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  
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