Sunday, May 24, 2020

Love In a Time of War: May 24, 2020

Love doesn’t make the world go round.
Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.
~Franklin Jones

On this day, 75 years ago my parents Eugene Shepard and Maida Gower were married in San Diego. Dad passed away in the summer of 2003 in Anacortes, Washington, not long after they celebrated their 58th anniversary. But Mom is still living in the home they bought when they moved from San Diego to Anacortes in the spring of 1978. Though Dad is gone, and Mom is a frail 95 years old, this anniversary is still significant and worth remembering and celebrating. The last 75 years are a witness to the love of these two who have had an amazing impact on innumerable lives. 
A Critical and Uncertain Time. The day they married, May 24, 1945, was during a critical and uncertain time in the history of our country. Our nation had been engaged in World War II for 3 1/2 years, ever since that fateful day in December, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The very existence of the United States was on the line. Countless young men had been sent to a conflict far away, many of them never to return. Families were under great stress as they awaited word about their loved ones. The war eventually took the lives of over 400,000 Americans. World wide over 70 million people died, making it the deadliest conflict in human history.

A young Eugene Shepard about 1942
in San Diego with his '41 Ford Sedan
By the spring of 1945, World War II was winding down. On April 30, 1945 Hitler committed suicide, realizing all was lost for the Third Reich in Germany. On May 7, Germany officially surrendered, which began the process of liberating the horrendous Concentration Camps. The War did not actually end until August, 1945 when atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. But things were definitely looking good for America in May of 1945. Spirits were high even though there was work to be done to bring a complete end to the war. So in late May when Mom and Dad were married the War was not over, but it was nearing its end. It was still a time for concern, but optimism and hope ran high.

A Commuter's Romance. In the spring of 1945 my father, 24 year old Navy man Gene Shepard was stationed in Los Alamitos, California, 100 miles north of San Diego. He drove to San Diego every chance he got in his 1941 Ford Sedan. He wanted to visit his family who lived in the Hillcrest neighborhood. But even more he wanted to be with Maida, his betrothed, who lived with her parents, Leroy and Nola Gower, on Arizona Street, not far from where the Shepards lived on Albatross Street. On his visits to San Diego he and Maida dated and their romance blossomed.

Maida Gower and Eugene Shepard 
about 1944
Mom and Dad met in 1944 at a social gathering at the El Cajon Blvd Church of Christ, just a short walk from where Maida lived with her parents and her young sister. Maida had graduated from San Diego High School the previous year. It was a High School friend named Janelle Davis who had introduced the two of them. 

A Simple Ceremony in the Minister's Home. In September of 1940, just a year out of High School, 19 year old Eugene had moved with his family from Colorado to San Diego. They had promptly joined the El Cajon Blvd Church which then became the family's church for many decades. So it was only natural that Gene and Maida would choose that church in which to marry. Because of Gene's limited amount of leave from the Navy, their options were limited. They contacted the minister of the church who was available to marry them on a Thursday afternoon. It was not a big church wedding, but a simple ceremony in the minister's home behind the Church. I do not remember Mom or Dad ever saying why they did not plan a Church wedding with family and friends and a reception. With Dad commuting back and forth a formal event may have been impractical. In any case the deed was done that Thursday afternoon and their life together as husband and wife began. 

Eugene and Maida, 1992
Lake Wallowa, Oregon
Their wedding took place at the beginning of the Memorial Day holiday weekend. So their honeymoon may not have been much more than the few days of that long weekend. It included a visit to a new Amusement Park that had recently opened in Orange County by the name of Knotts Berry Farm. After their marriage Gene continued to commute to San Diego from Los Alamitos until December of 1945 when he was finally released from the Navy. He and Maida then settled into life together in their own place in San Diego. 

A Genuine Love, Grounded in Grace. The first 33 years of their married life they lived in San Diego. Their final home in California was the house they owned on Armstrong Street in Kearny Mesa, where they finished raising their 6 children. In 1978 they moved to Anacortes where they lived the rest of Gene's life and where Maida lives today. Over the 58 years that they had together they influenced many lives in countless ways. They had a happy marriage, provided a stable family life for their 6 children, and were always devoted to their local Church wherever they lived. Theirs was a genuine love, grounded in the grace of God and generously shared with family and friends. The 40 members of their family today are a living legacy to the quality of their lives. On this occasion of remembering their wedding 75 years ago, I give thanks to God for their lives and their witness.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

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