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Thu, May 23

Column: The young couple

How strange they sometimes are.

I was waiting for the traffic light at a corner of the Prescott Plaza when I saw an elderly couple sitting on a bench holding hands. They were looking at each other with loving smiles; both seemed to be in a state of utter contentment.

As the light changed and I drove across the intersection, a long-buried memory captured my attention, and a story I thought I had forgotten came back into my consciousness.

As near as I can recall, the event occurred in the spring of 1942. Overlooking a nearby large park was a limestone outcropping of rock which gave those of us who knew about it an impressive view of central Kansas City, Mo.

I loved that cliff. Sometimes friends and I would hike through the woods to picnic on it, but most of the time I would go alone. It became sort of a sanctuary for me, although at age 11, I had no idea my rock could be associated with such a big word.

It was early one Saturday morning when I hiked to it, eager to look at the beautiful rain clouds circling the city. Approaching through a small forest, I was surprised to see a young couple standing on the rock. Until then, I thought only my friends and I knew about it. Since I was too shy to walk out on the cliff where they would see me, I crouched behind a large clump of bushes, curious about who they were, but more eager for them to leave.

For several minutes they held hands, then put their arms around each other. They didn’t kiss, just held each other tight. They talked quietly for a 5 or 10 minutes, then left.

A month or two later, when several of us guys went to the cliff, we saw the woman there alone. She was just sitting, staring out over the city. After a while, she got up and left.

I didn’t see her again until the next fall. School had started and I sometimes detoured to the cliff on my way home. I was near the tip of the rock when I saw her. We were both startled. I think I muttered something about not meaning to scare her and she said she wasn’t and that I had as much right to be there as she did.

What I remember was that she was very pretty, maybe in her early twenties. She didn’t look like a teenager and she wore a beautiful, small silver chain around her neck. I’d never seen one before so I asked her about it.

“My husband gave it to me before he left.”

“Well, it’s really pretty,” I stammered before saying goodbye.

I told my mom about her being on the cliff and how I’d seen her there before with her husband. She told me he was likely in the Service since all the young men were.

Although I went to the cliff a number of times during the winter, I didn’t see her again until just before school was out. Bobby Cox and I hiked there to eat our apples, as I recall. She was standing on the edge of the cliff crying. Neither of us knew what to do so we just watched her.

She stood there for a while, then slowly walked back through the woods to the street. We followed and saw her enter a small house that had a ramp going up the stairs to the front porch.

It was a few weeks later, while walking past the house with the ramp, that I saw her and her husband. They were sitting on the porch. He was in a wheelchair with a blanket over his legs. I thought that was strange because it was summer and it was hot.

When I told my mother about seeing them, she explained that he had lost one leg and most of the other one in the fighting. My first thought was that he would never be able to go out to the cliff again because the woods were too thick and rocky for his wheelchair.

Looking back, I know the story isn’t unusual for the war years, but it was my first real contact with what the fighting meant. Their lives had been changed forever.

In a small way, mine had too.

I continued to hike over to the cliff, but never did so without thinking of her—and them.

I hope the years since 1943 have been happy ones for them both.

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