My Parents’ Love Story

December 30, 2010

I didn’t find out that my mom had been married before my dad until I was 21. That summer, my mom took my sister along with my two oldest nieces on a road trip to visit my grandmother and some beans were tipped out of the pot, as it were. Grandma revealed that my mom was married to a young Marine named Kenneth Melton in the late 1940s, prior to meeting and marrying my dad. I always thought it was an amusingly scandalous story considering the day and age, but I didn’t know the half of it. In fact, I didn’t know three-fifths of it until after my father died.

I spent three weeks with my mom following my father’s death. During those long nights alone together, she spilled more beans than Van de Camp. It seems that my father wasn’t her second husband after all; he was her fifth. At sixteen years old she’d impulsively run away and married husband #1. That marriage was annulled within three months. Then came two more husbands, although the facts get rather cloudy at that point. One died after a fall from an oil derrick, one was killed during World War 2. Then she met and married Kenneth Melton and this is where the story really gets good.

My mom and Kenneth lived in Oceanside, California, because he was stationed at Camp Pendleton. During their stay in Oceanside, the MPs were called to the small, rather squalid military housing where Mama lived several times due to domestic violence issues. My mom left Kenneth once and went back home to Pampa, Texas, but he followed her and convinced her to return. But the violence increased. Kenneth had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese during WWII and my mom always said he wasn’t “right” when he came home. He drank to excess and then he’d turn violent. He broke her nose twice.

Over the course of a year or so, my mom began to notice one MP in particular who kept responding to her calls for help. Duane Schipper – a tall, handsome, no-nonsense Marine several years younger than Mama. He never said much, but when he spoke it was low, fierce and left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he’d have no personal objection to killing Kenneth if he laid another hand on my mom.

The day finally came when Mama had enough. She waited until Kenneth was off-base, drinking it up against orders in an Oceanside bar. She called Duane who arranged for an MP escort to wait for Kenneth to emerge from the bar. Kenneth emerged drunk, the MPs hauled him off, and got word to Duane that Kenneth was in the brig. At that point, Duane drove to my mom’s house and loaded her and her suitcase up. He drove her to the train station and then boarded a train with her to San Diego. In San Diego, he got her a bus ticket to Pampa and waited until the bus had departed before he returned to duty at Camp Pendleton.

Three weeks later, my mom had found work at a cafe in Pampa and was waiting tables when Duane walked in. He was on leave, he said. He was on his way home to Iowa to visit his parents for three weeks. Instead, he ended up staying in Pampa for a week and confessed to my mother that he’d followed her because there was nothing else he could do. He was in love. He wanted to marry her. She reminded him that she wasn’t divorced yet and he told her he would wait.

And he did.

My parents were married in 1950 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, much to the chagrin of my Methodist fraternal grandmother who was distraught at the idea of her beloved oldest son marrying a divorced woman. She said it would never last, and she was right. A mere 52 years later, my father died.

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3 Responses to “My Parents’ Love Story”

  1. John H Drake Says:

    O M G………My heart goes out to you’re mom for all that she endured. I’m sure that this is a true story………or else you’ve got the greatest imagination of all humanity! What a great story, whether true or not…
    A whole plethora of huge stars…………..

  2. Mickey Says:

    No, you can’t make up stuff like this. I’ve seen Hollywood tearjerkers that didn’t have this kind of passion and compassion. I love this story!!


  3. […] with two Camp Pendleton Marines – one troubled, the other, her father, very, very kind. She writes: I didn’t find out that my mom had been married before my dad until I was 21. Grandma revealed […]

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