Friday, May 25, 2012

A Memorial Day Story

Back in the 1930s, the little town of Elkton, Maryland, Maryland was a happening place if you needed to get hitched in a hurry. Maryland did not have the waiting period that other states had imposed, and Elkton was conveniently located near the Pennsylvania line, not too far from New York, New Jersey or Delaware. Wedding chapels and hotels stood at the ready on main street just waiting for fresh business. Both Debbie Reynolds and Joan Fontaine got married here. So did Cornell Wilde.

And my parents, George and Bebe Cokinos. As it turns out, unlike the celebrities, their marriage actually did stand the test of time, despite the odds. George was a Greek American born in Washington, DC, but his parents were both from Greece and did not want him to marry outside the Hellenic community.  He was just seventeen when he fell hard for my very pretty, very white mother who was almost two years younger.

They both went to Western High school, and they soon became inseparable. My Greek grandparents were not happy campers. My other grandmother was alarmed as well. She sent Bebe off to live with her sister in Ohio for a while, hoping to distract her, but my mother wrote George every day. George was nineteen and Bebe only seventeen when they snuck off to Elkton to be married on Memorial Day 1935.  (Back then the holiday happened on May 30th, and was not the weekend event it is now.)

The newlyweds did not have enough money to spend the night, but their buddy Fred Brown took them out for a fried chicken dinner to celebrate before taking the happy couple back down to D.C. where they had absolutely no plan. None. Neither George nor Bebe felt brave enough to tell their parents what they had done, so they went back to their own homes and hunkered down until they could figure out how to break the news.  No-one could have predicted that a marriage, based solely on the passion and recklessness of young love, would last, but they were lucky. Despite the bumpy start, they were together truly and exactly 'til death did they part- a mere seventy two years later.

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