Monday, June 19, 2023

All because two people fell in love

 Bud and Ruby Dryden on their wedding day,
June 25, 1933

My parents got married on June 25, 1933 -- ninety years ago this week.

My mother never quite forgave my father for the angst he caused her that day. For decades after his death, whenever she told the story about how infuriated she was, I always felt that, because he wasn't around to defend himself, I should, as a fellow male, at least try to make excuses for my father's strange behavior. But I had to concede she had a point.

Gilbert (Bud) Dryden and Ruby Tate met in the summer of 1931. Ruby was visiting a friend in High Hill, Mo., ten or so miles from her hometown of Mineola. He was 25. She was 18.

Ruby and her friend, Elvira, went to a baseball game in which Bud was playing. After the game, he stopped to chat with Elvira and to check out her pretty friend. Ruby was surprised and pleased when Bud offered to drive her back to Mineola in his father's Model A Ford.

In her memoir, which she wrote in 2000, Ruby says she fell in love almost immediately. Soon, Bud was borrowing his father's car after church every Sunday to visit Ruby.

"He would arrive in the afternoon and we would drive to the picture show at the Ritz in Montgomery City," Ruby wrote. "Joan Crawford, Al Jolson, the Ziegfield Follies -- shows were great in those days."

With elaborate musical production numbers and plots that often revolved around sophisticated city slickers who led glamorous and exciting lives, the movies also offered the couple a means to forget, for a few hours, that they were in the midst of the greatest economic upheaval in American history, the Great Depression.

Like millions of young people in the early 1930s, neither had jobs or prospect of jobs. Bud had returned to High Hill the previous year after the chain variety store where he was a management trainee had closed  a few months after the stock market crash, and was clearing trees at his father's farm. Ruby had been awarded a full-tuition college scholarship but had to turn it down because her family couldn't afford to pay for room and board. Her father's employer, the Bank of Mineola, had failed;  her family had lost its house, and was living in the basement of the vacant bank building.

Bud fell for Ruby, too. They had much in common.

Both were shy around strangers. "Bud's social ineptness," Ruby wrote, "was, if possible, even greater than mine." 

Both despised Herbert Hoover, who was running for re-election, and enthusiastically supported FDR, the Democrat who promised to lead the country out of the Depression.

Both loved poetry, and could recite lengthy works they had been required to memorize in school. Bud's favorite was "Invictus" by William Henley. Ruby loved Walt Whitman.

Both dreamed of escaping the hick towns they were stuck in for circumstances beyond their control. Ruby listened raptly as Bud described how, someday, he was going to start a variety store of his own. Because a small town like High Hill or Mineola couldn't possibly support such a venture, he would be opening a store in a good-size town -- perhaps even bigger than Montgomery City. As soon as the Depression was over, of course. And Bud was sure it would be over quickly. Roosevelt, after all, was certain to win and would fix everything.

On summer Sundays when they didn't go to the movies, they would swim in Loutre Creek which ran through Mineola. Sometimes Bud would stay for supper at her parents' house.

At Christmas, 1932, Bud presented Ruby with a small diamond ring. "If you will marry me and wear this for the next 25 years, I'll buy you the biggest diamond I can find," he told her. (She held him to that promise but that's a story for another day.) Ruby said yes, and the date was set: June 25 1933.

For $2.50, Ruby ordered from the J.C. Penney catalog a blue dress with white polka dots to wear on her big day.

On Sunday, June 25, 1933, Bud drove to Mineola to pick up his bride-to-be, who was waiting patiently.

Weddings today are elaborate affairs costing tens -- sometimes hundreds -- of thousands of dollars. But in Depression-era rural Missouri, most couples got married in small ceremonies at the bride's parents' home to which only close relatives and friends would be invited. More commonly, they arranged to be married at a minister's home and nobody -- even family members -- was invited; the minister would often have to rustle up witnesses to sign the couple's marriage certificate. Bud and Ruby decided that, because her parents couldn't afford even a small wedding, that they would be married in a minister's house.

Bud's favorite history instructor from his days at Central Wesleyan College, Dr. J.O Helmers, was also a Methodist minister, who was authorized to perform weddings at any time provided the couple possessed a valid marriage license. Bud wanted Dr. Helmers to perform the ceremony, so the couple drove the 25 miles to his home in Warrenton.

En route, Ruby asked Bud what time Dr. Helmers was expecting them. Bud confessed that he hadn't notified Dr. Helmers they were coming.

It wasn't that he forgot. Bud was certainly aware he and Ruby had agreed to get married on June 25. More likely, Bud, who was painfully shy, was too nervous to ask Helmers. What if he said no? What if he wasn't available that day? Bud, as Ruby knew, was "socially inept" and his failure to arrange his own wedding was the mother of all acts of social ineptitude.

