On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate love. It is the proper week for love stories and love letters. But today, the 9th of the month, is the proper day for telling the love story of my mother and father. For Paul Kaser and Harriette Anderson the ninth of the month–every month–was Valentine’s Day.
They say that the course of true love never runs smooth*–and they are the living proof of the adage.
Since Paul Kaser had lived in Killbuck Ohio, the home of the Anderson family, for a few years when he was young, he claims that he first fell in love with the big brown eyes of Harriette Anderson when he saw her crossing the bridge to bring the cow back in from pasture. And, indeed, who could resist those big brown eyes?
However, since Harriette was older by three years they were eons apart as school children. When Paul graduated from Millersburg, Ohio high school in 1926, she had already gone off to college and become a teacher. Both of them had a busy social life and left us photo albums full of his girlfriends and her boyfriends.
But in the thirties, my father wound up back in Killbuck, living with his sisterIrene and her husband Truman Bucklew. Harriette, a teacher at Killbuck High School, directed a community play, a cheap form of entertainment during the Great Depression. Paul tried out for the play and won a part. But winning a heart is what he had in mind.
It was a play about gypsies with a leading character of a Duchess and that became Paul’s pet name for Harriette. Paul wanting to get closer to the cute director, found that he was having trouble learning his lines (Ahem!) and needed a lot of extra coaching.
During a coaching session, he asked her out. She said she’d go out with him if he’d shave his mustache–never believing that he actually would. But he did, and he never again sported any facial hair. (I don’t even have a picture of him with a mustache–she probably destroyed them!) On November 9, 1934, they went out to dinner at the Hotel Winesburg, in Winesburg, Ohio, which at one time had a fancy restaurant.
During 1935, the two of them worked together in politics— I will relate later their adventures as they worked around Holmes County from farm to farm converting Democrats to Republican voters. In the summer of 1935, he went to the larger town of Canton and took a part-time job while he hit the streets in search of work–to no avail. Meanwhile, she went to Ohio State University to summer school to complete her degree.
Although he liked to say he was never unemployed during the Great Depression, Paul had to work at whatever day labor came his way, and at several jobs that had no future. His college education had been interrupted when his mother died and his father ordered him back to Millersburg after he had been at the Seventh Day Adventist Missionary School in Takoma Maryland for only a month.
Harriette had been hurt by an earlier marriage to a con man who was only interested in her salary, and she had no intentions of being the target again. Although she was drawn to this handsome young man from play rehearsals, she insisted that he settle down and get a career with a future. And when he promised that he would look for serious employment, so he could make a proper home for her, she promised that she would marry him when that happened.
During the next few years, circumstances generally kept them living in two different towns and dating only on weekends. They wrote love letters to each other almost daily, starting in 1935.
But promises are promises, and Paul had not only Harriette to make happy, but her parents as well. In a satirical letter like a military report written from “field HQ in Canton”, he says:
In one letter he says that he talked to her mother (Vera Anderson) and although the weapons had been laid aside, the truce was still on. Harriette’s parents were very uneasy about this marriage. And Harriette’s school teacher friends were wary as well. Only her friend Lois Duncan Fites sympathized.
In his love letters he frequently addressed Harriette as “Duchess” and she signed her letters as Duchess. President Harding (from Ohio) called his wife “Duchess” and so there were Ohio/political roots for the name. One more tie appeared after they were married….read on.
In October 1937 (3 years after that first date in Winesburg), Paul saw a notice for a federal government job in New Philadelphia, Ohio, and went to apply for it. He got the job. They started planning a wedding, still corresponding, because she was teaching in Clark once again and he was now living in New Philadelphia.
By November 1937, Mother would say:
Because of her parents disapproval, the couple decided a church wedding in Killbuck was not right, so their friend Lois Duncan Fites volunteered to have the wedding at her home in Newark, Ohio. It was scheduled for June 9, 1938, soon after Harriette finished the school year and returned from a trip with other teachers and students. She was soon to turn 32 years old and he was 29.
She had mentioned in one of her love letters that she looked forward to a trip, but instead, their honeymoon was spent at a 4-H camp where Paul had landed a weekend job. Since Harriette loved road trips, and went on one almost yearly, I can’t swear that this is a honeymoon picture, but it is, as they would have said, a swell picture!
In her reminisces, Harriette told the story that people still wagged tongues about the the King of England abdicating to marry his beloved Wallis Simpson. They were married a year before Harriette and Paul and became the Duchess and Duke of Windsor. Naturally, that story was the one that Paul and Harriette acted out at the camp’s skit night. Another love affair that did not go smooth.
Always the romantic, Paul wrote in one of his love letters to Harriette in June 1935:
If you’ve been paying attention to their story, you may recognize at least half of those references.
She resigned from her teaching job and moved to New Philadelphia where they were living when I was born (as Paul claimed, nine months, 2 hours and twenty minutes after they were married.) They still did not have enough money for the kind of life they dreamed of, but were happy paling around with other young couples who also had to search through the sofa cushions to come up with enough pennies to buy a Sunday newspaper.
They continued to struggle and to spend more time than they wanted to apart for many years, but they had achieved the main goal. They were married. They had two more children in the next ten years, Paul William Kaser and Paula Kaser Price. And the marriage lasted until my father died, seven years after the fiftieth wedding anniversary pictured here.
*Apologies to the grammar police but “they” don’t say ‘run smoothly.’ “They” say ‘run smooth.’
The information in this post comes from the stories told me by my mother and father or from their letters during the period of 1935 to 1939, or from my father’s extensive files of his employment. Family pictures are my own.