The Last Jump

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

The Stage Door Canteen in downtown Newport News was packed with young servicemen, shipyard workers and local women as it usually was on Friday night.  The crowd was larger than usual this warm and humid August evening because of the appearance of the Tommy Dorsey Band.  The swing band alone would have been enough to fill the large ballroom but the addition of its newly famous lead singer guaranteed a packed house.

As Derek explained to Macie when he invited her, the rumors were strong that the band and the singer were soon to part ways.  Derek predicted it would happen soon.  The singer was a handsome young crooner with a sweet harmonious voice who was extremely popular among the “Bobby-Soxers”.  If they didn’t take advantage of this stop on the band’s latest tour, Derek reasoned, they would regret not being able to hear this famous crooner one last time.  Macie again implored Nora and was surprised how easily she agreed to accompany them.  She got along well with Derek’s friend, Jonah Cash, during the group date at the movies but Macie suspected it might be difficult to get Nora out again.  She was wrong.  Nora actually liked Jonah and literally jumped at the chance.

Macie was sitting at a table with her friends, breathing heavily and enjoying a brief respite having just danced to an instrumental version of the fast-paced “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” made famous by the Andrews Sisters.  The famous sisters, a musical icon for a war-obsessed America, introduced their trademark tune in the 1940 Abbott and Costello film, Buck Privates.  The song was then nominated for an Academy Award in 1941, assuring the singers’ popularity.  Virtually everyone in America could sing, hum or whistle “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”.

For someone tall and lanky, Macie was a good dancer.  She was dressed in a simple and sporty outfit.  With the great fashion designers of Paris sequestered under the German boot, along with wartime shortages, casual simplicity became the accepted style of the times.  Her blouse was white cotton with slightly padded shoulders and she wore black culottes.  Her shoes called “wedgies” were made of mesh with a cork sole and heel.  The heels were one inch high as dictated by United States rationing rules.  She was wearing her last pair of precious Nylon stockings.  Fabrics of all kinds were in great demand for military needs.  New clothes were rationed, hard to find and usually of poor quality.  The popular saying regarding clothes was “Make do and mend”.  Macie did the best she could by frequenting flea markets, thrift shops and using her ration coupons to buy material when she could find some.  It was her seamstress skills and creative flair that allowed her to dress in a stylish way for a fashion-starved America.

Macie looked out over the crowded dance floor.  Nora and Jonah were doing the “Lindy Hop” with the ease of well-practiced dance partners.  Macie enjoyed being with Derek even though her reaction to him still confused her.  He was so laid back and mellow.  He never put any pressure on her, never tried to kiss her and was always the gentleman.  Some part of her liked that about him.  Another part of her, her curious side, wondered what it would be like to hold him and to kiss him.  Those two opposing forces struggled within her since she came to the shipyard.

Macie smiled widely and clapped to the beat as Jonah and Nora gyrated wildly across the dance floor.  Something beyond them caught her eye.  That was when she saw Jake standing at the entrance to the club with another GI.  They were both in summer khakis with ties tucked into their shirts.  Their trousers were bloused into spit-shined jump boots.  There was no rank insignia on their sleeves and the only decorations on their chests were shiny new jump wings.  They held their overseas caps, complete with airborne insignia, as they inquisitively scanned the room.

“Oh my gosh,” she exclaimed.  “Wait here,” she instructed Derek as she stood and walked hurriedly to the door.  About halfway there she began running across the dance floor, dodging “jitterbuggers”, until she came to within a short distance of the two soldiers.

“Jake,” she yelled as she ran to him and jumped up on him, hugging his neck and wrapping her legs around his waist.

Jake stumbled back, wobbled on his cane, barely kept his balance and grabbed her with one arm.  She hugged him tightly, kissed him hard on the cheek and dropped down in front of him.  Macie still had her arms around his neck as she spotted the cane.  “Are you all right, Jake?”

“It’s nothing,” he quickly dismissed his injury and changed the subject.  “Look at you,” he smiled at her.  “All grown up.”  He bent slightly to kiss her but she pulled away, still smiling.

“Not here.” She was embarrassed as she turned her head in the direction of the dance floor.  “Not in front of all these people.”  He pulled back and she continued.  “And look at you,” she pointed to the jump wings on his chest.  “You went and did it anyway, didn’t you?”  She was still smiling and there was a tinge of pride in her voice.

“Seems we both went and did it,” he answered as his eyes rolled around the room.  She understood his meaning.  Even though they were both still smiling, there was an uncomfortable interval of stillness as they stared at each other.

“Ahem!”  Johnny coughed and broke the awkward moment.

Jake looked at Johnny appreciatively.  “Excuse my poor manners.  Macie, this is my good friend Johnny from jump school.  We traveled up from Georgia together.  We’ve got a ten-day ‘delay in route’ leave and he’s on his way home to New York.  He’s okay, for a Yankee.”  Jake grinned at his own joke.  “Johnny, meet Macie, my…girl.”  Jake looked to Macie for approval of his introduction but there was no acknowledgement as she let go of Jake and reached out to shake hands.

“Jake is always talking about you, Macie. You’re even more beautiful than he described.”  He bowed slightly, and shook her hand gently.  “I’m very pleased to finally meet you.”

