THEN THERE WAS MORENA
The number of girls and boys was about equal in eleven years of school in Plevna and my senior year of high school at Novelty. Having been in school together for three fourths of our lifetimes we had formed opinions of each others strengths and weaknesses, mostly the latter, and there was little if any romantic interest. The girls we met from other schools in the county looked more interesting but we did not have the means to follow through since roads were seasonal and our romantic genes were not driving us enough to make a four to six hour horseback ride in pursuit of our passing fantasies.
When I joined the Navy a month after reaching 19, I had never had a half dozen dates in my life. So there was no one of the opposite sex to write back to after I left. One of the girls in my senior class, Eldora Fite, was sharp academically and we were good friends.
In 1936 when I re-enlisted in the Navy, I was given sixty days leave and went back to Missouri.. A business man friend of the Trotmans, Art Clausing of Long Beach, California, arranged for me to pick up a new Oldsmobile in Lansing, Michigan and drive it to California for him to sell.
I picked up the car early in my leave period and as I showed it off was quite a big shot in the community. My brother A.J. and I double dated impressing our girls with the new blue Oldsmobile. My date was Eldora. A.J.'s date was Margaret McEwen, the prettiest girl in the county. Later Eldora married a shoe manufacturer who died prematurely and left her a fortune.
The aftermath of the great economic depression of the late twenties and early thirties was still much in evidence as I drove across country. From Phoenix to the California coast there were dozens of hitchhikers, including families, per mile.
I picked up a young man, fed him dinner and then we shared hotel room. The intent was to take him to California. In the morning I tried several times to awaken him. He was breathing and I knew he was alive but never woke up. I left him sleeping. I assume he was so exhausted from exposure and under nourishment his body gave rest the top priority.
When I turned over the car to Art in Long Beach the first thing he did was to look at the speedometer. He recoiled when he saw it was over 4000 miles which meant he would have a hard time selling it as a new car. (I think he forgave me as he attended one of the reunions at Glen Eyrie in the early 90s.)
In our Gospel Team meetings with Young Peoples groups we met a lot of girls. But we had a strict rule. No giving out our names and addresses no matter how badly they might want "follow up."
Lila Trotman had many girls around her but we didn't see much of them unless we were on leave. Dawson often invited Bible Institute of Los Angeles students who had special talents to sing or perform at out Saturday night meetings. One group was a mixed quartet consisting of Jim Vaus, later to be convicted of theft and wiretapping and spend time in prison, Joe Copeland, Pat Kelso, and MORENA HOLMES. Trotman had a number of BIOLA students leading High School Bible Clubs who checked in with him periodically at his office in the Willard Hotel adjoining the Biola academic building.
One day when I was in Dawson's office Morena, one of the Club leaders, came in.
I knew her name from having seen her with the quartet. I knew something of her reputation as a gifted spiritual person and decided I wanted to get to know her better.
A few weeks later the Navigators had a weekend conference at Pacific Palisades. Morena was there to sing. At one of the meals there was a vacant chair next to Morena which I promptly occupied. It was not without a great deal of attention by my friends who began to snicker, "Downing's got a girl".
My interest was alertly noticed by the Trotmans who later invited me to go with them to the graduation ceremony of Morena's class of 1940.
For several years my daily prayer list had contained a request that in His time the Lord would direct me to the helpmate of His choosing. One of the specifics was that the woman who was to be my wife would have been praying for me for six months before I found out about it.
Morena was the women's speaker for her class. She was wearing a long beautiful white dress. After the ceremony she was surrounded by friends and admirers and I doubted if I could even get to speak to her. I prayed that if we were to become better acquainted that I would have an opportunity to speak with her. A few minutes later I noticed her standing against the wall and no one was with 25 feet of her. I hurried over and asked he about her immediate plans. She was going to do rural Child Evangelism in Arkansas for the summer and in the fall move into the Trotman's home in Long Beach. I told her that I would pray for her during the summer. (Later I learned she began to pray for me after our conversation.
Shortly thereafter the West Virginia left for the Southwest Pacific as part of the Pacific Fleet.
We crossed the equator during the cruise Any one who has crossed the equator is known as a "shellback" and those not yet so fortunate are "pollywogs."
Weeks are spent in preparation for the ceremony in which the shellbacks initiate the pollywogs into the kingdom of King Neptune.
