Thursday, September 25, 2008

She asked...

so when your eyes cross it's Zilla's fault!

33 years and just a month or so ago, I met my future wife. We were introduced by her cousin, a Navy Chief Petty Officer that I had known for a bit over two years at that point. He was the 4th person I met in California when I arrived (August, 1973) at the base I was sent to after jet mechanic's school. The 1st was a guy sitting on the curb in front of the barrack's scraping gasket material off the rocker covers of his 1965 Barracuda (he'll pop up again later); the 2nd was the barrack's Master-at-Arms who assigned me my room. When he took me to my room, one of my new roomates was "in" and saw the trumpet case in one hand, and recognizing it, said "I play too". This led to an impromptu "jam session", about 20 minutes into which there was a loud knocking at our door. Opening it, we found a Navy Chief in khakis and we both assumed we were in trouble for disturbing someone's Sunday afternoon.

Instead he told us that "that sounded really good", and that he ran the counseling center in the middle of the barracks quadrant, and that we should come down and play there sometime.

He turned out to be the counselor for the guys coming back from Vietnam with problems; the guys going through drug rehab; the guys dealing with the divorces that 9 month WestPac cruises tend to cause. By the time I left for my own WestPac we had gotten to be pretty good friends.

I also ran into the guy with the 'Cuda a few times as well. He was a harmonica player, very into "blues"...John Mayall, early J. Geils...

When I came back from my WestPac I was heading home on leave the next morning; that Navy Chief not only picked me up at North Island when the Kittyhawk came in, but took me home, let me spend the night and then took me to the airport the next morning to save me from cab fare.

A few weeks later, leave over, I returned to San Diego with a bike I had bought while I was in Memphis, a 1971 Yamaha 650. I took it by to show it off to Cas (the chief's name) and let him take it out for a ride.

When I ran across the guy with the 'Cuda he told me he was putting together a '56 Triumph 650 and that I should come by his barracks room and see it sometime. I did, and was told he was moving out to share a house with his girlfriend and I should come by there sometime.

I moved out as well, into an off base apartment with a couple of squadron mates. I'll just say it was the 70's, it was California, and it was "party central" and let it go at that. A guitar player I had met on the Kittyhawk was playing in a band that worked a club in Chula Vista and I spent a lot of nights sitting in with them. Wandering down to the beach in the evenings was always good for an impromptu jam session with someone who played guitar, and invitations to some parties I wish I could remember!

At some point one of my roomates blew the shifter forks out of the Yamaha transmission one night when we had traded vehicles and I was driving his 442 Olds. I sold the bike for what I had in it and bought a '64 Falcon. I ran into the guy with the 'Cuda again as he had rotated to nights in the same hangar I worked in. He was looking very dejected and when I asked what was up, he said he had walked to work because the 'Cuda was "down" and he didn't know why. I gave him a ride home, had him crank it a few turns and told him the timing chain was shot and it had "jumped time". We went and bought parts, and by late that evening the 'Cuda was running again. He was rather amazed that I could diagnose that so easily; all these years later I know how lucky I was that was really the problem...

I met his wife that night, the girl he had moved out to live with. Her name was Debbie and among other things she made the most amazing homeade doughnuts!

Rick and I hung out together more and more; I spent a lot of nights sleeping on their couch having been there working on something or helping put that still unfinished Triumph together.

I got out off "active duty" in June of 1975 and went for a ride in my Falcon, up the coast to San Francisco, stopping on my way back in Oxnard to hang out with my guitar playing friend, now stationed there.

While I was gone, Rick and Debbie were in a motorcycle accident; after lingering for a few days, she died of her injuries leaving behind a 6 week old daughter and Rick with a broken leg, arm and shattered wrist. The bike they were on was one he was tuning for someone.

I returned, his Mom and Dad took their grandaughter to Santa Cruz while Rick was still in the hospital, and I started putting the wrecked bike back together. I met the guy he had bought his '56 Triumph from, and ended up buying a '58 of my own.

While Rick was "gimped up" I rebuilt the Barracuda as well, engine, driveline and front suspension. I slept on the couch, he moved in two other guys to split the rent of their house, and I made my spending money by working out of the garage and donating plasma. One of them wrecked my Falcon and ended up buying it for what I had in it...I knew it wouldn't ever be "right" again.

August of 1975 found me working out the final assembly of my '58 Triumph when Cas, the Navy Chief called. He had two cousins visiting, one just stationed in San Diego after two years in Hawaii, the other taking a semester off from college in Vermont.

He invited me to dinner; I cleaned up as best I did in those days, and walked to dinner as the Triumph wasn't "road ready" at that point. Through the course of dinner I found out that the older cousin was getting ready to leave for Indiana that weekend to marry a guy she had been stationed with in Hawaii.

Being the smartass I was, I offered to play "Taps" at her wedding. We all laughed...little did I know what would transpire!

I kept in touch with Jane, the sister taking time off from school, and worked the bugs out of my bike, as there wasn't a lot to do in San Diego with "no wheels". By November, when I had the bike where I trusted it, I called to ask Jane out, but found out she had gone home to Vermont to enroll in school.

The cousin that had gotten married that fall was at their apartment the 2nd week of December that year, 1975, preparing Christmas dinner for herself and Cas (the Navy Chief, if you've forgotten. Since he was doing "sea trials" at the time, this was the only time before the holiday they were both going to be "off".) when the phone rang. It was the guy in Indiana, the one she had married because she loved him and he wanted to split her BAQ money (the payment for living off-base) so he didn't have to work.

(I found out later that in Hawaii, when they were living together, when she told him she loved him, he had told her "he loved her as much as he did their coffee table". She of course, was certain that he would grow to love her as much as she did him...)

