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Pepper Herman

Chapter Four

            Caitlin Cassidy had been raised in a  Catholic orphanage in a small town outside Charlottesville, Virginia.  Her parents both died in a plane crash in 1950 when she was only three.  Her only living relative was her father’s sister, a widow named Delsey Renfield, who managed all of Cate’s financial commitments. Claiming she was too ill to physically care for Cate in her home, Aunt Delsey enrolled her instead into the Palmyra Home for Needy Children, making sure to visit the child whenever the mood struck her, which wasn’t very often.

            Cate, blessed with a quiet charm, quickly gained the favor of the Sisters.

            When Cate was seventeen, Aunt Delsey died, leaving her far less than was allotted for her education.  The Sisters used her limited funds to enroll her into the Palmyra Junior College for Women where she specialized in psychological testing skills.

            A month before graduation, at one of the Saturday evening socials, something happened that changed the direction of Cate’s life.  She met a senior from UVa who was tall, handsome, sandy-haired and had a way of glancing at her with a soft expression through  kindly blue eyes that captivated her.  He introduced himself as Rob Marchand and instead of dancing, they talked.  He never took his eyes off her. He delighted in her slight southern accent.  He liked the way her light brown hair cascaded softly over her shoulders, and the way her body moved with a lithe grace.

She learned that he was born of a wealthy Philadelphia builder, recently deceased, and a mother who died at his birth.  A widowed neighbor and close friend, Maureen,  aided Rob’s father in raising him.

Rob talked enthusiastically about a passion for airplanes and flying that began when he was eight years old.  He would spend hours on end in their garage making prototypes of helicopters.  He told Cate that after graduation he planned to attend helicopter training school, and assured her that after his six weeks of basic training he would contact her.  Based on the way he kept looking at her, this was not at all a surprising likelihood.

            On graduation day, Sister Mary Elizabeth handed Cate a two-foot long narrow box.  Inside was a single long-stemmed red rose and a note which read, “To the Southern Lady.  Thinking of you with smiles.” It was unsigned, but Cate knew, and when the rose died she pressed its remains in the beautiful white bible that the Sisters had given her for a graduation gift.

            The college placement program arranged a job for her at the C. W. Harris Psychological Testing Institute in Georgia.

            The summer was hot and lonely and Cate found it difficult being separated from the only home she’d ever known.  She would call the Sisters several times a week.  By September, she began to assimilate into the Georgia environment and her calls to Palmyra became less frequent.

In October, the army sent recruits from Fort Rucker in Alabama to be tested for their Flight Aptitude Selection Test.  Cate’s job was to interpret the results of 28 would-be helicopter pilots.  He was the fourth recruit to walk through the door.  One month later they were wed in a simple ceremony in the rectory of a neighboring Catholic church, exchanging vows and single red roses.

Rob completed his Warrant Officer Flight Training two months before their first anniversary and on October 4th, he received his orders to go to Vietnam.

Cate left C. W. Harris and moved into Rob’s home in Villanova, a small town outside of Philadelphia.  It was a difficult time for her.  She suffered from

homesickness and worry for his safety, and began to resume her frequent phone calls to the Sisters.

Within the month, she received a phone call from a Sister Evangelica who was the head mistress of a small nursery school in Philadelphia.  They were looking for administrative help at a shelter for battered women.  The salary was minimal but the rewards were gratifying.  Once again, Cate’s surrogate mothers had come through for her.  The only thing she wanted to know was how soon she could start. 

Chapter 5


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