Done Deal

Back in Germany, the situation with Larry was coming to a head. He had a severe sinus infection, and I called the clinic to get him an appointment. Before leaving work to pick him up, I talked to the Flight Surgeon. I asked if he would check on Larry’s emotional well-being while he was in the infirmary. The doctor diagnosed Larry with acute anxiety and severe depression. At the time, the terminology bi-polar was not often used. Several medications were given to him, all of which he refused to take. Larry declared he wouldn’t take anything that could possibly alter his personality, which he thought was fabulous.

He was coming home at night, smelling strongly of perfume. I didn’t care if he was having an affair, and did not know with whom he was out. Determined to defeat me at every move, we fought frequently. When I had our friends over for dinner, he would come home from work, put on his pajamas and go into the bedroom. With our friends at the dinner table, he would come out of the bedroom. He would prepare his plate and return to the bedroom. Coming home late, he woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me if I would have a three-way with him and his girlfriend. Obviously, he didn’t know me.

It was the Fasching season in Germany, which is similar to Mardi Gras with large parades and rowdy parties. On the day of the Fasching parade, Larry had been difficult to the point I decided to stay home. Rob was old enough to go downtown with his friends for the festivities. At the parade, Rob saw his father and his girlfriend in the obvious throes of being in love. Incensed, he came home and told me. At least, I knew who it was.

Knowing Larry had an emotional problem, I was torn and felt guilty for not helping him. I told myself that if he had a broken leg I would not desert him. I insisted we go see a counselor. We drove to Frankfurt to the 97th General Hospital for a meeting with a counselor. He was a civilian PhD in his early 60s. He talked to both of us and then to me. I explained my reluctance to desert Larry while he was ill. He talked to Larry for about 45 minutes, and then he asked to speak to me alone.

He flat-out told me that I needed to get a divorce. Stunned at his rapid determination, I asked him to explain his decision to me. He told me that he felt Larry was incapable of having remorse and was unable to love. He said the more I did for Larry, the more he resented me. Feeling like I had been struck with a two-by-four, I sat back in the chair and watched the man’s body language. After a two-hour visit my initial instinct was, “He doesn’t know us.” While I was still at his desk, it occurred to me that while I might not like his advise, he was mature with many years of life experience aside from being a doctor. His mature experience won out.

When we left, Larry questioned me what the doctor had told me. I told him the doctor reassured me about his emotional state, which strangely enough satisfied Larry. I took the medications that had been prescribed for Larry for the next month.

His girlfriend was a Mexican girl from San Antonio, Mary Degeus. She was married to a Dane who obtained his citizenship by serving in the American military. They had two children, a boy who was a year older than Rob and a little girl about 10-years-old. I called Mary who worked as the secretary for the Morale Support Fund center and asked her to lunch. At lunch, I explained to her that I was getting a divorce the minute I got Stateside. As a female I felt obligated to tell her woman-to-woman that if she left her family, she would be getting a pig-in-a-poke with Larry. She swore that they were not having an affair. She told Larry it was sour grapes on my part. In my mind, I had done the fair thing.

Aware we were getting close to our rotation date, we decided to take one last trip and decided on Italy. Our tour bus left at 6:30 am, and much to my consternation Mary was there to see us off. Larry insisted she came because she worked for MSF.

We went to Florence first. Florence is one of the most beautiful, ancient cities in Italy. Nestled on the banks of the muddy Arno River, Florence was important during the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, especially for its art and architecture. It is a very walkable town with moment after moment of delightful finds. It is a city filled with wonderful art works of the Della Robbias, Raphael, Botticelli, and the universal genius of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. There were towers, museums, monuments, cathedrals, synagogues and the palaces of the Medici family. The marble statue of Michelangelo’s David and the whole city are too magnificent for words. The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is a Medieval Age, stone bridge which still has shops built along it. Today, the shops house jewelers, art dealers and souvenir shops. Near the bridge, an out-door central market sold everything from gold jewelry, fruits, vegetables, clothes to leather goods. I selected a pair of gold hoop earrings. After negotiating and haggling with the vendor when he weighed the earrings, I paid by the ounce.

Rob had just completed Julius Caesar in school. He was able to walk where Caesar had trod in our next destination, Rome. The Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican all attest to the expression “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The “Eternal City” is filled with spectacular, ancient Roman ruins, masterpieces from the Renaissance, delightful Baroque fountains, and charming, medieval back streets. The Pietà, the masterpiece sculptured by Michelangelo is housed in a side chapel as you enter St. Peter’s Basilica. This famous work of art shows the body of Jesus cradled in the lap of his mother, Mary, after his Crucifixion.

The food, the Italians and Rome were all a joy. We ate in an inn away from town where supposedly Julius Caesar had stayed. The catered dinner was all right, but the wine was pure vinegar. Our tour guide and bus driver were Germans. Apparently, this was their first trip to Rome. While trying to find the hotel, the driver went up a one-way street – the wrong way. The street was narrow and curving with cars parked on both sides. There was barely room for the bus, and the driver clipped several side mirrors off parked cars and kept going.

Leaving the coliseum, an Italian police car came up beside the bus and motioned us to stop. I assumed someone had turned in the bus because of all the damage incurred as we drove to the hotel. When the police came on the bus, they informed the tour guide that the law required all tour guides must be Roman. Not having an approved tour guide, they escorted us to the police station. Close to an hour went by as we waited at the jail. I suggested that instead of arresting all of us that the Italians arrest the tour guide and to contact the German tour company. Larry told them he would call the American Embassy if they did not let us go. Finally, we were released.

After returning from Italy, Larry sent a floral arrangement to my office. Nothing he did surprised me anymore. After lunch I had to go to the MSF building where Mary worked. When I went into the office there was an identical, floral arrangement sitting on her desk. I conducted my business. I picked up her vase of flowers, and I sweetly said “Oh, these must have been delivered here by mistake; these were meant for me!” She was too stunned to say a word. I left with her floral tribute which I tossed in the first dumpster I saw.

In my office there was a contingent of Air Force personnel. They were going to the bi-annual Paris Air Show. They were trying to fill up the tour bus, and they offered me a seat to Paris for $75.00. I gave them the money, and I informed Larry that I would be back in three days.

Three whole days and nights in Paris, alone! What a great gift to myself. The tour bus took the Air Force group out to the air show, so I used the Paris Metro to get around Paris. I spent a long time touring Notre Dame, a wonderful Gothic cathedral. The gargoyles perched beneath the roof, the historical organ and the wondrous bells in the tower took me all morning to visit. I went to the Jewish Memorial near Notre Dame. I went to see The Thinker at the Rodin Museum and its wonderful garden of sculptures. I spent most of one day shopping and wandering in the Parisian department stores. Although I was content to be on my own, I would meet the group to go to dinner. When they left to party and bar hop, I went back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep.

Aware that I had used poor judgment in staying married for Rob’s sake, I was still torn over divorcing. One evening, Rob said to me, “Mom, I do not understand why you stay with him.” Bingo, I had my exit ticket.

We returned to the States in July and stopped in Mississippi to visit Mother and Jay. By the time we arrived in Houston, the marriage situation had deteriorated beyond the point of my sanity. Taking Rob, I drove to San Antonio. We stayed with Belinda for three weeks, until I found a job and a used car. I rented an apartment, and for the next three weeks we slept on the floor.

It is next to impossible to obtain a divorce and keep one’s integrity and dignity intact. It is laughable to think I could. There are only two issues, I think relevant about the divorce. One was Larry’s retirement benefits and our 10 acre property, and the day of our divorce is the second. I filed for divorce in San Antonio to avoid having to go to El Paso where Larry was stationed.

At the time I filed for the divorce there was a case regarding military retirement pay pending before the Supreme Court. A general’s former wife had never had a career. She moved, countless times, when her husband was reassigned to a new duty station. When the general left her for a younger woman, she found that his military retirement benefits belonged solely to him. With no working experience and a limited future, she sued for a portion of his military retirement benefits. The law suit was eventually heard at the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court justices ruled that military retirement benefits are community property.

My lawyer knew nothing about military retirement benefits, so I was forced to research this issue on my own. I became active in a military ex-wife’s group, where I met a businessman who was running for a US Congressional seat in my district. Kent Hance recruited me, and I worked hard on his campaign. Kent defeated George W. Bush, who was making his first political foray. After the election, Congressman Hance called me. He told me that the law for former military wife’s benefits was being attached to the budget, and it would be enacted shortly. The federal guidelines required 20 years of marriage with at least 10 years in the military. The new guidelines would eliminate me as I had only been married 17 years. It would be several weeks before the new law would be published in the Federal Register and be public knowledge.

Armed with this lucky and advantageous piece of information, I called Larry. Negotiating a new deal, I informed him that I would back off of his retirement pay. In turn, he had to sign over the 10 acre property in San Antonio that we were buying. The first time we lived in San Antonio, Larry decided he wanted to retire in San Antonio. We found a 10 acre lot south of San Antonio near Loop 1604. When we bought the property, Larry asked Uncle Bunny to finance it. I had faithfully sent the payment to Uncle Bunny for over five years.

One day, I got a phone call at the apartment regarding my signature on the property. Stunned, I discovered Larry was refinancing the property. He intended to lift the equity we had accrued. I called Uncle Bunny asking what I should do. Bunny assured me that as the lien holder, he would stop Larry from sticking me with a new, much larger mortgage.

On March 3, 1981, nine months after coming back to the states, I went to the courthouse. I saw Larry standing on the front courthouse steps. He had recently gained so much weight that his shirt lapel gaped at the buttonholes. His lawyer had set the court date as they were anxious I would change my mind about pursuing the retirement benefits. Larry begged me not to go through with the divorce. Incredulous, I heard him out. Calmly stepping around him, I went in to the courthouse – love was no longer stronger than my pride.

I asked for primary custody of Robin, child support for him, that the agreement on the property be honored and for relief when the IRS came after me. The judge inquired why I had not insisted on filing the income taxes. I informed him that I had been more frightened of Larry than I was of the IRS. The following year when I filed my single payer 1040 Form, I received a $33.00 refund, and the IRS called. I sent the IRS a copy of my divorce decree which absolved me of all responsibility and liability. Honoring the judge’s ruling, they went away.

I left the court room with custody of my 15-year-old son and 10 acres which I still was buying. A little over two years after coming back to San Antonio, I sold the property, and I paid Uncle Bunny off. Using the remaining money, I made the down payment on my little, yellow cottage. Then, I married Bear.

Finis

I wrote this chatty narrative to afford my boys the opportunity to ask me questions. After Mother passed away, I often wondered about something from our past, and I could no longer ask her. I want to give my boys a sense of what the world was like 65 years ago and about mine and Robin’s childhoods. Some people will be quick to tag my family as dysfunctional, but that is a label – my family was imperfect.

My many experiences were much different from the average person’s or even of my own expectations. This story has been written to the best of my memory of the experiences and impressions I had of the past. I have been overly blessed with family, mentors and outstanding friends. All of which I am deeply grateful to have had in my life.

In reflection, I am aware that I am extremely lucky. I have learned that luck is not enough, life requires hard work. For my grandsons, luck is not equal to talent. Hard work = talent.

This is to nudge you to think of questions. I hope you will ask me, willingly. As a mother and a grandmother, my wish is that you accept this in the spirit it was written. If not – get over yourself.

Advertisements
Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 5:44 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Mike – Lost

On a Saturday night, I had a dream that I woke up, and Dad was standing at the foot of my bed. He told me not to be afraid, but that he was there to help. The dream chilled me. The next morning while Larry was preparing to leave to drive to a conference, I told him about the dream. He said I was daft and left for his destination. About 7 o’clock that night the phone rang. Lee was calling to tell me that on Saturday afternoon Mike was killed in a mountain climbing accident in Garmisch. Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps, is an Army-owned recreation area for soldiers and their dependents to use.

John Sherman asked me if I wanted to go home with Mike’s body as the official military escort. He made a phone call to make it happen for me. Because Mike’s accident had occurred in a German province, it took ten days to get his body released to the American military. I left Fulda and went to Rhein-Main AFB just outside of Frankfort. I was the only ticketed passenger along with Mike on a C5-A cargo plane with about 60 standby passengers. The plane had just arrived from Turkey. Taxing out to the run-way, there was a mechanical problem. The plane turned around, and I had to spend the night in Frankfort.

The next morning, we departed for Dover, Delaware. The C5-A was a military cargo not a passenger plane. To board the plane I had to climb up a ladder. The crew was aware of my reason for flying, and again I was the only ticketed passenger. The 70 or so seats were directly behind the cockpit with the huge cargo hole beneath. There were a number of soldiers and dependents who were flying on standby. A young Black woman sitting near me started to complain about the accommodations. Next, she loudly declared the area smelled like a dead body. Concerned I would be offended, the Air Force flight crew told me they would move me. They reminded her that she was flying standby on a cargo plane. I declined their offer and tried to sleep.

The flight went directly to Dover Air Force Base as Mike was on board, and we were going to the military mortuary there. When the plane landed an official came on board and stamped my passport. As my clearance was going on, the angry Black girl complained that I was getting preferential treatment. Her husband was told that he needed to get her under control. She had to stand in line to get her passport clearance and luggage for at least an hour. I was taken down to a military sedan on the tarmac.

When we got to the mortuary, I was given a class on the protocol of escorting a deceased service member. The class instructor showed me how to properly drape an American flag on the coffin. He advised me that the coffin should never be loaded without my presence. Because of the embalming process, the head of the coffin has to be toward the cockpit. The mortuary attendant gave me an American flag to drape on Mike’s casket when we reached our final destination. He told me that flags are traditionally given to the service member’s company. He advised me to pack the second flag in my luggage because flags are heavy. I asked for a third flag to give to Lee because he and Jean were divorced.

After I was at the mortuary for about eight hours, the staff came to speak to me. They were unable to reconstruct or to make adequate, cos-metic repairs to Mike’s face. I needed to decide if the body was presentable or to make a decision to have a closed casket. On the mountain while getting up on a ledge, Mike bumped his head. When he stood up straight on the ledge, he was most likely dizzy. He fell backwards from the ledge, and he dropped 1000 feet. After seeing he was unrecognizable, I determined Mike’s casket needed to remain closed. I was instructed to tell his parents that the coffin should remained closed. If his parents elected to see his body as an official escort, I was required to leave the room. Somehow, this negates the Army’s responsibility. I caught a cab to the post guest quarters to spend the night.

The next morning, Mike and I were loaded in a civilian hearse which drove us to Philadelphia for our flight to Texas. At the Philadelphia airport, I went in to pick up my boarding pass. I was approached by an airport staff member who informed me they had erroneously loaded Mike’s coffin. They asked me to go to the airplane’s cargo hole and sign off on the placement of the casket. He took me down the stairs to the tarmac. With two men, one on each side of me holding my hands, I walked on the conveyor belt into the airplane’s cargo hole. Once I approved the placement of the casket in the belly of the plane, they escorted me back upstairs.

I boarded the aircraft and found my seat. The man in the seat next to mine had been watching out the window when I walked up the conveyor belt. He questioned why and what I had been doing. I simply told him that I was traveling with special cargo. On our way to Atlanta where we would change planes, he and I chatted. I did tell him I was coming from Germany. As we were coming into Atlanta, the flight attendant said they needed me to be the first to deplane. She said she would move me to an empty seat in first class. As I was gathering my stuff, the gentleman asked if I were some kind of spy. That made me laugh.

When we landed, they took me down to the tarmac, where Delta had a station wagon waiting for me and Mike. We had a five-hour layover in Atlanta. The Delta people drove us to the cargo area. They put me and Mike’s casket in a small, separate area away from all of the luggage. A Delta staff person came over, and he sat down and chatted with me. He returned to work, and another staff member came to sit with me. I realized that they were intentionally staying with me. I told him that I was okay with being alone with Mike, and he told me that the crew preferred that we not be alone. They went to get me a pizza and held my hand for several hours. The Delta crew paid Mike proper respect of their own volition, which I have always appreciated. When we went back to the plane, the cargo crew had made arrangements for me to be seated in first class. From Atlanta, we flew to Shreveport, Louisiana.

A hearse was waiting for us at the Shreveport airport. When I left the plane, I was again taken down the stairs to the noisy and steaming hot tarmac. The ground crew brought Mike’s casket over to the hearse where I was waiting. Next to the hearse, the driver had roped off a private area where I would place the flag on the casket. I looked up to see Lee standing there. Having to drape the flag on Mike’s coffin with his father watching was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life. The complete area came to a standstill. All of the ground crew took off their hats and stood at attention. There was total silence as I laid the “Stars and Stripes” over his heart. Mike was three months shy of his 27th birthday.

Riding with Lee, we followed the hearse to Texarkana, Texas where the funeral was to be held. We arrive at the funeral home, and I turned my sweet nephew over to the funeral director. It had been 70 hours since I had left my home in Fulda.

I was exhausted. Mother and Jay had driven from Mississippi. Lee, Kay, Margaret, Van, Billy, Ron and Betty had already checked-in at the motel. Missy and her future husband, Gary, arrived after I got there. Lee got upset about them staying together in a room. To divert the argument, I gave Kay my room key for her and Missy to use. Drawing the short straw, Gary had to bunk with Lee. I roomed with Mother and Jay.

