MacGregor's War


Evelyn McCurdy

Evelyn McCurdy is a flahsback about MacGregor's girlfriend back home. It describes how he met her and how he came to be living with her:

I had been here in the Cottage Hospital for four days now; five counting today. I was still not able to sit up on my own and as I lay in bed daydreaming, my thoughts drifted to Evelyn again, this time going all the way back to the day I had first met her. It was about two weeks before Christmas and I had been out delivering groceries when I noticed the sign in the front window of the house right next to the store, `Room for Rent’.
When I got back to the store, I asked my boss Morris about it and he told me Mrs. McCurdy lived there and she was having a hard time making ends meet. He went on to tell me that her husband had been an alcoholic and beat her very badly one night. It was soon after that she divorced him and ever since that time she had been living alone and just barely getting by. The name sounded familiar to me but I just could not place her.
At the time, I was living all the way up on the north side of Youngstown and had to drive to work so I decided to go over and talk to her. The minute she opened the door, I recognized who she was. She would often come into the store for groceries and I remembered helping her on several occasions find what it was she was looking for.
“Hello Mrs. McCurdy, I’m Jimmy from next door at the store and I’m interested in finding out about the room you have for rent.”
“Oh yes Jimmy, come in won’t you. I can show you the room. It’s very small but I will allow kitchen privileges if I can find the right person.”
She led me upstairs and showed me the bath and then into the bedroom and it had a single bed, a dresser and a small desk which was adequate for my needs. She had mentioned finding the right person and I assumed I was ok otherwise she would not have gone to all the trouble of showing me the room.
“How much is it Mrs. McCurdy?”
“It’s $12.00 a week but that includes the kitchen privileges or I can let you have it for $10.00 a week if you are willing to do a few chores around the house.”
I was paying $12.00 a week where I was and had all that way to drive so this looked like a good move to me.
“I’m sure I can do the chores and this will save me a long drive to work, how soon can I move in?”
“Well, that certainly was a quick decision but I’m so happy you decided to take it. I know that I will feel more comfortable having someone that I somewhat know living in the house. The room is empty so you can move in anytime.”
I paid her the money for the room and told her I would move in this coming weekend. She gave me a key to the front door and told me to be sure I locked the house whenever I left if she was not at home. I decided to pack my car with all my stuff on Saturday before I came to work and I could move in on Saturday night after work. I went back over to the store and told Morris that I was now his new next door neighbor.
“I had a feeling you would take that room. When are you going to move?”
“It’s a really good deal for me. I’m going to move in this weekend then starting on Monday, I can walk to work.”
It had been a week now since Pearl Harbor and still the news kept coming in on the small radio Morris had in the back of the store. We were in it now having declared war on Japan, followed by Germany and Italy. I was busy in the back most of the morning stripping the tops off canned goods and later putting the stock on the shelves. I had thought about enlisting but after talking to my Mother on the phone, I gave up on that idea. She wanted me to come out to California and see her before making such a decision. I didn’t have enough money to make such a long trip but she told me she would send it Western Union. I would turn 18 this coming year and wondered about my status as far as being drafted and decided to check it out sometime in next few days. After work, I moved my car into the driveway between the McCurdy house and the store and drove all the way to the back to unload my stuff. There was a nice covered porch in the back but I could see right off that the railing needed repairs. Mrs. McCurdy was home and she greeted me at the door.
“Hello Jimmy, I see you have your things with you.”

“Yes, I’m all set to move in. I don’t have a lot of stuff so it won’t take me long. Is there somewhere I can park the car when I’m finished?”
“You can pull it to the left alongside the garage. It’s paved all along there. If you have time after you are done, we can sit down in the kitchen and go over the chores.”
It took me less than an hour to unload all of my boxes and clothes, a far cry from the huge truck load that carried all of my Mother’s things to California a few years back. When I was all done, I moved the car alongside the garage and went in through the back door which led directly into the kitchen. Mrs. McCurdy was standing at the sink preparing some food.
“Hi, sit down and have a cup of coffee with me and we can talk about the things I need you to do for me.”
As I sat down, she brought a cup and saucer and placed it in front of me, then poured the coffee.
“Do you take anything with it?”
“No, I drink mine black.”
