Monday, March 20, 2017

Silver Springs, 1971

Silver Springs 1971

I had no trouble finding the little cinder block building two miles west of the four corners intersection in Silver Springs. I parked my red Honda CL450 motorcycle next to the open door of the shop and walked inside. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw a man sitting at a table studying blueprints.

 He saw me and asked if he could help. I told him I was a machinist looking for work and the guy at the service station told me there might be work here. He stood up  and introduced himself as Bill Turner, the owner, and yes, he had work for a real machinist, if that’s what I was. I quickly recounted my years of experience as a mechanic and also my apprenticeship at Olympic Screw and Rivet in Downy, CA. I went on to tell of my experience working for Kimzey Welding in Woodland, CA. 

He narrowed his eyes and asked if I could make anything he could draw. I wasn’t sure I knew where he was going with that question, as I looked over the pile of blueprints on his table, but I went with my first thought—

“No, I can’t, because I can draw things on paper that nobody can make from metal with any tool known.”

He smiled and said, “Good answer! I sent somebody else down the road yesterday for claiming he could make anything.”

“When can you start?” he asked. 

“Immediately,” I answered. “How is the pay?”

“$3.50 an hour, eight hours a day, five days a week. We pay every week.”

I knew I was going to like the work, and the pay was $0.25 more than I was making in Woodland before I quit, so there was that raise I didn’t get at Kimzey Welding.

Bill Turner spent an hour or so going over the prints on the table, which were of experimental engines that he had patented over the years. He had patents on 29 different engines, he said, and some looked like they might work to me. He had a rotary scissor piston engine that I thought would be good, but he wanted to start on a rotary steam engine, which looked to me like a simple vane pump with an offset shaft to impart an acceleration motion from one side to the other, which he claimed gave him more torque and power. I was skeptical, but I didn’t argue. No use making the boss mad the first day. Besides, I was already liking this guy.

I came to realize that Nevada attracts loners, iconoclasts, reprobates, and curmudgeons. He was a classic, and an alcoholic to boot. He went through a fifth of Black Velvet every day, and still continued to function fairly well, although slower as the day went on.

Nevada was a unique state in 1971. No speed limits outside of town, no laws against gambling or prostitution, and no state income tax, either. A real Libertarian heaven. 

Evening was coming on, and Bill Turner asked, 

“Do you have a family?”

“Yes, I have a wife and two kids back in California.”

“It’s too late to do any work today, and tomorrow is Saturday. Why not go back to California and bring your family here, and we can start work Monday.”

“Great” I said. “I will have to find a place to move to, first.”

Bill said there was a room off the shop where we could stay temporarily, until we could find a house to live in. He showed me the room, which was very small, with one cot there and a small desk with a phone. 

On the desk was a large snake, around six feet long, I would guess, maybe three inches in diameter in the middle, wrapped around the phone, dozing in the desert heat. Bill explained that this was Oscar, the shop pet, and he made sure there were no rodents of any kind around the shop. He was impressive, but harmless—a big Bull Snake—just watch your step, and be careful answering the phone.

Sierra Rotary Engine Corporation was going to be an exciting place to work!

It was getting late in the after noon, so I rode back over Donner Summit back to Woodland, where I arrived late that night. I told Carolyn the good news about the job I’d found and the temporary living arrangements until we could find a house to rent in Silver Springs. 

The next day we packed the car with essentials for a week in Nevada. We had to pack very light, because we had a small Toyota Corolla station wagon, and we had four people to carry there also.

On Sunday we traveled back over the Sierras and moved into the small rooms at the shop. Bill told us the house about 300 yards behind the shop was empty and might be available for rent. He thought he could find out who owned it and find out the details.

I spent the first week working on Bill Turner’s rotary steam engine, the one that was basically a vane pump. His machine shop was sorely lacking in some of the basic tools, such as a boring bar. To make the precise holes in the part we had to use an end mill cutter on the part, centered on a rotary table in the milling machine. That led to tapered holes and bad fitting parts, so eventually Bill had to part with some scarce cash and buy a few more tools.

I soon found the company was financed by shares of stock from several small investors, the largest of which was a real estate company in Carson City. A couple of times when money was low in the bank, Bill would call them and send me over to the real estate company to get my paycheck. 

While I was at work in the shop, Carolyn called around to find a place to rent. Bill eventually found the phone number for the house behind the shop, and when Carolyn called, they agreed to let us rent it for a while, as they were living in Reno, but hoping to move into that house later. 

On Friday evening the owner came over, showed us the house, which included a stove that he swore cost $700, although I thought to myself he got took badly if he paid that much. It was well used, and when Carolyn baked the first cake, we had to prop up the rack on some empty Dr. Pepper cans because the racks didn’t fit the oven. We paid the rent, which was very low compared to California rents, so we were going to have a little more money to spend, I thought.

