Gospel According to Saint Ticonderoga

Way too early in the morning…

>CLICK<   Whrrrrrrrrr.

The heating element glowed bright orange against the inky dark. At the same time the little fan in the compact electric space heater wheezed into live and did its best to push back the near-freezing cold of my small attic loft. It would take a crowbar get me out of bed.

>CLICK< “I am a lineman for the counteeee!”

There goes the clock radio. Must be time to get up for school but it will take a crowbar AND a stick of dynamite to get me out of bed today.

“GUS!”

…. or Mom.

“Your dad couldn’t get the truck started so he had to take the station wagon. You’re going to have to ride the bus today.”

“Oh great”, I thought as I slumped into my seat at the breakfast bar. “Why don’t I walk through a pack of wild dogs with a steak tied to my throat instead?”

“I didn’t think it got that cold last night but there’s Alaska for you!”

I looked down at the cold congealed oatmeal and tried not to gag, then passed on the meal with my stomach rumbling, leaving the table only after finishing the fight scene between Captain America and Mr. Spock that I had been penciling on my placemat. After a perfunctory kiss-on-the-cheek, and the obligatory lecture from Mom about neglecting my homework in favor of drawing superheroes, I trudged out the driveway and across the road to the designated bus stop, which felt a bit colder than expected. I was going out a little early – fresh snow tended to muffle sounds and the last thing I wanted was a surprise arrival and a frantic dash to the bus before our dim-bulb driver Johann took off again after the regulation three-minute wait.

The walk out warmed me up a bit, but the chill mounted an immediate counter attack. I had dressed as warmly as social conventions allowed but the chill kept coming, so I hopped up and down hoping the exertion would lend a little more warmth

 Still Cold.

I tried hitting snowballs with a stick but failed to connect even once, and concluded that with an RBI average of .000 no baseball team – not even the New York Mets – would sign me up for any position more skilled than towel-hander-outer.

Still cold…and for some reason getting colder.

It was then that I noticed streaks of color low in the sky, kind of like the aurora borealis, but running toward red and yellow instead of the pale greens and blues you would normally see. I was mystified: while actual daylight at our latitude was only about six hours long, we had extended periods of dusk and dawn that filled the sky with magenta and orange streaks…but they weren’t due for at least another hour. Come to think of it, the northern lights were something I usually saw late at night rather than early in the morning. It was definitely a mystery, but I was too cold to think about it and was toying with the idea of dancing the Funky Chicken in place as a better method of getting my circulation going when I was startled by a resonant voice calling to be from behind.

“Augustus!”

I spun around and almost stumbled into a man standing behind me in the snow. Man? More like a wizard from the cover of a Conan paperback. I tried to shake off the startle, but I was too creeped out by his glowing pupil-less eyes to completely settle down…but at least I wasn’t cold anymore. 

With increasing urgency his deep echoing voice rang out again “AUGUSTUS!”

In my mind I cleverly quipped “So, do you carpool with Batman?” but what came out of my mouth was more along the lines of “URK!”  I cleared my throat, then meekly said, “Actually, just ‘Gus’ will do”.

“Augustus,” he continued as if he hadn’t heard me – “Favored child of the gods of creation– heed my words. I bear a sacred gift for you – a token of honor from the Old Ones!”  From out of a deep pocket in his gold-trimmed red robe, he pulled out a box the size of a Dune paperback sliced in half length-wise and made of what looked like cedar, but with gold threads running through and along the grain. There were lids on both the top and bottom of the container, though the latch to the bottom looked like it had been wired shut.

He handed it to me and said, “To you I give this most precious gift from that mystic patron of dreams made real, even the Old One known as NoshWiggi. Use your gift this day to grant form and life to your grandest dreams and secret thoughts. Use it well, but remember that such grace and largesse deserve a modest offering in restitution. I will return at sundown to assist you in rendering this ever-so-small courtesy for the superb gift NoshWiggi gives to you – the power to made tangible your most precious dreams and desires!

I took the box and held it, tracing the grain of polished wood, and feeling its weight. I opened the top lid to find a slightly tarnished pointed cylinder sitting in a velvet lined slot, red and gold light flickering around it like the St. Elmo’s fire that I had read about but never seen. A small card printed with almost-unreadable script was tucked into a side crease of the velvet cushioning, but I shoved it into a pocket intending to read it once I got some place with decent lighting, and for now all I could see was the little cylinder puking red and yellow sparks.

“It looks like a pencil.”

“An astute observation Augustus. Use it well.”

At that point I heard a subdued rumble, and turned around and jumped when I saw the bus rolling to a stop behind me, the snow muffling its approach just as I had thought. The door opened, and a cloud of warm, moist air wafted out.

“Git-onna-bus-wipe-yer-shoossit-down-no-smokin-no-eatin-sit-down!”

I lurched into my regular seat; the occupants on each side surprised to see me on the morning run. Across the aisle three hulking figures were playing penny ante poker with much more zeal than the stakes merited. One of them threw his cards down in disgust and turning from the game, spied me and smiled. The smile resembled that of a wolf eyeing a lamb at dinner, and to anyone else it would have been terrifying, but that lupine look of glee meant I was talking to my friend Wayne. He’d been the Damon to my Pythias in junior high, the Rowan to my Martin, but high school had done what no amount of tissue stuffed in Linda Knight’s bra had been able to achieve – it had split us up. While I took college prep courses like Principles of Biology and Plane Geometry, Wayne was studying Principles of Petty Theft and Covet Alcohol Consumption 101…. but while we weren’t best buddies any more we were still friends and our occasional conversations were just as warm as ever.

“Hey dumbass!” I said.

“Hey dickhead!” he replied, “you slumming today?”

“Station wagon wouldn’t start, so yeah, I’m slumming. And starving. You got anything to eat other than your mom’s gut bombs?”  His lunches were the epitome of homestead haute cuisine, the most frequent dish a sandwich assembled from Spam and Velveeta with a dill pickle slice and Miracle Whip on white bread – not something my poor stomach needed to contend with so early in the morning, but I was starving.

“NO SMOKIN NO EATIN NO SMOKIN!” Johann’s garbled Nordic bellow startled me for minute and I asked, “Does he get a bounty for busting kids for smoking?”  The bus bounced over a small ridge left by the snow plow. I went on, “Seriously – you got anything to eat? I’m starving my ass off”.

“Mom let the gruel get cold again eh? Sorry. Not even Spam and Velveeta this morning.

I turned back toward the front of the bus and slid down into my seat. It was going to be quite some time before lunch. I started to grope around my coat pockets for a piece of gum or a leather strap to chew on, but instead of Juicy Fruit my fingers jammed up against the cedar box, which I’d momentarily forgotten while distracted by my rumbling breakfast-free stomach.