“Me too.”

She sat down across the table from me and as I sat there this close looking at her, I couldn’t help but notice how pretty she was. I thought she noticed me staring at her so I looked away.
“So what chores did you have for me Mrs. McCurdy?”
“There are several important things I need you to do on a regular basis. One is to tend the furnace and take out the ashes. Those buckets of ashes are much too heavy for me to drag up out of the basement. Another thing is the garbage. I would like you to take that out daily and put it on my compost heap out back and last, I would like you to shovel the snow should we get any. As we move into spring, I will need some help with the garden out back.”
“OK, I can do that with no problem.”
We had a coal furnace in our old house here in Struthers so tending the fire and doing the ashes was nothing new to me. We even had a garden out back and did the same thing with the garbage on a compost heap. As I sat there and sipped on my coffee, I could not help but wonder how old Mrs. McCurdy was. She appeared to be about my sister’s age so I thought she might be about 30. She showed me the portion of the refrigerator I could use and warned me not to use the front left gas burner on the stove because it had some kind of problem. I thought I might have a look at it later on.
“I suppose you didn’t bring any food with you just yet but you can use the cupboard over here on the right. Are you hungry? I can fix you something.”
“Oh, I forgot. I still have a few things up in my room. I need to run up and get them because some are perishable.”
I went up and got all the food I had packed from my other place, some of it going into the refrigerator and the rest into the cupboard. This whole arrangement seemed much better to me, most of all being closer to the store. Mrs. McCurdy seemed much friendlier than my previous landlady, Mrs. Pollatz.
While I was putting all of my food away, I watched as Mrs. McCurdy busied herself with a plate of food for the both of us and she had me sit down at the table with her. It had been a long time since someone had fixed me a meal such as this. I was not much good at cooking and usually ended up making a sandwich or a can of Campbell’s Vegetable Soup. As we sat there talking about one thing and another, I could see that she wanted to know more about why I was living alone and not with my family.
“Where were you born, Jimmy?”
“I was born here in Struthers, up on Wilson Street. My parents had left Vancouver, Canada so that my Dad could get a job in the Steel Mills. They had originally moved into the Sheet and Tube housing down at the end of 5th Street and just before I was born, they bought the place up on Wilson Street.”
“Do they still live there?”
“No, in 1937 we all moved to California.”
“By all, you mean, you, and your Mother and Father?”
“My sister’s too. I have two sisters, Dorthia and Kathleen.”
“Oh my, the names Dorthia and Kathleen MacGregor really ring a bell with me. When I was in high school, there were two girls with that name but surely they were too old to be your sisters?”
“That would be them. They were both much older than me. My mother was 45 when I came along.”
“Really, Oh my God, it’s so hard to believe that Dorthia and Kathleen are you sisters. I used to pal around with them. Are they doing well? So, where in California did your family move to and how did you happen to come back here?”
“We moved to Hollywood. They took all the money from the sale of the home here in Struthers and bought a small home up in the hills just north of town. Dorthia has done real well. She graduated from nursing school and bought a small rest home that was faltering and has since built it into a very nice convalescent hospital. Kathleen has not done nearly as well. She took to drinking and it has more or less ruined her life. As for me, I went one year to Hollywood High School and hated it. The only good thing that came of it was that they advanced me one whole year because of some California entrance tests they had given me. That following summer I had saved up enough money working for my Uncle George to make a trip back to see all of my friends here and decided to stay and spend my last year in school here in Struthers.”
“So you have more or less been on your own since you were 16 then?”
“Yes, after I graduated from high school, I got the job at the store and I have been there ever since.”
After we had eaten, I told Mrs. McCurdy that I would do the dishes but she insisted on helping so I washed and she dried.
“This is my first experience at renting a room out and so far, I think I am going to like having your company. I want you to feel at home here and not feel obligated to spend all of your time in your room. If you like, maybe we can split the food bill and both of us have meals together like we did this evening.”
“That sounds good to me but if you are to do the cooking, you have to let me do the clean up. It’s only fair if we do it that way.”
“Good, it sounds like a wonderful arrangement to me. I’m going into the living room and listen to the news now if you would care to join me.”
