It took bravado, persistence and a $10 bet for a dashing Connecticut Yankee to win the heart of a petite Texas belle.
Nick Gaynos and a friend were having drinks in the Bamboo Room of the Hotel Californian in Fresno, in the spring of 1943. Both men were officers stationed nearby at Camp Pinedale. Long stalks of bamboo separated the bar from the dining room. Gaynos peered through the bamboo and saw two young women having dinner. He called his friend over.
“I said, ‘See that redhead? I’m going to marry her,’ ” Gaynos recalled. “My friend said, ‘No way!’ I said, ‘I’ll bet ya $10.” And the wager was on.
His friend seriously underestimated Gaynos, but he shouldn’t have. The young lieutenant had already displayed the steely resolve and determination that would mark his military career. Gaynos had enlisted in the Army at age 23. “I wanted to fight Hitler,” he said.
But he found himself facing a different enemy at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. “I’d been up until 4 a.m. at my radio station,” he recalled. The sound of explosions and low-flying aircraft startled him. As he ran down the beach back toward his duty station, a Japanese Zero strafed the sand around him. He hit the ground and covered his head. Gaynos said he felt a hot breeze and heard a whistling sound inches from his ears. When he looked up he discovered a large piece of shrapnel next to him. “I grabbed it,” he said. “It was still hot from the explosion.”
After Pearl Harbor he’d been sent to Officer Candidate School and quickly moved up through the ranks. Now, he focused that same kind of drive on the redhead across the dining room.
“He sent the waiter over three times, offering to buy us drinks,” Tex Gaynos recalled, shaking her head. “We already had Cokes.” So she sent the waiter away.
The 20-year-old southern belle had moved to Fresno and was living with her aunt because her parents thought she’d have better job opportunities in California than in Texas.
After the waiter returned for the third time without a drink order, Nick took matters into his own hands and approached the table. Tex wasn’t sure what to make of the young officer. “I thought damn Yankee was one word until I met Nick,” she said with a smile.
Finally, she agreed to let him buy her a soft drink, and before he left that night, he had her phone number.
“I wasn’t wasting any time. I had a $10 bet on the line. I knew I needed to move fast,” said Nick.
When he discovered that hamburgers were her favorite food, he took her to Fink’s, a local eatery famous for burgers.
“I had the best hamburger I’d ever tasted,” Tex said with a sigh.
Nick felt pretty confident that he’d won her heart after that meal. “I figured I had it locked in and my $10 was safe.”
So, when Tex told him she’d gotten engaged to another suitor, it came as quite a shock. “I didn’t take that real well,” Nick admitted. But he also didn’t let it deter him in his pursuit.
When he found out that Tex and her friends were having lunch at a local hotel with a large swimming pool, Nick took action. “I put on my bathing suit,” he said. “The restaurant faced the pool so I flexed my abs and did my dives.” Tex was unimpressed. “She never did come out,” he said.
“I thought he was silly,” said Tex. But later that day, friends told her Nick’s performance had resulted in a nasty sunburn. That earned him some sympathy and Tex agreed to dinner – hamburgers, of course.
After that date, she returned her suitor’s engagement ring and accepted Nick’s proposal. Six weeks later they were married in her Aunt Ruby’s home. As Nick walked down the aisle, his friend held out a $10 bill, and Nick scooped it up. “I never miss a bet,” he said.
That was 66 years ago, and the feisty Texan and the handsome Yankee have traveled the world together. Nick served more than 23 years in the military, and they moved 20 times during those years. The piece of shrapnel from Pearl Harbor came with them.
They endured long separations, but Tex took it all in stride. “She was a great service wife,” Nick said proudly.
“I took care of myself and our two children,” Tex explained. But scrapbooks show she did much more than that. As the president of the Officers’ Wives Club, she staged fashion shows, hat contests and flower shows. “His boss asked me to take care of the officers’ wives and keep them happy, so I did,” said Tex. “That was my job.”
When Nick retired from the military in 1963, the couple enjoyed thriving real estate careers in California. In 1996, they moved to Post Falls to be near their daughter.
Laughter punctuated their conversation as they talked about their six decades together. Nick produced a scrapbook and pointed to a telegram he’d sent Tex in 1968. It read, “Dear Tex, It took a long time but I finally got a good looking Greek, too. Jackie.”
As they chuckled together over Nick’s telegram, he said, “I always think a sense of humor is vital to a marriage.”
And that shared good humor has produced 66 years of happiness. Tex grinned at her husband. “We have had a lot of fun.”