Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Epigraph, Dedication

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

This project was supported by a PSC-CUNY Award, jointly funded by the Professional Staff Congress and City University of New York. Support was also provided by the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the form of sabbatical leave. Thanks to the Oregon Historical Society for the use of newspapers, oral histories, recordings...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-2

By now I am intimate with the letters that once were Eva’s, and over the last several years I’ve been living in them as a kind of alternative life. But it took a long time to open the first envelope. Though I’ve spent most of my life as a reporter and writer, prying into the thoughts and deeds of others, this time something held me back...

Part 1

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March 1958, Boise, Idaho

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pp. 5-18

Three decades earlier, on December 20, 1930, the Hotel Boise had opened to tremendous fanfare. The white, art deco “skyscraper” was ten stories high, the upper floors set back in wedding cake style. Its luxury, the Idaho Statesman declared, was equal to that found in any great metropolitan hotel. All that day, thousands of Idahoans toured...

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Spring 1940, Wing Valley, Oregon

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pp. 19-21

Though I’m twenty-five years younger than Eva, I knew her through her mother, Grace, a widow who lived on a little farm near my family’s place; and when I was five or six, I would sometimes walk to her house to get a sack of the big brown eggs she sold. This was about 1953, and Grace lived alone; neither of her children had come back...

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Summer 1956, Boise

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pp. 22-24

That summer, six months before Vick would arrive in Boise, Eva was living in the little basement apartment on Jefferson Street. Grace worried constantly that Eva was alone and that she was working in a hotel where any sort of people could come in. She fretted so much about Eva having to walk home late at night that I remember...

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1940–1942, Wing Valley

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pp. 25-28

Though Europe is already at war in that spring of 1940, America is not. The boys are still at home; Eva’s brother, Aub, is still farming with their father, Wes. But as the summer progresses, Dave begins to talk about going up to British Columbia and enlisting in the Canadian Army. At war with Germany for almost a year now, the Canadians...

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1942, “If the Fair Sex Were to Replace Men”

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pp. 29-31

Then, in the chill late winter of 1942, a strange lady pulls her car into the Eldridge barnyard and picks her way through the mud, around to the front door. She is a respectable, official-seeming person, and she has come to find out if there are females in the household who are over eighteen and who might consider helping in the war effort...

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1942–1943, War in Europe

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pp. 32-36

By March of 1942, Dave is in England and has transferred from the Canadian Army to a U.S. Army infantry unit. By now he has gotten his first taste of the “actual” warfare he was hoping for. His convoy from Canada was attacked by German planes, though the RAF drove them off. The food on the ship was sickening, the fish filled with worms...

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1943, “One Woman Can Shorten This War”

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pp. 37-41

More than a year has passed since the pioneering Oregon survey of women’s availability for war work. And by now no one, not even a girl as sheltered from the world as Eva, can be unaware of the immense change that has taken place in most women’s lives since the war began...

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Winter 1956, Vick Hits Boise

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pp. 42-48

Sometime in the early winter of December 1956, Virgil “Vick” Vickers packs his bags and leaves the house on Alberta Street in northeast Portland, where he has been living. It is a modest neighborhood but pleasant enough; many of the houses have covered front porches where one can sit and watch the gentle, incessant rain...

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1943, Shipbuilding Boomtown, Portland

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pp. 49-56

When, in late 1943, Eva gets on the train to Portland, she is taking part in what will be the greatest internal migration in American history.1 Before the war is over, approximately twenty million Americans will have left home to take up war work and by 1945, more than fifteen million will be living somewhere other than where they were...

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Spring 1957, Engaged, Wing Valley

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pp. 57-59

In February of 1957 Grace got a letter from Eva saying that she was engaged to be married. It was a man she had met only recently through work; she loved him terribly and he loved her. Neither of them could wait to marry, so they had planned a ceremony for the next month. The marriage would take place, of course, in a Methodist...

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1944, Swan Island, Portland

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pp. 60-73

In early 1944, Eva gets a letter from a girlfriend suggesting that she quit her “gruesome” job at the VA hospital and go to work at one of Portland’s shipyards. “I’ve made a discovery while working there,” the friend writes. “Women are given complete respect in language and in action. Not only are they respected but men feel no resentment...

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1957, A Wedding, Boise

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pp. 74-76

In February of 1957, several weeks before Eva and Vick are to be married, Vick writes a letter to Eva’s brother, Aub. Of course, Eva has sent her brother and his wife an invitation to the wedding, but Vick too is writing now to say that he is hoping Aub will agree to be his best man. Though Vick has been in Boise only a few months, he wants...