The young man, who was on the mountain with Mike, flew in for the funeral. Heartbroken, he broke down when I gave him the flag to take back to the unit. At the funeral it was 114° in Texarkana. There had been a horrendous, heat wave for several days. Accustomed to the mild summers of Germany, I was wretchedly uncomfortable. Several weeks before he died, Mike visited us in Fulda and left his watch at my house. I gave the watch and the third flag to Lee. I had tremendous difficulty in accepting that my kind, caring nephew could be lost in such a horrendous way. I was bitter over his loss for 10 years.

After the funeral, Mother, Jay and I drove to Galveston, Texas to spend a few days at Margaret’s beach house before heading back to Mississippi. Jay didn’t particularly like to drive. I drove to the island and then on to Mississippi. I stayed about two weeks in Mississippi. The heat in July was so intense, I decided to return to Germany early. I flew out of Charleston, South Carolina.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Last Hurrah

We landed at Rein-Main Air Force Base, and the military police with drug-sniffing dogs throughly examined our luggage. We were picked up by Larry and went to Fulda, Germany. At the height of the Cold War, the military mission in Fulda was to stand ready against a potential attack from the Soviet Bloc. The Fulda Gap was the most likely, strategic entryway into Germany by the Soviets. The Russians could deploy a large-scale tank attack through the valley and lowlands.

In Fulda, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s assignment in the event of war was to delay a Soviet attack until other units of the US V Corps could be mobilized and deployed to defend the Fulda Gap. On their uniforms, soldiers wore a patch with a rearing, black stallion. They were referred to as the Black Horse Battalion. The Fulda Gap is roughly the same route Napoleon used to retreat after his defeat at Leipzig where he escaped back to France.

As a military dependent, I was required to keep at least a half-tank of gas in the car along with an emergency kit should we have to flee. My assigned, designated point of escape was to Italy. Although I considered us sitting ducks in Fulda, my view point was that the Red Army would over run and not destroy Fulda as they would need a staging ground. The Soviet forces goal would have been to occupy Frankfort which is the financial center of Germany. I felt much safer in Fulda than I would have been while fleeing to Italy.

The Iron Curtain, which divided the two Germany’s, was a series of fences and outposts which were manned at all times. The point of the wall was not to keep us out, but to keep the East Germans in. The border operations on the East-West German borders patrolled 24/7. The 11th Armored Cav, with the Calvary being tanks, trained in the field. At least once a month there would be an alert. An alert is an exercise in practicing going to war. In the middle of the night the phone would ring, and every soldier began the exercise to prepare to go to war. We lived out on the economy not in the military family housing, and the Army airfield was less than two blocks from our house. Before the phone rang for an alert, I would hear the noise from the helicopters and know that another alert had begun.

We lived in a temporary apartment for a couple of months waiting for an apartment to become available. We finally found an apartment and moved into a small village outside of Fulda. Our widowed landlady was a wonderful lady, and she was almost Larry’s size. Her husband died later from injuries that he had received as a prisoner-of-war in France. German houses are constructed to accommodate several generations. Anna’s parents had passed away, and her oldest daughter moved from Fulda when she married. Anna and her teenage daughter, Tia, lived downstairs, and we had the upper floor. Anna’s yard was completely filled with a garden where she grew most of their fresh food. In her side yard was an orchard of plum and apple trees. She bred rabbits for meat, and she kept a cow in the village barn. I could always tell when she had been to milk the cow as the rank, barn odors clung to her. From her house we could see the main clock tower in the village, it was over 900 years old.

I once asked her why the German population had followed Hitler’s ideology. She had been young when the war started. She told me that if anyone made the slightest remark they were reported to the German SS police force. She knew whole families that disappeared, and one could not trust their life-long, closest neighbor.

I bought a standard, all-most poodle. His father was questionable, but he resembled his poodle mother. When I started house-breaking him, a major storm came in leaving several feet of snow. I walked him daily, and he learned to lift his leg on the snow bank. When the snow began to thaw, I had to re-housebreak him because he couldn’t find his marked places.

Dona came to visit for several weeks, and on her last week there Vana came to Germany. We went to the airport to pick up Vana. The girls were in the back seat and were excitedly chatting. Dona was telling her about all the things she had done when I heard Vana say, “Do you think we will find any place with good German food?” Laughing, I told her, “No, but we can find Italian.” She died on the spot. Several days later, they took a train to Paris and both came home with their own stories to tell. Wanting the girls to experience German beer at its very best, we took them to the Kruezburg monastery.

Just outside of Wildflecken, Germany in the Rhon mountain area is a monastery named Kruezburg. The parking lot is midway up the mountain, and you have to walk a distance to get to the cloister and the brewery. On one of our first visits, it was a sunny day and while hiking up the trail we spotted sunbathers on the mountain side. Coming closer, Rob realized they were au naturale. Having to traipse through a gaggle of nude girls to go to a monastery certainly gets the attention of a 13-year-old. The monks raised Saint Bernard dogs, but the main attraction on the Kreuzberg is the brewery. The monks brew what is considered by many to be one of the best beers in the world. It’s a dark, smooth beer and was served in half liter mugs. In the winter months they produced a dark bock beer. We skied one weekend up in that area, and we went to a massive castle for a Frankenstein Halloween.

One summer weekend, we took Dona and Rob to Heidelberg to see the “lighting of the castle.” A beautiful castle dominates the Heidelberg skyline and looms over the Altstad (old town). That night, we found a spot on the Neckar River bank to see a spectacular, fireworks show which erupted in glorious colors and cascaded from the towers of the castle.

On a Saturday, we went to a small village which had a “people” parade. The village invited people to march in their native costumes. Men, women and children from other countries and the states of Germany came dressed in their finest garb to march down the cobblestone street. At local folk fests or at beer gardens, German men wore the traditional, leather lederhosen with braces, and the women would don colorful, drindle skirts and aprons.

On another Saturday, I took Rob and Dona to an Army air show. It was crowded, and we were standing in about the 10th row. A Dutch parachute team jumped from a helicopter at 10,000 feet. They formed a circle, and when they separated, I saw one guy bump the feet of another jumper. Watching, I realized his parachute was not opening, and he was in free-fall. I told Dona and Rob to turn around and to stand with their backs to the airfield and to not watch. I watched the parachutist and the crowd. The moment the unfortunate Dutch-man hit the ground, I turned around. Putting my hands on the kids backs, I moved them forward toward the car. As we walked to the car, the ambulance was making its way to the scene of the accident. Concerned about the reaction of the crowd, I drove out im-mediately. The kids at first were quite, then sad and then animated. It upset all three of us.

We went to the Schũzenfest folk fair in Fulda, and Dona loved going to the marketplaz for the breads and cheese. Being a beautiful girl, she caught the eye of a young, German motorcycle cop, named Heinrich. In his leather, police uniform and on a shiny, black motorcycle, he cut quite the figure.

We went to the Witches’ Tower which was a women’s prison in the Middle Ages and was actually part of the original fortification in Fulda. We visited the Fasanerie Palace which started as a hunting palace for a prince, and it was later turned into a summer palace. Rebuilt after World War II, the palace has excellent examples of exquisite furniture and paintings from the 1700s. Over the years with remodeling from Rocco to Baroque to the present Neo-classical style it became an elegant palace. The formal, terraced garden was transformed into a more naturally landscaped park over the years.

For everyone who came to see us, we toured Fulda. The Catholic Church is dominant in Fulda. It was the first seat of Catholicism that St Boniface established in Germany. The crypt holding the remains of St. Boniface (d. 754) is in the Fulda Cathedral (Dom). The Dom had a domed roof with magnificent, twin spires. While we were there the wildly popular Pope John Paul II visited. All of Fulda shut down for the day to see him.

The wooden pulpit in front of the high altar was hand-carved by two generations of craftsmen. It has an ornate spiral staircase leading to the pulpit where the priest stands high above the parishioners. In the church museum, they have wonderful statues and paintings. As you go down the stairs to the vault there is a large, bronze statue at the entrance. It has been rubbed by so many hands over the years that all the patina is worn from the statue’s foot. In the vault or basement there is a section in the walls where just the hearts of cardinals are buried. Looking up at the ceiling in the nave, you can see tiny birds nestled in a wreath, or petite, Baroque angels with their gold-tipped wings jutting out.

Next to the Dom was St. Michael’s Church. With its foundation built in the early 900s, it is one of Germany’s oldest churches. It is a Gothic style church perched high on a stone wall overlooking the Fulda Cathedral.

Fulda has many Baroque treasures in wonderful surroundings. The Residence Palace was built in the early 1700s and is an excellent example of a Baroque building. The interior has been beautifully refurbished with fine furnishings, and they have an excellent collection of porcelain items. On the extensive, palace grounds was a Orangerie, a 1700s house for citrus plants and the formal gardens which were incredible in the spring.

The last Christmas we were in Fulda, the Paris National Ballet company performed The Nutcracker in the Residence Palace. I had to pinch myself. I was watching a world-famous Parisian ballet in a Baroque palace; it was a Cinderella moment.

Larry was the manager for the Officer’s Club. Again he had late hours, and he was constantly at the club. I found a civilian job on post for the Non-Appropriated Funds (NAF) division. I worked days, and Larry was working at night. The NAF department’s mission was to insure that the regulations, procedures and accountability for the club operations, Rod and Gun clubs and the Morale Support Fund were in compliance with the military guidelines. Club management and the club employees fell under NAF division which eventually created problems between Larry and me.

One day, I was walking out of Officer’s Club, and the new regimental commander was entering. He stuck out his hand to shake mine and he said, “John Sherman Crow.” Without batting an eye lash, I extended my hand and gave him my full name, “Nancy Kay Shapiro.” It struck him funny, and for the next two years my job working for John Sherman was a joy. He was from Louisiana, and he was authentically Southern. He had a first cousin, named John David Crow, who was the 1957 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A. & M. The Crow family always referred to each of the cousins by both of their given names.

My office was in the Headquarters Building on the second floor across from the Community Commander’s offices. Next to my three-quarter-walled office was a bull pen where military support personnel worked. There was a full-bird colonel who would come to the office. He would make huge demands on the military support staff and in particular, the 2nd lieutenant who was in charge of the Moral Support Fund. The colonel would make an excuse to come into my office to visit me, but in reality he thought it fun to watch the turmoil he had created with the staff. On one occasion, I expressed my observance and asked him why he drove the staff insane. Smiling, he said that seeing them running around like chickens with their heads cut off entertained him. It even amused him that I had nailed him. Listening to the hubbub and peering over my office wall was a frequent activity for him.

John Sherman met with the Community staff on a regular basis. On our first briefing with him, we were invited to his private office where he was sitting at his desk. He indicated that we should seat ourselves at his conference table. Once we were all at the table, he put a lead-crystal ashtray and a pack of cigarettes on the table. He sat down and promptly leaned back in the chair, bracing his feet on the edge of the conference table. During the meeting, he started to light a cigarette, and he offered me one. I pulled my cigarettes out of my pocket and put them on the table. John Sherman and I were the only two people smoking. A briefing can last several hours, and eventually the lieutenant nudged me wanting a cigarette. John Sherman countermanded, “No, if you didn’t bring your own, that is too bad.” He loved pulling rank.

V Corps Headquarters in Frankfurt managed all the appropriations for Fulda. At the end of the physical year, any budgeted monies not spent by the military have to be reported. The following year’s budget would be decreased by the amount not spent. John Sherman had me keep projects ready to submit for year-end funding in order to capture any excess appropriations from V Corp.

John Sherman knew he could count on me. Because I was not in the military, he would give me unique assignments. He instructed me to do a survey on the border for anything the troops on border patrol could use. I was to be flown by helicopter to these sites, but he warned me about the helicopter crew. John Sherman advised me because I was a female and a civilian, the crew would do their best to terrify me.

The next morning, I got on the helicopter, and one of the two pilots handed me a head-set with a microphone. They gave me brief instructions on how to speak to them. In a cloud of whirling dust, the helicopter roared to life, lifted and began its advance – then the games began. They flew nap-of-the-earth which in essence is to fly as fast and as close as possible to the ground. When a tree, hill or a building came on the horizon, they popped over it at the very last second. I refused to let them know that the wild and woolly ride shook me.

We stopped at my first assignment which was a listening post. When we landed on a mountain side, the only visible sign of life was a chimney. In the side of the mountain was a room where they sat listening for activity across the border. The troops spoke several languages among them and spent weeks at a time at this remote outpost. I toured five more border sites that day and visited with the troops to see what items they could use. Because of the isolation, the troops mainly wanted cross-country skis, movies and gear for the day rooms. I can attest to how difficult it is to spend six hours in a cold, noisy, bone-rattling helicopter. On the next leg of our journey, the pilots thought it would be funny to fly me on the East German side of the border, while the pilots technically remained in West Germany. When the helicopter hovered sideways with my fanny suspended in East Germany, I finally laughed. My flying cowboys were ecstatic.

Another year-end project was to remodel and expand the Rod and Gun Club. I prepared additional plans for a new bowling alley for Morale Support Fund. All these projects were funded because we were prepared and immediately submitted on short notice.

Rod and Gun Clubs were on every garrison, and anyone attached to the military could use the facilities. Rod and Gun Clubs had shooting ranges, small bars, and they sold weapons. Their primary purpose was to sell rifles, revolvers, shotguns and ammunition. The clubs had access to international brands of hunting rifle at prices much lower than in the US.

John Sherman called me down to his office. He asked me to take a package via helicopter to the post at Wildflecken. He instructed me that under no circumstances would I reveal what was in the package, nor to whom I was delivering the package.

I drove to the helicopter airfield where two pilots had been alerted and were waiting for me. This time there were no games. The flight was about 30 minutes, and when we landed a car was there to pick me up. I was escorted to the commander’s office, where he patiently sat with me for at approximately 45 minutes. We made small talk until he was notified that a general’s helicopter was landing. I said that would be my appointment. The colonel escorted me to the car and I was driven back to the airfield. A lieutenant stepped out of the general’s helicopter and asked me if I had the package for Heidelberg. I handed him the package, and I returned to the helicopter to fly home.

The point of the whole episode was to avoid any military person in our command having any direct contact with the package. As I was a civilian female, John Sherman knew I would avoid a direct command by an officer. A general had purchased a hunting rifle at the Rod and Gun Club in Heidelberg. When he returned to pick it up at a later date, the rifle was gone. It had accidentally been sold. A general carries a lot of weight, and everyone took his threat to close down that Rod and Gun Club, seriously. They found the same model at the Fulda Rod and Gun Club, and its transfer was given to me.

Several weeks later, the colonel from Wildflecken was in Fulda. Upon leaving the Community Commander’s office, he saw me sitting at my desk. He knocked politely, and I invited him to enter. After a mo-ment of amenable conversation, he asked me if I were able to relay why I had been in Wildflecken. Informing him I was still unable to discuss my mission, he saluted me and left. John Sherman thought that was a hoot, and he saluted me.

The Officer’s Club consumed Larry. He was obsessed in having everything run perfectly. He had navy and black tuxedos custom-made and asked his father to tailor several suits for him. His strange obsessions were becoming more apparent. If he came to my office the whole time he stood at my desk, he would reorder and realign everything. When he left, my desktop had everything lined up in a perfect row. If I were sick and stayed at home, he would make up the bed with me still in it. Having to be alert to Larry’s many moods and the endless shadow-boxing became my constant companions.

A brand new 2nd lieutenant was assigned to the Officers club for hands-on training as he had just graduated from club management school. Jerry Walters and his wife, Deborah, were from Missouri. She had polio as a child and had a deformed hip which created a difficult gait for her. She was an extremely, pretty girl with curly, brown hair flowing below her shoulders. Newly married, she had never been away from home and was homesick. She hung out with me as Jerry’s hours at the club were terrible. Having additional help at the club didn’t improve Larry’s hours at work.

Debbie and I went to a crystal factory. She had a Heinz 57 pup that we left in my car. Walking out of the store, I was carrying all of the shopping bags as Debbie had difficulty walking down the hill. Her dog saw us come out of the building. Jumping excitedly, the puppy knocked the car out of gear into neutral. The car started to roll downhill and was headed straight for a Mercedes. Our first instinct was to start running. I was loaded down with the fragile crystal we had purchased, and Debbie’s balance issues made it impossible for her to run. I shouted, “Walk, don’t run.” As we sauntered toward the parking lot, I watched my car creep down the grade. Just as the car rolled close to the black Mercedes, it stopped. Everything turned out okay, we were laughing and happy. When she asked me why I had stopped running, I said, “The car was insured, but the crystal wasn’t.”

Taking the Walters with us, we drove to Switzerland. We begin to near the Alps as the day began to fade into twilight. Rob, Debbie and I were in the back seat of the car. We were leaning back and forth, across one another, and craning our necks to see the backdrop of the mountains in the evening light. We checked into a Swiss chalet, and the next morning, we awoke to a wondrous sight. The mountains, we had briefly caught sight of the night before, were the foothills – the Alps stood majestically behind them.

We rode a cog-train up the mountain to a small, picturesque village, Grindelwald, which sits on a glacier beneath the Eiger Mountain. Grindelwald is surrounded by the spectacular mountain trio “Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau” A book and movie named the Eiger Sanction were recently released. It was exciting to see the sheer, north face of the Alp which was prominent in the movie, towering at 13,025 feet. We spent the day in the village shopping, eating and enjoying the spectacular view. There was an ice museum in the glacier with all the statues carved in ice. Switzerland is more pristine that Germany if that is possible. In the German villages, paper and trash were always policed, and on Saturday, everyone swept and washed their front walks and the street.

