In “We’re Not Dead Yet”, written with Grandma Pauline, Grandpa Joe described some of his youthful romantic follies. This, I believe, was from his very first date:
When I was prodded into attending the senior [Provo High School] dance, I found myself in a curious predicament. My date for the evening was a classmate by the name of Lelila Harding. For the life of me I couldn’t seem to remember her name. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and tried to teach myself that her first name was kind of like a flower and her last name was a former President of the US. Somehow, I managed to lose that piece of paper, but I still made it through the evening without looking too foolish.
Agonizing, surely, though probably a better experience than my first-date-ever, where my companion had a seizure during Dances With Wolves. Anyway, it is all the more appropriate that Joe would misremember “Lelila’s” name in this memoir: the poor girl’s name was actually Leila Harding.
Romantically, things got better for him in college. From “We’re Not Dead Yet”:
Unlike High School, my life in college now became very involved with young ladies. I had many dates and had a special relationship with a girlfriend who was the daughter of the President of the University. For a time, I thought that I might even take her to be my wife. She suddenly broke off our dates. I was deeply hurt and the heartbreak lingered with me for a long time.
What a striking and poignant story. The gal in question is identified as one Leah Harris (name not so different than “Leila” but more memorable, somehow). She was valedictorian of her class at Provo High school, and was a pretty girl with a very cheerful smile:
She was daughter of Franklin Harris, president of the University from 1921 all the way to 1945. Here he is in the 1936 yearbook, looking kind of like a Bond villain:
(Inscription of course added by me.)
Going out with the president’s daughter was something of a social coup for young Joe, and rather a high-profile relationship. Some classmates congratulated him on the business, and (after it had ended) some impertinently asked what had become of the whole affair.
We have a direct verdict on Joe’s romance from Leah’s family – though not a college student, her little sister Mildred wrote in his yearbook in 1936 while things were still going strong:
I’ve heard that you were crazy, and as far as I’ve seen of you, I believe it’s right.
Joe started going with Leah shortly before the 1936 yearbook, and she dumped him some time before the 1937 version, and we have notes from her both years, first to give a feel of the blossoming affection, and later an explanation, in part, of her rash ending to the relationship. When extemporizing, Leah is rather verbose. 1936:
As usual, I shall start out with that I don’t know what to say. The only difference is that I do have a little bit to say and you can’t very well stop me from saying it.
I really didn’t get to know who you were until just lately. I could recognize you and tell your name to anyone, but I didn’t think you even knew me at all. Then at the Y Eagles Birthday Banquet (or something) when I nearly drowned you (neat English) you acted as if I hadn’t even done anything. It sort of made me feel more at home or something. Then when you called up the next day, I almost fainted I was so surprised (very pleasantly surprised I’ll have you know), that I nearly fainted. But such is life in the far far west. Anyway, I surely have enjoyed knowing you, even though such a short time. I hope to see you sometimes during the summer playing badminton &tc. Good luck,
Here’s in 1937, after the bitter denouement:
Well Joe, I really don’t know how to start to write in here, even after reading what you wrote in mine. After all I really must start sometime saying something or the other. As I have often said, “There is always that other way of doing it,” but some way I just couldn’t.
We have really had some very good times together. I guess that anybody that went with you would have a good time. There is something about you that makes everyone like (T. L.) you. Even so (whatever that means), I guess that they are over with – at least for a while. I don’t exactly know why, but it just seems to have worked out that way.
I still admire you a lot for the attitude you have taken. Most people wouldn’t be broadminded enough to understand about it but you seem to. Keep it up!
And another thing you are one of the most pleasant persons I know (except when I get you mad and I really don’t blame you then). You are always so happy and so much fun to be with. You laugh most of the time and make everything fun. Your personality is such that anyone can get along with you. Even I can sometimes.
I hope you have a lot of fun on all your trips this summer. You should because you surely do get around.
Here’s wishing you the best of luck and I am sure that you will get a lot of happiness and
Be good, Leah D. Harris
I’d give a pretty to see what he wrote in her yearbook. Leah’s personality comes out pretty well. Brassy and kind of scattershot, I bet she was a really interesting girl to be around. She’s excessively fond of parentheticals (using them more than once in a sentence), and this reflects the sort of hindsight awareness that happens to many of us when we are writing in indelible pen and look back at what we have written.
The first flames of romance in 1936 are rather tentative, and she can’t claim to know Joe very well, other than to say she wanted to get to know him better.
A different story in 1937, of course – she already knew as much about him as she ever wanted to. After what Joe wrote in her yearbook it appears she felt obliged to explain her conduct, and I think it’s a doozey. She goes one-up on the reliable “it’s not you, it’s me” excuse and takes the locus of control away from everyone:
I guess that they are over with – at least for a while. I don’t exactly know why, but it just seems to have worked out that way.
See, it’s not you, and it’s not even me! It’s nobody! It just happened. Well, reading between the lines you can tell that it didn’t “just happen”. I think she was concerned that she and Joe couldn’t get along well enough:
…(except when I get you mad and I really don’t blame you then)
…anyone can get along with you. Even I can sometimes.
Maybe Grandpa wished he hadn’t let her write in his yearbook; particularly the part where she patronizingly praised him for taking the dumping so well. You handled it great! What a champ! Keep it up! We all know those bitter feelings in the heat of disappointment, but it’s hard to have raw feelings about something so long ago, when things turned out as well as they did. After all we all get to exist and have this wonderful set of parents and grandparents. Funny to see a potential pathway through life that would have meant no Grandma Pauline and none of us, at least not with the lives that we have right now. That was a close call!
Leah went on learning and dating, getting an AB degree in 1939 and marrying an FBI employee named Milton Jensen in 1940. Interestingly, she first met, engaged, and married her husband all on a Friday the 13th. Not the same Friday the 13th, but you know what I mean.
She lost her husband back in 1999 and lived as a widow until her death in 2007. Here she is as the same sort of sweet smiling grandmother that Grandma Pauline was to us: