She stepped off the curb on Main Street, walking with her friend to the Spot for lunch. He was at a stoplight in his Dodge, his brother riding shotgun. Earl saw Ruth, and knew.
It was summer 1945. Half the world was still at war. Ruth Palmer was a few years out of high school in Atlantic, Iowa, working at the telephone company. She knew how to wear a suit. Earl Brindley was back at home after completing 25 combat missions as a radio operator in a B-17 Flying Fortress. His geography had been madly expanded in his months of training and service, flying over a continent tearing itself apart. Ruth had stayed in the same grid of streets, but held a whole cosmos in her head.
These small-town citizens had gone to the same high school, but their paths didn’t cross until she walked the hypotenuse in Earl’s field of vision that day. She was three months older, with a round face and a ramrod build that radiated confidence. He was a skinny farm boy who looked to the skies. Once they met, their eyes fixed on the same horizon.
Earl saw Ruth through the windshield as she walked across the street and turned into the Spot. Away from him, but still electrifying. A heavy heat gripped the afternoon. Ruth shook a current back into things. Earl had to talk to this woman who could command such attention. After his combat tour in Europe, he was set for another in the Pacific theater, but for the moment, Ruth knocked that uncertain future away. They were barely a year past 20 years old, but several lifetimes in.
Earl was just on leave, and would return to flight training later that summer. His older brother Leo had been a prisoner of war in Germany until mid-May. On different ends of an Allied prisoner airlift rescue mission, the brothers shared airspace that month but did not confirm the other’s continued existence again until home. They drove that Dodge around town, having already seen more of life than they ever thought possible. Nothing could stop them again, until Earl went back into service. These were important days, as they may have come to represent a drawn-out wake for one of the men.
Ruth was no stranger to death, either. Her younger sister Leah Mary had died unexpectedly in infancy. Her older brother John was a Marine, still somewhere in the Pacific, and each day brought the chance of a telegram carrying bleak news. Her father was the town pharmacist, making potions against pain and suffering. But Ruth kept going along her own path. In photos, she finds the lens and defies definition. She is, in whatever moment caught on film, calmly standing in her own time.
Ruth and Earl’s worlds brushed by each other on that downtown street, and a slow courtship began. Not long after they met, Earl went back to training in Stuttgart, Arkansas, learning to fly B-25s for eventual deployment to the Pacific. He would be the crew chief, keeping the big machine whirring and operating the top gun turret. But in early August, the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs, and World War II was over.
Back in Iowa, the couple’s progress was marked by the number of times Earl mowed Ruth’s father’s lawn. How else would you show a woman you weren’t going to make her do all the work? One day, he attached a motor to the mower, which seemed to impress the Palmer family. But Ruth didn’t need or seek permission. She wouldn’t waste her time on anyone who couldn’t make magic with the resources at hand.
When Earl was stationed in Nuthampstead, England, in the first few months of 1945, flying in B-17s and ushering bombs to targets over Nazi Germany, he looked at the stars and dreamed. If he made it out alive, he would build something. The blinking constellations that saw him off on missions, that he flew closer to as the plane left the earth, gave him a gossamer string of hope. Once he was back across the ocean that his hometown was inexplicably named for, he looked down from those stars and saw Ruth. She held the promise of those constellations, could unlock what Earl wanted to build. Ruth, her convictions running fast and far, became his new life.
On July 20, 1947, Earl and Ruth were married at her parents’ house on Oak Street. They stood on the lawn Earl had proven himself on and exchanged vows in front of family and friends. Leo was the best man, and Ruth’s sister Lois was the maid of honor. Their words of commitment carried through the summer air into their decaded future. The heat suspended them in the same promise as that day on Main Street two years earlier.
In the verdant surroundings, the couple both wore suits – Earl with a single flower on his lapel, Ruth with a corsage of sorts on hers. From photo to photo, she has pinned it to different sides. Her white wedding suit was probably a necessity for lack of appropriate dress fabric, but she shines in it. Her nails are red, her lines sharp. Her eyes look regally into the camera. She knows who she is.
After the ceremony, they left Iowa for the first time together, barreling west down Route 6 to Colorado Springs. They drove more than 600 miles in the aging Dodge that had first brought them into the same existence. Their life stretched before them in endless road. Earl could finally envision a future with Ruth there as his architect. Her cosmos now held their dreams. In a photo from somewhere along the way, Earl leans against the Dodge, hands in his pockets, looking at his new wife through the lens. She was the meridian.