21/07/2024

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Jean and Paul – A Love Story

Jean and Paul – A Love Story

This is the story of my parents, Jean and Paul Puckett, two young people who lived through the adventure of Pearl Harbor and then went on to share a life together for almost 60 years.

The time is late 1940. A young man and woman from different worlds bump into each other at a restaurant on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. The young man is named Paul. He has twinkling blue eyes, a deep voice and he is quite handsome. Paul has come from Colorado on a lark. The young woman’s name is Jean, that’s the name she chose for herself. Her given name is Haruko. Jean has piercing dark brown eyes and black hair and she’s wearing it in a loose style down to the base of her neck. But now she finds herself staring into those blue eyes and wondering, “Who is this man?” At the same time he finds himself thinking that he likes everything about her. It would not be long before he discovers that Jean is spunky. She has a little temper at times and she does things with a flourish.

Soon the two are seeing each other. They go deep sea fishing together. They spend time at the beach where Paul plays his guitar and sings a little. Other times they drive up to the Pali or into the hills where the foliage is thick and the smell of flowers is like perfume. He is learning about her world and she learns about his. For Paul this island is a paradise.

Both Jean and Paul know that there would be opposition from Jean’s family and Paul can’t be sure of his side of the family either. But something happens that changes their future. Jean’s sister Natalie learned that she was pregnant and would not be married. The decision is easy for Jean, she would marry and adopt Nat’s baby. At the time this was unfolding people on the island are saying that war with Japan might be coming. They think that Pearl Harbor might be a target. As it turned out, the United States had been aware that Japan was preparing for years to enter into a war. But the next thing for Jean to decide was who she would marry. Who would want to join in this? And would it be Paul?

My Dad had competition though, because Jean had another suitor, his name was Frank Brenneman. In the family photo collection there is a photo of Frank, black hair, dark eyes, wearing a white tropical suit. Mom is wearing a stylish dress and the two are having dinner at what looks like an upscale restaurant. In fact, when Frank learned of Mom’s plans, he proposed. Jean turned him down saying that she was waiting for Paul to propose to her. Frank then declared that he would give her a set of sterling silverware if Paul proposed within 30 days. The proposal took a little more than 30 days but Frank, being a good sport about it all, gave Mom and Dad a half-set of silverware. I still have two pieces from the set. Frank was a good loser and I’ll bet he was a good man. Mom was lucky to have two good men want to marry her.

The wedding took place on November 10, 1941, two days before I was born. At their wedding Mom is wearing a beautiful pink wide brimmed hat, pink billowy blouse and black skirt and Dad looked dapper in a light brown suit. At age 23, Paul is a married man with a ready-made family. Jean would soon turn 25. Mom told me more than once that after they paid the rent, paid the preacher and bought groceries to last for a little while, they were broke. So she proceeded to make a large pot of vegetable beef soup, a favorite of hers for life. Thinking of how practical she was being, they ate that soup for three days. Dad finally said, “Jean, could we have something besides soup to eat?” She laughed about it when telling me this story.

Three weeks later on December 7, a day commemorated every year; my parents were living in Pearl City, Hawaii, on the Island of Oahu. They told me of hearing the planes fly over and the bombing start early that morning. Dad even took home movies of the planes flying over. That film was confiscated when he turned it in to be developed. They talked about spending nights in the fields with me because it was too dangerous to be in their home during those first weeks following the attack. Any light coming from a house would become a target. Still, we were lucky in lots of ways. After the bombing, the Army kept Dad in Honolulu working on the tunnel construction.

When the war finally ended I had a baby brother. They named him Paul Walter. I know that Dad was proud to have a son. For more than a year after Paul Jr. was born, Dad worked in Korea and Guam as a mechanic for the Army. When he came back he brought gifts for everyone. Dad brought a lustrous strand of pearls for Mom. I remember a lacquered jewelry box and other trinkets. Around that time he decided to take the family to Colorado to live. It was only 4 years after the war ended and there was still strong resentment toward the Japanese. I know this move was a difficult thing for our mother but she made the move to keep our family together.