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1944–1946, Swan Island Shipyard and Fort George Wright Convalescent Hospital

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pp. 77-88

In the autumn of 1944, Eva’s Wing Valley fiancé, Dave Johnson, is sent home from Italy. Though he has written, begging Grace not to tell anyone about his crackup, Grace now decides that it is time Eva knew. No doubt Grace understands that if Dave really wanted to end the engagement, he wouldn’t have written to her in such heartrending...

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Spring 1958, Farewell Bend, Oregon

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pp. 89-91

By April, 1958, all the letters Eva sent to Mexico from Boise have been returned unopened. Grace and Aub now know Vick is gone and know too of Eva’s belief: Vick left because he was tormented by some trauma from the past, undoubtedly the result of his long years at war. Eva knows, she has told her family, of one incident during which...

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1944, “The Taste of Independence,” Swan Island

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pp. 92-98

By late 1944, six million women who never worked outside the home have joined the labor force. Eva—despite Dave’s insistence that she leave the “hell hole” of the shipyard—is still among them. The women now account for 35 percent of the civilian workers,1 and their record in the shipyards is good. In one plant, Doris Kearns Goodwin writes...

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1957, Honeymoon, Nevada and California

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pp. 99-101

According to the write-up in the Boise newspaper, Vick and Eva take off on a honeymoon trip through Nevada, California, and Oregon. I envy Eva climbing into that big, blue ’57 Merc and floating on out of Boise, out through the high, bright desert country of northern Nevada. In this part of the West, where settlements are far apart...

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1945, Sunday Punch

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pp. 102-111

In May of 1945, victory is declared in Europe; but in the Kaiser yards workers are urged to carry on as usual. If anything, as the Bo’s’n’s Whistle editorializes, victory in Europe means even more work for the Kaiser yards. An article headlined “West Coast on Spot” asserts that the need for ships to deliver the “Sunday punch” to Japan...

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1946, Waiting for a Wedding, Wing Valley

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pp. 112-114

By the spring of 1946, Eva, twenty-four and an old maid by postwar standards, announces that she’s engaged to the sailor Jimmy Wright. Everyone sends congratulations. Aub writes to say he’s sure Jimmy is a “good old boy.” And friends in California who’ve had Jimmy over to dinner tell Eva what a fun, swell guy he is and how crazy...

Part 2

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Odette, March 1959

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pp. 117-128

Vick has been gone exactly one year when, in 1959, Eva receives a twelve-page letter from a woman she doesn’t know. The woman’s name is Odette, and she’s a bookkeeper who lives in Ballard, a working-class section of Seattle. Also a farm girl, she, like Eva, went to the city during the war, getting a job as a riveter for the tank landing (LST) crafts...

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Joining the Search

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pp. 129-136

I am impressed by the information that the wives were able to piece together, even though they were conducting their investigation in a day before internet or email, a time when the ability to Xerox a letter or a picture was in its infancy, and—for someone on Eva’s budget— even a long distance phone call was a big deal...

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Odette and Leisa

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pp. 137-139

I call Leisa back. She is smart and funny and generous; I feel as if I’ve known her forever. I throw away my list of questions, pour a glass of wine, and we start to talk.
Odette has not been gone for long, and her daughter is glad to reminisce. Her mother was of Norwegian descent...

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Marie and Susan, Modesto

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pp. 140-145

After my talk with Leisa, I turn my attention to Marie, about whom I know a fair amount, based on what Odette reported to Eva. When Marie and Vick were married, the notes show, he was in the Army; and during the first two years of Marie’s marriage, she traveled with him to postings at Fort Lewis near Seattle and Fort Knox in Kentucky...

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Tessa, Baltimore

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pp. 146-150

Tessa, the Baltimore woman who sent love letters to Vick at Marie’s Modesto address, doesn’t seem to have been married to Vick; still, she and her daughter Florence, twelve at the time, would certainly be able to help fill in the story. But I can’t find anything that would allow me to locate either of them. I decide to go down to Baltimore to see...

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Why?

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pp. 151-158

So. Why did he do it?
As I’ve worked on this story, I have gotten interesting suggestions for what might have been making Vick tick.
“Was he oversexed?” I am asked. (Usually by men.)...

