Blame it on the Blouse…

A blouse led to the marriage of John M. Graf and Helen Robertson

Written by their youngest son, John F. Adams-Graf

 
During a 1943 furlough, Sergeant John “Milton” Graf took the train from
his station at Camp Hale, Colorado, back to his hometown in Caledonia,
Minnesota. He looked forward to seeing his parents, stopping by Henry
Blexrud’s grocery store, doing some trout fishing on Crooked Creek, and
reconnecting with old friends. One of his closest, high school buddy,
John Trish, had plans for Milton’s return. He decided that the best
thing two young men in time of war should do first was find dates.
 

It so happened that John was sweet on Sgt. Graf’s cousin, Bernadette
(“Bernie”). The romance was stunted, however, because Bernie was a
student at the all-woman College of St. Teresa, 45 miles away in
Winona, Minnesota. He knew that the college rules mandated that any
student who left campus with a boy in a car must be accompanied by a
second couple. A plan began to emerge.

John called Bernie, telling her that he was pretty certain that Milton
could borrow the family Chevy. The two boys would drive up to Winona
for a visit if Bernie found a date for her cousin.

Bernie went the length of her dormitory bragging up her “soldier-boy
cousin” in the hopes that someone—anyone—would agree to be his date for
the evening. Finally, she thought the deal was cinched when Barb
Wynkoop agreed to give Bernie’s cousin a chance. But, when she learned
that Milton was in the Army, Barb wanted nothing to do with him! She
knew that army soldiers came home on furloughs infrequently. “In fact,”
she informed Bernie, “I prefer a sailor to a soldier.” Bernie was
distraught. Who would she find to double with her cousin on such short
notice?

After visiting every room on her floor, Bernie tried to give her dear
friend, Helen Robertson, one last try. Helen had already turned down
the potential date, stating “she had nothing to wear.” Desperate to
find a girl with whom to double, Bernie pleaded, “You have that new
Easter suit that your mother sent to you!”

Bernie knew that Helen’s mother had sent her money to buy a new suit
for Easter. In fact, Bernie had gone with Helen to Choate’s Department
Store in Winona to pick it out. She told Helen that the new, two-piece,
gabardine suit was just the thing to wear for a date! The sharply
fitted jacket with padded shoulders and skirt would be a treat for any
soldier or sailor to see.

Not really thrilled at the idea of a blind date, Helen tried to
reinforce her resolve to not go by declaring, “Yes I have a new suit.
But you know, Bernie, I don’t have a blouse to wear with it!” “No
problem,” insisted her buddy as she disappeared running down the hall.
Returning moments later, she presented Helen with a freshly pressed
white silk blouse. “Now, you have no excuse!”

The appointed day for the double date arrived. Bedecked in her new
two-piece suit, borrowed blouse, hat, and white gloves (all St. Teresa
students were required to wear the latter two components whenever they
left the campus), Helen sat in her room waiting for her blind date.

Meanwhile, the boys’ plan evolved. John convinced Milton to borrow
his dad’s 1939 Chevy. Milton had the a 5-gallon coupon that the Army
gave him with his furlough. If they wanted to have any fun on their
date, they would need more gas. Milton didn’t know it, but his dad had
been saving gas ration coupons for the day when his son came home from
the Army. Along with the keys to the car, he gave Milton enough stamps
for a few gallons of the rationed gasoline. Nothing stood in their way
now!

The two boys—Sgt. Graf in uniform, and John in a freshly pressed
suit—rolled up to the Lourdes Hall at the College of St. Teresa.
Walking up the long steps, the two were excited to meet their dates.
The attending nun told the boys to take a seat while she went for the
girls. Finally, Bernie and Helen (escorted by the nun) appeared. Both
were wearing the requisite hats and gloves, and Helen had on her new
suit (with borrowed blouse). John and Bernie were delighted to see each
other again. Bernie introduced Helen to her cousin, Sgt. John Milton
Graf. Milton and Helen exchanged awkward pleasantries before the four
decided to go out “on the town.”

The two couples climbed into the Graf family Chevy and drove to a
favorite Winona young-couples spot—the Candy Box. There, they enjoyed
renewing old acquaintances and making new ones over pieces of the Candy
Box’s specialty—chocolate cake. Time flew, and before they knew it, it
was nearly 10:00 PM—St. Teresa’s curfew. The boys delivered the two
college coeds back to campus on time. The two buddies couldn’t stop talking about
the day as they drove the 45 miles back to Caledonia.

Soon thereafter, Sgt. Graf’s furlough came to an end. He had to return
to Colorado and his duties with Camp Hale’s Military Police Company. Even though she
was hundreds of miles away, Milton decided to stay in touch with
Helen—after all, every soldier needed a “girl back home.” Every day, he
sent her a letter detailing his duties, thoughts, and ambitions. Near
the end of the war and after graduating from the College of St. Teresa,
Helen boarded a train to California where Milton been stationed
awaiting shipment to Japan prior to V-J Day. On July 11, 1946, in
Torrance, California, the two were united in blessed matrimony.

Today, after 64 years of marriage, Helen still insists that if it
wasn’t for that borrowed blouse, the two would never have met. When
asked how the six decades of marriage have been, she just smiles and says, “Blame
it on the blouse!”

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