This includes putting some pollywogs in "stocks" the night before, having to gargle an evil tasting liquid, and having an operation blindfolded. The stomach is sterilized with salt water and then a knife energized with electricity is swiped across the skin. It feels like a deep cut. Not to mention the guillotine with its red paint covered rubber blade being dropped on the neck of the feet and hands bound victim.. Finally the initiatee is blindfolded to be thrown overboard. Two men put the blindfolded victim on a board with his hands on their shoulders. They then wiggle the board as they squat giving the impression he has been lifted high in the air. The pollywog is then thrown into canvas enclosed pool of sea water. . It is only after he removes the blindfold that he realizes he is not in the sea.
After the long ceremony we observed "holiday routine."
As a pollywog turned shellback, I retreated to the solitude of the Post Office. During a time of prayer I asked the Lord if there was anything He wanted me to do, I hadn't done. It was almost as if I heard an audible voice, How about Morena?"
That wasn't what I expected. But I felt I would be disobedient if I didn't respond.
I wrote her a letter. In it I expressed the idea that I wondered if the Lord might want our lives linked together in ministry.
I put the letter in my desk drawer instead of mailing it.
A few months later the West Virginia returned to Long Beach on a special assignment. Morena was now living in the Trotman home at 4845 E. 6th St. in Long Beach. One night I needed to go to San Pedro to pick up some Tagalog Gospel tracts for a friend going to the Philippines. I invited Morena to go along. She had the dishwashing duty that night and was not free. With lightning speed the Trotmans found a replacement.
I HAD THE UNMAILED LETTER IN MY POCKET.
As I left the car to go into the office to get the tracts, I handed Morena the letter. When I came back to the car she matched my casualness and was reading a magazine.
On the drive back to Long Beach she didn't have much to say. We parked outside the home. Sitting in the car, I asked what she thought about the letter. Justifiably she interpreted the letter as a marriage proposal and was favorable. In the back of my mind, I thought the same but was shocked by the suddenness of developments. I told her that was not what I meant it took a few conversations to sort out our communications. (My awkwardness would probably have been irreparable except for the fact she has inside information and had told her mother the previous summer that I was the man she was going to marry.)
The Trotman's evidently thought the ships unplanned visit to Long Beach was Providential and engaged their matchmaking skill in overdrive. One day he gave me this hand written note marked Personal.:
Boy Oh Boy. I told Morena what I had told you and that you'd said you weren't surprised:- Took her off her feet.. Upon inquiry she told Lila and I she was thrilled and scared. Enclosed letter came after we had left a small gift just as she left. I put Prov 31:10 "whoso findeth", hence the comment in the letter--ask me about the meaning of part where arrow is-
Personally I regard MH as of one of 3 or 4 of the most outstanding women in the years of my Christian life, some 14. When I told her you were #1 Navigator- boy she smiled beautiful 'n everything-.
The office at 4845 with its desk and files was also a bedroom. As part of her duties Morena was editor of the Navigator's LOG which consisted mostly of letters and news from sailors. Dawson pretended she needed background information on the men making the news and since I knew them I should give her a briefing. Morena and I went into the office bedroom. Morena told me she was allergic to drafts and closed the door. I could hear giggles of delight from the family and friends sitting in the living room. Morena opened the file drawer and took out some folders with material for us to discuss. After a few minutes I told her the situation looked a little too arranged and suggested we join the others in the living room. We did and a few mouths dripped open in surprise and disappointment. I loved being with Morena but wanted a more spontaneous atmosphere.
A few days later Dawson took me aide and warned me that Morena was not the kind of a girl who would remain available very long and that if I didn't make a move some other guy would.
I told him that if some else could get her that was all of the evidence I needed that the Lord didn't intend her for me.
While in the Seattle area a year or so earlier, I had purchased a good used 1937 brown two door chevrolet for less than $400.00 to help the team get around. It was now in use by those at 4845 so I had transportation available.
In the next few days we took several rides.
One day as we were parked above the ocean on a vacant lot on a beautiful sunny afternoon the chemistry of what King Lemuel described as the "way of a man with a maiden" overcame me. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. The emotion was so strong I felt ill. In fact I was. Morena, the good Bible student diagnosed my illness from Song of Solomon 2:5 and 5:8, "I am sick with love." KJV. The NIV translates the word faint which may be a better word.
I had the strength to propose and she accepted and our blissful relationship which has lasted 57 years at this writing began. .