The following weekend we went back to Woodland, CA, rented a truck, cleaned out the house and got the rent settled with the owner of the house we had been renting. We got a little money back on the rent that we had paid that we weren’t going to be using, since we were moving out well before the end of the month. The truck was full, the little red Toyota was full, Rick’s ’54 Ford pickup was loaded with my CL450 Honda motorcycle, our daughter Darlene, and boxes of household stuff, and we were ready to roll. The Toyota was hitched behind the truck with a tow bar, which didn’t fit the bumper very well, but I thought it would be OK if I were careful.

The return trip over the Sierras was not easy. Just as we started up the foothills and I downshifted the truck I was driving, I saw Rick passing me. I wondered if he was just in a hurry, before I noticed that his right rear wheel was coming out from under the truck. His rear axle bearing had sheared off, and he had no brakes. He skillfully steered the skidding pickup over to the side of the road next to the guardrail, with sparks spraying from the axle parts dragging on the pavement. At the same moment the rental truck motor quit running, so I was forced to pull over next to the guardrail, too.

Carolyn was about to come unglued, screaming that Rick’s truck was on fire. It really wasn’t, since the burnable part, the tire, had left the pickup and rolled off the road. The smoke was coming from the brake fluid on the hot metal of the backing plate. I reached down and found the fire extinguisher in the rental truck and told her to run up and give it to Rick just in case. His truck stopped about a hundred yards ahead of ours. In a minute it was clear that there was no fire hazard under the pickup truck and Rick and Darlene were OK, but a little shook up. They all soon came back to where I was down with the rental truck.

I raised the hood and had Carolyn crank the starter while I looked to find out what the trouble was. Very quickly it became apparent that there was no spark to the plugs, and a little searching found the primary wire from the coil, mounted on the firewall, to the distributor was broken. The terminal was missing on the distributor end, meaning some mechanic had “fixed” the wire when it had broken before by wrapping the end of the wire around the post and tightening the nut, leaving the wire too short. When I downshifted, the motor rocked in the mounts and yanked the wire loose. I went back in the household stuff and found a wire on a desk lamp to sacrifice, and soon had the rental truck running again.

I pulled the truck up to Rick’s pickup, and we transferred everything over to the rental truck, since it was obvious that we were going to have to leave Rick’s truck where it was. We unloaded the motorcycle and tied it to the front of the truck, with the wheels sitting on the front bumper. Rick wasn’t happy about leaving his pickup, but neither of us had the money for a tow truck then.

All four of us squeezed into the rental truck and continued east toward Nevada. We hoped that nothing else bad would happen on the rest of the trip, but no such luck was in store.

In the little town of Newcastle, CA, we pulled into a gas station for fuel. It was on a hill, and I had to turn a large circle to line up with a gas pump. As I turned, I saw the Toyota come loose and roll backward, snapping the safety chain as it went. I rolled back down the hill and crashed into a large Pontiac parked by the bathrooms, just as the owner of the Pontiac stepped out of the bathroom. Nobody was in either car, and nobody was hurt. 

After I got the truck safely parked, I came back and apologized to the lady and we looked at the damage to both cars. The Toyota had almost no damage at all, just a little dent on the back bumper and a broken tail light. The Pontiac bumper was badly bent, and both of her parking/turn signal lights were broken. That made no sense, since her Pontiac was much wider than the Toyota, and the Toyota could not have caused that much damage. I also noticed that the medallion which originally was in the middle of the Pontiac grille was missing and nowhere around on the ground.

I asked her if there was prior damage to her Pontiac, and she gave some noncommittal answer. I offered to pay half her damages if she got an estimate of the cost of repairs, and I gave her my Silver Springs address, which was a P.O. Box, since there was no rural delivery there. I got her address, also. Neither of us had insurance then, as the states had not made it illegal to be poor and own a car yet.

Her car started and ran just fine, and I got the Toyota hooked back up to the rental truck, and reinforced the bumper clamps with some wire I found somewhere to prevent it from detaching again. I tied the safety chain back with some of the same wire, even though I knew now that the chain was inadequate to the task. 

We continued over Donner Pass on Interstate 80 and arrived in Silver Springs late in the night. I just parked in the yard of the house, and we all went in and fell asleep until morning, when I had to return to work.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Northern California

Northern California

At the end of the summer of 1969 we packed up our little Toyota Corolla and traveled up to Clearlake Oaks, CA, where my Uncle Jim Rogers lived with his wife Mandy and her six kids. They lived on the south side of Clear Lake, with a small boat dock right on the property so they could go boating or fishing anytime they desired. The house was large and had enough room for our family to live there for a brief time as I looked for work in Northern California.

After checking around the north bay area in Santa Rosa and Ukiah, without much luck, I was beginning to think that machinists jobs were going to be hard to find. There were several machine shops, but mostly run by older machinists working for themselves, and not needing any help. After a few days of searching, I finally found a job in Woodland, CA, at Kimzey Welding. John Kimzey had just finished building a machine shop on the side of his large welding shop, and was looking for a good machinist.

