It's fall now, even in the Deep South. I lost a bet with a VIVI Award nominee and my payoff, if I lost, would be to write about the strangest or most unique fall I've ever had and to show a picture of me doing a fall activity.
I know, you all want to know what the bet was over. I bet this fine journalist and friend would win a VIVI Award after being nominated in four different categories. The award never came and I'm paying off on my bet. You can check out her excellent journal at this link.
The most interesting or unique fall I've experienced would have to be the fall of 1967. I had just started my junior year at Hampton High School in Hampton Virginia.
When my father, an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force got transferred to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, I had just graduated from the eighth grade in Smyrna, Tennessee. I was popular in school, played trombone in the school band, and loved the house we lived in that was set on one-and-a-half acres near Stuart's Creek. Life was pretty good and I did not want to move.
I knew that I would have to move whether I wanted to or not. My father was a career officer in the military and we moved every three years. It was just a fact of life as I grew up. There was nothing I could do to change it.
When we got the assignment to Langley, I got a map of Virginia and found Hampton on the map. All my doubts about the move vanished when I saw that Hampton was on the Atlantic Coast and surrounded by water. I loved the water and we had a boat. I could already slalom ski better than any adult I had met. This move might be fun after all.
During the school year, the first two years of living in Hampton were hell for me. They wore different clothes than the kids did where I had come from. No one told me about that before the school year started. I stood out like a sore thumb and the kidding and weird looks started immediately. One of the school bullies found me an excellent target and my life that first year could not get any worse.
By the time the fall of 1967 came to pass, I had found my way out of the situation with the bully adjusted my wardrobe, changed from the Junior High School to Hampton High School and was just starting to really fit in. I was in the High School Marching Band and was the first to letter on the Swim Team that year. I had even learned to play the guitar.
I usually dreaded the fall. A new school year with new teachers and weather that just got colder every day for months on end. I hated cold weather! The fall of 1967 was different! I looked forward to the school football games. I liked my classes. I was no longer bothered by bullies or teased by thoughtless kids. I wore my letter sweater with pride!
I had a mad and passionate crush on two of my teachers that year. Nancy Orcutt was my English teacher and I had never met anyone quite like her. She was an attractive blond with a brilliant mind and made her classes interesting to her students daily. My other crush was on my history teacher, a short and stunning brunette, who was fun loving and made her history lessons come alive.
We had just moved onto the base and I had to make new friends with the kids I met in base housing. When we transferred in, base housing was full. What made the difference was that dad got promoted to the rank of full colonel and there was a vacancy in base housing for that grade of rank.
The house we moved into was an older Victorian two story house of red brick with ivy growing up the sides and front. It was on the part of the base that was on the water and I was thrilled. My room was upstairs and I had a dormer style window that I could sit in facing the water while I played my guitar and day dreamed. This house really looked like a building straight off the campus of an ivy-league college. That's the feeling it gave me, anyway!
My sister had already gone off to college. Johns Hopkins University's nursing program is where she was that fall. She lived in Baltimore, Maryland and I felt kind of strange living in a house without her daily presence.
I had a strong crush on her best friend at college whom had come home with her on a previous visit at the old house. I used to sit in that upstairs window seat composing letters and songs to send to Pat Carpenter as I gazed over a beautiful vista of the Back River. Pat was a wonderful person whom I've always regretted losing contact with over the years.
Thanksgiving was the time everything came to a head that year. We knew something was in the wind, we could just feel it. The Air Force usually gave new assignments with promotions at my father's level. We were waiting and worrying.
My mother wanted to go to the Officer's Club for Thanksgiving dinner. There would only be three of us at the table and my father was about to give in to her wishes when he got his new assignment papers.
Dad was to report to Vietnam the following March. He would leave his present assignment in January and report to Washington DC for spy school and counter insurgency training. No, Dad would not be a spy or counterspy. He had to go through the training because men assigned to his command would be doing these jobs. The commander of these units would need to know what these jobs entailed. Notice I said units ... plural. Dad would be the commander of two helicopter outfits, a group of C-124 Caribou aircraft built for short takeoff and landings, and an outfit of C-130's that had Puff The Magic Dragon cannons installed on some and some with The August Moon equipment that could light up an entire battlefield as it flew overhead at night.
I can't tell you anymore about what my father did in Vietnam. Almost everything he did was classified and my father would never discuss classified information. Period. That was the kind of officer he was and one of the reasons, I guess, he rose to such a rank as he did.
Because of his impending departure, Mom decided that we would have a home cooked meal after all for Thanksgiving since Dad would not be with us for at least one full year. Mom was a first rate cook and she surpassed her previous achievements that Thanksgiving. There were some tears being shed as we bowed to give our thanks at the table that year. I didn't know how to act, so I played the brave one, ready to be the man of the house while dad was gone. But I saw the tears and never forgot them.
We started making plans that fall as to what mom and I would do and where we would live while dad was gone. We still owned the house in Tennessee where we used to live and I wanted to return to my old friends. So, we started to get our affairs in order and plan our move back to Tennessee.
The general who lived down the street from us offered to allow me to move in with them for the remainder of the school year so that I could finish my swimming season with the team. His son and I had become friends and it was a very generous offer. I turned it down, though. Losing my father for a year was going to be hard enough on Mom. Jan, my sister, would remain away at school in Baltimore and if I stayed behind Mom would be alone. I chose to move back to Tennessee with her.
As fall turned to winter and Christmas plans and decorations were being made; we all dealt with the impending future in each of our own way. Yes, it was a strange and unique fall that year of 1967 and one that I will never forget.
Dad made it back safely from Vietnam over a year later. The experience changed him and it changed us, as individuals and as a family. We seemed closer when we were all together again and we no longer took anything for granted. We were so very thankful to have him back and to have each other! Oh, and one other thing happened. After his return, Dad and I were never too embarrassed to hug anymore.
As an aside, those of you who read this journal regularly and like to read the comments can gauge my sister's reactions to what I write. She comments using the screen name Ltcjan. She does not have an AOL account so you can't email to that screen name. If anyone ever wants to contact her, send me an Email and I'll send you her Email address. Ltc Stands for Lieutenant Colonel. She may be changing that screen name soon because she is pinning on her Eagles this week. Jan is now a full Colonel in the Army Reserves. Congratulations, Sis!
As you sit down to the table this Thursday on Thanksgiving Day, think about the things you have to be thankful for. I will be giving some very special thanks for having become a part of this community and I will give thanks for all of my friends and family online and off. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!