I opened the lid just a crack and slid (for a better word) the large pencil out of the box and held it in my classic cramped grip. I had no sooner grumbled, “Grandest dreams and thoughts? I’d settle for a cheeseburger!” when the pencil shuddered and took on a slight glow. I started experimenting, moving it around and found a slight resistance to each move, much like what happens when moving a spinning gyroscope…but as I waved the pencil around it left a glowing sparkly line in the air that quickly faded away unless crossed with another line.

I whispered “Hey– keep Johann distracted for me,” then started tracing the outline of a cheeseburger in the air behind the seat in front of me. Adding outline and shading made the image flicker and periodically coalesce into something with volume, but it wasn’t until I penciled in the final edge of sliced cheese that my drawing took on full form and substance – a hot, juicy cheeseburger popping into existence in front of me and immediately falling to the floor.

I caught it on the first bounce, then wolfed it down, my hunger trumping whatever bacterial contamination that may have survived on the icy bus floor. Wayne had no sooner growled out “Damn – that looked real,” when Johann looked up and gave me a suspicious glare in his rear-view mirror while barking out a few more verses of “sit-down-no-eatin-sit-down!” but when he looked back at the road I started drawing breakfast for Wayne as well. Every couple of minutes Johann would sniff loudly, convinced that someone on the bus was smoking, but when Wayne grabbed a hapless freshman’s lower arm and coerced him into a noisy version of the “Why are you Hitting Yourself?” Game our Nordic transit captain ceased his search for smoldering tobacco and focused on yelling at Wayne to stop tormenting the younger student.  

Wayne was licking the grease off his fingertips as the bus turned off the highway into the school’s entrance lane. “Totally bitching burger Gus. You always come up with the weirdest stuff but this time you hit the jackpot!” to which I responded by coming up with another burger Wayne could pack away for lunch. Yes, it was weird – and more than just a bit bewildering – but I wasn’t going to worry about it. After a breakfast that good I knew it was going to be the best day of 1968 ever.

First Bell

Johann hadn’t exactly set a new world land speed record getting to school this morning, but then with a 25 mile bus route he rarely did. I didn’t walk to my locker as much as bolt, so I had little time for socializing other than fending off the inevitably caustic comments from the wrestlers that were homesteading the heat registers right outside the gymnasium doors. Hoping to at least make eye contact I glanced towards Tim’s locker only to be stunned by the sight of a statuesque blond wearing dark glasses and a black leather jacket standing next to him as he rustled through his books and papers, apparently looking for something. A passing jock in a letterman’s jacket started to sneer, “He always hustles the new chicks before they find out who–” but his comment ended with an “OOF!” when I “accidentally” elbowed him in passing.  When I glanced back towards Tim’s locker he was gone so I set out to find Neal.

Only a fresh bear kill would have been easier to find that Neal’s locker. The door was wrenched open, his lunch was smashed into the back wall and his books scattered on the floor to each side.

“Finnegan?”

“Of course.”

“What does that guy have against you? This has to be some kind of psychological fixation with him.”

“I don’t know,” he sniffed, “Maybe he had identity issues – I mean a Korean kid with an Irish first name? I tried talking to him once, but it just seemed to make him more obnoxious than he was before.”

“My dad says the Koreans are the Irish of the Orient – something about their hot tempers I guess, but still–” and I was cut off by the slam of Neal’s locker door as a smattering of sparks trailed to his hand – which I passed off as the static electricity that we all struggled with during the cold and dry mid-winter months…but then I could have sworn I saw just a trace of red and gold sparkles before Neal pulled up his coat zipper as we both took off running for our first classes.

I slid into my desk only seconds before the tardy bell rang and felt quite proud of myself until I looked around at the other students in my Spanish class, all of whom were holding blankets, sombreros, maracas, or some other Latin American artifact. “Oh no!” I groaned inwardly. “I forgot to bring something Spanish!” so when Miss Gardill started taking roll and marking off artifacts, I begged full bladder and ran around the corner to the boy’s bathroom. After insuring I was alone I pulled out the electric pencil and used it to draw a small figure of a bull, modeled after the one souvenir that survived our trip to Tijuana in 1961, then dashed back to class with the faintest trace of red and gold sparkles trailing behind me.

Second Bell

By mid-morning it was obvious that something odd was going on. For one thing I was running across red and gold sparkles everywhere I went and I’d been whisking them away like mosquitoes ever since I talked to that guy with the weird eyes. Eventually I figured out that creating a drawing with the magic pencil produced the little glowing bits in the same way using a pink pearl eraser leaves you with all those little rubber crumbs. The more luminous flecks I saw floating around the hallways, the more sure I became that I wasn’t the only guy with one of those magic pencils.

…and when you go to a high school situated on the ass-end of the world you run out of new things to see by Thanksgiving break. It was the first week in December and in since getting off the bus I’d seen weird crap that you wouldn’t expect in Disneyland much less Kenai, Alaska.

Among the stories I heard between first hour and lunch were reports of:

  • A submarine periscope coming out of the drain in the girls’ locker room showers.
  • A Roman legionnaire’s helmet and short sword sitting on the teacher’s desk in world history class.
  • The floating Nomad robot from Star Trek drifting around the oil-change pit in auto shop.

I drew the line at the story about Finnegan Kim getting chased by Klingons down the freshman locker hall with his pants around his knees, as I couldn’t imagine Kim getting pushed around by anyone. I thought I saw the weird-eye guy across the commons by the smoking area, but he was bundled up in an army surplus parka and passing as a stoner while drifting with the flow in the hall during class change. He kept his distance, but he had that creepy half-smile Uncle Les would get when I was a little kid and he’d talk about gladiator movies. As cool as the magic pencil seemed, something wasn’t right, and since I had study hall for third period I decided to dig out the little card that had been packed in the box and start studying it.

Third Bell

It was written in a flowery language that made me think the writer had been using the Bible or Shakespeare for reference. All the “thee’s”, “thou’s”, and “shalt’s” were confusing and I had a hard time figuring out the first two lines, until the effects of family scripture reading with The King James Bible kicked in and I was finally able to understand. Even so, when I got to the third line I was baffled – “This can’t really mean what I think it does” – but I remembered the last creepy look the old guy had given me out in the hall, and then I recalled the leer on Uncle Les’ face the day he found out that a seven year old boy could run faster than a middle-aged man with his pants down around his knees. I read on until my stomach felt like I’d just jumped off the high dive as I realized exactly what the third line meant…

Lunch


My multiple pencil theory was confirmed when I slid into the seat of our regular lunch table and found Tim and his latest paramour surrounded by a cloud of what looked like red and gold mosquitoes. I turned to Tim’s silent companion – and with a quick “excuse me” – and as gently as possible – removed her shades to reveal no eyes, but rather just blank concave spaces on each side of her perfect nose. Any other time I would have been terrified, but I just turned back to Tim and said “I thought she looked too much like a Vargas girl”.