After I described my experience as an auto mechanic and machinist, he was impressed enough to hire me on the spot. There was a slight hesitation when I told him I had finished an apprenticeship a month before and was a journeyman machinist, since his was a non union shop, but I guess he figured one union guy couldn’t hurt much by himself. 

As i started the new job, Carolyn came over to Woodland with me, and while I worked she scouted the town for a place to rent. She soon found a nice apartment in a fourplex, and we moved in with our meager belongings.

The first project I got was wiring the new machine shop. I had told him I had done some household wiring, but was not an electrician. He said he would help me as I needed it. He was no electrician, either, but he had confidence he could get the job done. He had one fat black extension cord he was dragging from machine to machine as he needed them, hooked to a three phase 220v. outlet in the welding shop.

So for the next several weeks in my spare time, when I wasn’t working on customer’s work, I bent conduit, attached boxes to the walls and pulled wire  to each machine in the shop. Rather than directly wire each machine to the boxes, John wanted receptacles in each position, to allow him to rearrange the shop in the future any time he wanted. Since each machine already had a plug attached for the extension cord, it worked out fine. 

When we were ready to tap into the electric service, John called an electrician over to inspect and approve the system that I had finished. It passed OK, with the one exception that I had run a ground wire in the conduit that wasn’t necessary, because it was all in metallic conduit and I could have just grounded to the conduit and saved the wire, but he approved the installation and I expected John Kimzey to schedule a time to shut down the incoming power so someone could hook up the new system.

I was amazed and alarmed when John told me we were going to hook up without shutting off the power to the incoming service line. He explained how we were going to do it by pulling the service phases out of the large gutter on the wall one at a time, and he would have thick rubber matting on the floor and walls so there would be no chance of touching a grounded surface while clamping the three leads to one of the cables in each bundle.

Theoretically, it looked safe, but there is always that unexpected factor that gets you. One of the real advantages of a union job is the contract, which prevents you from being fired if you refuse to do a job that you consider unsafe. Unfortunately, this was not a union job, and I could not afford to lose this job right then. So moving slowly and carefully, I untaped just enough of the major cables that I could clamp the leads to one of the cables, tape it back up, and push it back into the gutter. Then we tied a nylon rope to the next bundle and pulled it out where I could work on the next connection. I got it done without injury or death, needless to say, and I resolved to try harder to find a job with union protection in the future.

Although the boss wanted me to work six days a week, I told him I would prefer a five day week, since I had a family and wanted them to remember who I was. He was not happy, but I promised to work overtime on any evening that work needed to be finished. 

We spent many weekends camping way back in the woods on Cache Creek, which was between Clear Lake and Woodland. I had spotted the road leaving the highway near Guinda, and found it led far back into the woods where few people bothered to go. 

We took my mother up there for Easter in 1970, and when we tried to start the campfire, I found I had forgotten to bring matches. Rather than look around for flint, or rubbing sticks together, I took the paper sack we had brought the food in and twisted it up tightly so that I could dip it into the gas tank. I raised the hood, pulled a spark plug wire loose, and put the gasoline soaked paper between the wire and the engine while Carolyn started the engine. We soon had a roaring fire going and fried potatoes and hot dogs were on the menu. 

One weekend when Darlene was away visiting, Carolyn and I drove up into one of the more remote areas of Cache Creek and found a deep pool of cool water for skinny dipping. Of course, one thing led to another and we were soon passionately enjoying ourselves together in the creek. We were standing there holding each other as we cooled down, and I looked up above us on the bank and saw a bobcat crouching there watching us. It was not more than twenty feet away. I quietly told Carolyn to move real slowly, since we had an audience. The bobcat was not moving. It just seemed curious to see what all the racket was all about. We slowly started backing away to the other bank to get our clothes and get back to the car. I guess the bobcat decided the show was over, and he turned around and walked away into the forest.

The pay at John Kimzey Welding was very low, but he had promised me if it all worked out I could eventually get a raise. There were no benefits at all, with the exception of a few national holidays, which he kicked off by passing around bottles of whiskey and other drinks starting about noon on the day before. He liked to drink a little too much, but he was the kind of drunk who got happy that way. 

He delighted in finding ways to get around any regulation by the local bureaucracy, since he hated government. Sometime before I started the state had passed a regulation that all air tanks larger that 4” in diameter had to be inspected and certified every year, for a small fee, of course. So when he built the machine shop wing on the welding shop, he fabricated the roof rafters from 4” heavy pipes, doubled up vertically with plates welded on the ends and pipe couplings welded near the ends. When the shop was complete the whole roof became a compressed air storage area with no part larger than 4”. All the rafters tied together, and hoses could be attached to the rafters at any point in the shop, and he never had to pay for an inspection.

One evening my cousin Rick Cardoza rode into the yard on a tiny little Honda Fifty motor bike. He was Uncle Jim’s stepson, and we got to know him well when we stayed at Uncle Jim’s house. I asked what brought him down to Woodland, and he told me that he and his mother had gotten into an argument and he was leaving home to see his sister Shirley in Florida. He wanted to know which highway would get him from California to Florida. He was only about sixteen and obviously had no idea of the distance to Florida. 