She had a small Emerson Radio just like my Dad’s over in the corner and tuned in the evening news on WKBN. It just seemed to go on and on about the destruction to the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor. They went on to say that the attack destroyed twelve American warships, 188 aircraft, and killed 2,403 American servicemen and 68 civilians.
“When will you be 18? With the whole world at war now, surely they will find you a good candidate for the army.”
“I’ll be 18 this coming June. I am going to check with the draft board the first of the week and see what they can tell me.”
Once the news was over, we sat there for a long while talking about a variety of subjects and it was nice, probably for both of us, not to have to sit alone in the evening. Mrs. McCurdy told me that she worked in Youngstown at Stambaugh-Thompsons as a sales clerk. She said the money was barely enough to get by on and that she was thrilled to have the extra money from me for the room. She also mentioned graduating in 1925, the same year as my sister Dorthia so I knew right off that she was about 34. It was almost 10 O’clock when I went down to tend the furnace for the night.
Things went on much the same for the next week, however, we started spending much more time together at the kitchen table drinking coffee and playing cards or checkers to pass the long cold winter nights. It was getting close to Christmas and there was not enough money for gifts or a tree so I decided to get her a card. On Christmas Eve, we were about to close the store and I asked Morris if he minded if I took one of the trees that we had left over.
“Yes, by all means, take one. I think we only have about 3 left though. All the good ones have been picked over.
“OK, thanks”
Mike the butcher had to clear out some of his meat because of the holiday and he gave me several nice cuts of beef. I was always first to get home from work so I took the best of the three trees and my package of beef and headed for the house. I set the tree up in the living room and put one of my white sheets under it. Mrs. McCurdy had a string of lights around the window so I took them down and draped them around the tree. It was a bit barren but I thought when Mrs. McCurdy got home she might have some decorations. Then I took the card and went into the kitchen and sat down at the table to sign it. I sat there for the longest time wondering what to say to her. I knew that financial problems were still a major concern for her just as they were for me but maybe things would improve with the two of us pulling together. I took the pen in my hand and just started to write.
Mrs. McCurdy,
When situations begin to get you down, remember there's someone in Heaven who loves you and watches over you. He knows the hardships you have been going through and I’m sure this coming year, with the both of us working together, things will be much better for you. I want you to know that there is someone on Earth who cares too… I do.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
James MacGregor
After I had signed it, I took it into the living room and put it on the stand next to the tree. I went upstairs to shower and just as I was finishing up, I heard Mrs. McCurdy putting her coat away in the hall closet. I laced my shoes and headed downstairs. As I turned the corner into the living room, I saw that she had already gone over to the tree. She had just finished reading my card. She turned and faced me and I could see her eyes welled with emotion.
“Oh Jimmy, how sweet of you…….and the tree as well. It was quite a shock to come home to this.”
She came right up to me and hugged me. Her body was trembling slightly and I sensed that she was close to tears.
“It’s so wonderful having you here with me.”
“I hope you have some decorations for the tree. It looks so barren the way it is.”
“Yes, they are on the top shelf of the hall closet way in the back. You will have to get them down while I go fix dinner.”
As she walked into the kitchen, I saw her bring her handkerchief to her eyes and dry the tears. I got a chair and stood up on it looking in the back of the closet for the decorations. I saw one marked X-Mas and took it down and opened it. There were dozens of ornaments, icicles, even a white star for the top of the tree. I walked into the kitchen and told her about the beef Mike had given me. She decided that we would have the roast beef tomorrow for our Christmas Dinner.
It was the first of the year before I checked out my draft status and I found out that I had to register within 30 days of my 18th birthday. The days blended into weeks at the McCurdy house and with each passing bit of time, Mrs. McCurdy seemed more a part of my life.
It was Thursday, the 5th of February at about noon when the snow started coming down. By 5pm it was 8 inches deep and I began to worry about Mrs. McCurdy getting home from work. When we closed the store at 6pm, I made my way through the snow to the garage and got out the shovel and began working on the driveway. By the time I got to the end, there was another two inches had come down. I shoveled a path to the back door and then went in and put on some coffee. It was almost 7pm when she finally got there. I opened the back door just as she was coming up the steps.
