The year was 1942. For Maxine and Jean, college loomed just a few months away, and they counted themselves lucky to grab jobs as Mail Girls in the new Civil Service office in downtown St. Louis, Missouri...
Tom and Lee, two young lawyers sent out to St. Louis from Washington, noted the mailmen had suddenly gotten better looking... and promptly struck up a flirtation.
In the weeks that followed, Tom developed an eye for the short, blue-eyed blonde, Jean, while Lee? Well, Lee also developed an eye for the short, blue-eyed blonde.
“Too late, Lee. Already got a date with her,” said Tom one afternoon, “but… I think I can set you up with her friend, Maxine.” Maxine - a very tall brunette - was shy and equally pretty and laughed at all Lee’s jokes, so Lee got to thinking that might be all right after all.
Now, one thing you’ll have to know about Lee - besides the fact he was the kindest man that ever lived - was that, just a few years before meeting Maxine, life had dealt him a terrible blow.
The summer after his freshman year of college, he’d taken a job at an Ice House in his southern Virginia hometown to keep in shape over the summer months. He’d played football for the Hampden Sydney Tigers his freshman year, and he wanted to be all the more prepared to play again that fall.
But one month into his work at the Ice House, he awoke with pain in his legs. When the pain became excruciating, he was rushed to the hospital.
Lee had contracted polio.
He went through three months of wanting to die, followed by two years of painful physical rehabilitation. His mother came in every day to exercise his limbs hoping the muscles would come back.
Eventually Lee was able to regain the use of his arms - but never his legs. His father admonished him to, “Get up and quit feeling sorry for yourself,” and Lee looked around him – at the sight of those who weren’t so lucky... whose lives would be lived entirely in an iron lung - and decided to take his father’s advice. Metal braces were required to keep his legs straight, and Lee learned to walk with crutches.
But it was not the slow walk of the injured. No. Somewhere during those long two years, Lee made a decision about life, and he walked like a young man who had somewhere to go.
He took himself back to Hampden Sydney College. There were no handicapped facilities back then, but an old football buddy helped by slinging Lee over his broad shoulder and carried him up and down the college’s stairs like a sack of potatoes. And that’s how Lee completed his degree.
When he finished college, he was accepted into The University of Virginia Law School. In order to make ends meet while there, he worked in the Dean’s office through one of President Roosevelt’s youth job programs. And after law school, he took a job with the government… and found himself working in St. Louis, Missouri.
Which is where he began to fall in love with the tall brunette.
Maxine, for her part, liked Lee from the start. Whenever she came through the offices, he put aside his paperwork to chat. She loved his laugh, his smile, his good looks, and the way he rolled up his shirt sleeves. By the time he stood up and she saw he was on crutches, it was too late to matter.
Some of life would be hard, yes, but what was the point of thinking like that when you’d have those dark brown eyes to gaze into, and enjoy his laughter, his kind heart — really, what did anything matter when you found yourself in love?
But Maxine’s mother, Virginia, was vehemently opposed to her daughter seeing Lee. And as the two dated during Maxine’s college years, Virginia continued to tell her what a poor choice she was making. “Only think what you’re doing! Throwing your life away on a... on a LAWYER!” Virginia couldn’t admit Lee’s handicap was a problem to her, so she blamed his Doctorate of Jurisprudence.
Eventually Virginia demanded Maxine quit seeing him. Maxine obeyed, and the months that followed were the most miserable of her young life. The only thing she looked forward to was being a bridesmaid at the marriage of her best friend, Jean, to Tom.
And Lee was Tom’s best man.
When the wedding day arrived, it had been twelve long months since Maxine and Lee had seen each other. After the ceremony, Lee approached Maxine, looked into her eyes and asked in his sweet southern drawl, “How you been, sugar?”
After that, Virginia was just going to get over it.
Maxine and Lee were married in 1949 at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. There’s film footage of the moments before they left on their honeymoon. You can see Lee’s parents, looking on with pride. You can even see the somewhat sour look on Virginia’s face. And then there’s Maxine, smiling like the sun just rose for the first time, and Lee, with a lovely grin, rushing to the getaway car so quickly you wouldn’t think he had crutches at all.
And now they’re driving off together — a look of deep satisfaction on their young faces — my parents, Maxine and Lee Bean. Forever my favorite Valentines.
They say, "Oh! to be young again!" --
not something I've wanted to do.
'Though it was grand,
I'll stick to the plan
of living beginning to end.
But, wait! Not so fast.
Hold on just a sec...
There's one moment I'd gladly re-do!
That's when our eyes met,
Our hands touched,
and he whispered, "I love you!' "
(August 8, 1943)
- Maxine Bean, 2011
Meredith Bean McMath is a prize-winning playwright, award-winning historian, stage director, speaker and former Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc.