By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Imagine if you only had one week to get ready for your wedding.
That was the situation in which Bess Jackson of Colfax found herself in October of 1943 when Merlin Jackson wrote to her and said he was getting a week’s furlough from the United States Army, that he would be home on Sunday — and would it be possible for them to be married?
During World War II, the county clerk had the ability to waive the time limit for applying for a marriage license for those people who were in the service.
Even at that, it was a hectic week preparing for a wedding on short notice and making sure that the marriage license was in order, Bess recalled.
Bess and Merlin Jackson have lived on University Avenue in Colfax for a little more than 30 years.
After World War II, Merlin Jackson made the military his career and also served in Korea and Vietnam.
Bess and Merlin were married on October 6, 1943.
In the spring of 1943, “Merlin was in the army, and I was a senior in high school. He came home in May on leave, and we got engaged. Then he went back to the army, and he came back in October. We didn’t have telephones. He wrote a letter and said, ‘I’ll be home on Sunday for a week. Can you possibly get married?’” Bess said.
“My mother had bought the material for my dress but had not made it. So she started in sewing up a storm. He came home on Sunday, we got married on Thursday at the Congregational Church in Menomonie. And that night we had a wedding dance at the armory, which is now torn down, and he went back to the army on Sunday. He didn’t come home again for almost two years,” she said.
Merlin left for England after he and Bess were married.
While he was in high school, Merlin went to Dunn County Aggie in Menomonie and then transferred to Elmwood in his senior year.
“His brothers went to Aggie so I knew them … I graduated from Aggie, and he went to Elmwood, and went from there into the army,” Bess explained.
“When we got married, I was going to Normal School in Menomonie. One of my friends from Normal was out at our house for the wedding. And Merlin kept running around all day saying, ‘Ain’t I lucky. Ain’t I lucky.’ So she drew a picture on a blackboard we had in the house of a bride, and underneath it, it said, ‘Ain’t I lucky,’” Bess recalled with a smile.
“It was a busy week,” she continued.
“Our granddaughter is getting married on the 26th (of October). She has spent all of her waking hours for a whole year planning this wedding. She has said, ‘Grandma, how did you do it in a week?’ We didn’t have everything all planned out the way she does. We got married at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Then we came home, and my mother had a wedding supper for our family. She came from quite a big family, and my dad did, too. We had a whole houseful of people. We all had supper, then at 9 o’clock we went back into Menomonie for the wedding dance,” Bess said.
“On the way going in for our wedding dance, it was the first time Dunn County had a blackout for the war. We had to stop the car and wait on our way going into town because you weren’t supposed to be driving during the blackouts. That was quite a memorable night. We didn’t have to wait very long. I only remember that one blackout,” she said.
Besides experiencing a delay getting to their wedding dance, there was a delay before the wedding, too.
“Before the wedding, I was already at the church, and (Merlin) and my brother and his brother were coming in another car. They hit a pheasant. So they had to stop and put it in the trunk. And there I stood in the church, sure that he was running out on me. He was late getting there,” Bess recalled with a laugh.
“My brother and his brother were both in the wedding, and his brother was best man,” she said.
While Merlin was serving in the army during World War II, Bess finished Normal School and went to work teaching.
“After I got out of school, I taught at the little country school, Miller Hill, outside of Knapp. I was teaching at the time he got out of the army. Of course I immediately got pregnant. And in those days, as soon as you were pregnant, you no longer taught school. I quit teaching in the middle of the year,” Bess said.
“My dad had died, so we started farming on my dad and mom’s farm. We’d been there a year or so, and she sold the farm. So we had to start over somewhere else. By that time, we had two kids, two boys. (Merlin) went to Tomah and worked in the V.A. hospital. He’d only been there about six months, and he came home one day and he said, ‘what would you say if I went back in the army?’ … He went back in the army and stayed there for almost 21 years. He went through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and he retired when he was in Vietnam,” Bess said.
After Merlin retired from the military, he taught maintenance in the Job Corps program in Leona, Wisconsin, and Bess, who had become a Licensed Practical Nurse while they were living in Indianapolis, worked at a nursing home.
“We were there almost 13 years. We transferred to Oregon to a ranger district, and we had the loveliest place to live. We stayed there for three years. It was 60 miles out in the country. We had to go 60 miles to get a gallon of milk,” Bess said.
When they decided it was time to retire, Merlin wondered where Bess wanted to live.
“He said he had taken me away from my family all of those years. My mother lived in Colfax … we came home on a vacation and looked around at houses and found this one.”
The Jacksons bought the house on University Avenue in 1981.
“We’ve had a good retirement. We’ve met lots and lots of wonderful people. We had three sons, and two of them live around Colfax. We had granddaughters who grew up in the school district. So we started following the school sports. All the time Jessica was in high school sports, we never missed a game. And then Heather played in the band. So we got attached to the school, and we still are, even though the kids are all gone,” Bess said.
“We’ve had a varied life. We lived in Japan two different times while he was stationed there, in 1953 and ’54, we were in southern Japan … in 1960 and ’61, we had the new baby, and that time we lived (near Tokyo),” Bess said.
When asked what the secret is to such a long and happy marriage, Bess replied, “Finding a good man. A good husband. To think, he has stayed with me all 70 years.”