Jerry was assigned to the Frankfort Officer’s Club. In January, we went to Frankfort to spend the night at their high-rise apartment to watch the Super Bowl, together. The Dallas Cowboys were playing in Super Bowl XII. Jerry, Rob and Larry were beyond, ecstatic when Dallas won. “How Bout Them Cowboys,” was the national chant for a year.

Anna’s married daughter and her family decided to return to Fulda, and they wanted to move back to her house. Anna had already found us a new apartment which was under construction near the air field. The Germans are so smart in the way they construct and heat their houses. The foundation was laid, and I watched as the construction crew stacked large cinder-blocks and applied stucco to the outside. Every room had a separate radiator. Furnace fuel oil was extremely expensive, so all the doors were kept shut. The radiators are only turned on in the room being used, and the door is always kept shut. Heating only what is needed at the time is an efficient way to conserve fuel oil. The kitchen and bathrooms had individual water heaters which hung on the wall. When I needed to wash dishes or take a bath, I turned on the water heater which held just enough water for the job.

Because electricity is extremely expensive in Germany most homes don’t have large refrigerators. With limited space for storage, Germans shop daily for meat, fresh fruit and vegetables. In downtown Fulda, there was an open-air market with stall after stall of local vendors selling vegetables, fruits and fresh-cut flowers. The bakery, the butcher market and the grocery store were located around the marketplaz. I loved going downtown to the marketplaz. The stunning flowers brought in year round from Holland or Israel always made me happy.

I traveled for my job. I went to a NAF seminar in Heidelberg. My roommate was a German girl who informed me that when she traveled, she was not married. I don’t remember her ever spending the night in our room the whole week, she only showed up to change clothes.

When I traveled, I rarely used all my per diem pay. I would split the remainder with Rob in exchange for him keeping the house up and getting a meal together on the day I came home. Traveling by train, albeit a super fast train, always made me homesick and miss Daddy. He would have loved the idea of a Euro-Rail pass to travel anywhere he wanted.

I was sent to Munich for a week to attend and speak at a NAF school for Morale Support Fund military personnel. I had been asked to speak on accounting at the Friday afternoon session. This time the Army quartered the attendees in temporary apartments, and my new, German roommate informed me that she had the same standards as my previous roommate. During the week, she brought her brand new friend back to the apartment because we had a large, living area and television.

Most nights we ate together as a group. On Thursday night, we went to a popular disco named the Yellow Submarine. The walls had been built to hold a fish tank that completely surrounded the club. Inside, the yellow walls had portholes, and you could watch sharks circling the build-ing. The guys partied hard.

By noon on Friday, the ones with hangover were barely able to function. My session was to be on MSF accounting issues. I realized it was fruitless to try to teach a bunch of half-whole, hung-over soldiers. Required to take a test on the information they covered during the week, they were concerned. My class was the last one of the week. Knowing the questions for my portion of the test, I advised the guys that I would teach the test questions for 15 minutes then allow them to nap.

When I was assigned to go to the seminar in Munich, I realized it was the last weekend of the famous Oktoberfest. I made a request of the Army to keep the apartment for the weekend, and Larry and Rob drove to Munich to attend the festival. Larry and I were at each other’s throats, but we called a truce long enough to get through the weekend.

We lived in the village of Sickles, and Rob was able to use the German he learned at school. He met a girl in the village and started hang-ing out with her. Her family lived close to the air field. He was invited to stay for dinner one night. He had always spoken German with her family, and they did not realize that he was an American dependent. Her father made a disparaging remark about the American military during the dinner. Rob felt he needed to inform the father that he was American. Rob spoke German so well the father didn’t realize he was an American. Impressed that Rob had proper manners when he was in their home, her father said he had misspoke and would reconsider his views on Americans.

Rob had two constant buddies, Pete and Joey. They forever were in trouble for small, but many infractions. They usually managed to get caught when they were up to no-good. They played on the 8th and 9th grade football and basketball teams. Rob had a teacher named Tom Shilitoe both years. The first year Tom taught Rob, he would call me whenever Rob was disrespectful, rowdy or failed to turn in an assignment. We would talk to Rob and punish if necessary. Tom called me frequently, and I began to be concerned about Rob getting through his class. Fortunately, he was able to advance to 9th grade. Over the summer, Rob grew to be over six feet tall. The following school year, Tom started calling me. After the third call to complain, I informed Tom that he needed to find a way to deal with Rob. Rob was larger than Tom, and Tom was on his own. Rob may not have improved, but I no longer had to referee on a daily basis. Since Rob was far from an angel, I am sure Tom had a rough year.

The boys had a female teacher, who gave them an assignment with the caveat she would not accept any homework that was not in a folder. Having a very small PX, the few folders available were sold instantly. The boys took turns in submitting their assignment because they had one folder between them. Rob was the last one to turn in the assignment. When it was returned to him, it had a red F across the front page. She learned that he had borrowed the folder and gave him a failing grade. I normally backed teachers, but I felt she had gone too far since his work was fine with the exception of the folder. I went to the school and spoke with her, but she was adamant and unwilling to reach a compromise. I quickly tired of being stonewalled and informed her, “The only reason you gave the boys Fs is because they don’t allow you to give Gs.

When I returned to my office, I was still fuming. When I ran into John Sherman, I proceeded to rant about the teacher. He thought my “G” remark was funny and agreed the shortage of a folder did not condone her actions. Several days later, Rob was happy as his stubborn teacher had been transferred to Frankfurt. Going downstairs, I asked John Sherman if he had gotten rid of her. He smiled and said, “Nobody gives Gs in my command.” Gotta love him.

Billy came to Germany to look for opportunities as an opera singer. She found a job on post at the military barbershop. She had previously owned a large barbershop in Houston. A military barbershop has “one cut fits all mentality,” and the barbers are extremely busy. She became upset when she was expected to sweep up the hair that fell at her station. She later said that it was a learning experience sent to her by God. Apparently, God wasn’t willing to sweep, so she quit.

At the community theater on post the Morale Support Fund built private, sound-proof rooms, so the soldiers could play their instruments. I asked for permission to allow Billy to use a music room to practice. I was cooking dinner, when I got a call from the lieutenant in charge of the MSF. Billy had decided that all of the soldiers using the facility were a disruption while she rehearsed. She took it upon herself to throw them out of their own building. She was asked to leave. Next, I asked the chaplain if she could practice at the chapel. I found an Army wife to accompany her on the chapel piano. That was short-lived when Billy argued with her. Fortunately, she found an opera group in Austria who put up with her for another six weeks before she returned to Houston.

Morris and Tootsie were waging a war with me. They asked me to find a Hebrew teacher for Rob to prepare him for his Bar Mitzvah. I refused. I felt it was hypocritical of them, and especially of us to have a coming-of-age, religious ceremony. For years, Larry had refused to attend services, and Rob wasn’t particularly interested in studying Hebrew. His grandparents had never been interested in his religious education, so it seemed to me it was all about a party for their friends. My views prevailed, and there would be no Bar Mitzvah in Houston that summer.

Much to my surprise and chagrin, they announced they were coming to Germany that summer. I assumed it would be paid by Rob’s Bar Mitzvah party fund. Although, Morris had refused to visit a Nazi country when we lived in Hanau, they flew into Frankfort. I toured the palace and Dom in Fulda with them and then took them to the Officer’s Club to eat dinner with Larry. Every place we went, Morris insisted on speaking Yiddish to the wait staff or salespeople. Most Germans don’t understand Yiddish much less with a Texas accent.

We took them to Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber which is a medieval city which sits on the plateau above the Tauber River. It is truly the best preserved walled city in Germany. Surrounded by the ancient fortifications and with its charming shops and winding, narrow, cobbled streets, Rothenburg is history at your feet. To see it, you have to walk as most of the city is car free.

Unaccustomed to speed, Morris hated riding on Germany’s autobahn. Larry drove at 100 MPH, and Morris was clinging, white knuckled, to the dashboard. He finally insisted on Larry letting me drive. Anxious to get home, I managed to stay at 80 MPH.

We drove to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Holland is technically only the center region of the Netherlands not the whole county. They speak Dutch which is similar to German, but many people in the Netherlands speak English.

Amsterdam, what can I say – I loved it on sight. Amsterdam which is largely below sea level is built with a series of canals and dams dating from the Middle Ages. The five of us went on a boat sightseeing tour of the canals. We looked up at the tall, narrow canal houses with huge windows where we saw large hooks mounted under the roofs’ eaves. A canal house’s stairway is so narrow, it is difficult to move in furniture. The furniture hooks are used to hoist large items up to the windows where the furniture is swung into the wide windows. We sailed out to the main harbor where freighters from exotic places were moored.

We toured the Heineken Brewery and the Anne Frank House. The attic of the house was the hiding place of the teenage Anne Frank while she wrote her diary during World War II. Amsterdam oozes atmosphere with its narrow streets, picturesque canals, unique shops and numerous open-air markets. The Dam Square with the Royal Palace and the Ode Kerk (Old Church) which is in the center of the Red Light district are all glorious example of Renaissance styles with their amazing facades.

Amsterdam’s Sailors’ Quarters is one of the few red light districts existing in Europe in its original, classical form. We parked on a narrow street, and Tootsie and I started walking towards the bawdy Red Light District. A young man approached me and said, “ Do you need any coke?”

“Nope,” was my reply.

He came back with, “How about some hash?”

I smiled when I told him, “Only if it’s corned beef.”

We got to the canal where the registered prostitutes are on display. The quaint, old canal houses have the famous red lights in the red-fringed window parlors where the ladies reveal their wares and are eager to bargain. In the Red Light District, it is impossible not to be struck by charm of the very old buildings, leaning at odd-angles and the tree-lined canals in the middle of a party atmosphere and sex for sale.

Larry, Morris and Rob were walking ahead of Tootsie and me. Under the twinkling lights on a canal bridge, I saw a beautiful girl approach them. She assumed that the guys were there for Rob’s first excursion. I saw Robin turn bright red in the night-light, and I realized what was being said .

In the former Jewish quarter is the Jewish Historical Museum which we visited the next morning. The museum is a part of a complex of synagogues. There is a theater which was used during World War II as a deportation center for Jews who were being sent to concentration camps.

That afternoon, we went to the Rijksmuseum which is home to two of my all-time, favorite museum exhibits. The collection of antique doll houses was fabulous. I can’t begin to describe all the many, wonderful doll houses with rooms filled with elegant, delicate and tiny pieces of handmade furnishings. The whole room was an instant transport to a little girl’s land of make-believe.

Then in the main art gallery, I found Rembrandt’s Night Watch painting. It is Rembrandt’s largest canvas, and its beauty stunned me. When Rembrandt painted it, he was out of favor. He correctly feared that the painting would not be displayed in a prominent place with good lighting. Initially, he did not want to paint the militia company, but he was a friend to the captain of the company and finally agreed to paint it. With limited studio space, he rented a warehouse to paint such a large canvas. When it was completed, it was too big to move from of the warehouse. Rembrandt had to remove the stretchers, and then re-stretch it when he was ready to hang it.

Rembrandt’s amazing and effective use of light, shadow, and the perception of motion with the military company coming out of an alley behind the captain and the lieutenant is astonishing. The other militia figures are in the shadows with only their faces illuminated. Rembrandt’s use of glowing light on the hands, hair and faces of the forward characters make them seem real. Wow, it still blows me away.

Leaving Amsterdam, we drove to Zamenhof in the central Holland area where the “greatest flower show on earth” takes place. The Dutch have been growing tulips for over 400 hundred years. The multitude of tulips and the combination of colors were enchanting. Tootsie and I loved the tulip fields. Again, I was happy to be at the right place and at the right time for flowers. We stopped in the countryside to look at an old windmill where we met a family that lived on a river barge.

The following March, we flew to Houston for Tootsie and Morris’ 50th anniversary party. She had the party at the Warwick Hotel which is surrounded by the museum district, Rice University and the Miller Outdoor Theater at the park. It was a lovely party with all their family and friends in attendance. For the ten days we were in Houston, we stayed at a hotel near their house.

Our next trip was a tour to France and on to Paris. Robin’s girl-friend was a senior in high school. She smooth talked her parents into going on the tour, also. We stayed in a small Parisian hotel, and Rob doubled with a single captain. Rob swears he had his first excursion in Paris.

We entered France through the city of Strasbourg, where we previously visited to shop for clothes for me. German clothes swallowed me, and I went to France where I could find my size. I loved Strasbourg, but was happy to roll through it this time.

We went to several military cemeteries in the Verdun area. After we toured the French memorial building, we walked around to the back of it. There I saw small windows around the edge of the basement. The small, oblong windows were at ground level. Being my normal curious self, I bent over and looked inside. Much to my amazement, I was looking into a mass grave for thousands of unidentified French and German soldiers. Seeing an unexpected jumble of bones and realizing it was the grave of unknown solders was unsettling.

In the Champagne region, we toured the Moét & Chandon winery where Dom Pérignon is made. In the grimy, underground cellars, we saw thousands of dusty bottles undergoing the fermentation and aging process. We were given a glass of champagne when we reached the main shop. From there we went to the famous Rheims Cathedral which had wonderful, stained-glass windows which depicts the process of making wine. Over the centuries, many French kings had their coronations in this amazing Gothic cathedral.

At the hotel in Paris I stepped on an elevator, and the young man running the elevator spoke to me in French. I didn’t have a clue what he was saying, but his voice was melodious. After hearing the harsh German dialect for so long, I fell in love instantly.

We went to the Louvre, where I was disappointed in the Mona Lisa. I think I expected it to be larger than life, and I was surprised to find it was a 30” X 20” portrait much like one would get from a professional photographer today. Di Vinci did regain my respect when we went to Italy. Originally a palace along the banks of the Seine River, the Louvre has been a museum since the French Revolution. The Louvre has a wonderful Egyptian collection, and the ancient Greece section with the Venus de Milo is exceptional.

We walked through Tuileries Park which begins at the Louvre and runs along the Seine to Concorde Square. It stretches straight down the Champs-Élyśees to the Arc de Triomphe. This is Paris at its best. The Parisian architecture of grand buildings, wonderful homes and apartments, all of which have been carefully preserved over the years, give Paris a presence that can’t be found in any other city.

Paris is called the “City of Lights” and at night the wide boulevards, bridges, monuments and the Eiffel Tower all glow and shimmer in the street lights and spot lights. Another favorite of mine was the beautifully decorated Galeries Lafayette department store. It is massive. It has so many salons, departments and restaurants, it could take all day to explore.

Along the Champs-Élyśees, we went into the perfume stores and then to the candy and chocolate shops. In the French candy stores, you first select a beautifully trimmed, decorative candy box. Then you select piece-by-piece, the fabulous chocolates which are done with an artistic flair only the French can do.

Strolling down the Champs-Élyśees to the Arc de Triomphe traffic circle and over on Avenue de Wagram, I found a kosher delicatessen quite by accident. When I walked in the deli, I could smell the garlic and dill from the kosher pickles. It was the kind of shop that has your mouth-watering the minute you walk in the door. We ate lunch there, and on the next evening we picked up food to take back to the hotel for dinner.

In Montmarté, we went to the Sacre Coeur Basilica which looks like a delectable, white French pastry perched on the highest hill in Paris. We saw the Montmartre windmill which has inspired many famous and unknown artists. At the bottom of the hill we walked the street where the street artists sketch and sell their artwork to the throng of tourists.

We wanted to see the famous cabaret the Moulin Rouge which is the home of the famous dance, the Can-Can, but it was for adults only. We had a quick tour of the well known Pigalle Place. Like Amsterdam’s Red Light District, Paris’ Pigalle Place is the home of all that’s X-rated: peep shows, sex shops, prostitution and strip clubs.

Paris was all about food even when I didn’t order it. We walked a lot and it was a very warm day. We stopped at a typical sidewalk café to get a cold drink. The waiter approached us, and I confidently said with my Texas accent, “Cinq, Cokes Monsieur.”

It seemed forever before he came back and dropped five grilled ham and cheese sandwiches in front of us. Trying to explain to him that I didn’t want sandwiches that we wanted Coca Colas became an ordeal. Irate, he finally showed me on the menu, Coque Monsieur. I realized I had indeed ordered grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. When you piss-off a French waiter, they will always win. His French didn’t seem as lovely as the elevator operator’s French.

Versailles really lived up to its reputation. The chateaus and the gardens at Versailles are the finest collections of 17th century French art in existence. King Louis XIII’s former hunting lodge was transformed and enlarged by his son Louis XIV, who installed his court and government there. The palace was embellished with new apartments during the 18th century in the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI. The royal family and the court were forced to leave Versailles after the French Revolution.

Marie Antoinette had a hamlet built as a private, summer home in the midst of the phenomenal, formal gardens. It was an unexpected jewel for me. At the palace we toured the fabulous Royal Apartments, the Marble Court, the Hall of Mirrors and the Queen’s apartments, all of which attest to the decadence and to the glorious art of the era. The history of the Kings and Napoleon in this wonderful setting made it possible to visualize the elite’s lifestyle in the 1700s.