So I talked to Carolyn, and after she agreed, I suggested he stay overnight and think about it. We had him for the next two years, I think. He was a pretty good kid, and found a job for a while in a service station. He at least paid his way—he was raised in a large Hispanic family where the children were taught to get out and support the family or leave the house. He and Darlene became friends and our family just grew larger. 

Then we got word that Carolyn’s brother Tommy was causing his parents a lot of grief. He was near the same age as Rick and Darlene, so we paid for an airplane ticket and he came to live with us from Oklahoma. Tommy was a  handful, as he had had almost no discipline his whole life. His father was having trouble with alcohol binges, his mother had no time to spend on him, and he was already into serious trouble with whatever drugs he could find. He was sniffing glue and gasoline, and I even caught him sniffing a bag of Pam, kitchen aerosol shortening. I tried to work with him, but I had to spend time at work, and he needed 24 hour supervision. 

When Darlene told us he had stolen a knife from the kitchen and hid it under the mattress I decided we could not risk having him anymore. When I went in to take the knife back, he rushed me, which was a mistake. It had not been too many years since I took hand-to-hand combat training in the Army. I grabbed his shirt by the front, lifted him off the ground using his forward motion against him and slammed him to the wall behind him with his feet dangling several inches off the floor. His eyes grew big with amazement and fear, and the fight was over before it started. We bought him another airplane ticket back to Oklahoma the next day.

Late in the summer, after I had worked for Kimzey Welding for a year, working on everything that came in the door, from airplane parts to tractor parts, I went into the office and asked John Kimzey for a raise. He told me he couldn’t do it. I asked if my work was satisfactory, and he told me he liked my work, but couldn't afford to pay me more. I told him I would be leaving in two weeks, then. He smiled and told me I didn’t need to give notice, that winter was approaching and if I wanted to leave to look for work immediately, that would be OK. He also said if I couldn’t find any thing, I would be welcome back anytime. I didn’t know whether to be glad or mad.

I said goodbye and went back home to tell Carolyn I had just  quit my job. She took it well, although she was worried about it. We had saved a little money ahead, and I had one more paycheck coming to me.

Once again, we were free and looking for another home somewhere in the world. 

I left the car for Carolyn and the kids, and I spent the next few days on the motorcycle searching for machinist jobs from Sacramento to Reno, Nevada. I knew there was a large copper mine in Yerington, NV, but they had no machinist openings, and neither did the town of Fallon, where there was a large Navy base. 

On the way back from Fallon I stopped In Silver Springs, NV, for gas. As I filled the tank, the proprietor came out to talk and ask me where I was going. I told him I was searching for a machinist job and having no luck. He said my luck might change if I rode west about two miles to a shop on the north side of the road. There was an inventor there who was trying to build an experimental engine and was looking for a machinist or two.

Thus began my adventure with Sierra Rotary Engine Corporation. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The New Year 1969

The new year of 1969 dawned with lots of promise for our love. We had a new family, a new car, we both had jobs, and money was not a problem. My employer had to remind me to cash those paychecks, because the folks in payroll needed to resolve the holes in their accounting.

But I came home to find Carolyn crying sometimes, and when I asked what was the problem, she told me that Aunt Laverna Satterfield was calling her up and pushing her to demand that I marry her legally. To me, it was more confirmation that she had pushed us together from the start. I liked her, and I could not fault her for making the match, but I didn’t like to be pushed around by anybody. 

Laverna would by any definition be a “controlling” personality. She liked to be in charge, and enjoyed telling people how they should be living their lives. I asked Carolyn if she trusted me to keep my word and never leave her, and she said yes. But she was caught in the middle between her lover and an aunt whom she also looked up to and loved. I didn’t like the resulting bind she was being put in.

So I called Laverna and told her to stop pushing Carolyn, that our relationship was not her concern now. We were two adults who were making our own decisions, and didn’t need someone else butting in and creating dissension in our marriage.

She got very mad at me, told me how wrong I was and how much Carolyn wanted to be married “for real.” I told her I wanted to hear that from Carolyn herself, and not from her. It was not her role to interpret to me what Carolyn wanted. I also told her that if I came home from work again to find Carolyn crying, I would ban her from calling again ever, even if I had to take out the phone. Then I hung up.

Thus began a couple of months of no contact with her. But she was still in contact with J. T. Morse, Carolyn’s now ex-husband, who was living in Texas now. I don’t know whose idea it was, but she “let us know” that he was considering filing for custody of Darlene, because of our “illicit” relationship. She had no trouble with our relationship as long as it was secret, but the idea of us living together openly offended her sense of decency, I guess.

Carolyn and I discussed what we should do, and I suggested that we should quietly go get the license, just to make sure that Darlene would stay with us. The license wasn’t for us, but for Darlene, whom we didn’t want to lose.

The only people we told were John and Rhonda Rogers, my brother and his wife. We knew he could keep a secret, and we explained why we had decided to get the license. I didn’t want Laverna to have the satisfaction of still being in control of our lives.

