Monday, June 15, 2009

My Father...The Romantic Car Thief?

When my parents were married on June 15, 1946 my father was just returning from service in WWII. Their courtship had been unique - they had not known each other but were brought together by my paternal grandfather. My father had grown up in Detroit, Michigan and my mother lived on the opposite side of the state in St. Joseph, some 200 miles away. The families knew each other, though, through another familial connection but my parents had never met. While my father's parents, and even his brother, had traveled numerous times to St. Joseph to visit my mother's family, my father had never joined his family on these trips.

When my father went into the service he was already engaged to someone from Detroit. She was wearing his engagement ring and my father had presented her with a photo of himself in uniform with a personal inscription that he had written on the photo. During his time in Central America in the Army Air Corps, his fiance, Lillian, had 'strayed' and my grandmother had been privileged to 'catch' Lillian in this indiscretion. My grandmother, being a very controlling person, had demanded the engagement ring and photo back and Lillian was banished - never to be heard from again.

It was at this time that my grandparents traveled to St. Joseph to visit my mother and her family. During this visit my grandfather played matchmaker and asked my mother if she would like to write to his son in the service who had just broken up with a girlfriend. My mother agreed to write to the serviceman only if he were to write her first. The correspondence began and would last for about 2 years until my father was discharged in February, 1946. During this time my father decided that it would be a great idea to send his "new" girlfriend a photo of himself in uniform and this is the photo he sent her. Evidently he had been raised to "waste not, want not" though my brother and I thought this was the most hilarious thing as we were growing up and would hear this story and see this photo.

In February, 1946 my father was discharged from the service and returned to Detroit. My mother and HER mother traveled to the train depot in Detroit to greet him. This would be the first time my parents actually saw each other. Immediately my father proposed, my mother accepted and you guessed it - she was given the same engagement ring that my father's previous fiance had worn. They were married just a few months later on June 15, 1946 and I will say that on their 25th anniversary in 1971 my mother did get a new engagement and wedding ring set though she really never seemed to mind the original setting either. It was more of a humorous story that was told over the years to friends who would always marvel at the recycled photo and ring.

But there is more - and another great story which was told over the near 50 years of my parent's marriage. My parents were to be married in my mother's home town of St. Joseph. A few days prior to the wedding my father arrived in St. Joe with his new acquisition - a used car that he had just bought in Detroit. He was most proud of this car and it would be their honeymoon transportation to Niagara Falls.

On June 15th, the day of their wedding, my father decided to move the car from my mother's house because he was sure his brother and other male friends were going to be playing a prank on him with his car. So, not knowing the area of St. Joe, he simply drove his car a few blocks from my mother's home and parked it in front of a house. The wedding took place, the guests moved to the reception and the day was perfect. After the reception, my father walked back to pick up his car and drive to pick up his new bride so they could start on their honeymoon. But when he got to the place he had parked the car, the car was gone.

Thinking for sure that his brother, cousins or friends had moved the car as a joke, he simply walked around the downtown area and happened upon his car - parked in the parking lot of what he assumed to be a business of some sort. He got in the car and proceeded back to pick up my mother at her home where she had gone to change out of her wedding gown. He had just pulled up in front of my mother's home when suddenly the police came up behind him and told him that he was driving a stolen car, and despite protests that my father was the owner of the car, he was made to drive back to the police station.

My mother, so sure now that HER brothers had played some prank was so angry that she marched back to the reception hall where the party was still going on and confronted her brothers, cousins and brother-in-law and all professed innocence in the matter.

Back to the police station they all went where my father was being held as being in possession of a stolen car. Everyone attempted to convince the police that my father was the rightful owner of the car, some offered to stay in his place and my mother's uncle even offered to put his nearby hotel up as collateral if the newlyweds could leave but were told that it was a state offense and that my father would have to stay in the police station until word came from Lansing, the state capital, as to the rightful ownership of the car.

What had happened was that my father had purchased the car in Detroit from a man going through a divorce. The man's wife had not known about the sale of the car and she reported the car stolen. When my father had moved his car on the day of the wedding and parked it a few blocks away, the owner of that home had noticed the car parked there all day and reported it to the St. Joe police who ran a trace on the license plate which came up as having been stolen in Detroit. The police towed the car to the parking lot of the police station and my father, not knowing the area, simply got in the car and drove it away.

After sitting in the police station until 4 in the morning, the word finally came from Lansing that my father was indeed the rightful owner and my parents were able to finally leave on their honeymoon.

They next day they did make the front page of the St. Joseph newspaper which made for a repeat of a good story over the next 50 years. My father died in 1996 but my mother continues to have friends remind her of this tale when they get together to reminisce about old times.

Mylen & Eloris Schulte (6/16/46)
with cans from back of car from wedding day

Above photos - personal collection of Cheryl Schulte


Apple said...

The car story is hilarious! But I doubt they said, "We'll laugh about this one day" at the time. As for the picture and the ring - I could see my father doing that.

Nancy said...

What a story -- well, two stories! What experiences!!! I think your mother must be very patient and forgiving. I'm not sure I'd accept a second-hand ring and photo.

Did your parents ever say how soon they made their first overnight stop on their honeymoon? They probably couldn't have traveled far on so little sleep!