We were free to date, but we were both very busy. The war in Europe was going badly, and the aviation industry was in panic drive. Plxweve Manufacturing Company, the place with the funny name where I worked, was swamped with war work, and I had to design the product before the shop could toolup and produce it. I would come home to the boarding house very tired. Alva was busy attending Hoover High as usual, needing week day evenings for homework. Her teachers asked her why her grades had fallen so much. I don’t know if she admitted to a romantic distraction or not. Anyway, we would have a date on Friday or Saturday, and go to church together on Sunday. With this level of contact we didn’t discover how different we were, and began to feel more and more at home with each other. One day in a conversation I began with “When we get married” and was instantly interrupted with “What makes you think I would marry you?” I was shocked and mumbled something incomprehensible, finally asking her why she said that. She said, “Because you haven’t asked me.” Translation, “Don’t get presumptuous with me, buddy!” Oh oh! A glimpse of Alva I hadn’t yet seen.
Of course we were in no position to be talking about marriage, so we continued on getting to know each other better. Nevertheless, I’m sure both of us knew it was going to happen.
Alva soon found out about my lifelong love for guns and hunting, and showed much more than a polite interest, so we would go out on a Saturday for target practice with my 22 caliber rifle and pistol. I had a 12 gauge Winchester Model 12 pump action shotgun with a Polychoke, and because of her interest I bought her a duplicate only in 20 gauge. All we needed for some real togetherness was something to hunt.
Alva’s grandmother and great-grandmother on her mother’s side lived in Vista, California, on an avocado orchard. Mom asked me to drive herself, Alva and me down to visit them on a Saturday. The orchard was in a rural area that was infested with gillions of crows, so we decided to take our shotguns with us and eliminate a few of them.
On the drive down I got a history lesson about Alva’s grams. Her great gram was very old and had digestive troubles. The only thing she could hold down was wine, so she occupied herself with making wine. In order to give some variety to her diet, she tried making wine out of anything and everything that she could get to ferment, and got the reputation for being able to make wine out of anything. Please note, they said, she was not an alcoholic, and never got drunk. Alva’s gram, Mom’s mom, had a large family. After Mom was born, her dad was killed in a saw mill accident and her mom married again. The stepfather was a straight laced Methodist who didn’t believe in birth control. Siblings began to arrive one after another ad infinitum, about which Alva’s gram became pretty bitter. It kind of poisoned her view of all men and explained her complaint that “the genitals are the last part of a man to die.”
I was a little bit taken aback by this open discussion about pretty personal things, but thought it was a good sign that I was considered to be part of the family already.
Anyway, when we got there I got introduced to a bunch of their kin, then Alva and I got our shotguns and went out to reduce the crow population. Their were hundreds of them, presenting many easy shots. Neither one of us could disturb a single feather! At first there were a few distress-like caws, then they sailed around lazily, cawing out nonchalantly, “Don’t worry, these two can’t hit the broad side of a barn.” So much for our one and only hunting trip together.
As 1941 drew to a close, we were all shocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, that “Day of Infamy!” Our lives were drastically changed by the sudden preparations for fighting the war. Thousands of men and women were going into the armed forces. The government began to ration gas, tires, shoes, food, and many other things in short supply. Rent was controlled, automobile production ceased-the posture of the whole country was affected. Of course life went on.
For instance, Alva asked me to teach her to drive. So I began to minimize my gas consumption to save up ration coupons. My car had a manual transmission, so we sat in the car and she went through the motions of shifting gears. By the time we had some gas for driving lessons she had pretty well learned the principles and was ready for the real thing. We made a party out of it, drove up to Lake Arrowhead-a tourist destination which was virtually abandoned because of gas rationing-where Alva was able to practice without worrying about other traffic. She had great large muscle coordination (could beat me at badminton most of the time) and quickly caught onto putting everything together, starting, shifting, steering, braking, stopping. I was proud of her. I took over to drive home after a great day. After that she was able to refine her driving when we were on a date. In seventy years of driving she never had an accident and only got one ticket.
Trouble at Work
Plxwve Manufacturing Company was so successful and efficient that the purchasing agent of our biggest customer tried by outrageous shenanigans to bankrupt it, so he could personally step in and buy it and make a fortune for himself. It appeared that he was going to succeed.
Our Chief Engineer came to me and my fellow engineer and told us the company was going to fold, and that he was going to go back to Northrop Aircraft, his former employer, and suggested that we go with him so that we would not be drafted.
We sure hated to move, but decided we had no choice. Northrop was glad to hire us, and put my fellow engineer in their stress analysis department, and me in their flight control department.
New hires spent their first month making drawing changes to get acquainted with their drafting room manual. I finished this first month and was ready for assignment.
Northrop was designing Jack Northrop’s dream of a flying wing bomber. I was assigned to design a mechanical power boost system for the bomber’s control surfaces and given suggestions as to what path to take. For a month I tried my best, but their suggestions were not practical and the idea was abandoned.
As I began my third month all of us working on the flying wing were told that Von Karman, Northrop’s chief aerodynamicist at Cal Tech, had scrapped the whole configuration of the bomber. There was nothing for us to do until he came up with a new configuration. In the meantime we were to amuse ourselves as best we could, trying to look busy so the Army Air Corps representatives would not report our inactivity. I, at least, was horrified.
I showed up for a month, but hated every minute of it. I was getting paid for doing nothing except pretending to be working. Thousands of people were risking everything in savage warfare all over the world, and I sat there reading magazines and books. What made it worse, there was no way this bomber could be finished in time to fight in this war! I would not contribute one iota to the war effort. I couldn’t stand that.
I remembered my father’s experience in World War I. He was working for the Chicago Northwestern Railroad when the war broke out. He tried to enlist in the army, but the government had taken over all the railroads and had frozen all the essential employees in their jobs. He was very patriotic, and felt that he was a shirker, even though he had nothing to say about it. To make up for it he enlisted in the National Guard, the activities of which were done on evenings and week ends. All his life he suffered over this. Now I was feeling the same way, and I didn’t like it! I talked it over with Alva, and amazingly, she understood what I was talking about. I told her I would enlist immediately if it weren’t that I was afraid some other guy would grab her away from me before I got back. She said that would never happen. So I asked her if she would marry me before I would leave. She said yes, but that I would have to ask for her father’s permission. This was necessary anyway, as she wasn’t 18 yet. In retrospect, this seems like idiocy, since the war could claim a soldier’s life or seriously maim or disable him. But this was war, and who knew what to do? Many couples had done this and it was still being done.