As I mentioned in my ‘Who I Am’ page, my parents met like so many others did during those terrible turbulent years of WWII when forces brought people together who likely would have never crossed paths in a thousand lifetimes. In the case of my parents who lived on opposite sides of the continent, their backgrounds and upbringings couldn’t have been more different.
My father, Leo Joseph McMahon, was born in 1913, one of twelve children born to Edwin Henry McMahon and Grace Dixon in Sonora, California. Though Sonora was the county seat of California’s Tuolumne County, it was still a pretty small town, nestled along the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Central California. Because of the remote and beautiful countryside, film companies would often come to the area scouting out locations to shoot Westerns which were becoming very popular and my dad would sometimes help them. He was quite a handsome young man and a great horseman and it wasn’t too long before he was doing stunts for Hopalong Cassidy’s films. But the war intervened and my dad and his brothers all joined various branches of the military. My dad was in the Army Air Corps and before he was to be sent overseas, he was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina.
My mother, Caroline Helen Finger, was the daughter of James Avery Finger, M.D. and Mary Alice Heidt of Charleston, South Carolina. Mary Alice had three children compared to Grace’s twelve, sons Avery and Watson and my mother, Caroline, nicknamed Tee by her older brother Avery. My grandfather had a private general practice and also taught at the medical school in Charleston. Unfortunately, he passed away when my mother was only 16, and though he had put away sufficient funds for both my uncles to attend medical school, he had only given my mother the choice of a “coming out” party — a big thing in Charleston society back then — or two years of college. My mother chose college, going to Brenau College in Georgia for those two years.
At the time that my father was stationed in Charleston, my mother was back in Charleston, living with her mom and working at the post office. She was 23 years old and “promised” (I think that was not considered a formal engagement) to one of the medical students, a friend of her brother who was also a med student.
But all of that changed when my father went to the post office to mail a letter to his mother Grace and walked up to my mother’s window.
He told us kids that she was like a vision from heaven, the loveliest creature he had ever laid eyes on. She said he looked like a movie star, like Clark Gable had walked right up to her post office window.
And though he already had his orders to go overseas, somehow … somehow he accidentally shot himself in the foot, delaying his deployment for several months, just time enough to steal my mother from her medical school boyfriend, court her and marry her on October 2, 1944. He was on a ship for Europe a week later.
Had my parents met today, there would likely be selfies or Instagram and Facebook pictures of them standing together at that post office window. Sadly, there are no photos to commemorate that fate-changing day. There is one photo, however, that my brother Kevin took when he and my mom went to Charleston in 1968 to visit Grandma Finger. It shows my mom standing at the very window that changed her life’s direction and allowed my brothers and me to someday have lives of our own.