Chapter 9: How I Met My Wife
In the chronicle of experiences that provided the training for the activities of later years, none exceeded in import the dating experiences that culminated in marriage—at least none exceeded the marriage experience.
If it be true, as it definitely appears now in retrospect, that the Eternal God knew He would call me to the important activity now in progress with progressively increasing power of impact, and that this early training of formative years had some measure of unseen and unrealized divine guidance, then it is true, also, that the selection of my wife and life partner was providential.
It was through her, years later, that circumstances impelled my conversion and induction into the great commission. This commission, from its beginning, had been a team activity commission in which Mrs. Armstrong shared equally—even though it may not have been evident to many.
No phase of any man’s life is more important, or has greater bearing on his future success or failure, than the romantic experiences and their culmination in marriage. The same is true, conversely, in the lives of girls who have reached the dating age.
Few young people, today, realize the seriousness of this phase of life. Proper dating has become virtually a lost art in America. Young people today, it seems, do not know how to date. Most have little or no conception of the nature of true love, or the meaning and responsibility of marriage. They are men and women physically, but they are still children emotionally.
Let me repeat, here, that I was born of solid old Quaker stock. I was brought up from childhood to believe that marriage was for life, and divorce was a thing unheard of in our family. Marriage was regarded seriously, and as something not to be considered by a young man until he had acquired his education and preparatory experience, and was established financially and in position to support a wife and family.
Consequently, in my dating of girls prior to age 24, there was no thought of marriage, except indirectly.
My Dating ‘System’
And, by “indirectly,” I mean this: I had a “system.” I was conceited enough to think it a pretty good system. I was aware that I did not really know what love is. But I had the conception that it was a mysterious thing that might hit a young man when he wasn’t looking. He might suddenly “fall” for a girl. Once this happened, so I surmised, the poor victim lost his mental equilibrium. He was “hooked” and unable to help himself, or if the girl be the wrong one, to recognize that fact.
I was, in other words, afraid I might be caught off guard and helplessly plunged into a binding lifelong marriage with the wrong girl. I had heard that love was blind. If I should fall in love with the wrong girl, I would probably be totally blinded to the fact she was the wrong one. My life would be ruined! That is, so I then supposed.
My system was born out of fear of this possibility. I didn’t want to get serious, or think of marriage, before I was advanced enough to support a family. But, if this “love bug” should stab a hypo-love potion into me prematurely, I wanted to have insurance against being bound to the wrong one.
Therefore my system was this: I would generally avoid even dating a girl unless she appeared, so far as I could then see, to be at least eligible if I lost my head and fell for her. Next, on my first date, one thing was always uppermost in my mind—to coldly analyze that girl from the point of view of what kind of a wife and mother she would make, if I lost my head over her. If she definitely didn’t measure up, I firmly avoided any second date with her. If I were not quite sure one way or the other, I would allow myself a second date—if she appeared sufficiently interesting. If a girl passed my analytical test, then immediately I put all thought of marriage out of mind, but she remained on the list of girls who were eligible for dates—if I desired them.
As a result of this system I did date girls I felt were well above the average. I enjoyed a scintillating conversation. If a girl was unable to carry on her part of such an “intellectual” conversation, or was lacking in any mental depth and brilliancy, she didn’t interest me enough for another date.
My First Date
I suppose most little boys, around age 4 or 5, pick out some girl they call their “girlfriend.” This is, of course, quite cute and amusing to parents and other adults. I mentioned, earlier, a little girl who took part in some church play with me, at age 5.
Then, around 9 or 10 years of age, a Sunday school chum and I picked out a girl whom we mutually called “our girl”—only she never knew it. We were too young and too shy to tell her.
I kissed a girl for the first time when I was 12. Some of us kids in the neighborhood were playing “post office.” I think I secretly considered that girl to be my girlfriend, though I’m sure she didn’t know it. I do remember her name.
I also remember the name of this Sunday school girl I secretly shared with the other boy. But I will refrain from mentioning it for the other boy finally did start “going with” her when he became old enough, and wound up marrying her—and I have heard that she moved to Pasadena.
But my first real date came when I was a freshman in high school. It was with a neighbor girl who also was a freshman at North High in Des Moines. The occasion was some high school event that took place in the evening. I remember I was very self-conscious being on a streetcar alone with a girl.
