Eve and I
When we met at Antioch College, noted for its co-op program and its reputation for being a “hot bed of free love and communism,” we differed in just about every way.
It was an unusually cool and cloudy March day for Southern California as George and I drove from our home in Lakeside to La Costa to have lunch with Eve. She was attending a national conference of the U.S. Tennis Association, and I was hoping for sunny weather for our time together. I was feeling apprehensive. It had been almost two years since I’d seen Eve. In that time she’d had another bout in her 28-year battle with cancer and had warned me that the latest treatment had caused her hair to fall out. On a happier note, she had the company of her second husband, Reg. I’d met Reg decades before. He’d been roomates with Lew, Eve’s first husband, when they were at Princeton. I’d met him in 1946 after Eve and Lew were married. Back then, Eve and Lew had the romantic idea that their respective roommates might hit it off, marry and we’d all live happily ever after. It didn’t happen, but we did have a pleasant weekend at Lew’s parent’s summer cottage on a lake. After Reg’s wife and Lew both died, Eve and Reg were a comfort to each other and eventually married.
Eve Kraft, Betty Betsher, Sue Essert and Barbara Stinneford in New York City in the spring of 1944.
The day before our La Costa visit, I’d gone through boxes and albums of memorabilia, picking out some pictures and letters that I thought Eve would like to see. I began wondering what it was that brought the two of us together in the first place and why our friendship had lasted when so many other acquaintances over the years have drifted away. When we met in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in the Summer of 1943 at Antioch College, noted for its co-op program and its reputation for being a “hot bed of free love and communism,” we differed in just about every way. Eve was of average height, Rubenseque in build with brown eyes, thick red hair worn shoulder length, freckled complexion. I was more of Modigliana shape, tall, thin, with blonde-brown hair, green-blue eyes, pale complexion. She came from the cosmopolitan city of Philadelphia, had attended Philadelphia High School for Girls where standards were high, and she was politically savvy and articulate. I came from a small town in Virginia, was rather shy, had not been an outstanding student at the run-of-the-mill Hampton High School and was so unsophisticated I didn’t know a radical from a reactionary. She was good at all the sports in gym class, especially tennis, and I had a hard time hitting the ball, let alone getting it over the net.
One thing we had in common was the loss of one of our parents at a very young age. My father died when I was six years old, but my mother was able to keep the family together. Eve’s mother died when she was seven years old, and her father asked maternal aunts and uncles to take over the upbringing of Eve and her sister, Janet, in the Reform Jewish religion. My religious teachings were schizophrenic: the Methodist Church during the Winter and a fundamentalist Nazarene Church in the Summer when our family stayed with our grandparents in Maine.
We were barely 17 years old, excited about being on our own and eager to get the most out of new experiences. The three months studying on campus went by quickly and my only memory of Eve during that time was when she nominated me to be dormitory hall president. It was by coincidence that we both chose co-op jobs in Washington, D.C., where we took over the housing of another group of Antiochians that was returning to campus.
Eve, Betsy (another Antiochian) and I shared a room in a private home on Adams Mill Road, where we could hear the roars of animals in the zoo at night. It was exciting to be in the nation’s Capitol during wartime and to feel part of bigger things. We crowded onto the bus going to and from our mundane jobs: I a typist at the American Red Cross headquarters and Eve in the cartographic section of the State Department. We met at the Willard Hotel to eat and watch “important” people, went to Walter Reed Hospital to cheer up wounded servicemen, and visited all the museums, monuments, government buildings and historical sights we could see via public transportation or by walking.
I met Eve’s family of aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and friends of friends while we were in Washington. I was to find that wherever we went, Eve had “connections” that opened doors for new adventures. Her sister, who Eve and I thought looked like movie actress Dorothy McGuire, arranged dates for us, with warnings to me that Jewish boys sometimes tried to “take advantage” of goy girls, which never happened. We had huge Sunday dinners with family in Silver Springs, Maryland. Aunt Rose, Aunt Ola and Aunt Mary became my aunts. They sent huge packages of food from a delicatessen – new to me – and were responsible for me gaining 10 pounds during my first year of college.