“You know I’ve always had a hard time doing eyes.”

This vision of ultimate female foxiness wasn’t a new move-in – she was a drawing. A blond bombshell of a drawing, but a drawing nonetheless and my thoughts instantly descended to the lowest common denominator.

“You are one sick puppy. Have the two of you – you know – done ‘it’?”

“OF COURSE NOT!”  His outburst scattered napkins and startled people sitting around us. “No we haven’t done anything. It’s not even possible. You think I have problems drawing eyes? Crap on a stick Gus – how can I draw something I’ve never seen.” He slumped in his seat and continued. “ Hell – I only turned fifteen three months ago and the only “reference” I’ve had access to are my cousin’s Barbie dolls and a Playboy I stole from Dad…and they don’t show anything down there.”

Neal strolled up trailing a cloud of sparkles and sat down. I handed them both a penciled copy of my translation. “Okay – so you both have the magic pencils and we’ve all been having fun – by the way, nice touch with the Klingons Neal – but have you taken the time to read the note the pencils came with?” I pushed my own card along with my penciled edited version across the table towards them and they both started reading silently.

Tim is prone to moving his lips when reads, but when his mouth snapped into a tight straight line that you couldn’t stick a pin through I knew he’d reached the third line. Neal on the other hand – I’ve read descriptions of a person’s face “turning ashen” but with Neal it was more like an image on a color television screen that had the color level down. His face noticeably lost vibrancy until it was just short of cadaver level. He looked up and as if on cue both of them turned to me.

“OK…as my dad is always saying, ‘There ain’t no free lunch’. When we took the pencils, we entered into a contract. There’s a price for the pencils and unless we return them AND everything we created with them by sundown Mr. Weird-Eyes gets to–”

“That’s OK! Neal interjected, his hand held up like a stop sign. “You don’t need to say it out loud. My stomach is upset enough as it is.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty grim but I still think we have a chance. If we really hustle during class changes we can round up and erase all the stuff we drew – be even better if we could each ditch at least one class to give us a margin… Our deadline is sunset…I checked and it’s at 3:45 today but school gets out at 3:30.” I paused, then continued almost wistfully, “I just think it stinks that we have to give up the pencils. Just think what we could do with them!”

At this point Tim finally found his voice, which was not surprisingly shrill, “You wanna know what I think? Okay, so I like to draw. I really, really like to draw. But I’m also going to really, really like ‘doing it’ and if I have to choose between drawing and ‘doing it’, the pencils are history.”

Fourth Bell

As our art teacher was prone to spending most of the period in his office “burning incense” it was easy enough to slip out for recovering and erasing as quickly as possible. The three Klingons proved to be so much of a challenge that I recruited Wayne to help us chase them down one by one and “rub them out”. Surprisingly enough, Tim took the erasure of his synthetic girlfriend in stride, explaining his lack of angst with the simple statement that he “hadn’t written a script for her yet.” It looked like we’d almost make the deadline, but as we were waiting to be let out of class the public address system crackled out an announcement that interrupted a yardstick and eraser baseball game I was losing with: “Attention all students! Buses will be held until 4:00 so students will be able to attend a mandatory pep-rally for the basketball team immediately after school. Let’s get ready to give a real Kardinal send-off to the basketball team as they leave for their first away game of the season in Homer!

All of a sudden the ease with which we’d been cleaning up made perfect sense. There’d been tons of people running around the school with red & white banners and crepe paper – evidently the teachers and staff had passed off our antics as part of the preparation for the pep rally.

We were so totally screwed.

Fifth Bell

It was open reading today and as usual Tim and I were sitting next to the window at the back of the portable classroom whispering behind the covers of the science fiction paperbacks we were all reading. Wayne was sitting nearby– and after determining that he was also subject to the contract after his breakfast of cosmic cheeseburgers that morning, he became an energetic participant in the clean-up.

“Did we get everything taken care of?”

“I think so, I hope so. This guy is starting to kind of scare me.”

“There’s no ‘kind of’ about it.” Wayne broke in “I mean, I don’t mind punching it up with anyone but I think this guy might be out of my weight class. I think these Old Ones are the Lovecraft variety rather than the Sunday School version, and we need to–”

TAP -TAP

It was the guy with the creepy eyes and the Uncle Les expression peering through the window next to us, but it seemed like only the three of us noticed him or heard him say, “Augustus, it is good that you have availed yourself of the incredible potential granted you by the ever-powerful NoshWiggi. Such power should be enjoyed to the fullest, given the gravity of the offering you will be inevitably giving up to the Old Ones”.

Sixth Bell

I drifted through Geometry, interacting with my teacher only when he called me to task for gracing my homework with a sketch of a topless Wonder Woman for which I narrowly avoided detention as her coiled golden lasso strategically obscured all the interesting parts. “That’s about as close as I’m ever going to get”, I thought as I contemplated our impending doom. At the last class break Neal shared an important discovery: the magic pencil tips glowed when close to or aimed at one of the drawings. It was definitely good news. We’d been pretty thorough, but there was still one drawing left to erase. Unfortunately it was on the other side of the gymnasium and it and the halls on each side were starting to fill up with students heading for the pep rally.

Final Bell

♫ Oh when the Kenai Kards walk down the street

They look a hundred per from head to feet ♫

It was our school’s fight song, accompanied by the arrhythmic thump-thump of bouncing basketballs and a roar from the crowd as the team entered the gymnasium. Tim and I pushed through the hall and met up with Neal and Wayne, all of us slightly out-of-breath and flushed after crowding through the hall.

♫ They got the smile, the style the winning way

And when you look at them you feel you want to say ♫

Weird-eyes was there as well, slowly walking across the commons, and while it was ever so slight, that creepy smile was just a little wider as he mouthed out something completely drowned out by the crowd, but looking like “very soon now”. Wayne pulled me around by my collar with a terse “just let him ‘bite me’”, to which I started to answer, “Yeah, well I think that’s already part of the plan” when Neal met back up with us.

 ♫ You’ll say that there’s a team I’d like to know

They have high school spirit pep and go ♫

Straining to be heard over the roar of the pep rally he yelled, “We’ve narrowed it down to somewhere in our locker hall. We have to check each one”, at which point Wayne handed each of us a short crowbar-like length of iron.

“WHAT THE HELL WAYNE!” Then marginally softer, “these look like burglar’s tools!”

“You want to keep your stuff or not?”

CLICK-SLAM

We split up and started working from each end of the two sides of the hall using the pencils like mine detectors and prying open the doors to lockers that gave any sort of indication…which invariably turned out to be bits of red/gold sparkle that had stuck like cockleburs to coats and scarves.