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Vick’s War, 1940–1951

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pp. 159-165

Though Eva was convinced that Vick’s actions stemmed from years of wartime trauma, I am skeptical. By now I know Vick was expert at cooking up elaborate falsehoods that drew from, while sometimes reversing, real situations. There’s the story, for example, about his beloved wife Marie, dead after a horrible illness, and the one...

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The Vickers Family, Kansas, 1910–1930

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pp. 166-176

I’ve never been to Kansas and have to start with the map. The first thing I notice about Newton, the town where Vick was born in January 1914, is that it appears to be very nearly at the exact center of the continental United States.1 Maybe because of this, it has always been a crossroads, bisected by cattle-drive trails, major highways...

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Portland, 1960–1961

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pp. 177-182

Though Vick remains an enigma, by 1960 all the wives—at least those who’ve left a paper trail—are moving on. Odette has her annulment, her name, and her widow’s benefits. Linda marries a man in Aberdeen, Washington. Marie in Modesto marries a man with whom she will have two sons. And in Kansas, Edna finally takes the plunge...

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Mena and Janice, 1961

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pp. 183-185

Whatever makes Eva move to Portland, I find no hint that she thinks she will find Vick there. Indeed, she’s had no word of him since the last letter from Odette in late 1959. But then, in the spring of 1961, just as she is setting up in Portland, Eva gets another letter from a woman she doesn’t know, Mena Z. Cimmiotti, of Glendale, California..

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The Bigamist, 1953–1962

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pp. 186-188

Vick seems to be moving into high gear now, the intervals between marriages shrinking to a matter of months. I can’t help but be impressed at his nerve. Doesn’t he worry about being caught?
But as I come to understand how bigamy plays in the popular culture...

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King County Jail, Seattle, 1962

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pp. 189-192

Standing in the luxurious lobby of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., I was struck by Vick’s pattern of seeking out jobs at famous establishments. With this in mind, I decide to follow up on Marie’s Space Needle memory. When I write to King County Superior Court in Seattle requesting anything on Vick, I receive back a fat packet...

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Sanity

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pp. 193-199

The fact that Vick’s lawyer arranged for him to be seen by a psychiatrist requires me to take up a question that has begun to nag as the marriages pile up: Was Vick sane?
The name of the doctor brought in, Richard B. Jarvis, rings a bell: he gained a measure of fame...

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Eva and Vick in Seattle, Spring 1962

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pp. 200-206

Though Eva’s name is not mentioned in the court documents, by mid-March, 1962, she has found out that Vick is in jail. And exactly four years after the day that Vick walked out, Eva takes the bus from Portland up to Seattle.
I know this because her visit resulted in a correspondence...

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“Ha! Ha! I Just Laugh and Tell Everyone a Different Story,” Seattle, Summer 1962

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pp. 207-213

In the early summer of 1962, the World’s Fair was big news in the West; and though it was our busiest time, my father got away from the farm long enough to take us to Seattle. We had been hearing about the Space Needle and its fabulous rotating restaurant for months. Of course, a place like that would be much too expensive...

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Psychoanalyzing Vick

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pp. 214-220

Dr. Jarvis is deceased, as is Vick’s lawyer, and the report on Vick’s mental state almost certainly has not survived these many years. But I’m more convinced than ever that Vick needs a shrink. And New York City psychoanalyst Dianne Kaminsky agrees to take on the project. When I arrive at her elegant Upper East Side apartment...

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Wing Valley, August 1962

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p. 221

By August of 1962 Grace has returned to Wing Valley. Shortly after returning home, she has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital in Baker. Eva hurries home from Portland and remains in eastern Oregon for several weeks, caring for Grace. While she is there, one last letter comes from Vick...

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To Follow the Heart, 1943–2002

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pp. 222-226

Not so very long after Vick’s final exit from Eva’s life, a man named Warren became her third husband. He was another one of the six-footers she favored, a red-faced man with big plans for his future, who came out to eastern Oregon dressed up in a dark blue double-breasted suit and shiny city shoes. They had met, I believe...

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Epilogue

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pp. 227-232

Dave Johnson sent his last letter to Eva on Paramount Studios stationery, but he does not seem to have stayed in the movie business. A 1966 obituary for his mother indicates that Dave had rejoined the service and was stationed at an Air Force base in North Carolina.
To my surprise—since none of this was mentioned...

Notes

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pp. 233-244

References

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pp. 245-250

Index

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pp. 251-260