Known as “Splinterville,” these trailers functioned as married student housing following World War II. The trailers were located along E. Center College Street near Livermore Street.
Eve met my mother and sister when they came to Yellow Springs for a visit, and she loved to read letters from my mother, letters filled with advice and apt quotations for both of us.
During the next year and a half, we alternated on-campus studies with co-op jobs. When we were at Antioch College, we attended classes where we were exposed to exciting new facts and concepts and learned it was okay to question everything. Despite the dearth of males due to the war, we had active social lives: We went on hikes, picnics and bike rides in Glen Helen and along country roads; attended semester DIV dances; waited tables in the College dining room; saw movies at the Little Art Theatre; hung out at the cafes, Zekes and the Tavern; danced and snacked at the coffee shop; worked on community improvement projects; participated in campus Community Government; worried about the War; had long, philosophical talks with friends; and visited with my godparents, Barbara and Steve, a sociology professor at Antioch. We loved a Tennyson poem Mom sent us. It contained the lines, “I am a part of all that I have met,” which reinforced our desire to explore our world. And we often quoted William Johnson’s Heraclitus with its lines, “…how often you and I had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.”
Eve remarked once that it was nice that she liked to talk and I liked to listen.
In the Spring of 1944 we were in New York, where Eve worked at Life magazine and I was a script checker at NBC. We and two other Antiochians, Sue and Betty, shared an apartment with another family; it was wartime and housing was scarce. The apartment was on Riverside Drive near 116th Street, an area that was already slipping from being a fashionable address. Our rooms were below ground level and we could look up and out the window to see legs passing. We took the crowded subway and once in awhile made the wrong connection, ending up in Harlem, then having to walk across Columbia University campus to get to our place. Not infrequently, to save subway fare we walked the 116 blocks downtown to see the sights, and we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the fun of it. One night we put our initials and the date in a wet cement sidewalk on 116th Street and promised to meet there in 10 years, a promise not to be kept. We went to plays on Broadway and saw Othello with Paul Robeson and Oklahoma with its original cast. We saw numerous movies with stage acts featuring big name performers before the show, the Rockettes at Radio City Hall, the NBC Symphony with Toscanini conducting and numerous other radio shows. We took the Staten Island Ferry, climbed up the stairs of the Statue of Liberty, took the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building, collected menus from the numerous restaurants we visited and papered an apartment wall with them, took turns making meals, and made up songs. A photographer from Life magazine who Sue was dating came to the apartment to take pictures of us, hoping it would interest the editor of Life, who didn’t share his enthusiasm. We did get some nice pictures, though.
Mrs. Kraft, a friend of one of Eve’s aunts who lived in the fashionable part of Riverside Drive invited us for Sunday brunch. Afterward she drove us down to a deserted Wall Street and to the office of her boss, Mayor LaGuardia. We sat at the desk where he read the funnies to children over the radio during a newspaper strike. More important in the scheme of Eve’s life, Mrs. Kraft showed us a picture of her son in uniform. Even though she had a boyfriend at Antioch, Eve felt an immediate attraction toward Lew, which was the beginning of a romance and a 49-year marriage.
On her job at Life magazine, Eve chatted with the movie editor about the possibility of a co-op job in the movie industry. He volunteered to arrange for Eve and me to be messengers at MGM studios in the fall of 1944. Back on campus that summer, we immersed ourselves in studies and social life while making plans for our trip west.
When final exams were over, we hitch-hiked to a larger city to take the Greyhound Bus. On the way we sang “California, Here We Come.” We sang our theme song, “Don’t Fence Me In,” as we waited to be picked up. On the way to California, we stayed over a couple of days in Kansas City to visit Wayne, a childhood friend of mine who was then a soldier and stationed in nearby Salt Lake City for a short stay.
