The original Kitty Shields was a titan at 5”0’. She could convince the tides to turn left and guilt the devil into helping her clean the house. She was a force of nature, and also my mommom. As with most love stories, this is as much legend as truth. But let me tell you a romance that started with a boy carrying a watermelon down the street.
Kitty Shields and Joe McElhenny grew up in the same neighborhood in South Philadelphia—both products of a strong Irish Catholic upbringing in a close-knit community. He was seven years older than her, so for the early part of their lives, they ran in different circles. Until one June morning when an eleven-year-old girl struggled to carry a watermelon twice the size of herself down the steep hill to her house. And a gallant eighteen-year-old boy offered to carry it for her. She never forgot that morning or the kindness of that boy.
The two continued to circle each other. As these things usually happen, Kitty grew into a beautiful woman. When she was about seventeen, she walked by a group of young men loitering out on their front steps. Joe saw her and called out, “Kitty, can I walk you home?” She looked him dead in the eye and said, “You look fine right where you are.” Because nothing says romance like telling the boy you like to stay the hell away from you. Years later, Kitty admitted her mouth sometimes went a little too fast for her head.
Soon after, Joe joined the Navy. It was 1938 and the U.S. had not entered WWII yet. In fact, his ship, the U.S.S. Canopus, pulled out of Pearl Harbor ten days before the attack that would take America into the war. In 1942, the U.S.S. Canopus was assigned to the Philippines, where the crew served and repaired submarines and other ships. After the surrender at Bataan, the crew scuttled and sank the Canopus rather than giving it over to the enemy. Along with over two hundred other members of the crew, Joe was taken prisoner and held by the Japanese for two years.
Meanwhile, Kitty took a job as an administrator at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. More than most, she was aware of what the war really cost in terms of lives. And like many people during that time, she had put her life and dreams on hold. But after the war was won, Kitty made a decision that she was ready to get married and she went looking for a certain boy that she remembered from the neighborhood. Using her connections at the navy, she tracked him down in the middle of the Pacific where he had been assigned on the U.S.S. Missouri.
Joe was out at sea when he received a letter from home, a letter in handwriting he didn’t recognize. He tore it open, worried about what news might be inside. After scanning the contents, he jumped up and headed out of the room where his friends were. They called after him, “Bad news, Joe?” He stopped long enough to grin back at them and say, “No. Best news of my life.” Then he ran off to write his reply.
After that, Kitty and Joe corresponded, getting to know each other and growing a healthy respect and affection for this person that neither had set eyes on in years. When Joe’s ship finally returned to Philadelphia, they dated properly. On the third date, Joe asked Kitty to marry him. She looked at him dead and said, “You’re insane. People don’t marry after three dates. We have to wait a while.”
“Well, what’s a while?” he asked.
“A year,” she said.
“Okay.” He shrugged. “I mean, I already know, but I’ll wait forever if that’s what you want.”
She didn’t make him wait forever. She did make him wait a year, though. At long last, they were wed, and Joe was transferred to the naval yard as a legal officer. Now, Joe was a bit sluggish in the mornings. And one morning he was being particularly slow to get out the door. Kitty threatened his life if he didn’t get his behind moving and get to work. She was eight months pregnant with their first, and a little ungainly and a lot uncomfortable.
He looked at her and said, “I’m afraid to leave you. What if you fall and I lose you? I can’t handle that.” She patted his cheek and stood on her tip-toes to give him a kiss and told him she’d be fine. And to please, get the hell to work.
Some love stories are epic. Some love stories are tragic. And some love stories are about falling in love with your husband all over again because he hovers over you while you’re pregnant. Kitty said she never forgot the way he looked at her that morning and knew she’d made the best decision of her life. Joe said he never loved anyone else. This is a love story that started with a boy carrying a watermelon down the street.
By: Kitty Shields (the younger)
About the Author: Kitty Shields (she/her) lives outside Philadelphia, where she writes to overcome the fact that she was born a middle child with hobbit feet, vampire skin, and a tendency to daydream. In her spare time, she binds books, takes bad photos, and dodges the death traps her cat sets.
You can check her debut novel Pillar of Heaven from Amazon here (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GFV95K5). It’s a Tale of Assassins, Telepaths, & Lattes:
With the holidays looming and student loans coming to call, Kate McGovern needs to find a good-paying job and fast, preferably away from the masses of caffeine junkies and coffee snobs at her current job. But finding a job sucks. Finding your first proper job after college when you have no experience and no idea what you want to do really sucks. Then Kate’s favorite customer puts her up for an executive assistant gig with one of the richest men in Boston. And suddenly, Kate’s luck has changed. The catch? Her new boss expects her to read his mind. Literally. And she’s pretty sure he’s evil. No big deal. First jobs are always tough, right?
What a wonderful story. Just goes to show, when it’s right, it’s right! Thanks for sharing!
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