CLICK-SLAM

♫ GO-GO! ♫

CLICK-SLAM

“We’ve only got five minutes!”

♫Sportsman ship that can’t be beat! Can’t be beat! ♫

CLICK-SLAM!

“What the hell? This is my own locker?”

Wayne stood dumbfounded in front of his open locker on my side of the hall and about twenty feet away. He seemed almost frozen as he held up the one single drawing that we had yet to erase – the cheeseburger I’d drawn up for his lunch. He was also the only one of us without the means to erase it.

Just over his shoulder I could see Weird-Eyes, his ratty old parka replaced with the gold-trimmed red robes he wore at our first meeting and in each hand carrying what looked like a yardstick with a long blade at one end and an over-sized treble-prong fish hook at the other…and if he grinned any wider his face would split apart.

I turned back to Wayne, “THROW IT TO ME!”

“WHAT?”

“THROW IT TO ME. I’LL HIT IT. LIKE HITTING A BAT WITH A BALL!”

“NO! YOU SUCK AT BASEBALL!”

“YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR STUFF OR NOT?”

♫ The team from Kenai Hi-i-igh! ♫

The cosmic cheeseburger arced through the air, passing a clock on the hallway wall that read 3:44 and down where I swung and made the impossible hit. The burger burst into a cloud of red and gold sparkles followed a split-second later by all three magic pencils and the creepy-eyed guy.

“♫ YA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-Y!! ♫”

Later

The bus-ride home was anticlimactic, the sole subject of discussion between Wayne and I being the awful smell Weird-Eyes and the pencils made when they popped out of existence. (I suggested sulfur while Wayne flatly stated, “milk farts”.) It was dark when I got off the bus and as I looked towards the northern horizon I could see the aurora starting to ripple with the usual pale greens and blues…and then suddenly a cold wind started swirling snowflakes around my feet…

I whipped around to find another Conan paperback cover wizard guy standing behind me in the snow. He had the same weird eyes but his ears were slightly different and instead of the morning guy’s red and gold robes, everything was aquamarine and silver. I paused for a moment wondering why they always had to sneak up on people, but when I started to push past him towards the house he held up his hand, and with a flourish offered a box similar to the one from this morning, only this one was filled with a gleaming substance that could have been either wax or clay.

He called out with a deep echoing voice, “AUGUSTUS!” and broke off a piece of the wax clay and started kneading it in his hands as he continued, “To you I give this most precious gift that  the mystic patron of dreams made real, even the Old One known as ReebSnorboc.” He was working the clay and as he spoke he formed a rudimentary bust of a woman. His voice rumbled as he went on, “Use your gift this day to–”

“OOF!”

– – – – – – –

My mother really hates it when we track snow into the front room so as I got to the porch I carefully kicked the snow off my boots, went inside, pulled up a chair to the breakfast bar and asked, “Mom – do we have anything to eat?”

“Sweetie, Dinner is only an hour away but help yourself to an apple”, she suggested, but then asked, “Did someone get off the bus with you?

“It looked like you just pushed someone down into the snow.”

__________________________________________________________________________

(I write in a style known as ‘creative nonfiction’. Everything in my autobiographical writings actual happened –though sometimes I’ll tweak the time frame to make a better story. This is pure fiction – the first fiction I’ve written I’ve written since 1971 – if you don’t count the totally bogus/inflated efficiency report I wrote on SSG Rogers just to get him transferred the hell out of my platoon.)

© David Ralph Deitrick 2021


1980: “…you have a nice smile!”

May 1980

It was a toss of the dice that seemed to be a sure thing. Despite interest in branches of military intelligence, engineers, and armor, I chose transportation during the process that would see me transition from an ROTC cadet to second lieutenant. As a service support branch, transportation lacked the prestige and challenge found in my former first choices, but due to my lofty position on the order of merit list it would give me an almost immediate entry to flight school and training as a rotary wing aviator.

It did just that, at least for a brief season, but all too soon a heretofore undiagnosed vision problem grounded me permanently. Colloquially known as amblyopia, or “lazy eye” but formally known as “lack of convergence and fusion”, the ailment could make flight under night or instrument conditions more difficult or dangerous.

It didn’t have to be a death sentence for an aviation career, but my company commander bluntly told me he didn’t want to waste his time helping me fight the decision, though I suspect the fear brought on by my obscure medical jargon played an undue influence on his decision. My disappointment was eased a bit by an interim assignment to the staff of the U.S. Army Aviation Digest, but I was still struggling with the unhappy turn my life had taken…

…until the afternoon I got the phone call telling me I was being assigned to FT Richardson.

May 1970

It was a bit late in my high school career to be taking up athletics. Football had come late to Kenai Central High School, our team arriving on the field just two years earlier. I’d taken tentative steps to try out for the team that year and the next, but an overall shortfall in my life had put me off until my senior year, a shortfall that consisted of the lack of:

  • Transportation for after-school activities.
  • Friends on the team.
  • Basic athletic ability and skill.

I also had the lack of support of the leader of our local congregation, who loudly stated that no one from the head-coach down to the assistant manager for towel control would waste time with me. Fortunately service as a teacher aide in physical education class had garnered a good reputation with the head coach but he made it plain that my lack of experience would work against me. I could be part of the team the following autumn – but as for playing time….

August 1980

The whirlwind was just starting to die down. In less than two months I had raced through:

  • Permanent-change-of-station
  • In-processing at FT Richardson
  • NBC (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical Warfare) school
  • SnowHawk (introduction to training in an arctic and mountain environment)

…all of which had played out against the backdrop of a mysterious knee problem that had my right leg in a full-length cast until just a few days earlier, which didn’t make standing in line for the cashier’s case in the basement of the post exchange any easier. The line seemed to be taking forever to move but I kept myself distracted by making a mental list of all the changes that had been made in the place since I’d last been there as a dependent, noting that with all the moving about the home entertainment section was still down here in the basement.

August 1970

Coach had kept his word – I got to suit up for games but spent most of my time playing center, guard, and tackle as in: “sit in the center of the bench, guard the water bucket, and tackle anyone taking a drink without spending at least a full quarter on the field.” It wasn’t the best situation, but there were some definite benefits:

  • I enjoyed what time I did get on the playing field.
  • I’d made new friends’
  • I was in possibly the best physical shape of my short 17 years on earth.

…and the next week I’d be going to the FT Richardson PX to buy the stereo record player I’d been saving all summer for.

August 1980

“Lieutenant, I cannot cash this check…and frankly I would think you’d know better than to come down here again without clearing up that other matter.”