All Bud would have had to do in the weeks leading up to the wedding was send a postcard asking Helmers if he could marry them on June 25. The Postal Service, in those days, was super-efficient. A postcard mailed from High Hill in the morning would have been delivered to Warrenton that afternoon. Alternately, he could have called Helmers, through my father would have thought a long-distance call, even for something as important as his wedding, was an extravagance.

Ruby was horrified to learn Bud had made no arrangements whatsoever. If Helmers wasn't available that afternoon, Bud and Ruby were out of luck. Bud assured Ruby he was confident Helmers would be at home, and would be happy to perform the ceremony. When she asked how he could be so sure, he had no answer other than, "I'm pretty sure he stays home most Sundays."

Ruby was beside herself with worry and incredulity all the way to Warrenton. She couldn't understand how the man to whom she was about to plight her troth could be so cavalier about something that important. I wasn't there, of course, but I can just picture them, put-putting down the highway in grandpa's Model A, my mother asking over and over, hoping to hear a different answer each time from her groom, and my father thinking that if he had known his bride had such a formidable temper -- and she did -- that he would rather be chopping down trees on his father's farm and would, in fact, rather be anywhere but in that car speeding down Highway 40, praying that Dr. Helmers was home.

Add to that the fact that my mother thought (with justification) that dad drove like a maniac and would have almost certainly been begging him to slow down and not to pass on hills or curves -- my siblings and I hated to be in a car with them because the more she criticized his driving, the more carelessly he drove -- and the ride to Warrenton must have been about as pleasurable as a trip to the gallows for both of them.

When they arrived at Helmers' house, Bud went to the front door and knocked. The professor's wife opened the door and invited him in. Ruby sat in the car, wondering what was going on. Was Dr. Helmers there? If so, was he willing to marry them that minute? What on earth could they be talking about?

A half hour later, Bud stepped onto the front porch and gestured for his bride to come inside. Most brides would have been long gone by that point but luckily for their descendants, Ruby stuck around.

A few minutes after she walked into the minister's house as a Tate, Ruby walked out as a Dryden.

Bud drove his bride back to Mineola. His new in-laws were waiting at Beacon Camp where, to support his family, Ruby's ex-banker father had recently built a half dozen tourist cabins and a small restaurant her mother ran. A gas pump was installed in front of the restaurant. Ruby said her mother didn't even bake a cake but her sister and brother-in-law stopped by with a freezer of homemade ice cream.

A photograph taken by Ruby's cousin Norma that afternoon pictures the newlyweds standing in front of the gas pump. Ruby looks happy, almost pleased with herself. Bud looks nervous. They are not holding hands. Having just discovered he had married a woman with a pit-bull temper, I imagine he was afraid to touch her. 

Ruby never knew the photo existed until long after my father had died, when Norma ran across the original and sent it to her. The photo is one of the few ever taken of my parents who, because the Depression taught them not to buy anything they didn't absolutely need, never owned a camera.

Later that afternoon, the newlyweds departed for three days at the Lake of the Ozarks, 40 miles south of Jefferson City, that had been created when Bagnell Dam was completed, impounding the Osage River. Today Lake Ozark is one of Missouri's biggest tourist attractions. But back when Bud and Ruby Dryden honeymooned at the lake, there were only a handful of tourist cottages.

After stopping at several places, Bud admitted he hadn't made a reservation, but was almost sure they would find a cabin soon.


Dad died in 1966. He was 58. Mom outlived him by 49 years, passing away in 2015 at 102. Their most important legacy is 25 direct descendants -- three children, nine grandkids, 13 great-grandkids and, coming in August, a great-great. Despite wedding day angst and countless shouting matches whenever my dad was behind the wheel of the family car, my parents had a happy marriage and today lie side-by-side at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery outside High Hill.

There's a country song by Brad Paisley about a family in which a couple and four generations of their descendants get together every year for a creekside reunion. Paisley sings, "It's all so clear, every one of us is here, all because two people fell in love." It makes me smile and wistful at the same time. Because he died so young, Bud only got to meet three of his grandchildren, and only one of them remembers him. Knowing my dad, he would have thought all his grandkids and great-grandkids walked on water. If you're not familiar with it, you can hear Paisley's song, "Two People Fell in Love," by clicking this link. It is sweet, like the hopeful young couple in the above picture.

Mom and Dad, this song is for you with love and thanks  -- especially to mom for not jumping out of that Model A Ford parked in front of Dr. Helmers' house and running away.

I would also like to give a shout-out to Elvira -- don't know her last name -- for inviting Ruby to that baseball game. Without her, you wouldn't be reading this.