It was by accident that I learned I was adopted. I was 16 and my parents had planned to tell me once I married. In my junior year at high school I was sneaking out at night for dates with older boys. I know this hurt both parents and finally during an argument the secret spilled out. Mom was crying and she said, “It must be my fault you’re going wild and you’ll end up just like your mother.” Then she had to tell me the whole story. I felt as though the floor had been yanked out from under me and that I didn’t really belong anywhere. I left the house for a few days to stay with friends. Dad was always the peace maker and it was the same this time. He came to see me and tell me that Mom was heartbroken and he asked me to come home. Later, I know we both wished we could have taken back the words as if that night had never happened. But in another way, it was a relief to have the secret out. I know that the burden of keeping a secret and the fear had to be overwhelming. My mother worried that I too would become an unwed mother.

What Natalie, my biological mother, did by giving me up took a lot of courage. I can’t imagine the heartache she endured. It may have been a little easier because she still had contact with her child. She could watch me grow up. She even attended my wedding. Still I’m sure it was tremendously painful for her.

Natalie was a very talented artist. As the years went by, she became more and more engrossed in her art. She was even participating in sidewalk shows of her paintings when she was stricken with Cancer. She was 42 when she died, leaving a husband, Tom, and two teenage children, Jeff and Lani.

Years later, from what Mom told me, I was able to trace my biological father. After exchanging some letters and phone calls, I eventually had a meeting with him. I satisfied my curiosity and have to give him credit for showing up. I know of many men and women who would not agree to meet the biological children they had given up. However, that meeting didn’t change a thing because my parents were Jean and Paul. In fact, it only added to my love for my parents. They gave me a good home and never made me feel separate or that I was anything but their own daughter.

How do you know when two people love each other? Other than the fact that my parents were married for almost 60 years, there were little every day things to show how well they knew each other. Like Mom getting radishes and green onions from her garden for Dad’s dinner because she knew he liked to have them with his meal. Or Dad painting Mom’s room and building shelves for her while she was in the hospital. He happily surprised her with all of this when he brought her home. Those were the little threads woven over time to form the fabric of their marriage. They are some of the things I remember that said they loved each other and they had committed to each other long ago.

Looking back, I remember breakfast as family time for us. Dad had coffee prepared the night before so all he had to do was turn the coffee maker on. Then he would go out to the driveway and collect the two morning newspapers. He and Mom would drink their coffee and work the crossword puzzles. There really was a lot of competition between them when it came to working the crossword puzzles.

Then there was the shelter dog I brought with me from California. He was an earthquake rescue dog. His name was Tuffy and he was a caramel colored Cairn Terrier-mix. We called him the ball player because he would back up running, then catch the ball in mid-air. He would follow Dad down the hall nipping at his heels. Tuffy always barked when the phone rang. It was soon obvious that he loved men and he adored Dad. So when I moved into my own place for the last time, Tuffy became my parents’ dog. I took Kuma, another Terrier-mix with me. Feisty Kuma had black hair and little tan eyebrows as well as tan booties on her paws. She loved Dad too, but I had to have some company so off we went though we visited every week.

My parents didn’t go to parties or socialize much. They both worked most of their lives and fun was gardening or building projects at home. Dad bought a “How To” book and built, then installed solar panels on their last home. Ahead of the curve, they were saving money on their heating costs.

There was also the backyard garden. That garden was Mom’s passion. In the summer she spent hours from early morning until dusk in her pride and joy, her garden. Mom came in only a few times throughout the day just to eat and drink and cool off. Every year she planted tomatoes. Her tomatoes were pampered with their own plastic bag dispensing water continuously into the ground around them. Mom’s garden usually consisted of squash, lettuce, green onions, rhubarb, and green beans. All of these vegetables she gladly gave to visitors and neighbors. My mother was never happier then the few times I offered to help her pull those nasty weeds from her garden.