Why is it that so many teenage boys are bashful in the presence of girls their age, while girls seem never to be the least bit embarrassed?
I did continue to “go with” this girl, off and on, for some seven or eight years, but never was it “going steady” as so many young people do today, and it was never serious. Never once did I kiss her.
Once, when I was probably 22 or 23, on a date with her in Des Moines, I did start to slip an arm around her. Promptly she took my arm and placed it back where it belonged. But not because she was a “prude.”
“I wish you wouldn’t, Herbert,” she said simply. “At least unless you are serious. You’re the only fellow I’ve ever gone with that hasn’t necked with me. I’d like to keep this one slate clean. It has really meant something to me.”
I wasn’t serious, so my arm stayed home the rest of the evening.
When I first dated this girl, at about age 15, and for some years after that, I never necked with any girl. Only we didn’t call it “necking” then—it was “loving up,” and back in my mother’s day it was “spooning.” I don’t know what they called it in Abraham Lincoln’s day, or back in the days of Adam and Eve. But it’s been going on all these millenniums and centuries, no matter what any passing generation may call it. It speaks its own universal language. But, in this autobiography, I shall use the terminology of the present day, for reasons of clarity.
So far as I know, during the earlier years of my dating experience this thing of necking was not practiced in the promiscuous way it is today.
I dated a number of girls I regarded as unusual, and considerably above the average. One was the daughter of the
president of an insurance company. She was my mother’s original preference, and I think that at the time Mother would have been pleased had I married her. But neither of us held the slightest romantic interest for the other. She was an artist and sculptress. I admired and respected her, however, and enjoyed an occasional date with her. Then there was another girl, a neighbor in Des Moines, who excelled as an artist. In fact, this girl excelled in just about everything she did. I dated her frequently in Chicago, as I passed through on those “Idea Man” trips, while she was a student at the Chicago Art Institute. Actually, both of these girls were studying at the Art Institute. There was another girl in Rock Island, Illinois, with whom I became acquainted through the above-mentioned two girls, a member of one of the oldest and most prominent Rock Island families.
But, along about age 21, it seemed that the necking pattern was being ushered in. In those years I wanted to be “modern” and to keep up with the times. I began to think that perhaps I was being considered a little behind the times, and decided that perhaps I ought to start necking a little—at least after a second or third date. I don’t think many indulged in it on the first date, in those days.
At that time I was dating a girl in Des Moines who was a special buddy of a girl who was going steady with a chum of mine. The four of us double-dated frequently. So I began the popular pastime of necking. Only it was then called loving up. The girl didn’t object. Her father was dead. Her stepfather was an automobile dealer, and frequently, on our dates, we were taken riding in their car with her stepfather and her mother. We necked openly in the back seat. Her parents seemed to think nothing of it.
Then one night on their semi-secluded front porch, she became especially serious. She began to tell me how much money her father had left her, and she felt we ought to begin to plan what to do with it.
This came like an electric shock. I realized she was seriously taking marriage for granted. Such a thought had never entered my mind. I told her so. This stabbed her right in her heart.
“But if you’re not serious, and thinking of marriage, what on earth have you been loving-up with me for?” she asked.
I explained that she was the first girl I had ever necked with—that I had come to believe I was being considered old-fashioned by the girls—that it had seemed to me that it was being done generally, and that girls expected it. I did it because I supposed it was the thing I was supposed to do.
At this she burst into tears and ran into the house. This sudden turn of affairs shocked and hurt me deeply. I knew I had hurt her, and that made me feel like a cad. Next day I called on the telephone to apologize. Her mother answered.
“My daughter has told me all about it,” accused the mother with icy scorn. “She never wants to see you again!” She hung up the receiver.
So my first experience in necking came to an unhappy and semi-tragic end. I hope this girl later became really in love with the right man for her, and found a happy marriage. She was a fine girl and deserved it. But I have never heard from or about her since.
Truth About Necking
I have wished very much that I could have known, in those days, what I am able today to teach the Principles of Living class at Ambassador College. For had I realized the truth about this practice called “necking,” that very fine girl would have been spared the humiliation of confessing love for one who was not in love with her.
But I didn’t know such truths in those days. My standards were those of the other young people my age in the world—that is, the standards of those young people who had ideals and good intentions—but based on the way that seemed right to us humans.