Mother and Jay decide to come to Fulda before they married. Ruth had passed away, and Jay still lived in the apartment above Mother. Lee’s oldest son, Mike, from his first marriage was stationed in Germany. He agreed to come to Fulda by train to see his grandmother. He had a several hour lay-over in Wiesbaden. Since Wiesbaden was only an hour drive away, we drove there to pick him up at the bahnhof (train station). Mother had not seen Mike since he was 14-years-old, and she was concerned about recognizing him. We were standing on the platform at the train station when a blond, young man jumped off the train. It didn’t take us long to see that he had the distinctive stride of his Dad.

We toured Fulda and the surrounding area. I asked John Sherman for permission to take them to the border. On an Easter morning we were put in a military sedan for the drive to the border, and our tour guide was a sergeant whose wife was a friend of mine. When we neared the border and passed the Verboten (Forbidden) signs at the one-kilometer zone, I sensed Mother was anxious. At the border there is the wire fence, but there was also a wide, deep trench which was engineered to keep vehicles and tanks from crashing out. Along with a second, inner fence line were rows of observation towers, minefields and tank traps.

As we wound our way along the eerie-quite border and neared the first tower, an East German soldier who was carrying a high-powered rifle got on a motorcycle. The soldier began to keep pace with us. Mother was terrified as the two military vehicles rolled along in unison. I kept reassuring her, and finally the sergeant told her that we had our own guns.

We passed the towers which were on the East German side and were manned 24 hours a day. Each tower overlooked the next tower. If the soldiers on tower duty tried to make a run for the border, they would be shot down. The East German soldiers were rotated on tower watch in order to keep them from getting buddy-buddy and helping each other to escape.

Shortly, we arrived at a remote outpost for our military, where we went up to a platform which overlooked the valley and a small, typical village in East Germany. The village was completely automated to look like people lived there. Lights would come on at night, and the milkman would come in the morning. It was a village devoid of villagers. The fake village was a listening post for the East Germans to track the movement of the US military. Unnerved, Mother never appreciated the unique bonus of being the rare, American female who actually went to the border.

Larry, Rob and I next went to Spain. We invited Pete to come with us for Robin to have someone his own age along. I found a reasonably priced condo in Tossa de Mar for the week. Riding through the south of France, I was struck by the beauty of the rolling plains. It was what I had imaged Spain would look like. I saw red-tiled roofs and large haciendas on sun-bleached, rippling plains. I could have easily been on South Texas’ coastal plains.

Tossa de Mar is 60 miles north of Barcelona on the Coasta Brava. It was a medieval village with cobbled streets and a magnificent, ancient castle. Stacked above the beach is the lush, mountainous area where we found our condo. We let the boys rent mopeds as to climb the hill back and forth to town was rough. I thought they were old enough to have their own adventures. We would eat breakfast at the condo and would spend the day wandering and relaxing. Tossa de Mar was not the typical, tourist beach town, it was very much an ancient village.

I couldn’t adjust my appetite to the Spanish dining hours. We rushed to town to have lunch as everything was closed from 2 to 6 o’clock. The restaurants began serving dinner at 9 pm. I was always hungry at the wrong time, usually during siesta.

We took the boys to dinner at a lovely restaurant which was on the Mediterranean Sea. When I saw the Mediterranean Sea, I was amazed at how uniquely clear and blue the water was. Accustomed to the brackish Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean blew me away.

At the restaurant, Larry talked the boys into ordering lagnostino, a shellfish. The waiter came with a copper chaffing dish and prepared the meal in front of us. He plated the rice pilaf, and next he placed the lagnostino still in their shells on top of the rice. The waiter presented the first plate to Pete. Pete patiently waited for Rob’s portion to be served. When both boys had their plates in front of them, Pete looked up and very seriously said, “You know, I think I got all the ugly ones.”

I wanted to go to Montserrat to see the Black Madonna. There was a tour bus leaving from the next village. I caught a taxi, and the driver flew over the mountain at a break-neck speed. I was early for the tour. When we got to Montserrat, I was surprised to see a mountain of barren rock with almost nothing growing on it. Near the top of the 4,000-foot mountain is a monastery which is home to about 80 monks. Next to the monastery is the basilica where the famed statue is kept. The small, wooden statue is of a seated Black Virgin with a baby Jesus on her lap. Her dark color is due to changes in the varnish with the passage of time.

We spent a day in Barcelona and went to the Barcelona Cathedral. During the Roman Empire, the first basilica was built in the 300s AD. Over the centuries, the Barcelona Cathedral has evolved. Of all the Gothic buildings I saw in Europe, this was the finest.

I thought the women of Barcelona were exceptionally gorgeous. With their sleek and shiny, black hair they were so chic and beautifully groomed. We went shopping in one of the large department stores, where I bought the fabric fan that is always on my coffee table. We went to the old port and saw replicas of the ships of Columbus, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. We walked through the La Ramba area where the locals shop on a crowded, pedestrian mall of several blocks. There were hundreds of caged canaries for sale. It was not your typical open-air market.

Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas

Driving north of Denton, Texas, I got pulled over for speeding by two Texas Highway Patrol officers. Only one officer got out of the car. I rolled down the window, but didn’t get out of the car. While he was writing out the ticket the officer suggested that if I performed oral sex, I wouldn’t get a ticket. I blew up and berated him for trying to take advantage of a military wife. He quickly informed me that I was under arrest. I would be going to jail in the next town as I was a candidate to leave the state. I asked to go to jail and suggested he arrest me and my dogs as I was quite anxious to tell the judge about his seedy proposition. The cop handed me a ticket and announced that I was free to go. I left for Kansas. Several months later, Tootsie called because there was a warrant out for my arrest. I called the head honcho at the TDPS and informed him about the circumstances of my being ticketed, and that I had the name of the officer. I admitted that I had been speeding, but I was mad and incensed that this travesty was unpunished. My ticket was dismissed.

Leavenworth, Kansas – what can I say. I despised it on sight. It was frozen in 1950, even the women’s hair styles and clothes were from 1950. The post was celebrating their quintessential – 150 years as a fort. Leavenworth had the federal penitentiary, a state women’s prison and the infamous military prison on post. I learned that most prison guards develop a callousness and are very clannish. All the military prison guards train at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. Schooled in one place only encourages their bonding and churlish attitudes. Whenever I went into the club, I gave them wide berth.

Larry made special arrangement with the Sergeant Major of Ft. Leavenworth to give me a tour of the military prison. Although it had not been at my request, I went. Driving up to the gates, I thought “Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into!” The entrance door went into a room which was built into the wall of the prison. The 40-foot-high walls were as wide as the room. The Sergeant Major cleared me for entrance, and we walked out and sat in a courtyard.

He began to tell me about the prison system. Referred to as “the Castle,” the prison is the only military maximum-security facility and houses male service members convicted at court-martial. It is the prison facility for all branches of the military. Only enlisted prisoners with sentences over seven years, commissioned officers, and prisoners convicted of offenses related to national security are confined to Leavenworth. It is the death-row prison for anyone convicted and given the death sentence. The grounds outside the prison gently slope down to the Missouri River, where the inmates farm and grow the produce for the prison kitchens. They were watched by guards on horseback.

He told me that all prisoners are required to complete high school, if they were drop-outs. They could attend college extension classes if they wanted to further their education. When he spoke about the normal everyday event of going to college, the enormity of my being in that facility suddenly hit me. Aware that I never cared to watch caged animals at the zoo, why would I go see humans – caged. As politely as possible, I in-formed him that I preferred not to finish the tour. I left as fast as possible.

On side note, prison trustees bagged our groceries at the commissary. It was strange to shop in a grocery store where prison guards with shot guns leaned against the wall, while the inmates sacked my groceries. Once the bags were ready, one had to drive around to a loading dock to have the bags put in the car.

Leavenworth lies along the banks of the Missouri River. I crossed the bridge and found a house outside of Weston, Missouri. The house was in the country down a dirt road. Dotted with small farms, the dirt road was two miles in either direction from black-top. We rented the house on four acres with the remaining 80 acres used by the landlord. He planted 50 acres in tobacco. It was interesting to watch the growing process because at one point, the plants have to be topped. There was an old barn in the back of the farm where they hung the tobacco leaves during the drying process.

The remainder of the property was wooded with a small pond which froze over in the winter. In Leavenworth, I found a St. Bernard puppy without papers, and I took her to the farm. I named her Brandy. When she wagged her tail, it swept everything off the coffee table. One afternoon, I was driving back to the house from the commissary when Larry called me on the CB radio. He told me about a large, vicious dog in the yard, and he couldn’t get into the house. Within five minutes I arrived and saw a big, yellow, Lab-mixed dog sitting on the back steps to the house. Picking up a grocery bag, I started into the house with Larry warning me every step of the way. Walking up to the porch, I calmly said to the dog that it was my porch and he needed to move. He moved over and never left. We named that one Yeller. Later a little Terrier mix showed up and stayed. That one we eventually gave to little Lee, Ron’s son. Larry swore I had a neon welcome sign, visible only to dogs, on the front fence.

Shortly after moving into the house, I realized I needed to order oil for the furnace as it was beginning to be cold in the morning. Getting out the yellow pages, I started calling fuel companies. I had several people inform me that they were out of fuel. There had been a national shortage of oil in 1973, and people had to wait in line for hours just to get gas. I called Pete, the owner of the house, and asked why I was having trouble buying oil He said they didn’t know me and only sold to their long-time customers in case the shortage continued. I recalled the oil company and relayed that I was Pete’s tenant. They delivered the next morning.

Shortly after the oil was delivered, it snowed. I threw stale, bread scraps on the front yard and watched from the picture window. A flock of noisy cardinals with their black masks came to dine and landed on the fresh, sparkling snow. The cardinal’s brilliant red wings fluttered, and the snow’s ice crystals glittered in the sunshine. It was a real life, Hallmark card in my front yard.

Rob went to school in Weston, Missouri which was a small, farm-ing community with a population around 2000. It is on the Missouri River, and a major portion of the early town has been designated a Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It still had lovely antebellum homes. The McCormack Distilling Company is the oldest distilling company in the United States still operating in their original site. I bought whiskey half-barrels for flower planters at the McCormack store.

After school, Rob brought friends home to play. They roamed all over the property and in the woods just beyond the pond. They were outside playing when Rob came in to the kitchen. Upset, he anxiously said to me that they had been trying to ride on a hay wagon, and they had driven it into the pond. The owner of the property took the boy’s hijinks reasonably well, Pete drove his tractor over and pulled the wagon out of the drink. Our pack of dogs roamed the property and followed Robin every-where he traipsed.

Rob was in the 7th grade, and I asked him what he had learned that day. He disclosed to me that there had been a sex education class that after-noon. I asked him if he had any questions and got a quick, “No.” After awhile, he came into my bedroom and explained they had discussed masturbation. He then asked if I needed it explained to me. Having only one bathroom in the house, it was a very long year.

On New Year’s Day, it was bitterly, cold and Larry went out in purple pajamas to the fenced, front yard to retrieve the morning newspaper. Seeing that our neighbor’s pigs were loose, he opened our gate. The herd trotted into our front yard. Pete was out-of-town, and Larry thought he was doing a good deed. He became frightened of the passel of hogs, and he froze in place. The hogs had bristly skin, numerous teeth and some weighed at least 400 pounds. There were probably 20, fierce, snorting pigs in the front yard. After about 15 minutes, I realized he had not returned and went to the front door. He was standing near the fence. He was so cold his purple face and hands matched his pajamas. He had been screaming and shouting for me all that time. I couldn’t convince him to come into the house. I took a broom out and swept a path through the swine for him. I called the kid over on the next farm who was taking care of Pete’s livestock to come get them.

Another day, Larry was out walking on the gravel road with all the dogs. Two goats followed him home. The littlest goat was a nanny, and she was in season. Hearing an awful racket on the roof, I ran outside to see what was happening. On the back side of the house was a small attached shed. Larry had put the nanny goat up on the shed’s roof to protect her from the billy-goat. I called the same kid to come get the goats. He pulled up in the yard in a pick-up truck. Grabbing the goats, he threw them both into the front seat. Larry was trying to tell him that the billy was after the nanny, and she could get hurt. He looked at Larry in amazement and said, “Mister, goats do what comes naturally.” He put the truck in gear and with tires spinning, he left in a shower of gravel

Larry worked untold hours, and he was constantly gone. One day, I realized that in the year we had lived in Missouri, he never spoke to me directly. At the dinner table with Rob present, he would ask me to pass the salt or would tell me about his schedule for the week. He never spoke to me unless I spoke to him and only if an answer was required. He came up on orders to Germany again. I initially declined his invitation to go back to Germany as I knew the marriage was beyond salvage. Again, he pulled the “It’s in Rob’s best interest” card, so I agreed to go. I went knowing it would be the last tour. It was an opportunity for Rob to go to Europe, and as for me – I still had places I wanted to see.

Rob and I went to Mississippi for the summer before we left for Germany. Mother still lived in Long Beach at the Patio Apartments in a one bedroom apartment. She had Uncle Claude’s house with all his furnishings, and Rob and I moved there. Uncle Claude had aging dementia, and she had recently moved him to a nursing care facility. Uncle Claude always knew who I was and was always happy to see me. Before Mother put him in the facility, my cousin Jackie was at Mother’s visiting with Uncle Claude and Mother. I came in to the house, and Uncle Claude put both of his hands on my face and kissed my forehead. Jackie said in a haughty tone, “Well, he never kisses me.” I looked over at her and said very politely, “He doesn’t like you.” Mother didn’t forgive me for a long time. I had waited 30 years to be rude to Jackie.

We had a good summer, Rob was 12-years-old and having a summer at the beach “suited him to a T.” Before I left San Antonio, I bought a yellow, 1976 Cougar, and we decided to ship it to Germany. We dropped it off in New Orleans to be shipped to the port at Bremerhaven. Rob and I flew to Charleston, South Carolina to depart for Germany.

San Antonio, Texas

Larry returned from Korea, and we were assigned to Ft. Sam Houston. I was thrilled, San Antonio was much closer to our family than any place we had ever been assigned. A few days after coming home, Larry woke with his neck and jaws swollen. I took him to the emergency room where the ER doctor told him he had the mumps. Convinced the ER doctor was crazy, he insisted on going to Rob’s pediatrician to confirm he had a baby’s disease. The doctor advised him not to climb stairs as mumps can “go down” and cause sterility. In my townhouse both of the bedrooms were upstairs. For two long weeks, I had to trot up the stairs to take Larry his meals.

We finally moved to San Antonio. We found a house on the north-east side convenient to Ft. Sam Houston. I immediately went to work at Texas State Bank on W.W. White Road. The receptionist at the bank was Belinda Brooks. She was newly married to Dan, and they lived near the bank on Houston Street. Bill Sinkin was Chairman of the Board, and he was aware that the primarily red-neck tellers gave me a hard time for being Jewish. Additionally, they gave Belinda a hard time because she was Black. Actually, they gave me a hard time because Mr. Sinkin favored me. Fay Sinkin was spearheading a city-wide drive to have a recall of the new law, which would allow builders to start construction projects over the Edward’s Aquifer. At the time, San Antonio’s sole source of water was the aquifer. Bill asked if I would help Fay with the Aquifer Referendum. After several months of hard work, the recall worked, and the law was repealed.

I was the Collection Teller for the bank, and I handled floor-plans for car dealers, Treasury bonds, American Express Travelers checks and collection items. After a year at the bank, I approached my immediate supervisor, Sam Greco. I said to him that I had reservations about handling floor plan items for one of the bank officers. Sam blew up and dressed me down for thinking, much less speaking about Mr. Bell in such a negative manner. Several months later, I was sick at home, and I got a call from Sam. He asked if I still thought Mr. Bell was committing a crime and if so, did I have any idea how he was making illegal transactions. I was aware that when Mr. Bell made a cash transaction, he would go immediately to the safety deposit department. He had been falsifying car loans on the floor-plans, and he was keeping the stolen money in his safety deposit box. The bank recovered much of their money; it was parked in their building.

When we were stationed in Hanau, I planned to go to college at an extension branch on post. When I went to enroll, Larry got upset and objected to my going to a class that consisted of male GIs. In San Antonio I decided to go to school, but he took exception again. I finally convinced him to let me attend a business college, downtown. His hours at the club were long, but he agreed to come home the two nights I went to class to keep Rob. If not, I would get a babysitter. I got an associates degree in accounting, and I requested a transfer to the bank accounting department. Sam wouldn’t move me as he felt it would take too long to train another collection teller.

After a bank board meeting, one of the board members, Robert Montalvo, came over to my window to make a deposit. I divulged to him I had given Sam my resignation.  I wanted a job that would allow me to use my accounting degree. He hired me on the spot. Mr. Sinkin was happy as Robert Montalvo was extremely disorganized and was a problem customer. Bob was a wheeler-dealer, who bought and sold large construction equipment, replacement parts and semi-trucks to Mexico and Central America.

When Bob and his wife, Tilly, built their home in the Pecan Vally area, he added an office for himself in the back. He employed a sales manager and two parts people who used the front office. He shared his office in the back with me. He slept late most mornings and was away from the office frequently, so sharing an office wasn’t an issue. The company books were non-existent and in disrepair – that was the issue. He was constantly overdrawn at the bank only because he didn’t keep records. The bank was happy when I resolved that problem.

