By February, 1943 World War II had been raging for nearly four years. The U.S. had been involved in Europe and then the South Pacific, since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Casualties created by the Japanese were devastating in Hawaii, not to mention Australia and New Guinea. When the Japanese made an amphibious landing on Guadalcanal to take over the landing strip, the U.S. Naval forces pushed them back, claiming victory. The Japanese were not finished. Plans to control the South Pacific seas were nearly ready to go.
Halfway around the globe, in a central New York city, Frank and Loretta Sardino were readying their nightclub, Club Candee, for another week of visiting stage acts. Loretta went to the icebox where Frank was stacking chickens. He stood to let her in, she stroked his face. He winked and patted her bum. Her smiling Irish blue eyes met his Italian bedroom eyes and held for just a moment. For 25 years, they had worked hard, hand in hand, to build a life for their 5 children, and still were deeply in love.
Out in the lounge, their three eldest sons, Frank, Dick and Tom, cleaned floors, stocked the bar, checked the lights and brought in more tables and chairs to accommodate the full house they anticipated.
Frank, Sr. had a knack for signing the best acts available and that week’s acts were no different. The Will Mastin Trio featuring 18-year old Sammy Davis, Jr. was the main act since Sammy had become popular for his melodic voice and his flash tap dancing. Frank hired a magician, opera singers, a comedian and a chorus line to round out the show. Loretta’s boys, of course, were most excited about the chorus girls.
By 8 pm, the house went dark and the noisy room, packed with local dignitaries and ‘fat cats’ from New York City filling up on Loretta’s corned beef and cabbage, went silent except for the sound of a single horn. Frank and Dick had been busy glad-handing and serving drinks but, when the band began to play the first notes of Boogie Woogie, the boys took notice.
At the second stanza, the stage came alive with eight pairs of long legs, dressed in sparkling red, white and blue sequined tap shorts. The girls kicked and tapped across the stage as the men in the audience whistled their approval and threw roses onto the stage. The redhead and the blonde in the center of the line
caught everyone’s attention, including Dick and Frank, Jr.
During their break, Frank tried to keep Dick busy refilling the ice bucket and washing bar glasses so he’d have time to talk to the girls alone. Dick didn’t fall for it and followed Frank backstage. The boys vied for the girls’ attention with compliments and drinks. Opal showed the boys the diamond on her finger and, with a flip of her blonde hair, went to change for the next dance. Becky just smiled politely, turned and followed Opal, leaving the two Romeos with their mouths agape.
Back at the bar, Frank challenged Dick to the flip of a coin to determine who would ask Becky out after the show. Dick won the toss, but Frank wasn’t a good loser and Dick suffered the consequences. Frank flipped a full tray of drinks out of Dick’s hands as he was about to serve them. Later he tripped his younger brother as he raced back and forth to keep up with his bar customers’ orders.
When the show resumed and the bar quieted, the boys’ Irish-Italian tempers flared. They met behind the club and had it out…with their fists. Dick had height on Frank, but Frank was more muscular. Dick out-maneuvered him and won out. He stood victoriously over his big brother. Frank jumped up, swung and missed as Dick ducked and ran inside to make a date with his redhead.
After he closed up the Club, Dick escorted Becky to an all-night diner where they feasted on eggs and piles of fried potatoes and bacon. Becky’s hands shook with every forkful. Dick didn’t notice her hands but stared into her soft hazel eyes. Her mid-western accent tickled him and he couldn’t get enough of it. She spoke of art classes and books she’d read. He told her of his ambition to join the Marine Corps.
At dawn, Dick tried to memorize the look in Becky’s eyes after he kissed her. He helped her climb up into the van and she crawled over the other girls to squeeze into the last empty seat. She blew him a kiss and promised to write. Then, he was alone in the parking lot watching the band and the dancers drive off to their next venue. He hoped they would get back this way again.
Frank, Sr. booked another show with the same chorus line and variety acts again the following month. When Becky got the schedule, she dashed off a letter to Dick, “I’m happy to be seeing you and your family so soon. Might we have breakfast together again?”
Dick knew what he had to do. He knew he couldn’t ever say good-bye to Becky again. They grabbed a bite to eat before Becky’s rehearsal. Dick’s hand had been in his pocket fingering the ring. He wasn’t sure just how to ask her. His hand shook as he reached across the table; the ring slipped through his fingers and bounced into her lap. Becky sat back to see what it was. When she saw the simple band, she lifted her moist eyes to him and nodded her answer.
After lunch and a few moments of necking with Dick, Becky found Opal to share her news. Opal warned her about moving too fast with someone she barely knew, but Becky assured her it was what she wanted and begged Opal to make her case with their manager.
Since Becky had no family of her own to go back to in Missouri, Dick’s parents asked her move in with them until the wedding. She shared a room with Dick’s little sister. A family…something Becky had never known. This would be an adventure.
A few days later Dick enlisted in the Marine Corps and left for training at Camp Lejeune. While he was away, Loretta and Becky made plans for the wedding. Dick returned for a week after boot camp. The lovebirds were married two days before Dick was shipped out to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese with his troop.
The love story didn’t end there…they were married for many years, had three daughters and nine grandchildren. Dick is gone now, but Becky, at nearly 88 years old, remains the dancing queen of the family.
Do you have a lovely love story in your family history you’d like to share?
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