Strangers on a Train

Westbound Train – July 1944

Elizabeth glanced behind her to see if the two sailors were still following her.  They were.  She sighed and kept moving through the train car; grabbing the back of a seat when the swaying movement of the train got the best of her.

“Young lady!  Hey!  Angel!  Where are you going?” one of the drunken sailors called out to her.

Elizabeth didn’t answer, she just began to walk faster.

“Sweetheart!” the other sailor called.  “Wait up!  We wanna buy you a drink!”

Elizabeth shook her head and kept moving.  She wasn’t afraid of them, really.  They were quite handsome, after all; but it was obvious they had been celebrating a little too much and she didn’t want to take any chances that they would not behave like gentlemen.

As she passed from one car to the next, she glanced over her shoulder frequently to gauge their progress.  She kept hoping they would lose interest and choose a new “angel” on whom to pour their attention, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen any time soon.

And had she been able to see herself, she would have understood.  Only a little over five feet tall, with beautiful shoulder length brown hair and ice blue eyes, she was absolutely gorgeous.  High cheek bones, a lovely, red, pouty mouth and perfect little seashell ears, she was the stuff of dreams.  Her trim body, encased in a navy suit and an ivory satin blouse, elegant little feet in matching navy pumps, caught the appreciative eye of every man on the train – and the envious eyes of the handful of women.

The sway of the train seemed to enhance her own natural grace and made her appear even more desirable.  To all of this she was blissfully unaware.

She glanced ahead and saw that she was about to enter the bar car, which concerned her because she knew that the bar car was the last car on the train.  She looked hopefully behind her, hoping the sailors had abandoned her, but no such luck.

“Oh, well,” she thought to herself, “I suppose I need to decide how I will handle them once they get here.”  She sighed, slid open the door to the bar car, and stepped in, the sailors just a half a car’s length behind her.

As she entered the smoke-filled car, she looked around for another escape.  There was none.  The car, like all the others, was packed.  During wartime, traveling by train (hence saving gas, rubber, etc., for the war effort), was the order of the day, and the train was filled with soldiers, sailors, and civilians.

Elizabeth moved through the car towards the back, hoping she might find a place to go unnoticed, or a group she could join.  She was vulnerable because she was alone.  She needed to remedy that.  Glancing back at the door, she saw the sailors enter, look about for her, find her, and head in her direction.

She looked to her left and scanned the bar.  Sitting alone, smoking and nursing a drink, she spotted an attractive man in a soldier’s uniform.  She walked up to the bar, slid into the seat next to him and touched his arm.  Startled from his reverie, he looked up at her, his eyes taking in her beauty and anxiety.

“Please, Sir, will you pretend to be my boyfriend?”

“Excuse me?” he asked, startled.

“Please, will you pretend to be my boyfriend?” she asked again, anxiously, nodding towards the sailors now only about ten feet away.

He followed her glance, looked back at her, and replied, “Gladly.”

She smiled at him, grateful.

He put down his cigarette, stood up, and much to her surprise, took her in his arms, saying loudly, “Darling, where have you been?”  And then he kissed her – hard – on the mouth.

She could do nothing but kiss him back.

The sailors, defeated, looked at each other, shrugged, and walked away.

Straightening her suit coat, Elizabeth looked at the stranger and said, “Thank you, Sir.  I appreciate your help very much.  Good-bye.”

As she started to get up, he caught her hand.  “Please don’t leave.  What’s your name?”

She hesitated, then said, “Elizabeth.  Elizabeth Hodges.  And you are…?”

Smiling, he replied, “Major Walter Blake, US Army.  It’s a pleasure to meet you Elizabeth.  May I buy you a drink?”

Again she hesitated, but then nodded.  He was very handsome and he had assisted her.

They sat and chatted for several hours.  He was on his way home to visit his family in St. Joseph, Missouri.  She was headed to St. Louis to visit relatives.  They had a great deal in common and were getting along famously when the train approached her stop.

“Well, Walter, it’s been lovely getting to know you.  I hope you have a lovely visit with your family, and that you keep yourself safe for the remainder of the war.  If you’d like to write to me, here is my address….I…well, thank you for helping me escape those sailors.  You had an interesting method of doing so, I must say!”

Walter laughed.  “Ah, Lib, when you walked up to me and asked me to pretend to be your boyfriend, I looked up to Heaven and thanked God for putting me in this car on this night.”

They smiled at each other shyly.

“We’re approaching St. Louis now, so I really must be going.  Good-bye, Walter.”  She leaned over and kissed his cheek, then got up and started to exit the train car.

“Lib, wait!  Let me escort you off the train and help you collect your bags.  The train stops here for a couple of hours.  Would you like to get a bite to eat?”

She smiled and nodded.  “Thank you.”

The two exited the train together and headed into the station.  He collected her bags for her and took her into the station eatery where they had eggs, toast and tea – coffee was still not always easy to get.  They talked and laughed until they realized it was nearly time for his train to leave and for her to get a cab to her aunt’s house.

She walked back to the train with him and thanked him again for the help and the lovely meal.  She again kissed him on the cheek and prepared to walk away.  Again he stopped her.

“Libby, wait!” he called out.  She turned back to him, right eyebrow raised questioningly.  “This will sound crazy, I know, but…I am in love with you!  I want to marry you.  Let’s go find a jeweler so I can buy you a diamond ring right this minute!”  As he spoke, he had taken hold of her hands and was staring hopefully into her eyes.

“Walter!  No!  You may not buy me a diamond ring!”

His face fell and he dropped her hands.  She laughed and put her right hand on his cheek.  “Walter, I think I may love you, too, but you may not buy me a ring.  I would rather have a book or some flowers.”

She smiled as he jumped up in the air and yelled, “Woo-hoo!” Grabbing her hands again, he swung her around then pulled her into a hug.  “Let’s go find a book!”

“But what about your train, Walter?”

“I’ll catch another one!  But I do have to grab my grippe!  I’ll be right back, Lib.  Will you wait here?”  She nodded.  “Promise?”  She nodded again.

As Elizabeth waited on the platform for his return, she wondered at the sudden change her life had taken….

Walter hurried back to her side, and they went in search of a book….

***  The book he bought her that day was titled Meditations in Wall Street.  He also bought her flowers.  They were married less than a year later.  That is the story of how my grandparents met.  I love that story.

Elizabeth and Walter, 1947

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