He owned an equipment parts store in Eagle Pass, Texas which was run by his daughter and son-in-law. Shortly after I started to work for him, I got a call from the Eagle Pass store. An IRS agent was there, and they were being shut down. I spoke to the agent, and he stated the company was in arrears in submitting their payroll reports and taxes. I explained I was in the process of preparing the books, and Mr. Montalvo’s intent was to get this issue resolved. Since the books were in San Antonio, he was not prone to cut us any slack. Bob had been sitting in the office listening to me tap dance with the IRS agent. He wrote me a note telling me I would be flying down to Eagle Pass the following morning with the books. The next morning, he sent me to Eagle Pass in a private plane with a signed check, so I could do the reports with the IRS agent and pay the bill.

Bob lived on the edge at all times. In the middle of a million dollar deal with 20 semi-trucks slated for a customer in Central America, he would suddenly disappear for two or three days. It would be time to pay the deposits or to close the deal. If he didn’t have the funds ready, he would leave town. He would tell me to stall any and everyone. Trying to manage and keep all the parties involved calm without them knowing that I didn’t have a clue where he went was taxing. It is amazing how many people are involved in a large deal. Once he had the funds, he would show up and have me pay everyone. After he closed a deal, he would drop two or three hundred dollars on my desk – almost like an after thought. It was a thank you I could live with.

Bob loaned his boat to a company employee who went fishing at Calaveris Lake. The employee was drinking, fell out of the boat, and he drown. As the boat was registered to Bob, a policeman came to tell us about the drowning. Every place I could think of I called, and I couldn’t find Bob anywhere. Bob had several girl friends, most of which I knew about. After the drowning, I had all their phone numbers for emergencies.

Just before Christmas, Tilly called me, and said she had just made chicken salad. She invited me to come into the house for lunch. Sitting at the breakfast bar in their kitchen, I had just taken a bite of my sandwich when she laid an envelope in front of me.

She said to me, “Do you know who this woman is?”

I was holding a Christmas card that I had picked up from the Post Office mailbox. I sent the unopened house mail including Christmas cards over to the house, because all the house mail came to the Post Office box.

I calmly assured her, “No, I don’t know who she is, but every salesman in the office got a card from her.”

Somehow, I managed to eat the fresh chicken salad sandwich which had become extremely dry and hard to swallow. When I returned to the office, I called Bob and demanded that he have his girlfriend sign three more cards and for him to leave them on all the salespeople’s desks. I was certain that Tilly would come in that night and confirm everyone, not just Bob, had received a Christmas card.

Bob purchased a building with a shop yard on south Loop 410 and moved the business. It was closer to our house, but I decided that I did not want to handle the multitude of surprises that went with the job.

When Rob was in the third grade, I found a house closer to the school. His teacher called me to tell me what Rob had said to him. In a class discussion about art, Rob announced to his teacher that I was a sculptor and an artist. He described my art work, and the teacher was really interested in what I did — up to the moment Rob informed him that I had studied with Michelangelo. He also divulged to his teacher that my favorite classical composer was W.C. Fields (Debussy).

I hired a neighborhood teenager to babysit for me. Rob loved her and informed me, “ I am going to marry Julie. For our engagement party you can have a bar-b-que for us.” He further announced, “When we get married, we will live next door to you so I can come home to eat.”

I informed him that parents could be sick or die, so eating with me may not always be an option. With out missing a beat he said, “Then we can eat sandwiches.” Like all men, Rob had figured out the secret to a happy marriage – ribs and romance.

The school put a large holiday banner over the door for a Christmas decoration, and Rob insisted they add a menorah (candle holder) and a Star of David symbol. He wanted to be a Cub Scout, and I ended up with a Cub Scout troop. He managed to earn several badges with one that would serve him forever, his cooking badge. For the Cub Scout Christmas program another mother and I paired up, and we wore a reindeer suit. At least, I was the head of the costume.

Larry went to Indiana for a six-week school, and he next went to Cornell University at the Cornell Hotel School and the Culinary Institute of America in New York for a couple of months. He went to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a management school for several weeks. The Army worked club managers hard, but they gave them phenomenal resources.

Rob came into the house with a friend, and asked if they could have a drink. I said to him that it would be fine, and he would have to get it himself as I was dressing. After dressing, I went into the kitchen. The two boys were sitting at the table having a drink. I saw a bottle of whiskey out of the cabinet, and I realized he had made cocktails. Embarrassed, I had to take the kid home and explain to his mother that he had been drinking on my watch.

I decided to buy a house, and I found one in Camelot II. It was brand-new, much larger and had a big back yard for the dogs. I had a little, female Beagle, named Freckles, because I bred Beagles puppies to sale. When Freckles had her first litter, Larry had never seen puppies born before. Sitting on a kitchen stool over the whelping pen, Larry got excited and animated when the first puppy started to come. Freckles stopped having the puppy and began watching Larry. I delivered the puppy and tied off the cord with dental floss. I demanded Larry leave the room, so that Freckles could have the remaining five puppies without interruption.

Abe was one of the smartest dogs I have ever owned. Going into the guest bedroom, he pulled back the bedspread with his teeth and folded it down in a perfect triangle from the pillow. He would lay with his head on the pillowcase. Being a Beagle, he could smell things from afar. I had electric hog-wire installed on the fence in an attempt to contain him. He managed to climb over the wooden fence and was gone for three days. I was frantic, and when he came home he was so exhausted he couldn’t lift his head. Concerned, I took him to the veterinarian, who after a thorough examination said to me that Abe needed a B-12 shot. I asked why he needed a B-12 shot, and the laughing vet said that Abe had been “tom-catting” and was simply worn out. I should have neutered him then.

After I resigned as the Office Manager for Bob Montalvo, I mentioned to Bill Sinkin that I had given my notice. He had another bank customer who was constantly having problems. This company had a million dollar line-of-credit with the bank. The bank was concerned about the lack of accountability and a possible loss of the contract. Mr. Sinkin wanted me to go to work for Bernie Vasquez. Bernie had the contract for all the janitorial services at Kelly Air Force Base. He had 128 employees, tons of cleaning equipment and acres of buildings to clean to military specifications. I got the job.

The primary mission for Kelly AFB was repairing aircraft engine parts and for the maintenance for the C5-A Galaxy. It is the largest aircraft in the world. The Latino male staff were not thrilled to have a female-in-charge. In the engine repair facility, the crews cleaned with large tractors which laid down soapy water and scrubbed the floors. Then the machine vacuumed the dirty water back into a container. The tractors would have a mechanical failure, and while waiting for the mechanic to show up, the crew would goof off. The Colonel in charge of the division would call incensed because the tractor was in the way, and the crew was loafing. I talked to them, but they blew me off because I was a female. I went to the building with the mechanic late one night. He taught me to drive the tractor and how to clean the floors. The next time the tractor went down, I went with the mechanic to repair it. When he finished the repair, I got on the tractor and finished cleaning that section. Then I took the tractor to its parking place. I never again had any problems with the tractor crew.

Larry volunteered for Korea, again. When Larry left San Antonio, I found a live-in Mexican girl. Magdalena couldn’t speak English, and she had never seen an electric iron. She washed clothes daily just to have something to iron. The church group, which originally recommended Magdalena, failed to mention she had been born with a hip defect. She needed extensive surgery which would be sponsored by the church. I ended up having to hire a second maid to take care of Magdalena and Rob.

I purchased a dump truck load of dirt for the yard, and I arranged for it to be delivered to the house. The company dumped 30 cubic yards of top soil on the drive way. When I came home, I found that Rob and his playmates had turned on the hose and soaked the dirt. My driveway was a sea of mud, and it took days to dry out. The dirt dried in such large, concrete chunks that I was unable to spread it in the yard. I went to the day-labor-square and hired three workers. They broke up the dirt boulders and then shoveled it onto the lawn.

Rob caught a wild, baby rabbit which he brought into the house. I told him he couldn’t have a wild pet and he was to return it. In a flash, the dogs knocked over the box housing the rabbit. The bunny took off like a jackrabbit. We could not catch the rabbit – the dogs couldn’t catch it. For weeks the rabbit ate my house plants at night, and he would leave personal pellets in my shag carpet. I finally hired a pest control company to set a trap, so we could return the rabbit to the wild.

Robin started playing Pop Warner football when he was eight-years-old. I drove straight from work to his practice everyday. At least 100 boys tried out for the team with Rob being among the youngest, I was concerned he could get hurt. The try-outs were brutal for the kids, and the coaches cut the team down to 36 players. Rob and Bobby, another eight-year-old, made the team. When I bought cleats for Rob, I purchased shoes with red bottoms so I could see him in the pile-ups. His first year he didn’t get to play much, but the coaches put him in every game. It was a lot of effort on our part and especially for him to play 30-second quarters. Rob was happy to be a Northeast Mustang.

On a short notice, Morris decided to visit us in San Antonio. Larry asked him why they had decided to adopt him. Morris explained they had wanted to adopt and had waited for years. Tootsie wanted a girl, but when it looked positive they would get Larry, they took him. He added that a week after the adoption came through a little girl became available, but it was too late as they were already stuck with Larry. My father-in-law had no concept of hurting someone’s feelings.

Dan Brooks was working for UPS as a long distance, semi-truck driver between San Antonio and Houston. They bought a new house in Universal City and Belinda was pregnant. If Dan couldn’t return in time from Houston, I would go to Lamaze class with Belinda. The night Dacrie was born, Dot, her grandmother, and I were at the hospital. The minute they wrapped and bundled Dacrie, they let us into to the delivery room. A grinning doctor put her in my arms and said, “Here you go, Godmother.” Dot didn’t forgive the doctor for years.

Magdalena returned to Mexico, and I hired a neighborhood, teenage boy to stay with Rob after school. I had a Colt 38 revolver which had been Dad’s, and I believed it was well-hidden. I stored the ammunition in another closet separate from the gun. I had taken Rob to see a Western show where gunslingers and cowboys performed twirling gun tricks and shoot-outs. The babysitter’s younger brother was playing with Rob in the house. After talking about the show he had seen, they decided to play with the gun. The sleeping baby-sitter woke when he heard the gun’s report. The ammunition was ancient and the gun powder had lost its punch. The impact wasn’t as damaging as it could have been. The little boy was shot in the collar-bone when the gun went off. The babysitter called emergency services. In all of the confusion of EMTs and police, no one thought to let me know. In a panic, Rob called me at work, and I assured him that I would be there immediately. I drove with my heart in my throat.

After clearing the house, I drove Rob to the Ft. Sam Emergency Room. I wanted to insure he would be able to deal with this shocking event. The doctor checked him into the hospital for a over-night evaluation. The next morning, a psychiatrist talked to him and then to me. He felt Rob would be able to cope with time. I didn’t want Rob to see and deal with the aftermath at the house. I hired a professional cleaning team to remove all the blood. When the child ran through the hallway to the family room blood splattered on the walls and carpet. My boss, Bernie, was upset that I wasn’t available for a conference. I talked him in to meeting me at a park to have our meeting. While we were waiting for the bloody trail to be cleaned up, I let Rob play.

I called Larry and asked him to come home from Korea. I felt Rob needed the support of two parents. Larry called me back and said he was unable to get a hardship leave. It occurred to me that Larry could take normal leave time and come to San Antonio for a few days. He refused.

The family of the injured child sued me. Fortunately for me, both families had the same home insurance company. The insurance company wasn’t willing to sue itself, and we settled out of court. For a few days, Rob would duck down in the seat when we pulled out of the garage. He didn’t want to be seen by the neighbors. The boy’s large family would taunt Rob whenever they saw him. There is no restitution for having a sleeping babysitter.

Mother went to Mississippi to be with her sister, Clyde, who was in the hospital in Gulfport. While sitting in the ICU waiting room, she visited with a lovely gentleman named Gresham Carter. Before long they were dating, and she moved to Long Beach. He was the epitome of the Southern gentleman. He was so very soft-spoken, I could barely hear him. Before they married, she called to tell me about him. She was concerned because Van had told her it was unwise to marry an old man. They were both in their sixties. I told her she could go sour just as easily as Gresham could and to ignore Van.

Gresham had two grown sons, Charles and Carlos. About six months after he and Mother married, Gresham had a brain aneurysm and was in critical condition. At the same time, his oldest son, Charles, was in the hospital with cirrhosis of the liver. Mother was overwhelmed. Feeling guilty that I had told her it would be all right to get married, I went to stay with her a couple of weeks.

They lived at the Patio Apartments on the beach in Long Beach, and the upstairs neighbors were Jay and Ruth De Nicola. Jay and Gresham had been college roommates. Jay and Ruth made an effort to do everything they could to help. They cooked meals for us, ran errands, and they were lifesavers. Charles’ severe condition became critical, and I realized he would not survive. I braced Mother for his imminent death, and he died quietly without Gresham ever knowing.

When I first arrived in Mississippi, I slept late and Jay drove me over to the hospital. When I arrived at the area where Mother was with Gresham, I saw a sign in the ICU waiting room. The sign stated that only two people per patient were allowed in the Intensive Care area. I knew that a neighbor was with Mother, so I sat down to wait for her to come out. In about 30 minutes, Mother came out and saw me sitting there. She said she was concerned that I hadn’t shown up. I informed her that I was merely obeying the posted rules. She took me by the arm and drug me back to Gresham’s unit. She disclosed to me that the sign was only meant for Black people. In 1975 Mississippi, I didn’t realize the rules didn’t apply to me.

Gresham died several weeks later. All of my brothers, sisters, and in-laws went to the funeral along with Larry, Rob and me. After the funeral all the guys got rowdy at the hotel swimming pool, and they threw each other in the pool, chairs and all. I thought for sure we would all be thrown out. Mother made a decision to remain in Mississippi. She had her remaining brother and sister, and she had made new friends.

My musical preference has always been classical or jazz. At a private function in San Antonio, a country singer was the entertainment for the party. The singer was Willie Nelson, and I was blown away by him. I still don’t care for country music, but Willie is a natural genius and the Mozart of his genre. He was very popular in Texas, but not yet a national treasure.

I went to see him perform at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes with friends. Willy didn’t bother to come on stage until after ten o’clock. The stage was set up in the backyard at Floore’s store and restaurant. Staggering up to the stage, guys handed Willy their Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle. When he hit the first chord of Whiskey River, the crowded went wild. Back in the day Willy played as long as he felt like it. He was still on stage at 2 am when I headed back to San Antonio. Dropping my friends off, it was close to 3 am when I got home. Larry had been calling from Korea. He was beside himself when I finally answered the phone. Explaining where I had been and with whom was of no avail, we got into a huge argument. His not believing me, along with his refusal to come home when I felt Rob needed him, became a bone of contention with me.

I bought two tickets to go see Tina Turner’s tour when she came to San Antonio. She had recently divorced Ike and was playing in small venues trying to make a come back. I told Rob that he had to go with me. He was mortified and fussed about having to go see her. We went to the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium and had great seats. Tina Turner came on the stage in a red outfit with a short skirt, slit up the side. The “Queen of Rock and Roll” hit the stage and turned it on. The legs, the voice and the energy got through to my balky 11-year-old. Tina was amazing. Next to Santana, she performed one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen

Larry was due to rotate back to the States and his next assignment was for Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Larry was gone for extended periods. When he returned, I would be relegated to a second-class citizen. The first year I out-earned him, he became resentful and refused to file our income tax. I was tired of him being heavy-handed, and he feared my growing independence. When he returned to San Antonio, I informed him that I wanted a divorce. Larry pulled the “I have been gone most of Robin’s life and now is the time he needs a father” card and I acquiesced. School was out for the summer, and Larry took Rob to Leavenworth with him. I remained in San Antonio to sell the house. Fortunately, Windsor Park Mall had just been built and the area was growing. I sold the house in a couple of months and drove with Abe and Freckles to Kansas.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Back to the States and California

Larry’s next assignment was to Ft. Irwin, California. We drove to northern Germany and caught the ferry to Copenhagen, Denmark. We spent a long weekend there before catching the ferry back to Germany. We dropped off the MG to be shipped Stateside via ocean transport from Bremerhaven. Taking a train back to Hanau, we prepared to return to the States.

Flying back to the USA, we landed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. We caught the shuttle to the port at Bayonne, New Jersey to pick up the car. From there, we headed down the east coast to Savannah, Georgia to see Betty and Albie. When we left Savannah, we dropped down to Florida and picked up IH 10, which was newly opened. We drove IH 10 to Mississippi to visit Aunt Swint. In August, 1969, Hurricane Camille made landfall completely across the Mississippi Gulf coast. When we arrived in November, the full-blown devastation was staggering. The beach highway was barely open. There were shrimping boats sitting on beach front lots. The trash and debris were stacked one-story high, and most beach lots had houses missing from their foundations. We turned onto Aunt Swint’s street. Her house, which was two blocks in from the beach, was the first house we found standing.

Before heading to California, we were able to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at home. I found a Beagle puppy, and we got him for Rob from Santa. We named him Abe, short for Abraham. Dad was completely bedridden. I was sadly aware it would be the last time I would spend with him.