In Los Angeles, my Uncle Walter met us at the bus station. We reported to MGM the next day dressed in our best business outfits. After initial confusion (because no one seemed to know we were coming), we filled out forms and were sent home with instructions to come back in slacks the next day. We found a room to rent within walking distance, shopped for pants and scouted Culver City for cheap places to eat. We were being paid $25.00 a week and had to be frugal.
Thus began our three months of delivering mail on a planned lot, hand-delivering personal messages, taking groups (mostly service men) on tours of the sound studios and back lots of MGM during the Golden Years. We ate in the Commissary with and watched the filming of scenes with actors such as Lucille Ball, Desi Arnez, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Keenan Wynn, Van Johnson, Ginger Rodgers, Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Hedy LaMarr, Judy Garland, and Jimmy Durante. We caught glimpses of other stars, like Greer Garson, who ate only in the private dining room of Louis B. Mayer and allowed no visitors on her set, and Clark Gable and Red Skelton, who were in the Army and back visiting. We’d take the tram to the back lot to eat our bag lunches among the false fronts of small towns, big cities, westerns, waterfronts and exotic foreign countries. And we gossiped endlessly with other messengers about who was sleeping with whom, what star had to be filmed from what side only, who had to wear a wig because of thin hair, who had legs padded because of unseemly muscles, etc.
When we weren’t working, we’d take the trolley anywhere and end up in Venice, Westwood, Long Beach or downtown Los Angeles and explore. One night a week, we worked at the Hollywood Canteen, where we danced and chatted with servicemen and abided by the strict rules of no further contacts. We joined the Screen Office Employees Guild and went to union meetings. Eve interviewed actors in the Screen Actors Guild for a paper on labor unions she was writing for school. Ronald Reagan was SAG president and Gene Kelly was a very articulate officer. Through friends of Eve’s family, we were invited several times to the home of Sol Lesser, producer of the Tarzan pictures, among others.
My cousin and uncle also entertained and fed us, as did Antiochians who lived in Pasadena. We dated service men who were stationed in the area and who were known by Eve’s family. We ate most of our meals at the nearby drugstore and consumed big jars of peanut butter and loaves of bread.
At the end of three months, the glamour of working at MGM began to fade: neither of us had been “discovered” (a la Lana Turner at Schwab’s Drug Store) and we were tired of trying to manage and save enough for bus fare home on our low wages. Although we both missed our boyfriends back at Antioch College, we didn’t feel like plunging into classes again. We thought we could help ourselves and the war effort by becoming Rosie the Riveters and applied at the U.S. Employment Office, Lockheed and North American aircraft plants. The last offered us jobs riveting from 5:30 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. in a plant in Pasadena. The pay was $40 a week. We were planning to accept when telegrams from Mom and Eve’s Aunt nixed the idea. Eve decided to return to campus and I opted to spend the next semester living with my sister in Salt Lake City and working at a W.T. Grant store.
When I returned to Yellow Springs in the spring of 1945, my faculty advisor expressed her concern that Eve and I were “too close” and should go our separate ways. It was unnecessary advice since we were now in different divisions. Eve was on a co-op at the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while I was studying on-campus. I visited her, meeting Paul Robeson at a conference there, and she visited me on my next co-op job at the Luella Cummings Home for Girls in Toledo, Ohio.
Eve was on a fast track at Antioch College, passing Achievement Exams in all areas of study with A’s and thereby given academic credit for classes not taken. I, on the other hand, received “Passing” grades and had to take all the required subjects.
Eve had an incentive to hurry through her College days. She’d met Lew at the end of the War and knew right away that this was the “real thing.” It wasn’t long before they were making wedding plans. I wasn’t at their wedding, but visited them in their apartment in New York City when I was on a co-op in New Jersey.
During the years that followed we kept in touch with less and less frequent letters. Eve and Lew moved to San Francisco and then to Cincinnati. Still in Yellow Springs, I married George, a Navy vet studying on the GI Bill. We visited back and forth until Eve and Lew moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and settled down with their family of three sons. Eve became very active in the community. As a volunteer, she founded the Princeton Community Tennis Program which became the prototype for public instructional tennis. She authored a tennis workbook series and was appointed to the staff of the U.S. Lawn Tennis -Association.