On the phone he told her that "his ex-girlfriend had just gotten a divorce, and she wouldn't go out with him until he got one, so he wanted a divorce".

When she hung up, for some reason the phone came right off the wall!

After she had a day or so to "cool down" Cas started telling her she should call me to see what I was up to. Finally, she did.

Dottie and I went out for the first time on my birthday, December 29, 1975. I went to the plasma bank that morning and had gotten enough to fill my Triumph, buy a pack of Marlboro's, and had $3 left over. We went out for a long ride through San Diego, over the Coronado Bridge, and back up the "Strand" to Imperial Beach. I stopped at "Jack in the Box" offering to buy her dinner; she knew by looking at me (5'8" and at the time about 126 pounds. She later joked about "taking me in because my ribs showed".) that I couldn't really afford that. I insisted on buying her something, so she settled on a chocolate shake. I only bought one, telling her I couldn't hang onto one and drive...

We talked that night until 3 or 4AM; the next day we just "hung out" and talked away the afternoon and evening again. The next few days we were either on the phone or together most of the time she wasn't working.

The first week of January, 1976, she asked her cousin would it be all right if I stayed over...we moved in together and have been together since.

Cas's Mom had lived with him for a while in 1974 and I had gotten to know her then. Aunt Ruth came back to live with him after Dottie and I moved into a house that March. The guy in Indiana had to get a job to pay for their divorce and paying the lawyer took him a while. I kept asking why she didn't point out to him he could get an annulment (she flew back to San Diego immediately after the ceremony) and she said "if he wanted a divorce he could pay for it"!

Aunt Ruth was already telling Dottie she should marry me...I already knew that married or not I wasn't going anywhere...

My grandparents came to visit during this time as well. Grandma and Grandpa Fritz (my mom's parents) had come to California to visit his brother in Long Beach and came to visit us on a side trip. Dottie planned to give them our room and one of us was going to sleep on the couch...Grandma was having none of it! She told us that it was our house, that was our bedroom, and we'd best be planning on sleeping in it. She said that living together and figuring out whether we got along was much better than all the divorces that people were going through, and that she just wanted to see BOTH of us happy!

That fall her divorce finally came through. She was more than a bit wary of getting married again, however, after her first experience. (My riding and partying didn't help matters any, most likely.) Finally, around Thanksgiving, she said that if I was really serious about it, that we could get a marriage license in December. I called her Dad and asked his permission to marry her...not that a "no" would have stopped us.

So we did get a license. When we worked out the duty schedule for her, for her cousin, and the Reserve time I was finally making up (I had skipped some drill time through the course of my "wild times"), December 14, 1976 worked out to be the magic day.

We met at a San Diego judge's house after his day in court was through. She wore bibs and a T-shirt, I wore jeans and a T-shirt with a Levi jacket with my Triumph wings on the back. Her cousin "gave her away"; he and the judge's mother were our witnesses.

Life has taken some twists and turns since then. It took me a "long time" to grow up, and through the years more than once I gave her cause to regret "being badgered into marrying me" by her Aunt Ruth, Cas and myself. That we are still together says much more for her stubborness than how easy I am to put up with...

Perhaps, if there is reincarnation, then next time she'll end up with the guy she deserves...

But for now, she's stuck with me for as long as she wants to put up with me. I can't imagine starting over; I can't imagine life without her!

So, as I said at the top, if you've made it this far, it's Zilla's fault, not mine!

Dottie's off tomorrow and I have both grandson's tomorrow night, Saturday and Sunday. We usually try not to do that when she has to work Saturday and Sunday, but John and Noel have plans, so we're going to hope this works out and she gets enough sleep to survive work!

My presence might be scarce in the meantime, so if I don't get to visit any of you 'til Monday I hope you understand!

May the rest of the week be kind and your weekends be lovely!



ryssee said...

What a great story. You really told it well, too. There are lessons about love to be learned from that one. Sounds like some pretty wild times too.
The part where your friend lost his young wife was so sad - whatever became of him and his child?
I snickered a bit when you put the "end up with the guy she deserves" line only a few sentences before having the grandchildren over...sounds like you've done just right by each other.
Thanks for listening to Zilla, and letting us get to know you a little better.

von Krankipantzen said...

Yes, a really great story and I too wonder how the poor widower and child did. I love hearing how people meet. It always shows how you just never know when and how 'it' is going to happen.

BTW-my very first car was a 66 Valiant slant 6. My mom had a 64 Valiant convertible and my dad had a 66 Dodge Monaco convertible when I was growing up so it only seemed logical...

Anji said...

I enjoyed reading about how you got together too. Your Grandma sounds like a very wise lady indeed.

Casdok said...

Wonbderful story beautiful told.

Connie in FL said...

You do have a way with words!
Happy Anniversary to a very special couple.

Green tea said...

I loved your story Alan,
and for your information it takes most men along time to grow up..

Puffer said...

Love it!

CrackerLilo said...

Oh, I love this whole story--so much more than a standard "how we met"! (Though that's a story I'd long wanted to read.) If you feel like posting more memories, I'd love to read them!

robin andrea said...

What a great story, alan. You really capture the times, the ambiance of the early 70s. Well done.

zilla said...

Where did my comment go??? I must have skipped off, not realizing my squiggle word didn't take.

I will gladly take credit for any crossed eyes resulting from the beautiful tale told here.

Dottie lucked out. I imagine you both did!

zilla said...

There ARE no squiggle words associated with your comment window. WTF happened to my original comment?

Did I hallucinate it?

JLee said...

Thank you for sharing your story Alan. I think you are both lucky to have each other and I can tell there is real love there :)

*Ange* Life in the PS said...

Just letting you know I've read this twice now.
It's that good.

Jon-Marc McDonald said...

I loved it.

And I love that you continue to visit me. Thank you for your always kind comments. They mean the world.