We packed up the MG with Rob and our eight-week-old puppy. Driving west on IH 10, we were between El Paso and Las Cruses, New Mexico, when suddenly a wrenching noise came from the engine. Pulling over onto the shoulder of the highway, we realized that the noise was serious, and we were stranded. Larry caught a ride back to El Paso as it was the larger town. Arranging for a towing company to enter New Mexico where the car was became a major hurdle. Locked in the car with a four-year-old and a squirming puppy for five hours, I was feeling pretty desperate when Larry finally got back to us. After riding in a tow truck back to El Paso, we found a room. The next morning, the garage manager informed us the we had blown the engine. They would have to request a dealer in Houston to send a new motor. We spent seven, unplanned days in El Paso before getting to Ft. Irwin.

After we entered the gates to Ft. Irwin, it seemed like an endless drive to the actual post. Ft. Irwin in 37 miles north of Barstow. The Army moved the entrance gates to the outer-most extremities of the property to avoid travel pay for the civilian employees. Entering the gate, we still had 25 miles left to drive to get to the actual post facilities on that barren, high desert. Having just left green, lush Germany, I was almost in tears.

I eventually came to love the high desert. On a February morning, the mountains in the distance would be capped with snow. By noon, it would be 85 degrees in the desert. The desert has a nuance in shadows, shades, textures and colors of dark purples, deep blues and muted reds. Like a contemporary painting, you see something different each time you look. We were 75 miles south of Death Valley, and the area north of us was parched, desolate and empty.

Our living quarters were on Pork Chop Hill Street. I thought the Army was making a joke to have their only Jewish family live on Pork Chop Hill. During the Korean War, while the US, the Communist Chinese and Koreans were negotiating an armistice there were several infantry battles on Pork Chop Hill. In the US, these battles were controversial because of the many soldiers killed for terrain of no strategic or tactical value.

Daddy was failing rapidly and on March 3, 1970, he passed away. He had asked me not to come home as he wanted his funeral to be held within 24 hours. There is a line in the song, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, that I have always remembered “Papa was a rolling stone, and when he was gone – all I was left – was alone.” I honored his request, and I spent the day in a darkened room, sorrowing and alone. On that day, I shut the door on my childhood and took responsibility for my own actions.

Because the post facilities were limited, we drove to Barstow to shop. For any major shopping, we went to Las Vegas. Vegas was 120 miles away, and at that time there was only one mall. After shopping, Larry would keep Rob, and I would go to a casino for a couple of hours. When I won what we had just spent at the mall, I left. Las Vegas has changed considerably since 1970.

Larry’s parents flew to California, and we met them in Los Angeles. They were looking forward to taking Robin to Disneyland in Anaheim. At Disneyland, Morris and I were standing together while Larry, Tootsie and Rob were on a ride. Morris informed me that since Rob was a five-year-old that perhaps I should have another child. Tootsie was anxious to have a baby granddaughter, and he would give me $10,000 if the baby were a girl. I asked him what if the baby were a boy, and he replied that would be my problem. When Larry came back, I announced I had an awful headache, and I was catching a cab back to our hotel. Beyond angry, I knew it would be impossible to be civil for the rest of the day. As usual, Morris had been his usual thoughtless and tactless self.

On weekends, we took several weekend trips through out southern California. We visited the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville and then on to Big Bear mountain and lake near San Bernardino, California. We went to Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert which is the high desert coming off the San Bernardino Mountains. Joshua trees look like a cross between a cactus and a tree. Its twisted, spiky shape doesn’t resemble anything I can describe. We went to Santa’s Village near Lake Arrowhead, where it is Christmas year round. That was something I can describe.

The Army made a decision to deactivate Ft. Irwin and packing up, we moved to Ft. Ord, again. The day in June we left Ft. Irwin, it was 120 degrees. Larry changed his MOS from the Finance Department and went to school to be a drill instructor. When there was a training cycle, as a Drill Instructor, he spent countless hours at the barracks. I found a job at the Bank of America in Seaside, and Rob started kindergarten.

One night, the room began to shudder, and the bed moved. I was getting out of the bed to go check on Rob when Larry grabbed my ankle. He asked me to stay there until we knew what was going to happen. I could hear dishes fall in the kitchen as the cabinet doors flew open. With my heart in my throat, I finally went to Rob’s room only to discover he had slept through our first earthquake.

After a year as a DI, Larry decided to transfer to club management. He was playing another card to avoid going to Vietnam. Once he completed the club management training, he volunteered to go back to Korea. This time he was sent to Pusan, and Rob and I went back to Houston. I considered staying in California, but apartments were expensive and most wouldn’t take children or dogs.

Deciding to go back to Houston, I found a townhouse in Alief, Texas. Alief was 25 miles from downtown, but is now mostly within Houston’s city limits. Rob started the first grade in Alief, and after a couple of weeks he announced to his classmates that his father was dead. Being the only military child, he decided he didn’t want to have to explain his father’s absence. The simplest thing for him was to kill his father off. I couldn’t convince his teacher that it wasn’t a big deal.

I went to work as a teller for a bank that serviced the Humble Oil Company in downtown Houston. The bank had a small branch in the Humble Building across the street. The bank’s primary customers were the oil company and its employees. I was one of the few married females that worked for the bank. Nearly all of the women were single, and they spent their lives planning on “going out” after work.

On a Monday morning, most the front staff were missing-in-action. On a Friday night, some of the single, female staff and several married bank officers went to happy hour. At some point, the drunken group decided to fly out to Las Vegas for the weekend. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but they were not able to book return flights. I spent the better part of the morning answering the phone and lying to the wives, who were calling to see if their husbands were at work. Then I would have to tell another lie when the wife asked for his secretary.

On another Friday night in a rush to get to the bar, a bank officer set the timer on the vault for four days instead of the two-day weekend. We had to borrow cash from another bank to open that Monday. It was Wednesday morning before the timer allowed the safe to open.

On our birthdays, there would be a beautifully wrapped gift from Neiman Marcus at our station when we arrived. The same vice-president who bought the gifts decided we should all dress alike. He didn’t want uniforms, so he had a dressmaker design and sew five suits for each of us. We dressed identically in designer suits. When businessmen would come in from Saudi Arabia, they would see which of us were the size of their wives. We were sent to shop with them to help them find the appropriate, American size. Usually, I was the last employee to take a lunch hour, and when I got back at two o’clock, the bank was closed. It was a great if somewhat quirky job.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Germany and Beyond

On my 23rd birthday, the family threw a party for me. Straddling my hip as they sang, Happy Birthday, Rob chimed in, singing out, “Happy Birth-too.” Repeatedly, we would light the candles on the cake to encourage him to sing and blow out the candles. Tootsie asked if they could keep Robin on a Sunday afternoon, and I dropped him off at their house. When I returned hours later, they had never changed his diaper – neither knew how.

Preparing to go to Germany, I got our passport picture, and I sent it to the Army as requested. The Army insisted that small children be on the mother’s passport, and that they process it. Just before Rob’s second birthday, we left Houston. At the airport, both Mother and Tootsie were distraught over losing the baby. With his grandmothers sobbing, Robin was upset as we walked across the tarmac to the airplane. I carried Robin up the boarding stairs while he waved to his grandmothers. As we reached the top step, the plane’s engines roared to life.

The flight attendant reached out for him, and he started screaming, “I want off!” He cried all the way to Washington, D.C. where we changed planes.

Arriving at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, I checked in for our flight to Germany. The terminal was packed. A young airman informed me that my passport wasn’t available, and I would need to wait. After an hour, I went back up to the counter and sat my cranky child on top of it. Asking the status of my passport, I was again blown-off. Telling the airman that I was standing there until my passport was found, I pinched Rob’s chubby leg. Naturally, Robin started crying and screaming. The airman was getting edgy. An Air Force sergeant was walking by and couldn’t ignore a crying toddler. He suddenly remembered seeing Rob on our passport picture. He found our passport on the desk of an airman who was on leave. Finally, we embarked and headed for Frankfurt, Germany. Larry picked us up in his brand-new, two-seater, MG B convertible. Bitten by the racing bug, he had joined an auto racing club on post.

We lived in government housing in Hanau, Germany, and Larry was assigned to the Finance Department at Pioneer Kaserne. Kasernes are small, military posts dating from Hitler’s regime and have been occupied by the American military since 1945. Hanau was the home of the Grimm Brothers, and many, ancient sections still look as if they were part of the original Grimm’s fairy tales. In the early hours of March 19, 1945, Hanau was violently shattered by a massive, allied air strike. Nearly 85 percent of Hanau was destroyed, and it seemed the city had suffered a mortal blow. Brick by brick and with copious help from the US military, Hanau was rebuilt. The street outside Pioneer Kaserne was referred to Hookerstrasse, where some Kraut sisters were selling it on the street.

When I first arrived in Germany, Larry explained the monetary system to me. It seemed simple enough – four Deutsche marks were equal to one American dollar. He drove me to the main department store downtown and dropped me off, telling me he would pick me up in two hours. Busy wandering around the store I didn’t buy much that day, but I learned fast how to navigate the money and language enough to venture out on my own.

The government housing was built by the German Army in the late 1930s. The high buildings had three floors of apartments, full length basements where we washed and dried our laundry, and temporary apartments in the attic. The buildings were separated into three stairwells with six apartments in each section. With eighteen stacked neighbors, it was virtually impossible not to know everyone’s business. Each apartment had a balcony where we sat outside, if it were ever sunny. Sunshine was a precious commodity in Hanau, the eternal, winter-looking skies were overcast 85 percent of the time. Whenever the temperature neared 80 degrees, most of Hanau shut down and went to the outdoor pool. The pool made waves and on sunny days, it was so crowded, one could barely see the waves.

The family housing area was next to the Dunlop Rubber Company which made tires and other rubber products. The wind would deliver a smelly, black haze which hung over the housing and in particular my wash on a daily basis. Next to our living area was a campground, primarily habituated by Gypsy travelers. Another reason to dry my wash in the basement, they stole from us. With very limited Commissary and PX facilities, I purchased fresh vegetables from a vendor who came to the housing facility twice weekly. The vegetable man also sold candy. When he beeped his horn, the children emptied the building in a flash. The German beer company delivered twice a week, picking up empty bottles and replenishing beer and soft drinks by the cases. German beer bottles still had the signature ceramic caps, the original flip-top stoppers. Once a month, I packed up Rob and an ice chest and drove up to a small, mountain village to buy meat. Knowing the butcher shop received fresh meat on Monday, I would show up on Tuesday.

We watched German television, and I loved the fact they didn’t interrupt shows with advertisements. They air commercials in 15 minutes blocks between shows. To watch television in English, we watched the Armed Forces Network (AFN) which was produced by the military. On June 5, 1968, while feeding Rob breakfast, I was watching the morning news. The show was interrupted by special coverage on the death of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. Shortly after midnight, Kennedy was brutally assassinated in a hotel kitchen after giving a speech. It struck me that everyone I knew at home were asleep and wouldn’t be aware of this tragedy for hours. In July, 1969, we anxiously waited for the moon landing, and we watched Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon. We watched the moon walk on German television and flipped back to the AFN channel to catch it in English.

Frequently, I loaded up Robin, and we would tour every castle, summer palace, museum and cathedral in a 50 mile radius. He took many an afternoon nap, while I was in route to a castle. The autobahns (highway) don’t have speed limits, and they are built for high-speed. Leaving after lunch, we could tour an ancient castle and be back in time for dinner if we didn’t get slowed down by a honey wagon. On the small farm roads, the farmers drove horse-drawn wagons that were piled with cow manure for the fields. The wagons were covered with a tarp. The offensive odor announced itself, miles before you caught up with it. With its cargo stacked high, the bulky, crawling dray was difficult to pass.

Larry raced the MG in the touring-sedan-class at local, sanctioned events and racing tracks. Needing to have a special deferential installed every time he raced, he found an auto mechanic in a nearby village. A typical, Germanic blond with stern features, the mechanic, Wolfgang was extremely tall, at least 6′ 6”. On the rare occasion, when Wolfgang smiled, he was the sexiest man I had ever seen. Larry had Wolfgang install a safety roll-bar and special seats with double over-both-shoulders harnesses in the car. He was overly concerned about his safety, but never thought twice about Rob sitting on the back ledge. I finally talked him into installing a lap belt in the back.

The racing club members attended road rallies, where I rode with Larry as the navigator. I had to navigate as Larry had zero sense-of-direction. He wouldn’t let me drive the MG until I could go into left-hand curve at 70 miles-per-hour, speed-shift down and once hitting the apex, exit the curve at 70 miles-per-hour. Then, he decided I would have to spin the car, three times, on wet cobblestone at 45 miles-an-hour and finish, facing the right direction. Once I mastered that feat, he didn’t find another excuse to prevent me from driving the car.

We traveled to every possible event on the Grand Prix racing circuit, we could manage. Our racing club would set up a small, tent city on the campgrounds adjacent to the bigger tracks. Circling our tents the like Old West wagon trains, we camped at Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix. Many of the Formula One teams’ pit crews would hang out with us because we had American food, booze and cigarettes. When the Italian team arrived, the party really started. Graham Hill, from England, was a World Champion driver and his team was very accessible and friendly. In the pit, his crew put Rob in the Formula One car. I took pictures of him wearing a hat signed by Graham Hill. Unlike the never-ending, left-turning, NASCAR tracks, Grand Prix tracks vary from six to nine miles, with hair-pin curves and treacherous, high speed cornering. The sport involves more than just speed, it requires skill, agility and nerve.

Formula One racing is an international sport. In circuit racing when a driver goes to the winner’s circle, his country’s national anthem is played during the ceremony. At the race in Belgium, the Mexican racing team won, and the track officials were unable to find the Mexican national anthem recording. In a scramble to provide music, La Cucaracha blared from the speakers. Only the Americans thought it was hilarious.

We went to Spa, Belgium for the Belgian Grand Prix. Near the track, we stayed in a small hotel where the Italian team had already checked-in. Happy to see us again, the Italian team offered to drive me in the pace car around the track that evening. Lapping the track in a Ferrari is almost indescribable – the speed, the noise, the hot smell of Castrol and the phenomenal thrill are still with me. Our treating the Italians to a bottle of whiskey at Nurburgring really paid off. We were sitting in the grandstand, on the day of the race and just as the field of cars roared past me, one racer clipped another car. The second car spun and careened until it slammed into the wall just beyond the grandstand. Unfolding in slow motion, I watched each, individual piece of the wreckage fly from the race car, momentarily suspended in mid-air until it came crashing down to the track. Mesmerized, I realized the whole scene had occurred in under nine or ten seconds.

In route to Belgium, we visited the tiny Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Surrounded by Belgium, Germany and France, landlocked Luxembourg was the most European of all the many countries we visited. In Luxembourg City, street artists would re-create in pastel chalk famous paintings on the city sidewalks. Their realistic renderings were absolutely breathtaking, and I couldn’t believe their wonderful art would be left to the elements.

While in Luxembourg, the club visited, en masse, the American Military Cemetery and Memorial. Being in the military, the guys wanted to visit the grave site of General George S. Patton. Patton was buried there, after being killed in a wreck when his car’s driver smashed into a 2 ½ ton Army truck in Germany. The chapel and memorial sit in a wooded area with the graves of our military gently, sloping down the hillside. Many of the graves are for soldiers who lost their lives in the “Battle of the Bulge.” The “ Battle of the Bulge” was fought across Belgium and Luxembourg with General Patton’s armies merging victorious against 250,000 German soldiers. Leaving, I couldn’t help noticing the much larger cemetery across from the American cemetery – it was for the German Army.

We spent a day in Amsterdam before going to Zandvoort in northern Holland to attend the Dutch Grand Prix. Zandvoort is a beach town on the North Sea, and the race track is next to the beach. It was June, but the relentless winds made it feel like it was the dead of winter. On the morning of the race, it was windy and raw. I decided to keep my sleeping bag handy. From my perch on the sand dunes at the track, I watched young women in bikinis, sun-bathing on the beach below. The healthy, endowed Dutch girls frolicked on the beach as if it were a 90 degree day. I watched, sitting in a folding, lawn chair, shivering in a sleeping bag with blowing sand stinging my face. When we returned to Germany, we stopped in Rotterdam and the The Hague to visit the NATO headquarters

We drove to Hockenheim to see Jimmy Clark, a Scotsman, who had twice been the Formula One World Champion. The Formula 2 race had a sold-out crowd. Sitting next to me was a very large, German man wearing a cashmere coat who kept creeping into my space. When the track announced there had been a wreck on the back lap of the track, I waited pensively until an ambulance came slowly around the track. With no sirens or urgency on their part, I knew the news would not be good. On a cold, sunny April 7th in 1968, Jim Clark’s life tragically ended in a crash on a secondary track.

The post newsletter ran a request for Girl Scout leaders for several weeks. I decided to respond, and I ended up with a scout troop. We had our meetings at the Teen Center which was in the family housing area. Before long, I had the girls planning a trip to London. We asked two other girl scout troops to join our effort. After months of bake sales, used book sales, babysitting jobs and my begging the Army for help, we left for England. Several of their mothers went with us as chaperons.

Our tour bus boarded an extremely, large ferry in Calais, France. I went aft to watch the crew bring cars and buses onto the ship. When a train was put onboard, the ship actually sunk and settled a foot in the water. I was fine crossing the English Channel, but on our way home I was seasick and desperate to get home.  Arriving in England, we saw the famed, white cliffs of Dover.