“Oh My God, I didn’t think I was going to make it. The car was sliding all over the place. I could hardly see where to turn into the driveway but then I noticed some bare spots where you had been shoveling right there at the front.”
“Yes, I just finished before you got here. I think we are in the midst of a blizzard. I have some fresh coffee in the pot.”
“I can’t tell you how thankful I am to be home and how wonderful it is to have a man around.”
“I was worried that you might not make it. This is the heaviest snow we have had for a couple of years now.”
As we sat at the kitchen table drinking our coffee, I could not but help notice the changes that had come over Mrs. McCurdy in the past month. She was smiling more, talking more and maybe it was just me but I thought with some of her comments that she was happier than she had been in a long time. We were too late for the evening news so when dinner was over, we sat down in the living room and listened to music.
“What kinds of music do you like Jimmy?”
“Oh, most anything is ok with me.”
She kept going from one station to another finally settling in on a song by Glen Miller. I had been to the pavilion in Idora Park one night and Glen Miller and his band was performing. The place was packed.
“Oh, that one is nice.”
“Why don’t you start calling me Evelyn, at least here in the house. Mrs. McCurdy makes me sound so old and married and I’m not you know.”
This was another one of those comments that Mrs. McCurdy threw my way that left me wondering how to interpret it. I know that it would have been too bold for me to suggest it but I was ok with it now that she wanted to be called Evelyn.
“Do you know how to dance?”
“Yes, I used to go up to Idora Park to the dances all the time. They get some really good bands up there.”
“I love to dance; come Jimmy, let’s give it a try.”
She stood up and extended her arms out to me and almost instantly we were gliding across the floor together to the tune of Stardust. She didn’t hesitate to come up close and rest her head on my shoulder. There was the faint smell of her perfume and the warmth of her breasts against my chest as we danced round and round the room. It was an incredible feeling holding her in my arms like this and I wondered if she was experiencing the same feelings as me.
By morning the snow was 2 feet deep so there would be no going to work today. I turned on the radio and found out that almost all the roads in Struthers were closed. It had been years since we had a blizzard such as this and the snow was still coming down. It was a good thing I left the shovel at the back door because the garage doors were buried with snow. I began shoveling my way from the porch to the garage and then from there to the front of the house. I could hear the scraping noise of shovels up and down the street as others were doing the same as me trying to dig out. It was several hours before I had the driveway cleared all the way to the street. From there, I could see that the store was still locked. I cleared the sidewalk all the way to the front of the store then came back and did the walk way up to the front door of the house. Once I had finished, I took the shovel and put it on the back porch again and went into the house. Evelyn had made some coffee and she baked up a batch of sweet rolls that she glazed with white icing. This was the third or fourth time she had made them and they were absolutely delicious.
“It’s such a mess out there. I don’t think there will be any busses or cars running today.”
“Yes, I just heard on the news that all of the bridges in Youngstown are closed.
“You know you have me hooked on these sweet rolls.”
“I’m so glad you like them, they’re not easy to make though. You have to let the dough raise 3 times. Have you ever tried your hand at cooking? I would imagine living alone you had to do a bit of it.”
“Before I came here, I lived on canned soup and sandwiches. I am a lousy cook. One of the best parts of being here with you is the food……well that and having you to talk to. I guess what I am trying to say is that I like living here with you.”
“It’s been good for me too in many ways. Before you came I was mired down in hatred for Nick but I have been able to put it behind me and move on. Don’t ever drink Jimmy. It will only bring you unhappiness.”
“All I need do is look at my older sister and I know what that’s like.”
We talked for several hours before I heard the sound of the first snow plow to go by. I walked back outside to see how they were doing and on the second pass, the driver told me it would be tomorrow before they had the main roads cleared. Evelyn was glad to hear that because she could not afford the time off work.
By 2pm the snow had stopped coming down and I asked Evelyn if she would like to go sledding.
“Go sledding, are you crazy? The snow is 2 feet deep and where would we get sleds?”
“Right next door at the store there are enough cut up cardboard boxes to make a dozen sleds. We can go right down that steep hill into the park. It’s just on the other side of the store. It will be fun. You’ll see.”
“You are so crazy but I am bored just sitting here so I’m going to say yes. You’ve done this before I take it?”
“Yes, it’s been a while but we used to do it all the time.”
