Love, Walter

They say a true medium can't step foot in a vintage shop, lest she become overwhelmed by the voices of those who have passed on. Now I don't fancy myself a psychic, but I do love to spin a good tale. Sometimes a piece comes into my hands, & I'm fortunate enough to know its story. Sometimes, it offers only the faintest clues, & the storyteller in me is allowed to run wild. Such is the case here.

This is a 1940s nurse cape & one of my favorite pieces to pass through the shop. I've had her in my possession for many months & added her to the shop toward summer's end.

The red emblem on its left shoulder is for the University of Illinois which launched its nursing school program in the early 1940s. This would have belonged to one of its earliest students. Initials embroidered on the inner lining tell me her name began with an "M." I've taken to calling her Mabel.

Mabel is a quiet & dutiful nursing student in Chicago. She lives resides in a boarding house with her two best friends, fellow nurses-in-training Kitty, who is sweet if a little silly, & Norma, who's tall, lean, & good at keeping secrets. While Kitty favors spending her Friday nights dancing at the USO, both Norma & Mabel have sweethearts in the European theater.

Like many young women of their day, all three girls volunteer at the Red Cross, attending to the wounded. Mabel, the head nurse notes, is especially tender & attentive to the soldiers in her care. She treats each one as though they were her sweetheart, her first love, her Walter.

Mabel grew up in the small town of Odell, IL. Walter was a college friend of her brother & had come to visit in the summer of '42. Mabel was surprised but flattered when shy, taciturn Walter asked her out for egg creams, but he proved to be affectionate & made her laugh. Soon, her heart was his, & his was hers. Walter enlisted in naval officer's training in 1943 & shipped out to England a year later. He wrote her a letter every week, signing them all, "...with deepest affection, yours forever. Love, Walter."  But for a month, Mabel had heard nothing & feared the worst. And then lo & behold, Walter came home.

This is one of my recent proud finds, an officer's coat also dating from the WWII era. The star & stripes on its epaulets reveal its owner to be the rank of a Navy lieutenant commander.

Naturally, I couldn't resist hanging Mabel & Walter side by side on my racks. When I shut off the lights in the studio at night, I like to imagine them dancing cheek-to-cheek to Bing Crosby, overjoyed to at last be reunited.

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