In London, we stayed at a small hotel which was the former home of J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. As we were checking-in to the hotel, I mentioned to the desk clerk that I would need a wake-up call for the following morning. Finally everyone’s rooms were assigned, keys issued and instructions on when to meet next were given.

I was gathering my belongings, when the desk clerk asked me, “Madam, at what time would you like to be knocked up?”

“Excuse me?” was all I could stammer. Realizing his slang didn’t register on my American ears, he rephrased, “What time shall we rap on your door to wake you?”

It was April with unusually beautiful weather for London. Twiggy was the latest craze, and Carnaby Street was the in spot for fashion. The Soho area was a mixture of “mod” and “hippie” life styles. The mini skirts were extremely mini, and a bus load of 13-and-14-year-old girls scream at the smallest thing.

We went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. The huge crowd made it difficult for the younger girls to take pictures. Someone hoisted me up to the base of a statue, where I would snap photos for one girl and then for the next one.

As I handed down the last camera, a Bobby strolled over to the statue and looking up at me, he said, “It is not permitted to stand on statues.” Looking down, I suddenly realized how high I had climbed.

Seeing the concern on my face, the Bobby said to me, “Jump Luv, I’ll catch you.” I jumped – he caught me, and a bus load of teenage girls fell in love with him.

Back on the bus, I did a second head count as I realized I had two missing girls. Their mothers were on board as chaperons, and they had not noticed their own children were missing. We were on our way to Madame Tussuad’s Wax Museum. Once we unloaded the group, the bus driver and I returned and rounded up our wayward, frightened girls. I realized I would have to chaperon the chaperons.

We went to Hampton Court Palace which is on the River Thames, outside of London. Hampton Court was a primary residence of Henry VIII. He invented or took credit for tennis. He commissioned the Royal Tennis Court in 1528. An avid player, he played often on the indoor court. In 1907, Lord Baden-Powell invented scouting, and his widow was living in a small apartment in the palace. The tour guide stated that it was common practice to allow retired or widowed, civil servants to live on royal property.

The formal palace gardens were delightful, but my main memory is of a field next to the palace. Over the centuries, daffodils growing wild had multiplied until the meadow was peopled with yellow, fluttering, nodding heads as far as I could see. It is a once-a-year event, and I was fortunate to be there at the right time.

When we left Hampton Court, we toured the countryside on the way to the Canterbury Cathedral. The cathedral is the Mother Church of the Church of England and made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It is the story of Archbishop Thomas Becket, who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170. The town of Canterbury surrounds the cathedral, and we allowed everyone to go shopping. In the main chapel, a youth symphony was rehearsing for a concert they were to give that evening. The young musicians played beautifully and the acoustics in the chapel were absolutely phenomenal. I decided to remain. For over an hour, I sat in a 1400-year-old building listening to classical music.

The girl scouts were excited, yet spooked, about touring the Tower of London. The Towers were once a prison and it is where the Royal Crown Jewels are kept under guard. Dressed in their signature, red uniforms which were designed in 1509, the guards are commonly called “Beefeaters.” Over the last 1000 years, the Tower of London has served as a Royal Palace, a fortress, a prison, a place of execution, an arsenal, the Royal Mint and the jewel house for the Queen’s jewels.

Earlier that year, Larry, Rob and I went by train on a tour to Vienna, Austria. We slept on the train on the overnight trip. In Vienna on our afternoon breaks, we went to the coffee shops where I discovered Viennese pastries. The mouth-watering pastries were unbelievable, and éclairs and Napoleons are still my favorites.

We toured most of Vienna, and I found the Schonbrunn Palace’s beauty, staggering. With 1400-plus rooms, the summer home of Empress Maria Theresa has magnificent Rococo decor and lavish formal gardens. In the palace there was an exquisite room with walls made of Dresden china. The history of how it was saved during the WWII fascinated me. We spent a morning in a 1800s white riding hall, the Spanish Riding School, watching the riders and their Lipizzan horses train.

The hotel manager found a babysitter for Rob, and we went out on the town to experience “new wine.” Our Austrian tour guide warned us several times that the light, delicate wine had an extraordinary kick. She recommended everyone have only two glasses at the most. After midnight, our drunken, tour group ended up in a strip club. On the stage sat a bed and a night table with a picture of a soldier on it. The dancer came on stage in a sheer, blue negligee. She held the soldier’s photograph to her bosom. Although I couldn’t understand her Austrian lament to her lost love, I began to get tickled. Very somber music was playing low. As the sound began to crest, I realized she was performing her strip tease to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Marching around the table, I was saluting when we were thrown out of the club.

On our last morning in Vienna, we went to the bakery and bought pastries to take back to my neighbors. As we got closer to Germany, it began to snow. The snow began to come down hard, and the train began to move at a snail’s pace. The train stopped, and we had to wait for snow plows to clear the track. As we waited, we began to eat the pastries. After an extra ten hours, we got home – sans our neighbors’ pastries.

I got the news that Daddy had colon cancer and needed surgery. Taking Robin with me, we flew out of Frankfort and had a six-hour lay-over in Amsterdam. The airport had moving sidewalks which were the first I had ever seen. Rob and I rode on the sidewalks all afternoon. We caught a direct flight through Montreal and on to Houston.

Since I was accustomed to a different time schedule, it was decided that I would stay in the hospital at night with Dad. Rob would be able to stay at home with Mother at night. On the second night after Daddy’s surgery, Van’s father died. He and Margaret left for Nashville to help his mother.

Dad’s surgeon came into his room and asked when Mother would be there. I informed him that she didn’t handle adversity well. With Margaret in Nashville, I was it. When the doctor left the room, I stepped outside the door and stopped him. I asked if the pathology reports had returned, and he sadly advised me that the cancer was advanced and the prognosis was not good. Knowing I needed to go back in the room with Dad, I made an effort to calm myself. I waited for 30 long minutes, and I made an excuse to Daddy in order to leave the room. I found a pay phone and called Margaret. I don’t know if we ever gave Mother the full details. To help Mother with getting Dad settled and cared for, I stayed in Houston for a month.

Ron was a Marine and stationed in Vietnam. He was granted a hardship discharge and came home to be with Dad. He met Dana, through Mother at the store, and they married as Dad was anxious to see him married with a family before he died. Ron and Dana married after we returned from Germany. At their wedding in St. Marks Episcopal Church, we were waiting for the bride’s entrance. A large, gold cross hanging behind the altar caught Robin’s attention. Popping up, he shouted, “Look Mom at the huge plus sign.”

Rob Arrives

On a Friday morning, I woke feeling like I had the flu. I put a call in to Dr. Hagrity’s office. His answering service told me he was in surgery, but for me to go to the hospital to get checked. When I arrived at the surgery suite a nurse examined me and went to speak to my doctor. Dr. Hagrity came out, telling me he would give me a shot to relax me as I had barely begun labor, and it would be a long day. He had a second surgery to perform that morning and knocking me out seemed like a good option. I laughingly said, “Aw, we will be finished by noon.” It was 8:45am and I promptly passed out.

Painfully jolted awake, my water broke, and I saw Dr. Hagrity was there. The next thing I recall as they took me into the delivery room was my doctor shouting at the nurses, “Hurry, she isn’t waiting for us.”

Dr. Hagrity’s anticipated long day for me was over at 11:49 am. On July 30, 1965, Robin Scott Shapiro, all 6 pounds and 8 ounces of him, came into my world.

Groggy from the anesthesia, I can barely summon the rest of the day other than asking the nurse carrying Rob to unwrap my baby, so I could be sure he had ten toes and fingers. All the family came to the hospital, and Tootsie was ecstatic. Robin was the first baby in the Shapiro family in 26 years.

The next morning there was less excitement. When the nurse brought Robin from the nursery for me to bottle feed, I was left alone with him for the first time. The overwhelming panic, which had sneakily caught me off guard the day I graduated from high school, returned to punch me. Holding that small, red-faced, squirming bundle all I could think was,” How in God’s name will I ever get this child up to college?” My panic attack was short-lived, but panic never quite leaves a mother.

Because my husband was in Korea, Dr. Hagrity felt responsible to be a stand-in. He came to my room several times during the day. On Sunday, he brought three of his five young children to the window for me to see them. In less than five years, he would die from lung cancer, just barely 40-years-old. He had given me a shot to keep my milk from coming in as bottle feeding was in vogue. The shot didn’t work. When I woke up on the second morning, my breast were swollen to my underarms. The nurses iced packed me, and I stayed in the hospital for five days before we could go home. On the way home Daddy drove, and mother insisted on holding Rob. Infant carriers were not invented, yet.

While we were in the hospital, Tootsie had been planning the Bris for Robin. A Bris is the ritual ceremony at the circumcision of a Jewish, male child. On the eighth day of a male child’s life, a ceremony is held where his Jewish name and why he is named is given. Prayers are offered, and then the Mohelet performs the surgery. It was decided to have the Bris at my parent’s apartment. Morris insisted that all Christian artifacts be removed from my parent’s home. The Mohelet was a dentist named Jacob Geller. I asked Dr. Hagrity to attend as I was very nervous about having a dentist snip my son. The Bris was held before sundown on Friday with 60 to 70 people in the living room. I stubbornly dressed Rob in a Christening gown before taking him out to the crowd. The Mohelet had draped surgical cloths on a card table. After prayers, he dipped a piece of gauze into the wine chalice and gave it to Rob to suck on. That stopped him from crying, but at that instant Aunt Bertha fainted. The room was hot and crowded. Dr. Hagrity sweetly tended her and afterwards the party ensued. Dr. Hagrity got loaded doing celebratory shots, and Billy had to drive him home. Tootsie’s only sister, Miriam and her husband, Benjamen (Bunny) Leff were asked to be Rob’s godparents.

Without Dad, Rob would have never survived as I knew next to nothing about infants. Dad taught me how to bathe a baby and at Rob’s slightest whimper during the night, Daddy was up. He would wake me, hand me a diaper and Robin. While I was changing his diaper, Dad would go heat-up a bottle. Being old-fashioned, he insisted that a new mother needed to remain in bed for ten days. He told me that the instructions for babies came on their heel. I nearly killed Robin trying to find instructions.

Rob was five-months-old when Larry came home from Korea. Before we married, Larry talked his parents into buying a yellow, 1963 Plymouth convertible. When he returned from Korea, they were planning on trading the car. Larry talked them into giving the car to us. His new duty station was at Ft. Ord, California, so we packed the car and headed to California.

We spent the first night on the road in Las Cruses, New Mexico. When we went into the room, the wall next to the bed was entirely covered with a mirror. Pushing the bed next to the wall, I placed Rob on his stomach facing the mirror. I went to help Larry unload all the baby stuff and returned to find Rob hanging by his chin on the outer edge of the bed. Seeing himself in the mirror, he became excited, started kicking and worked himself backward across the bed.

We arrived at Ft. Ord on the Monterey Peninsula, which in my book is the most beautiful area in California. Seaside, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel and Carmel Valley are all unique cities along the coast. The 17-mile-drive at Pebble Beach has the most spectacular scenery as it meanders through wind-swept forests and down along the rocky coast line where gnarly curves twist above the pounding surf. The massive, sparsely settled area south of Carmel Valley is called Big Sur. Majestic, heavily wooded mountains rise on one side of Highway 1, and on the Pacific ocean side, the cliffs loom over the beaches. It’s a breathtaking view.

The NCO club was built on a hilltop overlooking the Monterey Bay. The military family housing began at the bottom of the hill, and our house was the first one next to the club driveway. Our neighbor behind us was an adorable couple, Betty and Albert, who had two boys, four and six-years-old. Betty adored Robin and would come over daily to play with him. During the Korean War, Albie, a medic, was in the field giving aid to a wounded soldier. Seeing that they were the same blood type, Albie began to give the soldier a transfusion directly from his own arm. A mortar round landed on the soldier, and in a confusion of dog tags Betty was notified that Albie had been killed in action. She held his memorial service in West Virginia and collected his life insurance from the Army. Nine months later, Albie woke up in Letterman Hospital at the Presidio of San Francisco. Adding the two boys to their family, they struggled to repay the insurance money for several years. With a mangled arm and an aching body, he managed to remain a medic in the Army.

Larry had a difficult time adjusting to fatherhood. He would wait impatiently while I packed up all the accouterments required for an infant just to go to a movie. Rob discovered Larry’s record collection, and his sticky, little hands smeared fingerprints on Larry’s 45 records – that became a major argument. Rob’s first birthday arrived and we had his party with the neighbors.

Shortly after his 1st birthday, Mother and Daddy drove out to visit us. It was Dad’s first trip beyond New Mexico, and he was ecstatic. We toured the Monterey Peninsula area and went down to Jade Beach in Big Sur. On an evening drive to the lighthouse Rob was in his car seat, and nothing I could do would stop his crying. As we neared the lighthouse, a fog began to roll in over the beach. With out warning, the fog horn blasted and startled Rob. He quit crying and instantly fell asleep.

We took my folks up to San Francisco where they saw the Golden Gate Bridge and China Town. Driving through the Haight-Ashbury area where the flower-power, incense-burning, acid-dropping, tie-dye-wearing, peace-and-free-love hippies lived, Daddy almost stroked. Seeing almost all the young men with hair hanging to their waist was almost more than my father could bear. We drove up to northern California to tour the missions and the Napa Valley wine country.

Not long after my parents left, Larry and I got into a colossal row. Betty called Daddy, telling him he needed to get us out of there. The Ol’ man immediately sent me tickets, and Rob and I flew home. I put Rob in daycare and went to work at a bank in downtown Houston. In one of his rare act of generosity, Morris got me the job. Still at Ft. Ord, Larry begin seeing a Mexican girl who was an MP. His only memory of his real mother was that she had black hair, and he always had a thing for black-haired women. Receiving orders to go to France, he shipped our household goods to Houston. Rob and I moved into the apartment complex where Mother and Dad lived.

I got off from work at the bank about 3:30 in the afternoon and would pick up Rob from daycare. By 5 o’clock, Dad would be at my house. Taking Rob’s hand, they walked around the block to get ice cream. Rob had dessert every night – first. When he was 18-months-old, Rob developed chicken pox. I was home with a cranky baby when Larry knocked on the door. He was on his way to France and begged me not to divorce him. All the appropriate promises were made as he swore he didn’t want to lose me or his son. I agreed that I would follow him when he was re-assigned to Germany. President de Gaulle made the decision to have all American troops removed from France, therefore Larry’s tour would be short. Working in the Army’s Finance Department, Larry was assigned to the American Embassy in Paris.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Houston and Larry

I was back in bustling, hectic Houston, but at least this time I could handle the freeways. I found a job at a new French bakery and restaurant. During the week-long orientation on French food and wines, I met Patricia Savant. She was looking for a roommate, and as soon as I got my first paycheck; she had one. I caught a late shift, and she came to the bakery to pick me up from work. I was delayed, and when we returned to the apartment; the beans she left cooking on the stove had burned. The apartment was filled with intense smoke and we were barely able to breathe. Laughing, we laid on the floor beneath the smoke. We became friends despite my thinking she was kooky because she thought I was kookier.

Pat was from Wharton, Texas. On the south Texas coastal plains, Wharton is the epitome of a small Texas town. Amazing enough, Wharton produced the playwright, Horton Foote and Dan Rather, the news anchor. On weekends, we would go down to her parent’s house to be close to the beach. Her dark-haired parents had one son, 14 years younger than Pat, who grew up to be the cutest red head I ever knew. Eventually, we both found other jobs and moved to a two bedroom apartment with two friends of Pat’s.

Hired by Joske’s Department Store in the Galleria, I worked in the stationery department for a lovely lady. She felt obligated to cure my lack of etiquette knowledge. Dealing with society and the elite was her calling card. Her department handled wedding invitations, formal stationery, notes and notions. Notions are miscellaneous, small items such as hair nets, combs, bobby pins, needles, thread, scissors and so forth. One day the lingerie department was short handed, and I was sent over to fill-in as one register is as good as another, right. Much to my surprise, a quite, elderly woman informed me that I had to help her fit her new bra. Going into the dressing room, she disrobed. I held out the bra to her with both hands.

She said, “Well, help me get in it.”

I know everything showed on my face as I looked down at her pendulum breasts hanging down to her waist. Impatiently, she informed me, “ Just fold them up like an accordion and stuff them in.”

I was extremely happy to go back to society dames in the notions and stationery department.

On a Friday afternoon, a grim rumor began to circulate in the store that President Kennedy had been shot and was in a Dallas hospital. For a split second, the world stopped spinning on November 22, 1963, our president had been cut down in his prime. All the television sets in Joske’s were tuned to the tragedy. I was shaken when the news anchor announced President Kennedy’s death in Parkland Hospital. After work, I went over to my parent’s house to see how Daddy was taking the news. He was crushed. Over the weekend our family stayed together. We cried as we watched the events unfold on the television. Watching Vice President Lyndon Johnston on Air Force One take the oath of office with Mrs. Kennedy standing next to him in her pink, blood-stained suit is crystal clear in my mind. The swearing-in of our Vice President was the nation’s confirmation that this charismatic and popular President was indeed gone.