We both bundled up in winter clothes and Evelyn found some old leggings that she used to wear. Meanwhile I went out to the garage and got a couple pieces of clothes line and a pair of scissors to cut some holes in the cardboard and we set out. Once over alongside the store, I found several boxes that folded out over 6 feet long and then we tramped over to the other side of the store to where the steep hill was. I showed Evelyn how the box flaps would fold up each side of her legs when she was sitting down and I punched the holes with the end of the scissors and ran the rope to hold them in place. In a few minutes we had a cardboard toboggan with me slated to be in front and Evelyn behind me. Then I made a rope handle for the front and left the scissors and extra rope on top of the other piece of cardboard. Once it was all done, I pulled it right up to the edge of the hill and we got in. I had Evelyn wrap her legs around me and come up real close.
“Oh my God Jimmy, I hope this works.”
It was a clear shot from the top of the hill down into the park. As soon as the homemade toboggan broke the plane, we went sailing down the hill faster and faster. I could hear Evelyn screaming in my ear and holding on to me for dear life. There was a slight hump about half way down and the whole toboggan went into the air for a brief moment. By this time the trees to the right and left of us were just a blur as we went whizzing by. I felt Evelyn’s arms tighten around me just as we leveled off at the bottom of the hill and went shooting out over the playground. We went about half way across before coming to a stop. Evelyn was screaming and laughing at the same time. Then like two kids, we lay there in the deep snow laughing and making snow angels.
“You didn’t tell me it would go so fast. Can we do it again?”
“Yes, we can do it again but now comes the hard part of getting back up the hill.”
I grabbed her hand and just as I started to pull her up, my foot sank in the deep snow and I came tumbling down right on top of her. We both lay there motionless for a moment with the full weight of my body against hers staring into each other’s eyes before we broke out in laughter again. I finally got up and pulled her to her feet and told her to follow me. As best I could I made my way back to the foot of the hill to the wide stone steps that led down into the park from up above and the two of us trudged to the top of the hill. We went down the hill another two times before deciding to call it a day.
It was close to 5pm when we got back to the house. Evelyn put water on for coffee and then the two of us got out of our winter clothes.
“I had a wonderful time Jimmy. You have a way of making something out of nothing.”
“It was fun; like riding the roller coaster at Idora Park only without all the people.”
“There was something about laying there in the snow at the bottom of the hill with the two of us in hysterics laughing. It was the most excitement I have had in years. I didn’t want it to end.”
I sat in the kitchen, the two of us talking, while Evelyn busied herself with supper. She began to show me how to make various dishes from time to time and was really pleased with the discounts and specials Mike was giving me on meat. Later that night we listened to the news with hopes that the major roads would be open by morning.
Winter drifted into spring and all of our indoor vegetable plants were flourishing. We had cabbage, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, radishes, cauliflower, and lettuce. By April, I had the garden dug and had moved all the indoor plants out side. I also began to make plans to go home and visit my Mother. She had sent me the money and now that winter was all but over, I wrote to her and said I would be home at the end of May. There was talk of gas rationing coming along soon and I needed to go before that happened. I decided to talk to Morris in the morning.
I waited till break time to spring the news. Mike had just finished making us all a bologna sandwich and as usual, we were all sitting there listening to the radio.
“Morris, I don’t think it will be too long before the Army has their hands on me and I would like to go home and visit my Mom before then. I promised her I would come and see her. Do you think I can get the first two weeks in June off work?”
“I’m sure we can get the new kid to work a few more hours while you go home so don’t worry about it. He’s out delivering groceries right now and I’ll tell him when he gets back. By the way, when do you have to register for the draft?”
“OK, thanks. I have to register at the end of June so by then we will know what’s going to happen.”
“So only a couple weeks after you get back, you could be Army bound then.”
“Yes, and the uncertainty of everything is driving me nuts.”
That night I talked to Evelyn about my trip and although it would not affect her in the same way as Morris, she was both glad and sad at the same time.
“I’m really going to miss you. The past six months with you here has changed my whole life for the better but I know you have to go see your Mom. What worries me more is the fact that you might have to go into the Army. Just the thought of war frightens me and the thought of you being part of it…….I just don’t know how I will handle that.”