Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Romance in Omaha

Today would have been my grandfather’s 87th birthday. Would have been. Last month he passed away, and is at long last back with Grandma. One of his all-time favorite stories to tell was the account of how he met Grandma, and it was also one of my favorite stories to hear. This story is doubly appropriate right now, given that yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and this is the tale of a real-life romance.

Grandpa’s real name was Francis Albert Hoyt, Jr., but he always went by “Jack.” Grandma was born Rose Stroesser, but she had the nickname of “Frenchie.” Both had served the U.S. Navy during WWII, but that is not how they met. Rose had been stationed most of the time in Washington, D.C. , whereas Jack served aboard the U.S.S. Moffett and saw quite a bit of action in the Mediterranean. When the war was over, he became restless, never content to stay home.

He lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the river from Omaha, Nebraska. He spent a great deal of time in Omaha, as it was the larger city. There was a dance hall on 19th and Dodge Street called the Music Box. Many local big bands passed through there, including Lawrence Welk in his early days. The Music Box was more than just a dance hall; above the dance floor was a mezzanine containing a lounge, and on the third floor was a bowling alley.

Jack occasionally worked at the Music Box as a bouncer. The dance floor was for all ages, but the lounge was only for those 21 or older. Perhaps he helped to enforce the age restriction. He has also mentioned that there were rules against letting go of your partner’s hand, and he would remind the jitterbuggers to hang on. One evening, as Jack was in the bar (whether he was bouncer or patron that night, he has never mentioned), a lovely young woman and a group of her friends passed through on their way to the bowling alley. 

Rose and a date (not Jack) in the lounge at the Music Box, 19 Jan 1947

“Who is that woman?” Jack asked the bartender.

“That’s Frenchie Stroesser,” the bartender replied. “Stay away from her. She’s out of your league.” (Or words to that effect.)

Jack remained nonplussed. “Joe,” he said, “I’ll have you know I’m going to marry that woman.”

The bartender bet him a fifth of bourbon that he wouldn’t. But of course, Jack won the bet. And whenever he told this story he would always add, “I never got the bourbon, though.” But that didn’t matter to him because he did get the girl.

Quite often Jack would end the story there, but my favorite part was in a postscript. There were several things he had to do before marrying Rose. He had to ask her father for her hand, and he had to convert to Catholicism. But also, most delightfully to my ears, he had to persuade her to marry him.

Jack had been born 15 Feb 1925, but Rose had been born 5 May 1924. Although their ages were close, the fact remained that Rose was older. Her brothers and sisters teased her about “robbing the cradle,” and she was self-conscious about it. But Jack found the perfect way around their nine month age difference:

God made a man for every woman, he told her. However, there was a slight error when He created Rose—there was no man for her! So He immediately got to work. Nine months later along came Jack. This clever anecdote did the trick. Jack Hoyt and Rose Stroesser were married on 25 June 1949.

Wedding portrait of Jack and Rose Hoyt

1 comment:

  1. I love it... thanks for keeping these memories alive!