After going downtown to the courthouse, medical test results in hand, we got the legal license, and asked if they knew of someone who could perform the ceremony for us. They gave us the name of a retired judge in the town of Orange, California, and I called him and made the arrangements. I think his fee was $50, but it’s been a long time.

We showed up at his ornate Victorian style house on the evening of March 15 with license in hand, and with my brother and his wife and our daughter as witnesses, we participated in a brief ceremony, exchanged our vows, and afterwards we took a few pictures for keepsakes. Then it was handshakes all around, and we left in our cars to go home. 

On the way we saw a Baskin Robbins ice cream store, so on the spur of the moment we turned in and all of us bought banana splits. Carolyn wasn’t sure that Darlene could eat a whole banana split, but I assured her she could eat as much as she wanted and toss the rest, but this was our wedding reception, and it was for her benefit, anyway. She had no trouble eating the whole thing, and was delighted to have her first banana split.

That’s how we came to celebrate two anniversaries, one on November 18 and the other on March 15. Carolyn and I always liked the November date for celebrations, and that’s the one we told everybody else about. But many years later I got into family genealogy and learned that the paper trail is important, too. I can imagine somebody researching our family and running into trouble trying to find our marriage record in the wrong year. But we both know when we first vowed to love each other forever!

The following months went by smoothly, as we settled into our home, and grew closer and closer together. 

The only really exciting event that comes to mind was one Sunday morning we drove down to San Juan Capistrano and turned up toward the mountains, riding on my motorcycle, enjoying the curves on Hwy 74, called the Ortega Highway. There is nothing better than motorcycle riding on twisting mountain roads, and we got too complacent cresting a ridge following a Triumph sports car with the top down, also enjoying the road. When I saw his brake lights come on, I applied my brakes, too, but not hard enough. Then I saw the problem.

Both sides of the road were covered by hundreds of bicycles, riding single file in two lines, and the sports car had hit his brakes hard. As we came over the hill too fast, and light because of the hill, I locked up the brakes, fishtailed wildly first right and then left, and I was picking out a place on the Triumph trunk lid to “pop a wheelie” and crash into. All escape routes were blocked by bicycles. Luckily for us, the guy in the Triumph heard the tires screaming, got off the brakes, and accelerated away, giving me enough extra space to get slowed down.

Carolyn had hung on tight and ducked down, so I'm not sure she saw everything I saw, but she knew that what happened was not cool. I resolved to be more careful in the future, and try to be more responsible, and maybe a little less exuberant. 

Very early in the year, on a weekend when the weather was clear over the Grapevine, Carolyn and I and Darlene drove up to Merced in the car to introduce our family to my mother. My mother liked Carolyn immediately, and Darlene, too. I offered to sleep in a separate bed, since I told her we had vowed to love each other forever, but did not have a license. She told me to sleep where I wanted, and it would be OK with her, even though she had her own preferences. She belonged to the same church as Laverna, but wasn’t nearly as eager to force her beliefs on others.

While we were in Mom’s house on the second day, there was a knock on the door, and standing there was Cathy, my ex-girlfriend. She was smiling, and said she was curious and wanted to meet my new wife. So I called Carolyn and Darlene out to the front room, and introduced them as my wife Carolyn and our daughter, Darlene. After a few brief pleasantries, she thanked me, wished us well, and left. 

Carolyn was mystified at her boldness, and I explained that we had been very close and intimate for over four years, and she knew me well enough to know she would be welcome at my mother’s house. Later, I found out that when I introduced eight year old Darlene as “our daughter” she knew it was permanent, and that I was really gone.

We went over to my grandmother’s house, too. Of course, she also liked Carolyn and Darlene, and assumed we had eloped as she had many years earlier, when, at 25 she eloped into the next county to marry a divorced man she had just met two weeks earlier, and who was nearly twice her age.
As we left her house, Carolyn said we would be seeing her again soon. She calmly said no, she would not be here when we returned, and that the next time we came it would be for her funeral.

Carolyn was very surprised, but she didn’t argue or show her surprise until later, when we were alone. My grandmother was a very plain spoken person, a Jehovah’s Witness, and I wasn’t too surprised.

On April 14th we got word that she had died and we came back up for her funeral. She had been exactly right. 

Now that we had the marriage license my mother seemed a little happier, which was OK with me. (I think John had visited earlier and showed her the pictures he had of our wedding at the judges house.) We stayed overnight at her house again.

We saw Cathy, my former girlfriend, at the funeral for my grandmother, since her great aunt, who had raised her, had rented a house from my grandmother for many years. That circumstance is how we had met years before. At the graveside service, she came over and hugged my mother and then me. She lingered a little too long for Darlene’s comfort, but Carolyn understood and didn’t mind. She knew she was the winner, and she chose to be gracious, not jealous. 

In June, shortly after reaching the top journeyman machinist level, we decided that we both would prefer to live away from the big city. I was sure that the only way out would be to quit my job and get out of town to search for a job in the country. We were both raised in a rural environment, and we sorely missed the peaceful ambience of rural living.

