Valentine’s Day 1932

Feb 14, 2012 | 0 comments

     My parents announced their engagement eighty years ago today.  I thought that was so romantic when I was young.  I still do, but it’s another of those partial knowledge things.  I simply never thought to ask the right questions – or any questions at all, really.
     As I remember the story, it was actually my mother who made the announcement at a sorority tea. (My folks were both students at the University of Redlands in California.)
 She did that by passing around a big box of candy.  It was one of those red heart-shaped boxes – the kind we still see every year as February 14th approaches.  I’m not just sure how the engagement announcement and the candy passing were organized.  Did she make the announcement and then pass the candy or did someone else pass the candy while she was flashing her ring?  I never asked.
     I’m also a bit confused as to why Mom made the announcement at a sorority tea.  Maybe that was the custom.  Maybe it’s still the custom.  We didn’t have sororities at Stanford so I have no experience along those lines.  (That is actually one of the reasons I chose Stanford over several other colleges.  At seventeen I was idealistic enough to held strong opinions concerning elitism and sororities.)
     Presumably, Mom and Dad had shared the happy news with their families ahead of time.  I don’t know if my father was enough of a traditionalist to have asked my mother’s father for her hand first.  Dad was from Boston and Mom’s entire family thought of him as very “proper” so maybe he did.  I only know that my mother’s mother was crazy about him and remained so for the rest of her days.
     Not long ago, a family friend (my age) was going through her late father’s effects and found the little 2¼ by 3½ betrothal card that my father had sent him  The card is simply engraved “Betrothed” on the outside and my parents’ names, William Woodworth Little, Helen-Dale Espy, on the inside.  The envelope, the address hand-written by my father, was postmarked “Redlands 5:30 a.m. Feb. 15, 1932.”  Perhaps he was busy mailing the announcements as my mother was passing the candy.
     The only other thing I know about the engagement is that they were all as poor as the proverbial church mice.  There was no question of my father affording a diamond.  In fact, he never did manage to give her one, but his mother had a gorgeous solitaire that she left to my mother, knowing that Dad would probably never be able to afford diamonds.  Mom gave it to me when her hands became to arthritic to wear it.
     My dad did seal their betrothal with a ring, however.  It just wasn’t a diamond.  It’s a lovely emerald-cut aquamarine.  Mom wore it for years as a pinky ring and gave it to me for my sixteenth birthday.  I love it.  But that brings up another question.  Why did she give it to me?   Perhaps that was about the time she inherited her mother-in-law’s diamond.  But did she talk it over with my dad?
     Giving up your engagement ring, even if to your only daughter, seems overly generous, even a bit extreme, to me now.  I do hope I told her how appreciative I was…

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