It was totally against my code of morals to “insult” a girl—which, according to those human standards meant carrying necking beyond the point of decency. That I never did in my life. I felt I knew where to draw the line. And I was always careful to observe that human-reasoned line.
But all young people are not that careful. What I did not then know is that even any necking at all—harmless as it is supposed to be—is the very first phase of the four phases of sexual intercourse! In very plain and frank language, necking belongs in marriage as a definite part of the marriage relationship. Humans usually reverse what is right. They indulge in this preliminary act of sexual arousal prior to marriage as a part of dating—and then dispense with it after marriage, thus often ruining and breaking up marriages!
I didn’t realize, then, how many countless acts of fornication and premarital pregnancies are caused by this supposed harmless and popular custom of necking. The new morality has replaced the strong convictions some of us had about where to draw the line.
I Meet Two Pretty Girls
Up until 1917, I had never thought really seriously of any girl. I liked the company of girls. In my vanity I fancied that I had been dating the real “cream of the crop”—girls considerably superior to the average. But during these years I was still “going to school”—in the way I had decided was best for me—acquiring knowledge of my chosen field, gaining experience, preparing myself to make big money later.
In my foolish conceit of those days, I was cocksure that I was headed for outstanding success. But I had certain ideals and convictions, and one of them was that a young man ought not to think of marriage until he was prepared to assume the responsibilities of marriage—especially that of supporting a wife! The idea of my wife having to get a job to help earn the living would have crushed my spirit—would have been the supreme disgrace!
In January 1917, I was in Des Moines on one of my regular trips to Iowa, renewing contracts and soliciting new ones. My mother had written that her twin sister, my Aunt Emma Morrow, was stricken with pneumonia, and asked me to visit her on this trip. So I took the short side trip to the Morrow farm, 30 miles southeast of Des Moines, and a short mile north of the crossroads town called Motor, which consisted only of a store, schoolhouse, church and two or three houses.
I found my aunt considerably improved and convalescing. During the afternoon a girl from Motor, two years younger than I, came to see my aunt. She was introduced to me as a cousin—but only a third cousin. Immediately I was impressed. She was pretty and seemed to be an unusually nice girl. Her name was Bertha Dillon, and her father owned the store at Motor. He was my mother’s first cousin.
I was enjoying a conversation with her, when, about 4:30 in the afternoon, her older sister, Loma—just my age—came bounding in. That’s not an exaggeration. I hadn’t seen such fresh, joyous “zip and go” in a long time. She literally exuded energy, sparkle, good cheer, the friendly warmth of a sincere, outgoing personality.
Now I was much more impressed! She was even prettier than her sister. There was something different about her—something wholesome that I liked. She was the school teacher at Motor.
Where, I asked myself inwardly, could I have been all my life, never to have run across these two cousins before? At that time, although these girls were rather distant cousins, I thought of them only as cousins.
This was about the middle of the week. My cousin, Bert Morrow (he was a first cousin), just one year my junior lacking a day, drove me over to the little town of Beech to take the evening train to Des Moines. My aunt’s nurse was returning to Des Moines on the same train. Loma rode along with us in the Model T to Beech. I learned that she was planning to go to Des Moines Saturday morning to do some shopping.
“Why,” I asked, “don’t you bring Bertha with you, and meet me at noon for lunch, and we’ll take in a movie in the afternoon?”
It was a date.
Only, when I met her Saturday noon, she had not brought her sister. I had preferred to meet Loma alone, but I had felt that propriety demanded that I ask both girls.
I took her to luncheon at Des Moines’ nicest place at that time—the Harris-Emery department store tea room. It was one of the finest department store tea rooms in the nation.
I was really enjoying this date. She didn’t know it then, but Loma was being intensively analyzed. No thought of marriage, you understand—just routine, as I always did on a first date. She seemed to be a girl of sound-minded good sense and high ideals. She had superior intelligence. There was a mental depth most girls lacked. I was well aware that she was utterly lacking in sophistication. She was not, in fact, completely “city broke.” There was none of the haughty social veneer—none of the acquired artificial mannerisms of the eastern “finishing school” products or the social debutante. Indeed, I perceived she was a bit naive. She was completely sincere in trusting and believing in people. She had not seen or learned much of the rottenness and evils of this world. She had that innocent, completely unspoiled freshness of a breath of spring.