My Uncle Jim Rogers had invited us to come up and visit him sometime at Clearlake Oaks. He had a big house on Clear Lake with its own boat dock, and had several bedrooms and extra room, even with his wife and six children. So I called him and he was happy to invite us in as I looked around northern California for a machinist job. 

We moved out of our house in Midway City, California, in July, leaving what few household possessions we owned behind, to start a new life far away in the north. 

This was to become a pattern in the coming years. We were young, and not ready to settle down yet. There was a big world out there, and we wanted to see it all!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Love and Marriage

(continued from "Out of the Army...")

I started the conversation by asking what her plans were now. I reminded her I still had a girlfriend up north, and wasn’t really free to have another one. (I know that may sound strange to some, since many guys don’t seem to have a limit, but my ethics tell me one at a time.) She said she had a job at K-Mart stocking shelves, and she would be OK for awhile by herself. 

I explained that I was about six months from finishing my apprenticeship at Olympic Screw and Rivet Company and then I would probably call my girlfriend up north and try to talk her into moving down with me, as I would be able to afford a bigger apartment on my journeyman machinist's wages.

Eventually Carolyn asked if we could repeat the experience of that summer, and promised not to get too attached. Looking back now, I’m not sure what we expected, but were we young and naive, or what?

We headed for bed again, but this time she paid a lot more attention to my needs, which was a welcome surprise, because always before it was me trying to get my girl to let me do something for her. We both had a great evening, and then she went back to her house.

It was obvious that she had been studying up on all the variations of sex, and how to please your partner, and I was more impressed than I was willing to admit. For the first time I wasn't in charge of the entertainment, and I loved it!

I had a short discussion with my brother John, who shared the apartment with me, and told him I might have a visitor over now and then, and he promised to excuse himself for a couple of hours if necessary. I think he knew a lot more than I did about what was likely to happen. I seem to only pick up on subtlety if it is administered with a baseball bat. 

The next day Carolyn called and wondered if I would be interested in coming over to her house for dinner after work. I could see this might have some other ramifications, and I asked her if her husband had made it to Oklahoma, and was she sure he hadn’t changed his mind and turned back for California. Well, it seems he had just called her from Oklahoma, and she had told him to stay there and see about a divorce, because she was through with him. 

So I came over to her house for a great enchilada dinner with a tossed salad with avocados, and of course, I stayed the night. I was beginning to like this arrangement. So for the next week I came over every night, because she kept inviting me. One night her daughter Darlene embarrassed her mother by telling me she liked when I came over because the dinner was better than before, when they just heated up TV dinners.

I don’t know how many days it was before I realized I loved Carolyn, and didn’t want it to end. I’m sure it was way longer than than it should have been. When I finally told her one evening, “I think I love you!” she threw her arms around me and said, “I was hoping you would say that!” Then she backed up when she realized I had said the words “I think.” I guess she was afraid I might figure out how hard she had been chasing me. 

Yep, I had it figured out, and I liked it! She chased me until I caught her. Forever!

The next evening, November 18, 1968, I promised her my love for the rest of my life, if she would have me. She made the same promise to me, and we were both ecstatic. 

Having just gotten out of the Army, and left the church of my youth, I was in an anti-authoritarian mood, and really did not want the church or government telling me who I could love and live with. We never did get into the drug scene, but we had some hippie tendencies. I wanted a marriage based on love and trust, not some “ink stains that have dried up on some line.”

I called up my girlfriend in Merced, California, and told her that I was not her boyfriend anymore, and that I had found someone else and fallen in love with her. She was surprised, but didn’t seem as shocked as I expected. I think she had been growing out of our long relationship, also. She asked if she could still exchange letters with me now and then, and I told her that wouldn’t be fair for my lover, and that she was free to find a new boyfriend now. We split on fairly good terms, each of us having loved and learned with each other as we grew up to maturity.

I had a lot of education in a very short time on what it takes to make a marriage. Carolyn gently reminded me that the groceries were getting low since I was eating with them. I actually picked up the hint fairly fast, and I took one of my uncashed paychecks out of the drawer and we went to the grocery store. Nope, three can’t live as cheaply as one, or even two.

Soon thereafter we were pulled over on the 605 Freeway by a California Highway Patrol officer, because we had three people on my motorcycle— me sitting close to the tank, Carolyn in the back, with Darlene squeezed in between. He told us that was illegal and dangerous. and that Darlene had no foot pegs. I explained that we had just gotten married and we did not own a car. He said it was time to buy a car, and if he saw us on the road again, he would ticket us. So we went and bought a brand new red Toyota Corolla station wagon for two thousand bucks. Those were the days!

She had a big yard at her house, and the grass was growing high, so we went to the store and without asking her, I bought a riding lawn mower. She got furious with me, because I was still acting single, I guess. I did not see it, but my brother John was with us, and he saw her take off her old wedding band and throw it across the parking lot. He retrieved it, gave it to me, and told me she was really pissed! I’m still ashamed I had to be told!