Several years ago I wrote a paper called the ROMANCE HAND because of it's five points. It was meant to trace how a romantic relationship develops.
The first step is AWARENESS. Although there were others around I was only aware of Morena. If she was present, I was glad. If she wasn't, I was sad. When a person becomes this aware of another, a relationship may be forming.
The next step is RESPECT. This means that one highly approved of the other person in every area about them of which you are knowledgeable. Getting acquainted is more than exchanging historical, family, and person information. It is to determine if the person of whom you are most aware has the values and personality you have dreamed about in a life partner. MUTUAL RESPECT is the permanent foundation of a relationship. Unless it exists can be established the relationship is doomed.
The more I learned about Morena, particularly her walk with the Lord, the more I respected her.
The next step is ADMIRATION. In this stage you see considerable more in the other person than anyone else, except her or his mother, and freely tell others how wonderful he or she is.
Next comes AFFECTION. The emotions are taking control. Behavior may now seem illogical compared to previous occupation of time and activity.
And finally there is TOTAL INVOLVEMENT.. The conclusion is reached, "if I can't spend the rest of my life with her/him, life isn't worth living. Nearly every country I have visited has a "lovers leap" where to people in love were denied the privilege of living their lives together so committed suicide together.
I had been in the Navy for 8 years and considered myself loyal and patriotic. When the authorities over me denied my request for special liberty to see Morena, I seriously considered desertion. I was TOTALLY INVOLVED.
We announced our engagement at a 1940 New Year's party at the Trotman home at 175 South Virgil in Hollywood.. Since we fellows never did anything not supported by Scripture my unromantic verse for the announcement was Job 3:25, "The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me." KJV
The West Virginia was due a three months overhaul in Bremerton, Washington in a few months so we bought a marriage license in California planning to get married as soon as the ship returned. to the west coast.
But due to the strained relations with Japan the Chief of Naval Operations wanted to keep the ship operational with the fleet. Month by month delays were announced. Morena remained in the Trotman home. When it appeared our delay in returning to the mainland was extended indefinitely. The Trotmans emptied their cash jar and provided the $40.00 needed for Morena to take the voyage aboard the luxury liner SS Matsonia from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
I was at sea when she arrived. She was met and given the traditional "lei" ceremony by Harold DeGroff, the Navigator representative in Honolulu and his wife Belva. She stayed with them until we were married July 11, 1941.
There was a three day waiting period after purchase before a marriage license could be used.
We purchased the license July 8, 1941. We selected the Kokakahi Christian Conference Center, on northern Oahu, for the wedding. Morena went to the site to get everything ready including arranging all the flowers and orchids we needed for $10.00.
I came ashore with six day's leave on July 11, 1940 and went to the City Clerk's office to pick up the license. The clerk asked where we were going to be married. When I told her Kokakahi, she said, "You can't use this license there, it is in a different judicial district. This license is only good in the Honolulu judicial district".
It appeared the only option was to get a new license and postpone the wedding for three days.
She let me stew a few minutes and then said, "This happens all of the time. You will have to have two weddings. You can have the real wedding using this license in the city limits of Honolulu and then have the ceremony you are planning later."
She consulted a map and we found the city boundary nearest Kokakahi was the Pali. It is a mountain pass on a narrow winding road where the wind from the sea is so strong it creates a nearby upside down waterfall. It is the most historic spot in Honolulu. It is also the place Kamamaha pushed an opposing army over the precipice to unite the Islands under one King.
We phoned Morena to meet us there. DeGroff, best man Marvin Lokkesmoe, the witness, and I met her there and under the stare of curious tourists and in a wind of gale force which glued our clothes to our bodies, we were married.
At the follow up ceremony in the evening of July 11, 1941, we again exchanged vows. I chided the guests for being late to the wedding. Ken Watters, the MC, identified me as the bridegroom by quoting from John 3:29, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom"
Of the fifty five of us at the wedding only three were women. Morena had only known her bridesmaid Rosa only a few days.
I recently ran across the bill for the dinner in my files. For fifty five persons the bill was $55.00.
We honey mooned at Kokokahi before moving into a room with kitchen privileges in the heights above Honolulu for $32.50 per month. From then until December 7, I was at sea a third of the time. After returning from our first cruise I found Morena had been bitten by a dog while walking in the neighborhood and had to be taken to the hospital emergency room.
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