THE AMERICANBy this time, Margaret and Helen were really growing up and Margaret had reached the age of going dancing on Saturdays. One weekend, three American Coast Guard ships came into Glasgow on a courtesy visit. Naturally, the sailors headed for the dance halls, and Margaret met a young man from Philadelphia. When the ships sailed away, the young man started a correspondence with her and letters arrived from all over the world. One letter came along which said that he had a friend from Philadelphia in the U.S. Army and this friend was being transferred from Germany to England. He asked if it would be all right if his friend visited us here in Clydebank. So it happened that one Saturday morning, I was sitting in the living room with my tea and toast, reading the morning paper. I'd just come in from work, the family were still in bed, and outside, it was raining hard. Sometime around 8 a.m., I heard a knock at the front door. I was able to look back over my right shoulder and see that a young man in uniform was at the door. When I opened the door, a rather damp, young man asked me if this was "the Cathro house" and I knew we were meeting the sailor's friend from Philadelphia. Introducing himself as Joe Fizell, we shook hands and he pulled up a chair to the fire to dry out, while I rousted out the family to get some breakfast fixed up.
That afternoon, Margaret and Helen took Joe out to Glasgow to see the sights. The next day, they took a bus to Loch Lomond, which is always a favorite with visitors, and generally did all they could to entertain a lonely GI. The week before Joe arrived, Helen had a tiff with her current boyfriend, who I always thought a bit of a "dweeb" anyway. It became clear before that weekend was over, that Joe was very interested in Helen. They started corresponding and, during 1956, which was Joe's last year in the Army, he frequently travelled the 300 miles or so by train to see Helen.
On one memorable occasion, Joe and I were alone in the living room, contrived or not, and he asked me in a real old-fashioned way if I'd allow him to propose. I forget his exact words, but I was touched and said I would not stand in his way and would give him my blessing. On one of his visits, our Wilma was celebrating her fifth birthday, and over there, a birthday cake was less important than a suet dumpling, which had currants, raisins, sultanas and sometimes chopped orange peel. It was customary, when mixing up a dumpling, to put our small three-penny coins, wrapped in wax paper, in the mix. Sometimes, other things such as little bells, dolls, and tiny horseshoes, or other little charms, were included. Anyway, Joe was lucky enough to get some three-penny pieces and he was duly elated. Another special remembrance was, of course, Joe giving Helen her engagement ring. We were all happy for them. I didn't know at that time what their marriage plans were, and I suppose I had some vague idea of Joe coming back to Scotland for the wedding. Actually, they had plans for Helen to go over to the U.S. when she turned 18, which is what really did happen. But in the meantime, Joe was scheduled to fly to the States one Friday (I think in December) and all the farewells had been said and I'm sure a few tears shed, and Joe was gone. As usual we speculated -- "he'll be well over the ocean now" or "he may be almost there," etc. The usual stuff to bolster morale and keep from dwelling too much on the fact that he had left. That night, everyone in the Cathro house was in bed but Margaret, when a knock came to the front door. Alarmed and wondering who could possibly be knocking on our door at this hour of night, she picked up a heavy poker and went to open the front door. When she finally plucked up enough courage to open the door -- there was Joe. It turned out that his plane had taken off from a base in England, but developed some engine problems, and was diverted into Prestwick in Scotland. Joe received permission to come to Clydebank by taxi -- a 35-mile trip -- and here he was on the doorstep! He had to be back at Prestwick early next morning, so a taxi had to be ready to pick him up again at 6 a.m. After that anti-climax, Joe was finally on his way and the Cathro household settled down for a while.
In March of 1957, Helen was scheduled to fly from Prestwick to New York, where Joe would meet her. This was in the pre-jet age of flying, so the entire journey took about 14 hours, including a re-fuelling stop at Gander, Newfoundland. We set out for Prestwick in the old Morris eight, a 35-mile trip on a damp, foggy night. As we travelled over the Fenwick Moor, big banks of fog were rolling over the road. The plane was due to take off at 1 a.m., but passengers were given a meal before they boarded, and we were able to join Helen in the restaurant. Bessie and Elizabeth were with us, and after the passengers were aboard, we were able to go out to a place alongside the runway to watch the engines start up and the takeoff. The plane was a KLM, four-engine, named The Flying Dutchman, and, listening to the sputtering start of the engines, with an occasional backfire and bang, gave us pause. Watching the takeoff and seeing the plane disappear into the cold, foggy night sky was not a happy experience. In spite of our fears and doubts, it landed safely and everything went according to plan.
Going home from the airport that night was not a happy experience either, because, as usual, the fog was dense over the moors and only the reflective "cats eyes," which divide the lanes in most main roads in the U.K., kept us on course until we were nearer Glasgow, when the fog began to thin. But then I discovered my dynamo had stopped charging! Almost at the same time, on the outskirts of Glasgow, we reached the street lights. The city lighting was so good, that you were permitted to drive with only side and tail lights, so by switching off my headlights, I was able to conserve power and get home on the battery.