After a lot of apologies and some loud discussion, it soon became plain that she wanted a wedding ring from me, even if we hadn’t gotten the license. I had been clueless because I was raised in a religion that did not believe in rings, or jewelry of any kind. We went out the next day and she got a beautiful ring set. Of course, every time I mowed the lawn I had pangs of guilt for being so dense.

I found that the very best part of a marital argument was making up afterward.

I took Carolyn over to meet my father, who lived in a large mobile home park a couple of miles away. He was very happy to meet my new wife, and he didn’t ask too many questions about the marriage ceremony. He knew me too well.

But he was anxious to tell me they were starting square dance lessons that week, and offered to pay if we would go with them. My father Vernon and his wife Ethel had been square dancers for many years, and it looked like fun. The lessons took place in the huge recreation hall in the middle of the park, and there were at least a hundred couples. We had a lot of fun, and soon became dedicated square dancers. Every time we move to a new town, we find out where the square dancers meet and join the club. It’s a great way to meet lots of new friends when you’re the new couple in town.

One day when we were shopping in Huntington Beach, we came across a square dance apparel shop with a beautiful orange dress that was in Carolyn’s size. It was a little expensive, so I told Carolyn that we would have to wait a month before we could afford it. This happened a couple of weeks before Christmas, so we were legitimately short on money. We left without the dress, but the next day after work I stopped at the store and bought the dress with a big crinoline slip to match. The lady in the store wrapped the whole thing in a huge paper bag so I could carry it home on my motorcycle. Take my word for it—it’s not easy to ride a motorcycle with your arms wrapped around big paper sack full of a dress and crinoline slip. I sneaked into the alley and hid it in the back of the garage for Christmas. 

Carolyn told me the next day she had driven by the shop and the dress was gone! She asked the nice lady where the dress was, and she told her someone had bought it the day before. I know she must have had trouble not smiling, because she knew who had bought it, of course. It made a wonderful present on Christmas Day.

 Our daughter Darlene was just as happy with her new bicycle, too. I had assembled it while she was in school, and I got a refrigerator box to put it in, all wrapped up in pretty paper and bows. It was bigger than she was, but when she tore open the end, she could ride it right out into the room.

I had a steep learning curve with our daughter Darlene as well. She was eight years old, worried about the huge changes in her life, and I was worried about all the negative connotations of being the “step-father.” There was also the cultural abyss between her warm Oklahoma family, which I had not experienced yet, and the stiff New England ways of my mother’s family. For years to come we gradually came to an understanding of how I could relate to her without causing fear or anger. We tried to encourage her to visit her Oklahoma father as often as she wanted, and tried to leave her with the knowledge that she had not lost anyone, but now had two families.

I don’t think we really became comfortable until Carolyn had our son Wesley four years later. Darlene asked if she could call me Dad instead of Don, since she knew her new brother would call me Dad. I tried to hold back tears as I told her that would make me very proud. “Of course you can call me Dad!”

Friday, November 18, 2016

Out of my church, out of the Army, and into love.

In 1964 I went to the draft board to change my status from conscientious objector to One-A, Ready to Serve. One year after that I volunteered for the draft, and entered the U. S. Army two weeks later. I had severed ties with the Seventh-day Adventist church, and I was ready to see the world.

Late in 1965, after finishing Basic Training, I was shipped directly to an engine rebuilding depot in Granite City, Illinois, because of my experience in the automotive field, and two months later the whole company was secretly shipped to Okinawa, where we set up shop in some buildings left over from the Korean conflict, I think. We left St. Louis on a special blacked out troop train with all of our rebuilding tools and test equipment wrapped in Cosmoline and on pallets following us on flatcars.

I realized the train was going to go past my house in California, so I looked through my belongings for something to throw into my yard. I found a brand new can of shaving cream, so I wrote a letter to my girlfriend and another one to my mother, taped both messages around the can and when I went by the house at about 10:30 PM I heaved the can over the street and into the yard. Our neighbors found it and gave it to my mother. Real air mail!

The train stopped right on the docks at Oakland Army Terminal in Oakland, CA, and we were marched across the pier and onto our troop ship, the Gen. J. C. Breckinridge. It had been reactivated from the mothball fleet, and was  built before WWI, I think. It was about 650 ft long, and carried two thousand Marines, three thousand Army troops, and twenty seven Navy sailors, who sailed the ship. We were all part of President Johnson’s secret expansion in 1965 of the war in Vietnam.

On the two week journey across the Pacific, I met a couple of men recently graduated from seminaries. We were mutually attracted to each other by our religious background and schooling. One was a Methodist, and the other was Baptist. Both were on fire to convert all those heathen Japanese, and they had their sights on me, too, I’m sure. We broke up the boredom of the long voyage with many lively and spirited debates about Christianity and the Bible. 