Also, from the instant when she first came bounding in at my aunt’s farm, I had noticed she was almost something of a tomboy—active, very alert. Whatever she did, she did quickly. I learned later that her brothers dubbed her with two nicknames—“She-bang” and “Cyclone!” She was full of fun, yet serious—with the unspoiled wholesomeness of an Iowa country girl. And, most important of all, strength of character!
I observed quickly that although she was alert and active-minded, hers was not one of those flighty surface minds, active but shallow. She was able to discuss serious and deep things intelligently. She was very much an extrovert, but not a shallow, gossipy chatterbox.
Although I noticed, and became immediately well aware of these qualities, no thought of falling in love, or of marriage, entered my mind. I thought of her only as a cousin. Perhaps I had so disciplined my mind in regard to marriage that it automatically avoided such thoughts. But I did want to see more of her—definitely!
She Rated a Second Date!
After the luncheon conversation, which must have lasted more than an hour and a half, we went to a movie. I remember nothing whatever about the movie—I do remember holding a soft, warm hand.
I always stayed at the Brown Hotel in those days—a residential hotel on the edge of the business district. After the movie, we walked over to the hotel lobby. I ran up to my room, picked up a package of family pictures I happened to have in my suitcase, returned to the lobby, and showed the pictures to her.
I remember that among them was a “Cousins’ Letter” I had initiated. Ever since I could remember from earliest childhood, my father’s generation had kept a family letter circulating. It made the rounds, perhaps once in nine months or a year, from coast-to-coast. Some of the Armstrong family were in New Jersey and Atlantic coast locations. Some were in Ohio and Indiana, some in Iowa, Colorado, and some in California. Each time it came around, my father removed his letter which now had gone the rounds, wrote and inserted a new one. I had organized a “Cousins’ Letter” of our younger generation. It made about two rounds, and apparently died a natural death. But this big packet of letters had just finished its first round, and I remember showing it to my newfound cousin. She, however, was a third cousin on my mother’s side of the family. This circular family letter only included the Armstrong cousins.
Then I took her to her evening train to return home.
I have mentioned my system of analyzing girls on the first date. Loma had been duly analyzed. She passed the test with a perfect grade. She rated a second date!
In fact, the more I thought about it, she rated it without delay! I lived in Chicago. If I were to have another date with this very attractive young lady any time soon, I decided it had to be next day!
Accordingly I hopped the morning train, called my cousin Bert Morrow to drive over to Beech after me, and, to everybody’s surprise, here I was to “see my aunt” again! I don’t remember, now, how I maneuvered to get Loma up to my aunt’s, but I do remember spending considerable time with her there. And she remembers a walk out on the country road in the deep snow.
I also remember holding her hand again—much to the dislike of my uncle and aunt. After I left, they began to warn her against me.
“Now, Loma,” they admonished, “you’d better let Herbert alone. He reads those magazines written by that awful Elbert Hubbard, and he’s probably an atheist. He probably doesn’t ever go to church anymore!”
But I had asked Loma to write, and she said she would.
So now the dating was continued by mail. I must have had her a great deal on my mind, for I wrote to her almost every day, and received several letters a week in return.
A year and a half before, I had felt that the Iowa territory was rather dead for new business for the Northwestern Banker. There was more business to be had in Chicago. But now, all of a sudden, Iowa seemed to become very desirable territory again, requiring more frequent visits from me.
The next Iowa trip seems to have been sometime in February. On a later Iowa trip in May or June, we had a double date in Des Moines with Loma’s number one girl chum and her fiancé. At an amusement park, we took a roller coaster ride—Loma’s first in her life—and also her last! She was so frightened that she unconsciously had a firm, almost death-like iron grip on my trousers just above the knee as we came to a stop—much to her embarrassment and the glee of her chum and fiancé! She was such a modest person that this was terribly mortifying!
But I am getting ahead of the story.
As we continued the acquaintance by correspondence, we exchanged ideas on many subjects. I wanted to know what she was interested in—what she believed—what her ideas were. She seemed to have high ideals, and I discovered that she was seriously concerned about religious truth—more so than I. I had virtually no interest in religion.
Business seemed to require my presence in Iowa again in early April, and then the first week in May.
In our correspondence, we had exchanged ideas and ideals on such subjects as necking. Of course I had never, as yet, made any advances toward her in this direction—except for holding her hand a few times. Her letters said she didn’t believe in necking. I would not have been a normal young man if I had not determined to put her to the test on that.