“URK?” (A.K.A. my usual clever retort)

“Your NSF check from last spring. You haven’t made good on it yet – or the service charge!”

I tried to remain pleasant as I fell into a financial version of “He Said/She Said” at the cashier’s cage. I explained that I hadn’t even been in the command last spring and that she must have me mistaken for someone else (hint – she was) but it wasn’t until I pulled out my identification card that the chief teller left her desk and came over to act as referee. She picked up the Alaskan driver’s license that had slipped out of my wallet with my military ID and studied it for a minute, said “Lieutenant, you have a nice smile”, then started tapping out Central Accounting’s number on the phone.

Then she smiled.

August 1970

“I’m sorry but AAFES policy doesn’t provide for the sale of floor models.”

The salesgirl with a white name tag and a sitcom-mom shag haircut carefully explained the situation a second time. My record player of choice had proved to be a very popular RCA model that had sold out quickly. In addition to having a fairly nice sound and a reasonable price the unit was equipped with a pair of woodgrain speakers that clipped together and snapped in place over the turntable to make an easily portable unit, which was definitely an asset in the highly mobile life of a service dependent…and every one of them except the display model had sold out earlier in the week.

I could feel my face warm with a flush as my frustration threatened to erupt in a confrontation, but my inner fifty-year old man took over and with an effort to avoid a blow-up I shifted my gaze down to the toes of my shoes while I calmly explained my situation:

  • I’d worked and saved all summer.
  • There wasn’t another unit to be found in Anchorage or down on the Peninsula.
  • Even if there had been I wouldn’t be back at the Ft. Richardson PX until October.

The empty feeling in the pit of my stomach dropped even further floorward as I realized that the clerk with the Mrs. Brady haircut hadn’t spoken one word as I rattled off my concerns. I braced myself for what I assumed to be the final shutdown, but as I looked up she had just a hint of a smile as she turned and murmured to the gold-tagged supervisor who had joined the discussion after finishing a call on a nearby wall phone.

She turned back to me, flashed a smile usually found on your youngest/coolest aunt (the one that always had chewing gum) and said: “Young man you have a nice smile. You’ve also been very patient in what could have been a very unhappy situation…but I think we can figure out a way to get you your record-player.” She started to explain a lengthy AAFFES regulation, but once she got past something about no exchanges or refunds all I heard was the WAH-WAH-WAH trumpet sound of grown-up dialog in a Charlie Brown animation special.

I was getting my stereo.

August 1980

The Florence Henderson shag had been replaced by a Dorothy Hamill bob flecked with grey and the white badge she had worn as sales staff had been replaced by supervisor-gold but the “cool aunt” look was the same.

“You were once a dependent here on post weren’t you?”

“A long time ago.”

“You still have a nice smile.” She turned to the clerk and gave permission to cash my check. It turned out that there was another lieutenant on post with my same surname and HE was the one who’d been bouncing checks.

“…and you’re still very patient for a young man.”

LCHR 1954-2020

She was the girl with multiple nicknames:

  • Samantha (Stevens)
  • Honey (West)
  • (Doctor) Venus

Golden-haired girls were in short supply at Sterling Elementary in the mid-Sixties so it seemed like anytime a blonde would show up on television she would be tagged with the character’s name the following week…but for the other fifty one weeks of the year we knew her as Linda Christine, third of four children in the Hansen family living diametrically opposite from my home on that great circle made up by Robinson and Scout Loops in Sterling, Alaska. 

I carried a torch for her for most of 1966 but as time went by and my Napoleon Solo/U.N.C.L.E.- inspired swagger failed to win her heart our relationship morphed into that often more valuable state known as Good Friend. We’d bounce ideas off each other, share new music, deliver post-mortems on our respective romantic entanglements and just before I left for college in 1971 I lived my seventh grade dream when we went out on a pleasant albeit very platonic date.

I went on to my life and three-fold career while she went into nursing and family life with one of the finest men I have ever known. We would touch base from time to time over the next fifty years and every meeting was equally warm, as if no time had passed, but sadly the time for base-touching is past as she passed away a few days ago. With anyone else I would be ranting about the cruel timing of her demise but if you knew Linda you’d appreciate the symbolism. She is/was one of the most sincere women of faith I have ever met and given the nature and rapid progress of her illness It doesn’t surprise me that she left this mortal plane so close to the anniversary of the birth of our Savior.

She was that nice.

Let me put it this way: you know that stereotypical fundamentalist Karen character that the popular media keeps throwing at us? The narrow-minded, judgmental harridan warping scripture in twisted attacks on just about everyone else?

Well, that wasn’t our Linda.

Linda Christine Hansen Robinson was the anti-Karen, and such a fundamentally good woman that we will all be poorer for her going, but at the same time we are that much richer for having known her.

1964: Uneasy Perch for a Lame Duck

It stood out just enough for me to push the brake pedal on my morning Facebook crawl:

“Established titles! For just $49.95 you can own one square foot of Scottish land which will entitle you (as a landowner) to be addressed as “Lord” – or as the Scots say, “Laird”!” I went on to read that your not-quite-fifty bucks would buy you one (1) square foot plot of land on an estate in Scotland; a unique/numbered plot where they’d plant a tree if you so desired. Topping off the deal was your choice of either a digital or hard-copy version of a personalized certificate of Laird status.

Despite my strong distrust of Facebook sellers it was enough to make me pause for a moment before deciding to save my $49.95. The advertisement was very specific in noting that there was no substantive title of nobility transferred and I’d already been down that particular genealogical road with my Mom’s nonstop assertion that her maiden name (coincidentally “Laird”) was somehow proof that her family came from a line of failed Scottish nobility.

…but I still had to smile as I read about the “wee” plots of Scottish land for sale because there had actually been a time in my life when buying land in one square foot increments had been a very attractive proposition.

May 1964

I was a lame duck.

…a lame duck Woodland Park Elementary fifth grader that is. Normally summer was a great time for a kid, especially during the relatively rain-free summer of 1964 in Anchorage. It was a time for running and playing with my buddies until late in the still-sunlit evening, all the while discussing the events of the past school year and speculating on the school year to come, but  with my family’s impending move to Sterling down on the Kenai Peninsula all such discussions came to a screeching halt.…and it wasn’t just the move that bothered me. After two years of sharing a room with my three younger sisters I finally had my own digs, and even if it was just an alcove portioned off from the front room with two book shelves I was content with having my own space to set up the blue and yellow Roman soldiers I’d ordered off the back of a comic, and display models with a reasonable expectation of their survival. Rumor was that I’d be bunking with my little sisters again after the move south and I wasn’t looking forward to that.

