Rebecca West: Words & Music

Shattered Dreams

by Bob West

Sylvia and I started dating in April 1953, got engaged in June, and married on December 1st, my parents' anniversary. I suggested that date for our wedding because I knew they would not be able to make the trip from west Tennessee to attend our wedding in West Palm Beach. I'm not sure why I thought that would make them feel like they actually participated.

As the date of our wedding drew near, I began the countdown of how many days were left before I would already be home, and not have to go back to my barracks on the base after Sylvia and I said "Goodnight."

Bob and Sylvia say their vows
Just Married sign on side of car

After the wedding and reception at the First Methodist Church Tuesday night, Sylvia's parents drove us to Fort Lauderdale, where we would have our 3-day honeymoon. I had painted a large "Just Married" banner for each side of their car. As Sylvia's parents were returning home that night after dropping us at our hotel, a number of motorists honked their "Congratulations!"

I don't know why we chose a downtown hotel for our honeymoon instead of one on the beach. Our honeymoon was a disappointment for both of us. I think this entry from Sylvia's journal says it all: "Our first confrontation. I get up and eat breakfast. He didn't. I walked to the dime store and ate all alone. We went to a movie and that was fun. I think that is all we did except walk through downtown for hours."

(I remember the movie. It was "One-Eyed Jacks", a western directed by and starring Marlon Brando.)

On Friday we took the bus back to West Palm Beach and walked to our apartment. The next morning Sylvia went to work in town as an elevator operator and I went back to the base and there was my orders to go to Korea. I was shocked!

Immediately, I began to plan how we would use my 30 days of leave and additional time for travel by train from West Palm Beach to the processing base near Oakland, California. I decided we could stop in Tennessee to visit my parents and siblings for a couple of weeks. Sylvia and I would have the other two weeks alone in Oakland. Then Sylvia would return to West Palm Beach and I would report to the base. I rushed downtown to break the news to Sylvia!

This entry from Sylvia's journal describes her reaction:
"Bob came into the store and said, 'Quit your job!
We're going home to Mother's in Tennessee!'
I was so devastated!
Where was my marriage?!!
I thought I was his family."

We moved our few belongings from our apartment to Sylvia's parents' house and stored them in their garage. We arranged with her parents for Sylvia to live with them until I got back from Korea.

More from Sylvia's journal: "I didn't want to go to Tennessee to meet his family. I was so scared that they would hate me. We took the train to Memphis and his family picked us up in their car. We stayed there through Christmas. Then we rode the train to Oakland, California, and stayed in a horrible hotel downtown.

"Nellie's sister-in-law Vayda told me later that it was the same one she and Robert had stayed in when he was going overseas and they hated it too. The taxi driver had recommended it.

"But it was out of the cold. About two weeks later Bob sent me back to West Palm Beach to live with my parents while he was overseas and he moved out to the base. We did not know it at the time, but by then I was pregnant."

I remember encouraging Sylvia that she would get home safely and that our year apart would go by fast and that everything is going to be okay. We kissed and said goodbye. I waved to her as the train left the station. Then I got a cab to the processing base, checked in, and was assigned a bunk in one of the barracks. That night after lights out, reality set in. I buried my face in my pillow to muffle the sound, and for the first time in my memory, I cried myself to sleep.

On her way back to West Palm Beach, Sylvia encountered a problem. She wrote about it in her journal: "I got as far as Jacksonville, Florida, and found out that I needed an additional ticket to get to West Palm Beach. I didn't have enough money for the ticket. I couldn't call my parents because I didn't know how to make a long distance call and was too shy to ask for help.

"I figured I would spend the rest of my life in the Jacksonville Train Station, just walking around crying and praying to God to get me back to West Palm Beach somehow. But I didn't have much hope for that.

"In a few minutes I saw two people I knew: Mr. and Mrs. Varner, the sponsors for the Methodist Youth Fellowship in West Palm Beach. I told them my sad tale and they bought my ticket. I made it to the train station in West Palm Beach and called my parents."

West Palm Beach train station

Sylvia added this comment to her journal: "That was one time that I knew God was real and personal and that He was aware of me, and that He really cared for me."

Meanwhile, back in California I began my overseas processing...

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