It was about May 7 or 8 that she met me again in Des Moines. During the afternoon, we went out to one of the spacious parks where wildflowers could be picked.
As we were sitting, or leaning on our elbows on the ground, opportunity came for me to slip an arm around her shoulders and, leaning over her, plant a healthy kiss on her lips. She didn’t resist.
Sitting back up, I grinned and asked, “Now are you angry with me?” “Uh-huh,” she smiled.
I wasn’t quite sure what to think, now, after she had expressed such disapproval of anything of this sort in her letters. But it was not just a frivolous kiss to her, as I was soon to learn.
We returned to the apartment of my Uncle Frank Armstrong and his family. I was taking a midnight sleeper for Sioux City, and she was to remain at my uncle’s for the night.
When it came time for me to leave for my train, Loma came out into the corridor of the apartment building to say good night. Suddenly, impulsively, she reached her arms around my neck and planted a good earnest kiss on my lips!
This, I suddenly realized, was serious.
In a daze, I left. I couldn’t sleep that night for hours. Nothing had ever hit me like this before. That had not been any ordinary “necking” kiss! I knew that was, as they say today, for
I hasten to add, however, that this emotional thrill I experienced was produced because of the circumstances leading to it. No one should suppose that being really in love must hit one with the kind of emotional wallop I experienced.
In Sioux City next morning, the first thing I did was to call on a doctor whom I knew. I asked him if there was any reason why third cousins ought not marry.
He only laughed. “None whatsoever,” he said. “Third cousins are no cousins at all, so far as marriage is concerned.”
Returning to Des Moines a few days later, I went back down to Motor. It was the night of May 13. We walked down the roadside, past the old Quaker Church building and graveyard. I told Loma that I knew, now, that I was in love with her.
This seemed to come like a shock to her. Apparently she had not thought of it in just this way before, but now, suddenly, it dawned on her that if we were married it meant living in Chicago, in more cultural and, as she supposed, sophisticated surroundings than she had known. This sudden realization frightened her.
She stammered that she was not sure.
That statement fell on me like a ton of bricks! I had never doubted, in my confident conceit, that if and when I ever did fall in love it would be mutual. Now, suddenly, came the realization that I might be faced with tragedy! But I knew the right answer. I wish more young people, “falling” for one who is not in love with them, could know this right answer. Most young fellows, it seems, would start pleading with the girl to marry them anyway. That is definitely not the right answer.
“In that case, Loma,” I said regretfully, soberly, but firmly, “I don’t want to ever see you again—that is, not unless, or until you find that you, too, are in love. I certainly wouldn’t ask you to marry me if you don’t love me. It would only wreck both our lives—and I love you too much to ruin your life.”
We were walking back to her home, which was on the second floor over the store. We sat down for a while on the steps of the store.
It was momentarily difficult to understand, now, why she had kissed me as she did that night outside the door of my uncle’s apartment. Was I merely receiving just retribution for causing the first girl I had ever necked with to fall in love, when I didn’t love her?
I asked Loma for an explanation.
She explained, then, how the sudden thought of marriage had frightened her. She and I had lived in two different worlds. I had been city-born and city-reared. I had traveled a great deal. I was worldly wise. I knew the world and was a part of it. I lived in one of the world’s largest and most metropolitan cities. She was a country girl. How would she be able to act and live in the sophistication of a city like Chicago?
“Loma,” I said seriously, “you’re a real diamond. Maybe you haven’t had the exterior polish of an eastern finishing school applied. Most of those girls have outer polish, but no qualities underneath. It’s mostly a lot of put-on and make-believe. It isn’t real. But you are real, Loma, and you have the quality of good character all the way through. I can see to putting on what polish you’ll need. I don’t want, and never could love, a lot of pretense and empty-headed sophistication! You have the real qualities for a good wife and the mother of my children. It’s you I love, and I know now I can never love anyone else. Don’t worry about the lack of social training and sophistication. That stuff can be bought a dime a dozen! It’s trash! I don’t want it! All I want you to decide is whether you’re in love with me, as I am with you.”
Then, rising, I said finally, “Just one thing I want you to promise me. As soon as you’re sure, in your own mind, whether you’re in love—either way—I want you to telegraph me just one word—‘
She promised. I walked away toward my aunt’s house, a mile down the road. There was no good-night kiss.