I was caught up in those unhappy thoughts when I happened to see a pair of posters in the hallway of the church the next Sunday announcing construction of a new meetinghouse on Maplewood Street on the east side of town. Several adults were gathered around the first poster talking about the project but I was transfixed by the chart on the second placard labeled “Building Lot Purchase” which depicted a section of land divided up into numerous small squares of various sizes, each annotated with a dollar amount varying proportionally to the size of the square.

The group of adults slowly got larger as more and more people took note of the posters and I was slowly but surely edged away. I could hear snippets of conversation including such phrases as “stake center” and “fund raiser” but I tuned them out. In that continual suspension of disbelief underlying the thought process of all eleven year old boys I had found a solution to the impending move to the Kenai Peninsula and the loss of my personal space. I was going to buy my own place to live.

FOR the next few weeks I went from house to house on Barbara Drive, looking for chores to earn money for my budding real estate empire. I took on any chore offered to include raking, sweeping and on one occasion disposing of a small dead animal which brought in just over a dollar each week which I then turned over to the fund-raising committee on Sunday. As I marked off each square on the chart, I took great care in keeping my purchased lots together, even stooping to the stratagem of erasing and moving initials of other purchasers that appeared inside the boundaries of my proposed estate in the southwest corner of the main lot.

The process gave me a purpose during the summer as my parents came and went on medical trips and attended various camps as we slowly packed for the move. Never long on praise my mom and dad both commented each Sunday on my faithfulness and generosity which I brushed off through my preoccupation with surveying old crates in the garage for use in cobbling together a plan for a small cabin large enough for a sixth grader to lay down in.

 It wasn’t until mid-July that I actually got to see the site of my future kid-stead. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and members of several congregations had gathered at the lot covered with medium height birch and spruce trees typical of south central Alaska. The perimeter of the lot had already been cleared which allowed quick access to my personal area of interest. As I sat down on the moss mentally building my new home I noticed a group of men clustered in the middle of the lot, blueprints in hand and pointing out corresponding areas on the property. It was as I observed their purposeful movements and overheard bits of their discussion that I realized the situation might not be as I’d imagined – there were entirely too many “shuns” in the conversation, words like:

  • Construc-tion
  • Founda-tion
  • Dona-tion

…and the internal Stukas started their strafing run through my insides as I finally tumbled to the fact that the church hadn’t been in the micro-real estate business after all, but had in fact been conducting a fund-raising effort to raise the purchase price for the site of a new central meetinghouse.

Summer allergies provided a reasonable excuse as I started sniffling in disappointment until I remembered with relief that no one had been aware of what I had been doing…no one, that is except maybe my dad, a suspicion born out when the next couple of weeks saw me slowly regaining the money I had inadvertently donated towards the building project. Normally Dad was thrifty to a fault, hanging onto to every penny so tightly that Abraham Lincoln’s eyes bulged… but there were soon several instances when he would uncharacteristically give me the change after a small purchase or pay me for a normally un-paid chore so that by the time we made the actual move my losses had been made good.

As it was I didn’t have much time to mourn the loss – within weeks we were starting a new life 65 miles to the southwest in the tiny hamlet of Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula, and when later visits to Anchorage had us attending church in the beautiful new meetinghouse, I was more interested in the girls than my lost dreams of home ownership.

…but to this day there is one particular parking spot in the southwest corner of the lot where I will park even if I have to walk through snow or rain to get to the building.


Wrestling Day Reverie

Weird day. Pain meds definitely NOT working and my sleep pattern is upside down (laid awake all night then slept today from dawn until mid-afternoon.) I want to grumble at getting my plans up-ended, but as hard as I work at it I can’t get perturbed.

It’s just too nice a day, and definitely the kind of Christmas I’ve come to expect in this stage of my life.

I’m spending time with people I love and we’re all safe, warm and most definitely well-fed. For just a little while the curtains are closed and we’re safely walled away from 2020 with all the magic our favorite quilts and Christmas music can muster.

1975/2020: A Better Christmas

(… the other Christmas story I re-run each December ( as opposed to the possible-reindeer-on-the-roof story I ran last week…and like I mentioned earlier even though life has seemed like a train wreck in slow motion 2020 has given us a much more fulfilling holiday.)

I have yet to utter my traditional Yuletide greeting (“I >bleep< hate Christmas!”) but I have found that sentiment to be drifting through my head as I have been drifting through that emotional wasteland known as December  – as I have every year since 1966.  You’d think with my sub-Arctic upbringing I’d at least like the weather, but I don’t. It just seems like the recurring irritants of life intensity during the closing of the year, things like:

  1. Financial strain
  2. Homesickness
  3. Disagreements with my Beautiful Saxon Princess over correct holiday traditions
  4. …the fact that every disaster in my life has happened during the closing-of-the-year holidays

I’m not kidding. Disaster seeks out my Christmas like a starving eagle circles a bunny burrow – and we’re not talking about minor things like a stubbed toe or getting the Power Droid instead of Carbonite Han Solo in my stocking. We’re talking major life-changing events such as:

  • My father dying
  • My mother dying
  • Narrowly avoiding death while totaling my dad’s car
  • Losing a job (more than once)
  • Disfiguring facial surgery
  • The unexpected end to an engagement
  • Revocation of flight status while on active duty

All these (and more) happened between Thanksgiving and MLK day, so please excuse me for flinching when I turn to that last page in the calendar.

It wasn’t always that way. I can remember Yuletide seasons in Little Shasta Valley and Anchorage that were truly wonderful but as I started into my teens the line on my Joyeux Noel Index started inching down until it hit rock bottom in December of 1973, the year I spent the holidays with my grandparents right after my engagement folded. Grandma and Grandpa had stopped the tree and gift routine years earlier so when I showed up at their doorstep on the morning of December 22d they really didn’t know what to do with me. Christmas consisted of dinner and a surreptitious glass of wine at my Uncle Roy’s vacation cabin on Donner Lake.

1974 wasn’t much better. I was in the seventh month of my “bicycle penance” – missionary service that by its innate spiritual nature was supposed to sew my broken heart back together, but it just wasn’t happening.  The city I was working had the same name as my former Best Friend (Lynn, Massachusetts) and I was training a new missionary with a bad attitude who took his frustrations out on me. The weather was also most uncooperative; I had envisioned a picture postcard New England holiday with white snow drifts blanketing cozy salt-box homes with colorful lights blinking in the windows; what I got was a gritty industrial city where rain came as often as snow, creating an environment that:

  • Soaked you to your skin in the space of minutes
  • Slushed up the roads, making just the act of walking around a chore
  • Gave those people we would tract out another great reason to slam the door

…all of which added to the extremely self-absorbed attitude I already had. We were also collectively balking at a new proselytizing procedure the mission president had just introduced so the result was a totally wasted Christmas. I spent the day grumbling around the apartment feeling sorry for myself and making the day a contender for the worst Christmas of my entire life.