Reg Bishop, Barbara Stinneford Sorensen, Eve Kraft Bishop and George Sorensen in March of 1999.
George and I moved often as we completed postgraduate degrees and changed jobs. We were in Long Branch, New Jersey, for several years, close enough to get together with the Kraft family occasionally. Our son got their son’s hand-me-downs, and I stayed with them while George was on a trip during my pregnancy with our daughter. After we ended up in San Diego, our contacts became limited to get-togethers every other year when Eve was in town for a USTA conference as well as Christmas and birthday cards with catch-up notes about the difficulties and joys of parenthood, careers and medical concerns. Eve was treated for breast cancer. Lew developed multiple sclerosis and their middle child was hospitalized with manic-depressive disorder.
Eve was at La Costa in 1990 when I was about to undergo colon cancer surgery. She became a one-person support group, encouraging and enlightening me with cards, letters, books and telephone calls. I tried to be helpful to her after the death of one of her sons and during her search for a suitable memorial for him in the field of mental health.
Once, we joined Eve and Lew in Los Angeles for a nostalgic trip through the MGM lot. Eve’s son, who worked in the business, arranged the tour for us.
We also met for a day visit at the San Diego Wild Animal Park one time when Eve was at a nearby meeting. And we joined the family at their reunions at La Quinta, California. Although Lew had been confined to a wheelchair, he was remarkably up-beat and his death came as a shock.
These 56 years came to me as we waited in the lobby at La Costa that cool and cloudy March day. I was not surprised that Eve was late in meeting us. This was one of the things that used to annoy me, the compulsively on-time one, and I remembered that she was the only one outside of my family that I could blow up at and know our friendship would survive. I recalled my irritation with her giggling at catastrophes. She’d be amused at discovering a rip in the seam of my pants as we were leaving for work or if we got caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella. My response to such inconveniences was to lash out: “Do you always have to be so damn cheerful?”
Sitting in that lobby in la Costa, I recalled those years and knew there was no simple answer to the question of why Eve and I had been friends for so long. There are the obvious reason of time, the place of our meeting and the shared joys and sorrows. But for us, the “why” really doesn’t matter.
It was a relief to see Eve enter the lobby with her familiar smile and enthusiasm. Although she was a little pale, she was wearing a becoming gray wig and looked much the same as last time we met.
Reg had aged well and was, George said afterward, “as comfortable as an old shoe.” We reminisced over lunch and later Eve made copies of some of the mementos I’d brought, including a letter from Bette Davis thanking us for our work at the Hollywood Canteen and a payroll receipt from MGM. We walked around the grounds and the sun came out. It was good to be together again.
Addendum: December 1999
We wrote and had numerous phone chats in the months after our March reunion. We commiserated with each other over her continued radiation treatment and my breast surgery, but Eve continued her travels and activities despite not feeing too well. She was delighted with what I had written about our 56-year friendship, made some additions and corrections and sent copies to everyone in her family. After several weeks of silence and no return phone calls, a letter from Eve in October revealed that she was in the hospital with a recurrence of cancer with no chance of cure. She was telling only her family and a “handful of closest friends,” was very comfortable, pleased with the care she was getting, in contact with secretaries from three organizations with whom she worked, was putting the finishing touches on a plan for the Kraft Foundation for family counseling and working on finances and legal matters with her two sons. “Reg has been a blessing. I wouldn’t feel as high spirited or as much at peace about it without him.” Her last sentence wished us a great trip to Italy. I wrote back that I hoped she’d feel like a visit or phone call when we got back, but knew in my heart that was not to be. She died in early November and her daughter-in-law told me she was alert and giving directions to the assembled family two hours before the end. Reg wrote that the memorial service at the Princeton University Chapel was “Magnificent” with 600 people in attendance.
Eve’s life was a life well lived. I am glad I was a part of it.