This coming week, July 20th, would have been my grandparent’s 72nd wedding anniversary. They lived to celebrate 65 years together! They had nine kids and 28 grandchildren! Their love story is one of my all-time favorites.
My grandparents, Bill Schirmer and Jean Bergen met in early July of 1944. My grandfather was finishing up his residency at St. Micheal’s Hospital in Newark, NJ. He had made it through medical school in three years instead of the traditional four. The government had sped up all medical training by making students go three semesters each year instead of two, in an effort to get them prepared for war.
My grandmother, Jean (and my name-sake) was working as a history teacher and living in Elizabeth with her grandmother. Her father had died in 1917 from influenza and her mother had died when Jean was 16-years old.
Jean was asked out one evening by a nice guy, Tommy Pascual. Tommy needed to borrow $5 to take her out, and so he asked my grandmother to go with him to visit my grandfather, one of his buddies, from whom he was going to take a loan.
My grandfather lent him the money, and the next day, he asked Tommy if he and Jean were serious. When Tommy replied that they were not, my grandfather asked if Tommy would mind if he were to take her out. Tommy gave him his blessing and told him that Jean was an amazing young lady. (On a side note: This is also how Tommy Pascual became a legend in our family. Even in his 80’s, my grandfather would thank Tommy at the end of toasts and dinner prayer!)
The rest is history! Boy, did they hit it off. My grandfather proposed in fewer than two weeks. And they were married the week after that, on July 20, 1944. They had a small wedding. My grandmother looked gorgeous in a beautiful gown. My grandfather was dashing in his Army formals.They had a small champagne brunch reception after their church ceremony, and a few days later my grandfather left to train in Kansas, and for Europe by the end of the summer.
My grandfather spent the next ten months on the European front working as an army medic. He was in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. My grandmother spent the time living with her new in-laws and their daughters. Did I mention my grandfather was the oldest of nine, and the only boy!!! My grandmother instantly had eight sisters!!!
They wrote letters back and forth, and years later, when I asked my grandmother if I could read any of them, she told me that she had destroyed them. She was modest. I would give my left arm to see those love letters. But she told me they were her love letters and they were meant for no one else.
When my grandfather returned from Europe, he was sent to Kansas to begin training for the Asian Front, but the war ended before he was sent.
So, if you’re marveling at the timeline of their engagement/marriage, so was our family, when we figured it out (50 years later!) They met, went on a date, got engaged, and got married in less than three weeks. The crazy part: my mother (their oldest child) never even knew. I was about 17 years old, and I asked my grandmother how she and my grandfather had met. She told me. My mother listened with her mouth agape. My mother asked why she had never told any of their children this, and my grandmother’s response was one of her classics: “We didn’t want any of you kids to try the same thing!”
So, as I seem to with all my Love Story blogs, I will remind you again! Talk to your family. Find out your own history! Ask questions! You’ll be surprised (and maybe a little shocked) at what you’ll learn!