Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten - A True Romance

The story of my brother Dick's engagement to Peggy is certainly among the most romantic episodes yet recorded in the "VanderPutten Family Memory." You might note that he wrote this on their 34th wedding anniversary.
The Real Story of How Peggy and I Got Engaged

By Dick VanderPutten

This is a real story of the climactic two-week's ending of a whirlwind courtship that all took place between March and October in 1965. Some data to illustrate the times:

In 1965 rural Ireland, you had a better chance of winning the sweepstakes than getting a telephone call through.

·        I had a good entry-level job in construction making about $100 per week. I was fresh out of the Army and dead broke.

·        A round trip commercial ticket to Ireland cost about $300. A charter flight to Ireland cost about $150, but there were no transfers. You either got on that plane or kissed your pre-paid ticket goodbye.

·        "Sale Moor" was an obsolete name for a town in England near Manchester. “Old-Timers” only called it that. The current, official name was "Sale."

·        The image of America and Americans in rural Ireland was not exactly what the Chamber of Commerce would recommend.

·        Most people who left Ireland did not return for many years -- if ever. Fifty years was not uncommon.

·        No, I did not have to look any of this up and, yes, I cried while typing it.

We met on a blind date in March and progressed rapidly into "an item.” Peg had booked a charter flight home with her sister and her family for the month of September. That also was a convenient time for me to have some necessary surgery, with about a 2-week recovery time (Pilonidal Cyst, look it up). She brought with her a letter from me to her parents, introducing myself and promising to love, honor, and all that for their daughter.

When her month’s holiday was over, her dad got nervous about her marrying the Yank with all those letters. Her sisters and a cousin had all married fellow Irish expatriates, and out of love for her, they naturally expected she would do the same. With torn loyalties, she did not get on that plane. Her brother Pat, who had come from England for the family get-together, suggested she come to England with him, get a job, and sort out her conflicted feelings. After sending off a telegram, they did just that. They stayed in a rooming house run by an old-time Irish lady who gave her address as 6 Alice St., Sale Moor.

Back in the States, her thoroughly confused family and I read and reread a 1-line telegram, had another drink of John Jamieson, and did some serious bonding. Someone in a bad moment said, "Daddy will not let her come back." 

Finally, a letter came from Peggy with a return address and an attempt at explaining the situation. So, I borrowed about $400 from a good friend, Pete Melomo, looked at the map to locate Sale Moor, and panicked.

Since I needed to go to New York City to get an emergency passport, I visited the British Tourist Board who had to pull a musty old reference book out of a closet and search for a non-existing town. To their credit, their records and friendliness were excellent. Most of the East Coast was at JFK Airport to see me off on this adventure, with my mother's engagement ring, a special gift from my dad, in my pocket. (Did I mention that I had not yet had the surgical stitches removed?).

One of the possibilities that occurred to me was that we would get married over there, and Betty and Pete promised to come over as witnesses. I arrived in England and asked a cop for help. He put me in a cab driven by an old-timer and we found the house about mid-morning. Mrs. Manning, the landlady, had her nephew contact Pat at work to have Peggy come home.

Brother Pat, fearful of some vengeful Yank who was probably heavily armed, stood guard outside her worksite for the rest of the day. At quitting time, Peg convinced him that I did not own a .357 magnum, and it was safe to bring her home. So, after a long talk, I put mom's ring on her finger at about 1AM Greenwich time (Zulu, for the youngsters) on October 14, 1965. We still celebrate that date as our actual anniversary.

Naturally, we then had to return to Ireland to meet her parents. The tearful farewell with Pat at the Manchester railroad station is so vivid I can still hear the sobs. I had never seen a man cry like that. The trip from Manchester to Castlerea took about 24 hours, including three trains (just like those compartmented trains in the movies), one cab, and a ferry across the Irish Sea at night.  

As we approached our destination, the fear of a protective father began to settle in. Peg said I turned white as a sheet. Daddy was waiting at the train station to meet us, and he gave me such a hug he lifted me off the ground. We stayed a week on the farm and then returned to start planning our life. I had my surgically altered butt unstitched with no problems. Peg told her boss she was sick so he paid her for the time she had missed. Sister Betty, while overjoyed for us, was disappointed at losing her trip to the Emerald Isle. Peg's dad came here for the wedding to personally give her away. The closeness resulting from the intensity of those three weeks cemented all of us into a family. All told, it was a very productive six months. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

May 5, 2001, Our 34th Anniversary