Christmas of 1975 was a little different; sometime during the previous twelve months while walking the width and length of New England I’d grown up and became a little less self-absorbed.   I had just been transferred to the small country town of Littleton, Massachusetts and assigned a problem elder for a companion, though I soon learned that Elder Neyland’s problems were more a question of ability than attitude. He had multiple severe learning and social disabilities – to the degree that he would have not been called on a mission under the criteria used for today’s missionaries.  It was like being teamed up with a thirteen-year-old cousin – the one with Asperger’s Syndrome –  and within three days it was obvious that negotiating the last two weeks in December was going to be a bumpy ride. 

Still –  the morning of December 23rd didn’t seem all that different when I got up but then I really wasn’t interested in doing anything other than wasting the next couple of days away. Then as I was daydreaming at my desk the phone rang and pulled me back into consciousness by the voice of my mission president calling to confirm a day-trip I would be making to FT Devens in January to attend to an ROTC scholarship application. After exchanging information and confirming dates he hesitated for a minute, and then said, “While I’ve got you on the line I’d like to talk to you about your situation” I rolled my eyes – having President Ross rattle off the list my character flaws was not my idea of fun – “by this point in time you’ve undoubtedly that discovered Elder Neyland is a little different from most other missionaries.”

I groaned inwardly – “a little different” barely scratched the surface o but I continued to listen as President Ross went on to talk about Elder Neyland It was actually important information: Neyland was getting little to no support from his parents, he was functionally illiterate, and his personal challenges made him so difficult to live and work with that changes in companions and areas happened more often than usual for him. Ross went on: “As I was considering his situation in light of the holidays I realized that there had to be one individual that could get him successfully through his first Christmas in the mission field – and when I turned to the assignment board your tag literally fell off the wall.  I felt strongly prompted to move you to Littleton for the holidays.”

 At first, I felt mostly disbelief tinged with cynicism; up to this point in time President Ross and I had mixed together much like oil and water, but as a good portion of my aforementioned “growing up” entailed learning to simply shut up when needed, the balance of my conversation with the mission president was uncharacteristically productive. After ringing off I stayed sitting by the phone and thought through the situation very carefully. Since turning twenty my life had been a series of disasters and while changing that trend had been one of the major reasons I’d gone on a mission it still seemed like my road in life had more than its share of land-mines. I’d read once that the definition of insanity was the act of doing repeating the same actions yet expecting a different outcome. Maybe babysitting Neyland would change my luck.

My change in direction kicked off at 5:30 the next morning when I got up early and made Elder Neyland pancakes for breakfast. For most of the day we kept close to our regular schedule, but I made sure that we worked in the more heavily decorated parts of town and as we tromped through the slush I’d prompt him to talk about his family celebrated Christmas when he was a child.

 I continued cooking for him for both lunch and dinner, playing a cassette full of Christmas carols during both meals, then we spent the rest of the day taking cards and presents to people that we had been teaching. Upon our return home we helped our elderly land-lady trim her tree until 10:30 when I all but barricaded Neyland in his bedroom so I could set up Christmas for him in our front room.

 I was thoroughly exhausted when I turned in, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind, so I got up and sat at my desk and tried to alternately read scriptures and a facsimile copy of the first edition of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. That lasted all of seven minutes, so I traded the books for my two best friends; Messrs. Paper & Pencil. At first, I started sketching, but in between images of linebackers, Iron Man and the starship Enterprise I started listing some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head:

  • Teaching abstract theological doctrine might be a good part of my job description but it wasn’t giving me much job satisfaction in return.
  • In contrast, doing something for another person – rendering service – most definitely punched my job satisfaction buttons.
  • Giving service to someone I wasn’t too terribly fond of in the first place did an even better job of punching those buttons – and making it easier to be kinder in the future.
  • For the first time in months – maybe years – I felt happy!

I’d like to say that the clouds opened, and heavenly choirs stared singing praise to my faith and wisdom but all I could hear was the dog barking Jingle bells on our land-lady’s radio downstairs…and when I shoved my cynicism aside I had to admit that despite the lack of presents or attention from my own family it had been a good day

…and possibly the best Christmas of my life.

1969/2020 “Bah, Humbug!”

(This is one of two Christmas-themed stories I re-run every year. This time around it’s a little different in that I’m not nearly the Scrooge I’ve been in years past, I don’t know if it’s my age or a reaction to the insanity that has been 2020 but I’ve found myself really enjoying the tree, the cars, the scriptures and the music.)

Have I already mentioned that I hate Christmas?

My enmity to this time of year has little to do with the actual day but rather the personal history that surrounds it. Name a personal disaster or heartbreak in my life and odds are the event happened either in December or within 2 weeks north or south of that month. I’m not going to produce an itemized list but if you really want to know why I dread the twelfth month of the year, and why I am miserable to live with during that time send a private message. If I get enough a large enough response I’ll elaborate a bit and then you’ll know why my dear sweetheart deserves a six-figure cash bonus, the Victoria Cross and immediate translation for simply enduring my presence during the holidays, much less talk or interact with me in any way.

Christmas wasn’t always miserable for me. There have also been some very happy times associated with the holidays, but they are totally overwhelmed by the number and intensity of the negative stuff. That contrast is no doubt fuel for the fire as well; I’m like the hungry homeless man with his nose pressed against the window of a four-star restaurant tormented by the sights and smells of food he can only imagine.

Even when thinking back as objectively as possible I cannot understand how I survived some of those times.  However those Yule seasons that seemed to be even more Yuseless than usual also happened to be times when I was blessed with an “adjunct angel” an individual whose words and deeds were vitally important to my continued mental health ( at one time to my life)– yet probably had no clue of the service they rendered.

There have been many such individuals ranging from a college instructor whose timely letter of praise and understanding drew the venom out of a heartless betrayal in a rebound relationship following the most crushing break-up of my life to a flight school buddy that refused to shun me when my medical disqualification made me invisible to the rest of my classmates (maybe they though vision problems were contagious). However, one of the most heart-warming may have not been a person at work – but rather circumstances; what we call “tender mercies”

.  It was Christmas Eve 1969; my sister Holly and I were up in my attic bedroom listening to some distinctly un-holiday rock music on my stereo and commiserating about how there was no “joyeux” in the “noel” when you weren’t a little kid. There was a lull in the music as the changer dropped another LP onto the turntable – and that’s when we heard the footsteps. Yes, footsteps on the roof just 10 inches on the other side of the ceiling of my attic bedroom.

We couldn’t tell exactly what kind of footsteps they were – there was a chinook (mid-winter warm front passage) going on which always brought on a chorus of humming, whining and moaning as the wind ran past the T.V. aerials, their supporting masts and guy-wires. It didn’t matter though – we looked at each other in wide-eyed shock, then Holly shot down the ladder to her bedroom while I shut off the light and dove under my covers.

