May 11, 2021 would have been my parents–Gertrude and Giles Adams–74th wedding anniversary.

If you could call it that.

I knew that they had run away and gotten married in Seabrook, New Hampshire. She was 18, he was 20. She lived in her father’s house in Dorchester, a section of Boston; he was in the Navy, stationed on a ship in Boston, although his home was in southwestern Virginia.

That was the public story.

However, when my sister moved, she uncovered a box that contained some of my mother’s writings. I had no idea these things existed. I began reading and learned the real story behind May 11, 1947.

Young Gertrude and Giles, along with two of their friends, took an early-morning bus to Seabrook from Boston because a young woman could get married at age 18 without parental permission. In Massachusetts, the age for marriage without a parent’s signature was 21. The four of them sought out a justice of the peace. Unbeknownst to my grandfather, my mother had had a blood test at a place on Huntington Avenue in Boston, while my father had his on his ship, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. They had a short civil ceremony, with their friends “standing up” for them, then took the bus back to Boston.

Here’s the real kicker: Gert went back to live with her gruff, controlling father without telling him she’d eloped, and young sailor Giles went back to his ship. Gert didn’t tell anyone–not even her two sisters–that she’d been married. “In my father’s house,” she wrote, “it was his way or the highway. He would have kicked me out if he knew.” She only had a minimum-wage job, and he was on a ship.

He sailed away, and they kept their secret until he was stationed in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he was training to do salvage diving for the Navy. She finally told her father (and from what I remember of my grandfather, I’m sure it was a war of words). She took the bus to New York City and a ferry to Bayonne. When she arrived, my father was on duty. She freaked out when she opened the door to the room where they were to stay and it was infested with cockroaches. “I turned on the light and they scattered all over the place,” she wrote. “It was disgusting.”

The next day, they found another rooming house. “The landlady was a nice Jewish woman from my same neighborhood in Boston,” she wrote. “She and I got along good. We understood each other.” (Of course, I don’t know if that meant they understood each other’s Boston accent or something else.) My mother said she got a job as a cashier at a local restaurant, and added that she had to help my father with math problems associated with the diving school where my father was studying.

Both of them had dropped out of high school after the ninth grade. However, from what she wrote, I surmise that the education she received in the Boston Public School system was far superior to the one he had in the schools of southwestern Virginia.

She wrote that “I was so in love with him that when I hung the laundry out, I made sure that I hung his underwear next to mine because we were in love. He was so handsome. We were so in love.”

Her own mother was in a state mental institution and had been since my mother was 12; her father was a grouchy Boston Irish fireman. One of her older sisters was married with a child and the other had joined the women’s Navy during World War II. “I wanted to get out of my father’s house,” she wrote. “My sisters had figured it out, my brother had been in the service during the war. So then I met this handsome sailor from Virginia.”

After Bayonne, my father was sent to Norfolk, Virginia, where his ship was stationed. Their idea was that my mother would move to southwestern Virginia, along the Tennessee/Virginia border, where his home was. She’d never met his mother, sister, brother-in-law or niece, but that’s who she’d be living with. My Aunt Minnie always told me that they expected to convert her into a farm wife, where they’d teach her how to can peaches and beans, tend the garden and love living in the country (especially the outhouse!).

My mother took a bus from Bayonne to Bristol VA/TN, then another one down a winding mountain road (no Interstate highways then) until she arrived at Hiltons. She was a city girl through and through, a smoker with a thick Boston accent, while they all had thick southern accents. I have no idea how they even communicated, much less expected to convert her into a farm wife!

Norfolk was at one end of the state, Hiltons at the other. I’d estimate that, without the Interstate highway system, it would be about a ten-hour drive. My father came home on weekends, and, I’d estimate, on one of those forays, he actually became my father.

I was born in November 1948. The rest, as the old cliche goes, is history.