“My pleasure,” she blushed.  Macie thought Johnny was handsome, almost as handsome as Jake.  “I’d love to say that I’ve heard about you too, Johnny,” she turned her gaze on Jake,  “but Jake hasn’t been writing lately.  Have you, Jake?”

“Ah, not that much,” Jake responded lamely.  “But I can explain.  Can we go somewhere?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m with…people.”  She pointed to the table and allowed Jake a few seconds to draw the wrong conclusions.  After she was satisfied he was uncomfortable enough, she continued.  “They’re my friends.  Co-workers from the yard.”  The smiles on both of their faces were gone now.  “Please come and join us.”

Jake resisted the impulse to become angry and fought hard to remain calm.  Join us!  Who are these damn people?  What happened to just you and me?  He pointed to his cane, “I won’t be much fun here, tonight.”  Jake held her gently by the shoulders.  “I know I’ve been a jerk.  I just want a little time with you alone to work things out.  We’re staying at the Y.  We were lucky to get a room.  Johnny is leaving tomorrow.  I’ll be staying for a few more days before I have to report back.”  His voice was steady and unemotional but his eyes were pleading.  He seemed contrite and sincere in a way that surprised her.  She rarely saw that side of him.  It got her attention.  “Maybe we can get together and work things out, get us back to where we were?”

Just then the bandleader announced a ladies choice dance.  The crooner began to sing, “I’ll Never Smile Again”, and a pretty young woman rushed up and grabbed Johnny by the arm and dragged him onto the dance floor.

“Where we were?” she asked.  “Maybe that wasn’t such a good place.”  It was a poignant moment with the soulful ballad being sung in the background.  Her eyes began to well up.

“Some of it was good, Macie.  Maybe we can find that again and get rid of the bad.”  He paused.  “I’m willing to try if you are.  I’ll call you tomorrow.  There’s nothing more important in my life and I have no place else to go.”  He looked deeply into her eyes and then turned to leave.

“Wait, Jake,” she said.  “Wait right here.”  She went back to her table and retrieved her purse and told Derek she was leaving.  He didn’t press the issue.

On her way back she passed Nora.  Macie motioned to her and she left Jonah on the dance floor momentarily.  “I’m leaving with Jake,” she said.  “We’re going to talk.”

Nora nodded and leaned over to whisper to Macie.  “Would you mind staying out a bit later?” She cocked her head toward Jonah.

“You’re kidding.  You’re not going to do that, are you?  What about Butch?”

“Macie, please don’t lecture me,” Nora responded.  “I still have a life and I don’t know if Butch is dead or alive.  Don’t tell me you haven’t been tempted.”

Macie took a deep breath.  She certainly was familiar with temptation.  “I can’t deal with this right now, Nora.  It’s none of my business.  I’ll be out late but I won’t be out all night.”

“Just a few hours, thanks, Sweetie.”

Jake left Johnny at the dance and took Macie down the block to a diner where they drank coffee, talked and tried desperately to work out their issues.  He was somehow different, less headstrong, and more open to different ideas.  Macie concluded they were both growing up and she had to be more open-minded about Jake and how he might also be changing.

The next morning Jake said his good-byes to Johnny who boarded a crowded train for New York.  Over the next few days Macie spent all her free hours with Jake together taking walks, going to the movies and ice cream parlors.  They laughed a lot.  Macie felt good when they could find something to laugh at together.  Slowly she began to regain the feelings she had for him before their first lovers’ spat.  He seemed to finally understand she was living her own life and trying to find her niche in contributing to the war effort, like everyone else in the country.  He was sincere when he apologized and promised not to try to run her life ever again.  He just wanted them to be together and he wanted to come home to her.

It didn’t take long for her to forgive him.  This was the side of him she always adored.  She loved that he was devoted to her.  Finally, the day arrived when he had to leave.

“I promise I’ll write as often as I can,” he pledged while standing at the bus stop about to board the southbound interstate bus.

“Please be safe.  Don’t do anything foolish.”  She touched his jump wings.  “Don’t do anything else foolish.”

“I won’t.  I promise.”  He tapped his heart.  “You will wait for me, right?”

Macie thought of Nora and Butch and the uncertainty of the War.  The idea that some strange men in some far off place will soon be trying to kill Jake disturbed her immensely.  “I’ll be here when you come home.”  She cried into his shoulder until he peeled her away, kissed her on the forehead and boarded the bus.

In the days and weeks that followed she found it difficult to decompress from the flood of emotions she felt when he left.  She was doing her best to regain her equilibrium.  The only times she saw Derek was in passing in the course of their job duties and he was cordial if not aloof.  He was predictably giving her space to sort things out.

As she read the paper one evening, having almost put Derek into the back recesses of her mind, she noticed an article about the Tommy Dorsey Band.  As she read the article, she thought, how about that, Derek was so right!  On 28 August 1942, during the band tour stop at the Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, Indiana, Tommy Dorsey announced from the stage it would be the last performance with their hot young lead singer.  They would heretofore be going their separate ways.

She couldn’t wait to tell Derek and thank him for inviting her to the dance to see one of the last performances of that famous singer with the Tommy Dorsey Band; a young, handsome crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra.