost more than she could afford. The nosegay was unnecessary but her mother had paid for it. Reluctantly. Grumblingly.
Morriah touched her chin. She had covered a small raised pimple with cosmetic her mother had given her. She looked at the other couples in the queue. The way they were dressed. How tall they were. What shoes they wore.
She politely excused herself, changing her place in line twice, three times, moving to the end of the line, as couples, arms entwined, entered the church ahead of her, an apologetic look on her face.
Max had come. But he had left the license on the dresser in his bedroom at his parents’ apartment on Broadway and had to take two buses uptown, retrieve it, and meet her before the rector closed the doors at noon.
Her mother, if she knew what had happened would have said, “Don’t hold your breath waiting for him, Morriah. But, no worries, if he doesn’t show, I can return the flowers to Adler’s if they still have some signs of life in them.”
There was a rush to marry.
The war had started it. Pearl Harbor. The Nazi’s. The Italians. The Japanese. Roosevelt made it imperative, not so much the rush to marry, but the sense of existential threat. Everyone felt it.
The country was attacked and that demanded an immediate response. The need to martial resources, to rally to fight, to sacrifice, do what the country needed of you. Get your hands dirty. Offer up your life for it if that’s what it took.
Urgency grew up from the soil, filled the air with its pungency, flowed in the insistent streams of voices, radio, news hawkers on the streets, clutches of neighbors in the lobby. It was unavoidable and insatiable.
Morriah felt the threat to the well-ordered life she’d imagined, she’d invested in. Planned on. Hoped for. A marriage. A wedding. A home. Children. A happy life. All of it was threatened by a world she had no control over. If she could get a job, she would. What would she do though? Steno? War work of some sort. Not at all what she had planned on.
There was all that and then there was Max. Brown hair and soft brown eyes. An off-center smile.
They’d danced. Fast and slow. In the rushed rhythm of the moment. In the basement of the church.
Max had signed up. To fight. Do what he was expected to do. He asked her to wait for him though he had no idea what that actually meant. How that feeling would translate into something real in his life. It actually had no translation that entered his mind beyond the heroism of it. Of the sound of the words he said to her, “I have to go. Will you wait for me?” Words that seemed to flow out of him without thought. Without anything but the desire to go, to fight, to have meaning in life, to earn it, what ever it was. And to be wanted, admired, needed, waited for.
Of course, she would wait for him. Though she too had no of idea what that meant, waiting for him. Of course, she would wait until he came back. They’d marry. She would write him letters he would open in his barracks or in a trench somewhere with gunfire and aircraft overhead and thunder in the distance. There was magic in it all.
They both felt the magic. Life had become magical. You would do what you were called to do. It was your duty.
And for both of them. The magic erased the unknown. The war became the known. And the known was the urgency.
“Marry me,” she said.
She’d worn her hair up like Olivia De Haviland. A dark blue suit. The small bouquet. There was no time to plan for more than that.
In January, he rode the bus to Fort Worth. A green foot locker. Half-full.
Morriah lived with her mother until a month or two before the baby was due and then she would take the train to be with him, to have the baby there, in Texas. And they would be happy.
And all would be well. She would keep the house and care for the baby. He would see her when he could until his orders would come. And then she would wait again for him.
And she did. She made the meals, cleaned the spills, washed the diapers and the dishes and the floors, and called the landlord when the sink or the toilet backed up. She endured the heat and the Texas humidity, and paid the bills, called the doctor, held the baby, the crying baby, the baby boy she had named for her father. There was always something in the oven or bubbling over on the stove and the wash in the machine in the hall. She read popular novels. All, a measure of happiness because she was waiting.
And in August, in her housecoat and her hair undone, and she’d not seen Max in a month, she was not happy. “When we move to San Diego it will be better,” she told her mother.
“Don’t hold your breath.”
And then it was to San Antonio, and Eagle Pass, and Brownsville.
And on a hot December afternoon, on their tenth anniversary, when the boy was nine and the girl was seven, Morriah waited in the still air and shade of the front porch for the delivery of the dryer they’d bought.
She’d have to tell the delivery man she couldn’t accept it. They were moving again. She didn’t know where.
She’d called her mother; told her that Max got new orders. Korea. And ask if she could come back to New York and stay with her and wait until he came back.
“Of course, dear,” her mother said. “Of course.”
2 thoughts on “Waiting in Line at the Church of the Transfiguration”
Hello Joe: Well done. The tale you tell is a classic World War II story. Transfiguration Church was known to my parents, who lived on Baxter Street,. As for the continual moving around in the military, so many young couples did this, often the bride and baby going home to parents when the serviceman shipped out. The longing, the disappointment and the disruption are all captured in what you’ve written. Anybody who lived through this can never forget the stress, and sometimes how someone who didn’t come back from the war. Stay well. Your buddy, Joseph N. Muzio
This moved me. I think your grip on the emotion of the military wife applies to modern times also. For sixteen years I taught at a school where all the children were military dependents. They often knew the number of their moves better than their ages, and some had moved more than their years. I found them amazingly resilient. I loved one story when a first grade boy told me he had moved 3 times and the last one he threw up on the ride to Grandma’s! (i needed that detail!!) I figure the wives had a lot to do with the stability. As I tried to understand my population and build the professional collection for the library, I went to family services on Base to research support materials for families. They gave me a well-produced film that military spouses see as part of preparedness for deployment, be it education or long haul. The military wife was clearly expected to carry on completely while the husband was away including taking over financial affairs, running the home, eating right, keeping upbeat, and in general, doing it all. The film had not caught up with how many husbands now have wives deployed-which is a big change from WWII, but the high expectation of women was clear. In your story you capture the inner strength needed for waiting which is so powerful. Were you the little boy who moved a lot?