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  • Martha Rasche

My Parents' Courtship

Ernest Rasche and Mary Ann Beckman started dating in 1944, the year before Ernest went into the Army. They never dated anyone but each other, and their interest in each other built gradually.

Ernest and Mary Ann had an aunt and uncle in common: Mary Ann’s father was Tony, and his brother Joe married Ernest’s mother’s sister. Joe and his wife, Mary, had only one child, and as too many children did in a time when tuberculosis, diphtheria and whooping cough abounded, the girl died as a toddler. Ernest, as Joe and Mary’s godchild, began living with them in the summers as soon as he was deemed old enough — after first grade — and moved in with them full time five years later.

As brothers, Joe and Tony lived on adjacent farms, about half a mile apart on what today is Jasper-Dubois Road, and shared some of their farm tasks. Joe had chickens that laid enough eggs for him to have a weekly egg route in the city. If he ran short of eggs for his customers in a given week, he’d get more from Tony.

It often fell to Ernest to walk over to return the empty egg baskets.

“And then that one evening, he wanted to go to the show. He had brought the car,” Mary Ann recalls. “I didn’t know if I wanted to go or not.”

Ernest was good friends with Mary Ann’s three brothers, particularly Maurice, who had been his classmate. “Maurice told me I didn’t have to be scared,” Mary Ann says.

Still, she invited her younger sister, Aggie, along to the movie at the Tivoli Theatre in Jasper that night.

“Aggie went along too yet,” is how Ernest remembers their first date, less than fondly.

After that, they were a couple.

A casual photograph from their courtship shows a teenage Mary Ann in a cotton flowered skirt and matching short-sleeve blouse. The skirt extends below the knee and is worn with bobby socks and saddle shoes. A headband holds back her wavy brunette pageboy. Standing to her right, both of them leaning against the wall, is a stick-thin, short-haired Ernest with a farmer’s tan showing from under a short-sleeve shirt. He wears dress pants and dress shoes, his right leg arrow-straight and his left cocked at the knee.

Some Sunday evenings, Ernest would visit Mary Ann’s home and he, Mary Ann and two of her siblings would play Euchre. If Ernest arrived too early, he had to wait while Mary Ann milked the cows.

On one summer Sunday, Ernest drove Mary Ann, Aggie and two of the girls’ brothers and their girlfriends to the church picnic in Dale. All seven people piled into the 1935 Ford, Ernest’s first car that he bought for $300 with money earned from working in a lumberyard for 40 cents an hour.

Farm chores filled the days from Monday through Saturday, but Mary Ann and Ernest often saw each other amid the work, as when Ernest returned the egg baskets and when he and his uncle helped Tony saw wood.

When they started dating, Mary Ann and Ernest already knew the Army was inevitable for him. They didn’t particularly worry about it, and after he left for the service in May 1945, they corresponded by letter. Mary Ann didn’t write Ernest as often as he wrote her.

Ernest wrote “several times a week anyhow,” she says. On the back of each envelope, he’d write “SWASK,” which to them meant “sealed with a sweet kiss.”

“And you know, after that he couldn’t write a letter no more,” Mary Ann says, recalling that in later years it often was a challenge just to get him to sign his name on a birthday card for one of his children.

In her weekly letters to him, Mary Ann wrote mostly about farm activity. She followed the war news on the radio, which the family had gotten just a few years earlier.

The war ended while Ernest was in basic training at Camp Gordon, Georgia. He finished out his commitment unloading U.S. goods from ships in the Pacific Ocean and then running a PX in Yokohama, Japan, and ferrying sailors from Yokohama to Tokyo.

Ernest came home in November 1946, and he and Mary Ann got engaged at Christmas. A $50 ring from Kuebler’s on the Square sealed the deal.

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