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.


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