Though I never had children, my brother Paul made up for it by marrying and having three handsome sons. The oldest two, Chris and Casey were on the Olympic Ski Team for many years. Dad was very proud. He collected all of the newspaper coverage of their races. They won many of their races and he put all of the articles into a huge scrapbook. I wish my Dad could be here to see his grandson Casey ski again in the 2010 Olympics. It would be a thrill for him. The youngest grandson though, is more like his grandfather. Jim looks more like Dad than anyone else and he likes to work with his hands, again like his grandfather.

Most people would agree that my father was blessed to live a very active life, drive a car till the day he died. He was able to die in his own bed at home. His wife and dog were there with him. That seems to me a wonderful way to end a very good life.

At the same time, our family was confused about Mom’s health. We could see that her behavior had changed. There were problems remembering things. It was easy to blame it on her age but her condition was more serious than that. It became more clear to me one afternoon when I got to their home. Mom burst into tears when she saw me. She was cooking rice on the stove even though she had always used a rice cooker. The rice was boiling over. I walked over and hugged her and she said, “I can’t remember how to cook rice.” We got rid of the rice and figured out something for dinner. I stayed until all was calm but that memory stays with me. Mom had been a cook at a barbeque restaurant. She loved cooking and feeding people and that instinct was still strong on the day of that incident.

In spite of all the signs, when our father died we still could not accept the idea that Mom had Alzheimer’s disease. Dad’s passing caused our mother’s condition to escalate in a horrific way. A few days later, and I’m sure this was her way of handling her grief, she could not remember Dad. There were a few windows that opened and she remembered him briefly. Once she told me she remembered Dad picking some flowers for her. Another time she said that he took good care of her and I know he did, he took care of all of us. Throughout all that she endured, Mom was brave and gracious. As she had always done in the past, she thanked people for coming to see her.

The calls from the nurses came late Sunday night and Monday morning. Monday would be Mom’s last day on earth. When I left my mother on Sunday evening, I said I would be back the next day. She gave me the last hug I would ever get, it was strong and wonderful. I said, “Mom, I’ll be back tomorrow, I love you.” Her reply was weak, “I love you.” She had put such strength into her hug she could barely speak. In those last years, Mom always gave “bear hugs” to show how much she loved you. That one had to last me the rest of my life. When I think back to our last weekend together, I am still struck by Mom’s beautiful skin and her pretty face. Even the nurses commented that Sunday on how beautiful she looked. Hearing those compliments still pleased her and brought a smile to her face.

Next day the two hospice ladies were there since morning and even though Mom could not speak or acknowledge that she could hear, they told her that I was on my way over. I know she was waiting, she even waited until Pat and Sue went to lunch and then she died with me talking to her and holding her hand. She suffered through four and a half years in a home for Alzheimer’s patients. Finally, a broken hip brought her the release she had wanted for so long.

During those years there were so many precious times spent together. Thanks in part to the medications she always knew me, her daughter-in-law, Peggy, and her son, Paul Jr. There were times Mom and I would just sit together outside in the garden watching the clouds roll by and the birds flying through the bushes in front of us. Whenever I said, “Mom do you want to sit out here a little longer or go inside?” Mom always wanted to stay outside a little longer. Those hours will always be priceless memories for me.

In the last hours I spent with mom, and though she could not respond, I told her I loved her and went on to remind her of something she said at her grandson’s wedding. She said, “I started all of this.”

Dad’s extended family was very small since both of his sisters preceded him in death. He still had in-laws in Hawaii as well as many, many nephews and nieces. So the decision to take my parents’ ashes back to Honolulu seemed logical.

Jean and Paul will spend eternity in Paradise Park on the Island of Oahu. The family gathered there one day in August and a ceremony was performed placing their ashes deep in the jungle like foliage of the park. Then we went into the restaurant where there was a buffet lunch. We spent time visiting and remembering Jean and Paul.

Over the Christmas holidays I drove by my parents’ old house. It was the last home they shared together for 23 years. They shared many years of happiness in that house. I sat there for a few minutes looking at the colored lights on the tree that stood in the middle of the front yard. The living room window had a Christmas tree sitting in front of it and the lights were on. It made me smile to see the warmth coming from the house and I knew Jean and Paul would be pleased.

Jean and Paul – A Love Story © 2009 Dorrine Puckett