or “How I Met Your Father”
or or, “Everybody’s Got a Story”
I will admit right off, I am a curmudgeon when it comes to romance. Flowers and candy are wasted on me–later I’ll tell you how wasted they are. My adult life has been spent, some would say misspent, this way.
As a young girl I nursed romantic fantasies, but when I hit about 17 they seemed to vanish. How I came to have a romantic husband is a mystery to me.
Bill and I met when I was 18, nearly 19. We were both stationed at Mountain Home Air Force base in southern Idaho. He was assigned to take me around on the flightline until I had a line badge–picture ID–and could go in restricted areas alone. It took sometime for my security clearance to come through, and he had to preside over me being stopped by the MPs, and even held at gunpoint once or twice. (Those signs around military facilities that say, “Deadly force is authorized. Trespassers will be shot.” are not just for looks.)
Anyway, he was my guardian angel and helped me steer clear of guys who loved to torture women sent into the male-dominated career of aircraft maintenance, and he tried to actually teach me the craft. (This we know now was a fruitless endeavor as I have a sort of dyslexia when it comes to tools and mechanical equipment. Just because a person can pass a written test with high marks doesn’t mean they are suited for a particular vocation. But when the military has been ordered by the government to boost the numbers of women in certain areas, theory becomes fact and voila! Equal opportunity!)
As I recall, we had been working together for a few weeks, and one night we were towing a plane from what was called the trim pad–where the engines are adjusted, or “trimmed” after being rebuilt–to the wash rack at the other end of the flightline. This could take an hour or so as the vehicle towing the aircraft only moves at about 5 MPH.
When towing the particular aircraft we work on, F111As, it takes three people. The tow vehicle driver has a special license to drive the tow vehicle so he’s much in demand. Our two driver was named Barry. He was an unattractive man, inside and out. He thought Bill an easy mark because he’s and so was always doing him favors and then wanting payback at odd times.We won’t go into my first date with Bill, on which Barry insinuated himself. (Eeww.) Bill was the ? and was there to see that the wings could clear any obstacles and carry the technical orders–checklist. I was the brake rider. This is the job of the least experienced person you can find. In theory, if something desperate happens, like the tow vehicle overrides its 5 mph governor and careens out of control, the person in the cockpit can mash on the breaks and keep the plane from also careening out of control. That’s the theory anyway.
It was a beautiful early summer evening. Mountain Home is high desert and the sunsets can be magnificent. That night was one of those nights. For some unremembered reason we were stopped half-way to the wash rack. Bill chocked the wheels and the three of us were talking. Out of the clear blue, purple, and pink sky, Barry says Bill wants to take me to the upcoming section picnic.
I think Bill looked so shocked not because it wasn’t true, but that he had not expected Barry to rat him out. Why I don’t know. Barry had rat DNA, spilling confidences was, and probably is, something he does with some regularity.
It seemed like a good idea so I said, yes.
When the day came, I was pretty nervous. Those were the more proper days when before men were not allowed to just walk into the women’s dormitory. To add to the anticipation, I had to wait for the runner to come from the Charge of Quarters office. I got downstairs and there my date stood in his shining armour of cut-off shorts and football jersey, in a pair of green Puma running shoes, with a ball cap. (We all wore ball caps, bill forward.) Bill looked like a jack rabbit surrounded by coyotes.
He took me to his chariot: a full-sized blue and white Dodge pickup, which he DID laughingly call his chariot. Or Doggie. We drove for what seemed to be hours through the desert to a man-made reservoir called Strike Dam. The 8-TRACK played The Eagles, On The Boarder. Little did I know that they would become the quai-soundtrack of my adult life. Ask me sometime how the nihilist anthem, “Life In the Fast Lane” became “our song.”
After the dusty drive, we got to the reservoir. The place was packed with dogs and families.
The section picnic was the small-scale version of a company picnic. I had been to one company picnic before this one, as the daughter of an employee. Other than making sure I didn’t get into trouble, no one paid attention to me then. Now, I came to this picnic with my own identity: Airman Susan K. Litton. And Airman Litton had not been initiated into the section.
Since we were at a man-made lake, you can see how the initiation would entail being dunked.
I hate the water. I grew up where the water, even in a lake, is freezing cold all-year-round. The beautiful Coeur d’Alene lake tops out at about 50 in the dead of summer. The rivers in the area are colder because they are fed by the melting snow from the mountains. Hence, I never learned to swim. (Well, Mom tried. In fifth grade I got swim lessons, but fear got me only to the floating stage after 7 lessons.) I like my bodies of water at a distance.
Somewhere between finishing my first hot dog and going back for ice cream, someone, (Barry), got the bright idea to carry me into the lake and unceremoniously dump me so as to make me a true mechanic, and part of the group.
As a much thinner me was dragged out by several co-workers, I begged and pleaded—genuine terror is very convincing—and Barry made sure my head didn’t go under.
This is proof that external elements can overcome rat DNA when the subject desires.
I took my swim like a good little troop and was on the way back to Bill’s truck when on of the NCOs thought it would be funny to do it again. I suspect he thought it was funny, AND since I was wearing a shirt that was practically transparent when wet, it might be good to extend the fun.
Bill didn’t agree.
I can’t tell you precisely what Bill did, but I will tantalize you with this: he did something very gallant, and at the same time should have made me wonder about riding back all those empty miles to civilization with him. We didn’t have shows about serial killers back then, but I know Bill would have fit the profile if we had.
What he did stopped any further thoughts of dunking the newbie and I was grateful.
Bill and I getting together is a romantic story. To me at least. You’re saying,” I don’t about that, Sue. You’ve made it impossible to judge by leaving out a very juicy, and vital bit of information here. I can’t possibly make up my mind.”
Trust me, it is. And here is the difference between romance and love.
I used to tell the story with ALL the bits and bobs. I love the story of my first date with Bill. I treasure it.
But, it embarrasses Bill.
And he won’t even tell me why.
Once after telling it, and receiving raves reviews from some new friends, Bill asked me not to tell it again.
Bill is extremely quiet and private. You can ask Laura Hile. She’s known him for over a decade and has likely not heard him speak more than 20 sentences. Pamela Aidan has met him and probably couldn’t identify his voice in a blind comparison.
His privacy and obvious distress at my telling made me say yes when he asked that I not tell it again.
As I said, I love the story of my first date, it’s the stuff of legends. It would make a fantastic scene in a film.
I’m waiting to tell our grandchildren. That’s years off.
I’m working on him.
I hope you all have a lovely Valentine’s Day.
I hope you all have reason to know the difference between romance and love.
Take care—Susan Kaye