The Secret

Nancy Julien Kopp

© Copyright 2020 by Nancy Julien Kopp

Photo of Nancy and her parents.

I thought Storyhouse readers might enjoy the story of my parents’ elopement back in 1938. The photo was taken in 1942, and yes, that is me in the middle. 
My parents eloped on May 31, 1938 in a Chicago suburb. Still the Depression era, but that wasn’t the reason Garnet Studham and Gin Julien didn’t plan a church wedding. They had no choice since Garnet’s mother and two brothers didn’t like this man she’d been dating, and they let their feelings be known.
I’d heard the story so many times that the entire elopement seemed as real as watching a movie with my own parents the main characters.
Gin, whose real name was Alfred, made the arrangements for the wedding with a Justice of the Peace. On a Tuesday evening, he drove his little coupe to pick up Garnet. She came running down the walk before he could step out of the car. She wore a red linen dress, her short, reddish-brown curls bouncing as she ran.
They drove the few blocks to the J.P.’s home. Gin’s hand shook a little when he rang the bell. A woman in a house dress answered and ushered them into the small living room of the bungalow, where her husband waited.
Sure you want to do this?” he asked, and Gin and Garnet nodded their heads.
No flowers, no cake, no bridesmaid or groomsman. The woman who answered the door would be the legal witness. No music, no guests, no flower girl.
 “Alright, let’s begin,” the J.P. said. He opened a book to read the words that would bind Gin and Garnet together forever.
A shrill ring interrupted the short service. The witness scurried away to answer the phone while the others waited.
 “It’s for you,” the woman said to her husband, “About the fishing trip tomorrow.”
Down went the book and away went the Justice of the Peace. He had his priorities, and apparently, this quick wedding wasn’t high on that list. The wedding couple heard all--where he was going to fish, what time he planned to leave and who was picking him up. After he boomed, “See you in the morning.” The JP returned, mopped his head, retrieved his book and finished the service. Money changed hands, signatures on a document sealed the marriage, and the newlyweds were ushered out the door with a hurried “Congratulations.”
I’m starving,” Garnet said as they walked, hand in hand, to the little coupe Gin drove.
Gin pecked her on the cheek. “I know just the place.”
They went to a favorite bar and grill. Garnet ordered spaghetti and Gin said he wasn’t hungry, but he continually tasted bites of the pasta that sat in front of his new wife.
I thought you weren’t hungry,” she teased. Weeks later, she learned that he only had enough money in his pocket to pay for one plate.
Before dark, Gin drove his bride to her mother’s apartment. Garnet kissed him and then walked slowly to the red-brick building. She spent her wedding night alone in her single bed, afraid to tell her mother or her two brothers what she’d done. And like every other Wednesday morning, she rose long before dawn to work in her mother’s small bakery.
Over the next six weeks, Garnet met Gin as many nights as possible for short dates. He urged her to tell her family. The only family he had left were two sisters, both married, but he hadn’t told them either. Garnet kept delaying, first by days, then by weeks. Confession would bring undue hurt or might unleash a storm when her brothers found out.
One morning, during a break at the bakery, Garnet sat with her mother at the oil-cloth covered table, sipping a cup of steaming hot tea and nibbling on a sweet roll, fresh from the oven.
Without warning, her mother set her cup down hard and spoke in a voice laced with anger. “You’re married, aren’t you?” Her mouth was set firmly, no smile to be seen.
Garnet could only nod her head. Words stuck in her throat. How did her mother guess the secret? Garnet’s cheeks burned.
Her mother said, “You’d better go live with your husband then.” No warmth, no congratulations, no joy.
Garnet cringed from the stinging words. Regret for hurting her mother, relief that the secret had finally come to light, and excitement about joining Gin for good—all these washed over her in one big wave. She packed after work and moved to her husband’s tiny studio apartment.
Garnet never did discover how her mother uncovered her secret. Forgiveness was slow, not coming until I was born, exactly two days before their first wedding anniversary. Garnet’s two brothers reached across the hospital bed that day to shake Gin’s hand while the new grandmother held me close. This time she had a smile for all.

Nancy Julien Kopp is a Kansan, originally from Chicago but has lived in the Flint Hills of Kansas for many years. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, memoir, inspirational, award winning children’s fiction, poetry and articles on the writing craft. She’s published in twenty-three Chicken Soup for the Soul books, other anthologies, newspapers, ezines and internet radio. Her blog about her writing world with tips and encouragement for writers is

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