We remained glued to the television as the coverage on the trigger man, Lee Harvey Oswald, began to surface. That weekend, Oswald’s capture and then his untimely assassination were televised. On the Sunday following Kennedy’s assassination, his flag-draped casket was moved to the Capitol for public viewing. Throughout the day and night, tens of thousands lined up to view the military-guarded casket. John-John’s final salute to his father’s casket was a heart-breaking moment for all of us. The sadness of the funeral with the lone, riderless, black horse in the procession following behind the caisson which carried the flag-draped casket of the president personified our grief. Our nation mourned. Until September 11, 2001, our whole nation has not felt such a collective anguish as we did in November, 1963.

The Beatles had come to America on their first tour, and the hysterical madness that accompanied them hit Houston. One day, I looked up and leaning on my register counter was a big guy in a black, Beatles wig, which clashed with his freckles. Realizing he had startled me, he quickly announced that the stereo department upstairs was having a promotion. He was dressed in the Beatles wig for his job. He asked me to go to coffee, and on my next break, I met him upstairs in the dining room. This is how I met Larry Shapiro.

Shortly after Larry and I began to date, my roommates and I moved to a large, two-story, Tudor brick house owned by the University of Houston. The house had been donated by an alumni, and the university leased it to us. We each had a bedroom of our own. Pat knew a guy who needed new roommates. He was living with five other guys in a two bedroom apartment. It was unheard of to have coed roommates in 1963. We rented a small room adjacent to the attic on the top floor to him. Since we were not supposed to have a male living with us, he would go through the attic and drop into the garage to leave. One of us would open the garage door, and he would zoom out on his motorcycle. We were turned in for having a male roommate, and we lost our lease. I moved back home with my parents. Mother was still working for Sacco’s Grocery Stores. Daddy was a sales rep for several, small lines that he sold on the road to small, hardware stores in east Texas.

Uncle Smitty showed up with his wife, Mary who was the smallest woman I had ever met. They were drunken misfits and drank steadily. I don’t know why they decided to come to Houston. I wonder if Aunt Swint was the one who suggested it. The day they came I was at home. Mother was at work, and she asked me to help them get settled. Uncle Smitty asked if I would do his wash. I had no idea what I had agreed to because I was astounded when I opened their suitcases. I don’t have a clue how long it had been since their clothes had been washed nor where they had stayed. I had never seen anything that filthy. I washed their seedy and worn clothes with plenty of bleach, several times, before putting them in the dryer. They lived in Houston for about a year before Uncle Smitty died.

Larry had previously dated a Catholic girl. When he started to get serious, she dumped him because he was Jewish. He was overly concerned that I would dump him for being Jewish. From later conversations, I realized her parents disliked Larry and made her break-up with him. By then it was too late; we were married. We had been dating for over a year when I was offered a job as an assistant buyer at the downtown Neiman Marcus department store. I had been working for Neimans for about two weeks when Larry met me for lunch. He informed me he had decided to go back in the Army, and we should get married before he enlisted again. I have always been sorry I quit that job. Thinking that Larry came from a settled family and feeling that I needed to marry someone strong, I agreed. Stronger than dog’s breath, I would need an equally strong husband. Behind his charming facade, I didn’t realize his heart was cold.

Only having a couple of weeks before Larry was to leave, we decided to marry at a small, wedding chapel downtown. On the day of the wedding, I went to have my hair done. The hair dresser was delayed in getting to me. On my way home to dress, I caught cross-town traffic. I was almost an hour late arriving at the wedding chapel. On Friday, August 21, 1964, we married with only our immediate families attending. Margaret hosted a small reception for us on Saturday night. All of his family attended and met my family for the first time. My friend, Pat couldn’t come to my wedding. She was desperate for a new roommate and married the same day I did.

When Larry was almost six-years-old, he was adopted by Ida Clare (Tootsie) and Morris Shapiro. Morris owned a men’s clothing and a tailoring shop in downtown Houston. Tootsie and Morris were married 18 years when they adopted Larry. His new parents made little adjustment to their life style and expected him to adapt immediately.

One of his aunts related to me that if he mentioned his real parents, he would throw his little hand over his mouth and say, “Oops, I am not suppose to talk about that.”

His real mother was a dope addict, and his father was an alcoholic. The State of Texas removed him along with several brothers and sisters from their home. They placed them in an orphanage. In 1948, it was highly unusual for small children to be taken from their parents.

When Larry was 12-years-old, the Shapiros bought the house where Larry currently lives. In 1954, his parents paid $17,000 for that house. By the time he was in high school, Larry was more than his parents could handle. Tootsie was prone to having nervous breakdowns and after one such episode, they decided to put Larry in a military academy. He had run away to the orphanage (in the Dallas area) and broke into the office. Thinking if he read his records, he would be able to find his family. Morris promptly enrolled him in Perkins Military Academy in San Antonio. At Perkins, Larry earned so many demerits, it became apparent that he would not graduate. Morris couldn’t pay Perkins Military Academy enough to keep Larry. His father decided to sign him into the military. After completing basic training, Larry went to Germany for the first time. In Germany while on patrol on the border, Larry found a small, black puppy. He brought Fuzz  to Houston when he got out of the Army. His parents had never had a pet and were not initially thrilled with the prospect of having an animal in the house or the yard.

In 1964, Larry rejoined the Army. He was sent to Ft. Polk, Louisiana for an abridged, basic training as he had been previously enlisted. I began taking instruction classes for Judaism while Larry was gone to basic training. Because I was somewhat casual about religion and having been several denominations, I agreed to become Jewish. I didn’t want my children to have their childhood clouded by constant arguments over which church to attend. Larry was very insistent on my being Jewish. Under Jewish law, the mother must be Jewish in order for a child to be considered Jewish. As long as a child’s mother is Jewish, it doesn’t matter if the father isn’t. Larry’s real reason was to appease his parents and to ensure he wasn’t cut out of their will.

I took classes at Temple Beth Yeshurun on Braeswood Blvd by Buffalo Bayou. Rabbi Malev conducted my instruction classes and was helping Tootsie to make arrangements for our second wedding in the synagogue. On the day I got my pedigree, we went to an Orthodox temple where I was to have a mikvah. With Larry’s Aunt Bertha as a spectator, I took the ritual bath for Jewish women. After seven dunks in the ritual bath while praying, the bride-to-be symbolically washes away her identity as a single woman. Naked, holding the prayer-book in one hand and frustrated, I had Larry’s Aunt Bertha shouting at me, “Dunk your head, so the rabbis will know you got in.”

Three rabbis were standing outside, ears to the door, waiting for me to finish. With my long hair streaming wet rivulets down my suit, I had my final interview with the rabbis. Certified, papers signed and sealed, I was given my Jewish name – Nakoma bat Abraham. Larry came home on leave that weekend, and we were married at the temple with his entire family and friends in attendance.

Aunt Bertha sold several lines of women’s clothing for a couple of New York City, wholesale dress firms. Meeting me and seeing my tall, slender build, she informed Larry, “Boy, that is some expensive figure.” Over the years, I had ample opportunity to remind him of that.

Aunt Bertha lived in a modest home, and she took care of her semi-invalid husband, Henry. Uncle Henry had been a prisoner in the concentration camps in Germany. A German SS officer and physician, Joseph Mengele performed many inhumane medical experiments on live, Jewish prisoners at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Under Dr. Mengele’s direction, the staff stabbed hundreds of needles and surgical knives into Henry’s arms and legs in order for the notorious Dr. Mengele to observe Uncle Henry’s body’s reaction. With his ruined, tortured body, Henry was eventually sent to the United States. How he came to be with Aunt Bertha is unknown, but I can’t forget the tattoo on his arm.

Larry’s parents belonged to the Conservative temple. They kept kosher at home, but would eat in non-kosher restaurants. Kosher is a dietary law from the Torah. Milk and dairy products are never mixed with meat products. Pots, pans, china, silverware and utensils are kept separate, one set for dairy and one for meat. Kosher restaurants and synagogue kitchens observe all these rituals. Some of the taboo foods are pork, which was a carrier of diseases 5000 years ago and most seafood, the scavengers of the ocean floor. Food that is not kosher are commonly referred to as treif. Kosher, slaughter houses must meet rigid, mandatory sanitary conditions, and the animals are to have proper blood letting. The kosher seal shows the product was made in accordance with Jewish law, and is fit for ritual use. It isn’t true that a Rabbi has to bless livestock when slaughtering to certify the meat as Kosher.

Larry was assigned to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and he left to find us an apartment. He found a small duplex in Radcliff, Kentucky. Radcliff is just outside the gates of Ft. Knox, and it wasn’t much to write home about. Located in northern Kentucky, this little town was incorporated in 1956 and had less than 10,000 residents including military personnel. The duplex was run-down with a shower that was so atrocious, I wouldn’t use it. Coming up with a can of Army-standard-gray paint, Larry painted it for me. The apartment was near a trailer home compound where primarily military families lived, so Larry could catch a ride to the post.

I thought that part of being a good wife was to get up at 5:30 am and to make a hot breakfast for my new husband. On a bitter-cold, dark, October morning while Larry was in the shower, I turned on the oven and turned up the dial on the wall radiator. Coming out of the hot shower, Larry complained about the heat and threw open the kitchen window. I was making a batch of biscuits and the open window not only froze me out; it exposed me to the neighborhood. My asking him to close the window quickly accelerated into a dreadful argument. Seeing that I was going to lose the argument, I heaved the bowl which hit the wall. I got back in my bed. When I got up, I spent over an hour cleaning up the mess I had created. Dried, biscuit dough on a painted, stucco wall requires dynamite to remove.

Larry returned that night with a kitten for me. It’s hard to resist a kitty, and I named him Velvet. He looked very much like Pywacket (my black cat), except his coat was a deep silvery gray. After a couple of weeks, Larry came home late, and he informed me that he was on orders to Korea and would leave in four days. Astonished, I couldn’t even begin to think of what I would need to do to be gone in four days. Velvet was too small to even get shots, and I had been basically hand feeding him. Unwilling to desert a kitten, I decided to carry him with me on the train.

I left Kentucky on November 3, 1964. I remember the entire day so clearly. It was election day, and that night Lyndon Johnson’s 61%, landslide victory made political history. Kennedy’s presidency had been termed the “New Frontier,” but it was Johnson’s “Great Society” which enabled civil rights legislation to be enacted. Election aside, while boarding the train I watched an Army Honor Guard load a casket onto the train. I read in the paper about a soldier from Houston recently killed in a car wreck. I asked if the casket was going to Houston. Wearing a coat with large, patch pockets on the front, I had the kitten in my coat pocket. I carried a gift-wrapped package in which I had put kitty litter. Scratching the kitten to keep him sleepy, I boarded the train.

When we got to Little Rock, I not only had to change trains, but change train stations, also. Arriving in  Little Rock, the conductor said to me that we were running behind, and I would probably miss my connection. Without blinking an eye, I alleged I was traveling with the casket that had been put aboard in Louisville and didn’t want to get parted. He said they could radio ahead and ask for a taxi to be standing by. When we arrived, I jumped off the train and was met by the cab driver. Rushing over to the other station, I found my connecting train was delayed. A private rail car for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor was still being attached to the train. The Duke was going to the Houston medical center for cancer treatment.

I settled in my seat and put the gift-wrapped, kitty litter box on the seat facing me. A heavyset woman came waddling by my row and looked down at all my stuff. Looking forward, she saw an empty row at the back of the car. She made her way toward the back row, and the conductor informed her that she needed to sit down as the train was departing. Leaning over to put her bags on the seat, she gasped. A very dainty, Black lady was sitting there and being so small, she had been hidden by the seat. Pulling back, the chunky lady was gathering her luggage when the conductor informed her that departure was imminent.

She snapped at him, “I am not sitting next to a Nigger.”

Resigned, he picked up some of her luggage and headed toward me. Throwing my coat and both my feet on the opposite seats, I said, “She will not want to sit with me either, I’m Jewish.”

He escorted her to another car, and the train shook and rattled its way to Houston. Always happy to go to the train station, Daddy met the kitten and me. I am sure he was early so he could watch the trains.

Whenever I left the house, Velvet would sit at the door whining until I returned. One day Billy remarked to me, “I would have a cat if I had one that would love me like that.” I picked him up and handed him to her.

Back in Houston I had to think about what to do next. Within days, I realized I was pregnant. Kay wanted to go to work. She suggested that if I would keep the kids, I could go to Jacksonville, Florida where they were living. I headed for Florida. Kay found a job in a nursing home, and I baby-sat Missy and David. I didn’t buy many maternity clothes, but I did have two maternity swimming suits. Most mornings, the kids and I went to Mayport to the beach. When I was nearing my eighth month, Mother and Dad drove to Florida to pick me up, so the baby could be born in Houston.

I went into Sacco’s Grocery Store to see Mother at work, and the little, Italian produce manager asked me in his broken English, “Whatta you goin’ to name that Jewish baby?”

“Abe.” was my reply as Abraham was the first Jewish name that popped into my head.

Every time I went to the store, everyone would ask, “How is Abe, doing?” They even had an office betting pool to pick the day that he would be born.

Initially, Morris had been a “prick” about my coming home pregnant. He assumed I was comprised when we married and was selfishly, concerned about what his friends would think. Much to his relief, the baby was due on August 20th. In Jewish tradition, children are named after the deceased. It was decided to name the baby after Larry’s Grandmother Rose and Aunt Sarah. I had the two initials, R. and S., and I needed to select a name using the initials. About a week before Robin was born, Larry wrote me he wanted to name the baby Raymond. Raymond just didn’t seem right to me, so I put an international call in for Larry.

When the operator finally made the connection, Larry came on the line, breathless – he shouted excitedly, “ Is it a boy or a girl?”

Sobbing, I cried, “I am never naming a baby Ray.”

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Oops, an Adult Already

Mother landed on her feet. She had learned enough in the store to go to an independent grocery store owner, and talked her way into a job. She was the soft goods buyer for his two stores. Sam Sacco was an honorable, Italian gentleman and she worked for Mr. Sam for years.

I started my junior year at Bellaire High School. Bellaire High School had a culture I had never experienced before. The high school was mainly attended by predominately Jewish, well-heeled children with full expectations of going to college, They were smart, and this confirmed to me the advantages of being well-educated.

We had religion again. Mr. Sam was such a devout Catholic that being religious was probably in Mother’s best interest. My parents were desperately searching for the answer to their constant trials and tribulations. This time we were going to be Episcopalian. In order to be accepted into the congregation of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, we had to take religion classes. Ron and I attended religious instruction. The priest who taught us remarked, several times, on how well-versed we were in the Bible. St Mark’s sanctuary was a quite, dignified place of worship. The parishioners sat down quietly, bent down to the kneeling bench and prayed, privately. St Mark’s worship service was filled with quite dignity, pomp and ceremony. I have always felt that St. Mark’s was Ron’s first true crossroad and would profoundly affect him for the rest of his life. At St. Mark’s he found a place where gentleness was encouraged and nurtured. It truly fit his temperament.

Margaret’s second daughter, Dona was a baby. Born with club feet, she wore tiny casts and later braces on her feet. I always was crushed when I saw the casts. She had no way of telling us if the casts were hot or itchy. I longed to make her comfortable. An ethereal beauty, she looked so fragile in her crib. Margaret hovered to the point of distraction to ensure her baby would be perfect.

Mother and Daddy were in a full-blown war. She threw him out. He drank and looked for work in various places in Texas. That meant to me, he wasn’t coming back. He started calling at times when he knew that I would be home. He gave me his hard-luck stories about being homeless, sleeping in the car and eating out of garbage cans. I later realized, this had to be absolute fabrication as he had the world’s weakest stomach. He gagged at the slightest, offensive odor. He needed me to buy into his story. He figured I would be the one to out-talk Mother on his behalf. I was a 17-year-old torn between two selfish parents. Positive I would lose my mind before they did, I called Lee to rescue me. I went to Kansas. The Ol’ Man went back to Mother. Hedging against a future divorce, he converted to Catholicism.

Wichita, Kansas was another forlorn place. It was bleak and cold. Lee and Kay generously took me in so I could complete my senior year. I went to Wichita High School North which had another culture for me. In the South, segregation was illegal, but white school districts were designed to minimize co-mingling. Wichita High School North had primarily Black kids. I went to school a half day and worked half days.

My year with Lee, Kay and the kids has good memories for me. I was busy working, skipping school, dancing and doing some Graham hell-raising. I quickly learned this was a path that I was not interested in staying on. Much to my surprise, Mother and Daddy came to my graduation. Kay probably strong armed them as she was always in my corner. I was 18-years-old with a dominate, quirky outlook on life. I rode with my parents back to Houston still feeling the tragedy of wasted chances.

Up to this point, music was an underlying theme of my family. The lives that were fraught with angst and ambitions, created by the music which had dominated the others’ lives hadn’t comprised or crushed me. Music was an intimate solace and a welcome restoration to me. The Graham family was just Southern and screwed up enough to have done Tennessee Williams proud.

Daddy gave me independence. Mother’s expectations to learn the ways and wiles of a Southern lady, I heard. Lee gave me a sense of fun. Margaret taught me it is possible to have order in chaos, and Billy forced me to be wary and perceptive. My shadow, for the first twelve years of his life, Ronald B. showed me that there is grace in gentleness, and it is endearing and enduring.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,