Julia’s Gifts


Book One Great War Great Love Series


As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.”

Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Will the realities of war dishearten her? Will Julia abandon the pursuit of her beloved? Will her naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?”

From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.



December 17, 1917 

The bustling streets of Center City Philadelphia shimmered with electric lights heralding that Christmas was near. Julia Marie Murphy lifted her head and gazed upward. The night sky was filled with snow clouds, the air brisk. She pulled on her gloves and buttoned the top of her coat. Her thoughts turned to her future husband. Dear God in heaven, please protect my beloved.

Tens of thousands of American men had already enlisted to fight in this ‘Great War.’ The gentlemen that Julia knew had seemed anxious to join, but Julia thanked God that her three brothers were too young to fight.

In a few short weeks, it would be 1918, the year that Julia would turn 21.

As she approached Lit Brothers department store, the display windows were outlined with colored electric lights. Good thing it was Monday because if it were Thursday, the ban on electric lights would mean the windows would be dark.

She stared, transfixed, through the window at the tall display, its shimmery red fabric draped against the back wall, a beautiful solid gold pocket watch perched on top of a cylindrical pedestal.  Her eyes widened when she saw the price tag: $12.25, almost 20 percent of her annual salary. But it was beautiful and every man needed one. The price notwithstanding, this would be a perfect gift for her beloved. Yes, it was extravagant, especially during wartime. Yes, there were less expensive items she could purchase. It didn’t matter. This was the ideal gift.

After purchasing it, she took it to the engraving department on the second floor. Behind the counter, the tall, lanky middle-aged man with a handlebar moustache smiled. “What would you like engraved on this?”

“To my beloved, next line, all my love, Julia.”

His eyebrows lifted.  “I’m certain the gentleman would prefer to have his Christian name engraved on this lovely timepiece.  Don’t you agree?”

“Well, yes, I imagine he would.  But I don’t really know his name or who he is yet.”

The man’s mouth fell open and he stuttered.  “I’m..I’m…s…sorry, Miss. I…I don’t understand.  You’ve bought an expensive pocket watch for someone you don’t know?”

Julia sighed.  She shouldn’t have said anything.

“Can you just please write down what I have asked to have engraved on this watch?”

The man nodded and regarded Julia with an expression of curiosity, the kind that one might regard a person in an asylum.

“How long will it take?”

“For the engraving?  Ten days.  Sorry, Miss, but you won’t have it in time for Christmas.”

“That’s all right.” Julia turned and walked a few steps and heard the salesman say, “Now there’s an odd girl.  Buying a gift for someone she doesn’t know. Tsk tsk.”

Sighing, she checked her own wristwatch and hurried out of the store to begin the three-block walk to her trolley stop.  If she didn’t get there in time for the five p.m. trolley, she would be waiting half an hour.

This year Julia was determined that she would meet her beloved, the man for whom she had been praying these past four years. She chuckled under her breath.  Why hadn’t she met him yet?  Many of her friends were already married. Her beloved was out there and she would find him.  Yes, 1918 would be the year that she would meet her beloved.

Each December, Julia wondered what she would buy her beloved for Christmas. Last year, she searched several different stores but found nothing special. She finally discovered — and bought — a small light brown leather pocket journal at a specialty store at Broad and Bigler Streets. She didn’t know whether her beloved would be the sort to write in one, but it seemed like an appropriate gift, especially since it had a maple leaf embossed on the cover. The year before she had bought a sterling silver Miraculous Medal because her beloved would be Catholic. The first year, with no job and no money, Julia knit him wool socks with unique yarn her mother gave her. The fact that she had made or bought gifts and had spent hard-earned money for her future husband would likely anger her parents, so she didn’t tell them.

The dinging of the trolley bell made Julia rush across the street just as it was pulling to a stop. She stepped onto the car and dropped the tokens into the box.  The motorman called “Next stop, 10th and Market.”

Years ago, Julia had already written down a complete list of attributes her beloved would have: blue eyes, blond hair, ruddy but clear complexion, handsome and, of course, he would be tall and broad-shouldered. She had always favored men with light hair to contrast her own poker straight and dark hair. Most importantly, her beloved would be kind and gentlemanly, with a calm disposition, and he would never lose his temper. It would, of course, be “love at first sight.”  And there would be no doubt.

Her mother’s pestering questions reminded Julia that she was on the road to becoming a spinster. Questions such as “Have you met any gentlemen today, Julia?” really meant “Have any gentleman expressed interest in you?” Despite the annoying questions, Julia never doubted her parents’ love and affection.  She only needed to keep reminding herself that God had already chosen her beloved and she (and her mother) needed to be patient.  Yes, 1918 would be the year. She was certain of that.