Soon after arriving on that island, we found a Buddhist temple near the base at Makiminato and arranged for a meeting and tour by the resident lama. We three came to the temple one evening, and after removing our shoes, we were led through the various elaborately decorated but sparsely furnished rooms, with the lama explaining the functions of the rooms in the temple. We finished in a room with a low table, which we all sat around (pillows were provided out of consideration for our lack of experience at sitting on the floor), and green tea was served to all.

After many expressions of gratitude from us, the lama invited us to ask questions of him about the Buddhist beliefs, and to compare them to Christian beliefs. He asserted that both paths share many thoughts, but differ on others. It seemed he was as anxious to convert us as at least two of us were to convert him!

I won’t go through the arguments that followed through several weeks of visits. The main problem for our side was the lama didn’t believe in miracles, which meant the Bible was just a collection of ancient fables, not to be taken at face value. He asked if we would believe our own mother if she told us she could walk on water. We had to agree we wouldn’t, and might have to have her checked out by a psychiatrist. He asked then why would we believe that a man walked on water because we read it written in an ancient book by people we don’t even know? 

Yeah, he didn’t fight fair, I think. He only accepted observation and reason as truth. He gave us some small books to read with the crudely translated title of “The Value of Worth”, which was a study of what is valuable to know for a happy life. It was very interesting and topical, dealing with now--in the moment--and not worried much about the life to follow. Buddhism is often considered a philosophy rather than a religion for this reason.

This particular Buddhist group is called the Nichiren Shoshu, which translates as Nichirin’s Church. Nichirin was a Japanese priest who lived about 500 years ago and founded a very nationalist and fervent group of Buddhist believers. They were having a revival in Japan in the 1960’s and even had several large temples on the west coast of the USA.

Our lama proved very persuasive, and both of my friends converted to Buddhism within the year. I was more skeptical of this particular branch, and started studying other types of Buddhism, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Tibetan groups.

I studied the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese priest who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Dalai Lama from Tibet also teaches a very peaceful brand of Buddhism. I have never joined any group, but I read and study Buddhism yet today, and find my life immensely better for it.

After my tour of duty was over, I returned to California to return to civilian life. My girlfriend and I resumed our relationship, but she had grown up while I was gone, started college and became less and less interested in living with me if I didn’t get a college degree also. I did not qualify for the G.I. Bill, and I had bad memories of the struggle to pay off the bill after my one year at Walla Walla College Engineering School.

I had to move to southern California to find work at a screw and rivet factory as a machinist, and although we corresponded regularly, our paths grew in different directions.

 And then I met Carolyn.
After I moved to southern California, I met Don Satterfield, a friend from college who had also been studying mechanical engineering, and like me he had gotten in debt and dropped out to pay the bill. His wife Laverna was a great cook, and I often came over to their house on the weekends to visit and share food and stories. Sometimes I would help him work on his car and later, after we both bought motorcycles, we would go out in the hills and ride on the trails and back roads.

In the summer of 1968, Laverna’s niece Carolyn had separated from her husband and was living with Don and Laverna with her daughter Darlene. She married very young to an older man, and now was looking for some excitement in her life beyond sitting at home and watching TV. Sometimes when I was visiting she would make a meal for me, and we talked and joked around a lot. 

I think I finally realized one Saturday evening that she was flirting with me, so as I left I invited her over to my apartment. It was late, but she followed me in her car and came up to my second floor apartment with me. We talked for a few minutes, and I explained to her that I already had a girlfriend, but I had no problem with a quick fling for fun as long as nothing else was expected. 

We were soon in bed, and I used all that I had learned through the years to show her a spectacular time. We spent at least an hour with me giving all the tenderness and consideration I could muster. She had several wild climaxes, and afterward we talked for a few more minutes about the experience. She said she usually felt a warm but unsatisfying feeling afterwards, and she was sure this was her first real orgasm. She expressed amazement that I stayed awake and talked afterwards. I guess she was used to her husband just falling asleep. 

She drove back to the Satterfield’s house about midnight.

I slept well, and late the next morning I went back to the Satterfield house, I think to get something I had left there.

 Laverna invited me in for breakfast, and casually asked, “How are you feeling this morning?”.

I said, “I’m feeling great, wonderful, in fact!”  

She asked, “ Why would that be?” 

I flippantly said, “It must be due to clean living!” 

She snorted Dr. Pepper through her nose, if memory serves me. I knew then that she was in on the story. Carolyn must have told her all about the night before, and it occurred to me that Laverna might even have instigated the affair. 

Carolyn decided to give her marriage a second chance, and she went back home to her husband and I didn’t see her for several months other than casually in passing. I continued to correspond with my girlfriend up north, but she was into another year of college and wasn’t ready to come live with me yet.

One evening in November I heard a knock on my door, and I found Carolyn standing there, holding some Dr. Pepper in one hand and a can of peanuts in the other. I invited her in and we sat down and talked. 

She told me that she and her husband had had a big fight that day, and he threatened to go back to Oklahoma. She called his bluff, packed his clothes in the car, told him to go, and he drove off, never to return.