There were no hoof-sprints or skid marks on the roof the next morning – but there was also very little snow after the warm winds of a Chinook.

 Had our cats running around the attic?

Had my dad on the roof adjusting the living room TV antenna?

 Did a sleigh park on our roof that night?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, just like I don’t know why selected friends over the years have chosen this time of year to perform life-changing acts of kindness for me.  While footsteps-on-the-rooftop didn’t have the heavy emotional weight of some of the other incidents I’ve shared, the event did have a life-changing, softening effect on my personality at a time when as a sixteen year old I was making important choices about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. The timing was perfect.

…and as I was thinking about this post it came to me that timing has also been very effective with this whole holiday curse mindset. It’s cleverly turned my expectations about what should be a happy time into a subtle but non-stop attack on my faith.  I’m just very fortunate that at the same time those little attendant holiday miracles have been just as clever and even more effective in bolstering my faith.

Merry Christmas!

2020: Early Morning Ritual

4:00 AM

It was a whisper so quiet I almost missed it for the hum of the ceiling fan and the wind in the trees outside our bedroom window.

“Papa, I want to be down here with you and Nana” –  followed almost instantly with, “Can I use your tablet?” signaled the arrival of my grandson Jayden. I mumbled the usual assent mixed with admonitions about excess noise then drifted into my never-ending quest for more sleep.

Microseconds later a strident BEEP-BOOP-BEEP-BRRRRRT!! startles me into an (almost) sitting position while simultaneously triggering a semi-intelligible URK!1 The wee little voice with the endearing lisp calls out in the dark, “Torry Papa. I will turn it down,”  and instantly dispels my expected growly response and I roll back over to drift off as well as I can with patterns of light from the aforementioned tablet dancing across our ceiling.

“VROOOOMMMMM”

I stagger-stumble out of bed, visions of out-of-control vehicles heading for our front porch filling my imagination only to find my grandson with my tablet in hand, transfixed and terrified by his grandfather-turned-grizzly-bear careening around the bedroom floor and bouncing off bedroom walls while his grandmother struggles with the polyethylene clasp of her CPAP mask in an effort to sit up as well.

“JAYDEN!”

“Sorry Papa. Sorry Nana”.

At this point the tablet is turned off and put away before I once again embark on my fitful journey to Slumberland, but just as Little Nemo takes my ticket…

BA-THUMP…THUMP! BA-THUMP…THUMP!

“Hey Papa! I can jump reawy high! Watch me!”

My inner Cro-Magnon starts a growl rumbling deep in my chest but chokes it off when I note the time on my phone AND the growing light of dawn through the curtained window. I take comfort in the fact that if nothing else Jayden’s early morning calisthenics do not include PLFs2 off the dresser or a dive, tuck and roll over the bed with the two of us curled up comfortably and still sleeping…but mostly the knowledge that his predawn antics are a small price to pay for sharing this time in his life.

I’ve lived almost ten times as long as Jayden has and in all those years I’ve treasured my steadily evolving caretaking role as elder brother, uncle, father, and grandfather. I was never the type of dad who lived and longed for the day he would become an empty nester and the departure of each child was a little death for me. I suspect it will be the same when Jayden and his parents finally get a place of their own, but for now I will keep my tablet charged up and tuck the covers a little tighter when I turn in at night.

_______________________________________________________________________

Notes

1.  Which in my mind is perfectly understandable as “ See here young man what is this untimely commotion?”

2. Parachute landing fall.

My Beautiful Saxon Princess

October 1976

I figured we had just enough time to get to the show before curtain time but a recalcitrant shoelace thought otherwise. As I ducked back into my room to change footwear my date eyed a bookish looking folio leaning against my stereo and read the title aloud:

“‘Home before the Leaves Fall’. What’s that?”

I sighed ( it was at best eighteen months since the fall of Saigon) and answered: “It’s a combat simulation of the opening moves of World War One. A war game. Part of my studies in ROTC”

“Ewww”

Even the wrinkle her nose took with that mild expression of distaste failed to disturb the grace of her Princess Diana profile, but I still knew there was no real future as a couple with her.

October 1976 (Two weeks later)

In a low-grade flash of déjà vu I was again rushing to replace reluctant footwear in an effort to beat curtain- time when my new acquaintance spied the same the same slip-cased volume and echoed previous date’s inquiry:

“‘Home before the Leaves Fall’. What’s that?”

I sighed even deeper as realized I either had to do a better job of housekeeping or forego a social life then answered (again) “It’s a combat simulation of the opening moves of World War One. A war game. Part of my studies in ROTC”.

She paused, picked up the game and said “Last summer I made a model of a British 6 pounder anti-tank gun

I was in love!

When we first met my Beautiful Saxon Princess she seemed so familiar that I thoughtlessly scanned past her in search of new faces, figuring we’d talk at the next Alaska/Ricks/New England themed get-together. When I finally realized that the closest we got to a previous acquaintance was studying art under Richard Bird at Ricks College during two widely separated times I began to fret that maybe I’d lost to another hometown suitor. She was gorgeous with a combination Linda Blair/Lynda Carter vibe and was blessed with a cascade of light brown hair, pale blue watercolor eyes and a pert, upswept nose that easily passed for a transplant from Diana Rigg’s face

(…and yes, I did watch far too much TV)

In the vocabulary of the day she was a total fox, but she either didn’t know it or didn’t care. She was just so basically good and sweet-natured that as our relationship developed I was concerned at how she’d fare in the company of the hot-tempered, razor-tongued Celtic mob that is my extended family but that innate goodness has served as a force field against the sarcasm-that-is-graded-for-effectiveness that prevails at my family’s infrequent gatherings.

I’m frequently asked why I don’t write more often about my Beautiful Saxon Princess and why I routinely use that title instead her name – and in answer there are two main reasons for the practice:

  1. Though they are blessedly few in number I do have my detractors and I don’t want them calling her the names and making the attacks they’ve made against me.
  2. After the last forty-four years we’re almost close enough to be one word (“davidandlori”)

…and she is my treasure. Every day I am reminded that I am lucky to be with her and that I married so far above my station that I should be getting nose bleeds.

1977: D.C. Bound…

Third in a series of courtship stories. I look back from 43 years further down the road and I get tired from just reading about running/driving/flying all over the western hemisphere…

David R. Deitrick, Designer

united 727

Time moved at glacial velocity when I was a kid but at some point between age 20 and 22 I was ambushed by a chronological fruit-basket turnover. That endless wait from Christmas to Christmas suddenly shrunk – glance down to read the newspaper while the Super Bowl is on TV /   look up and the puppets from “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” are dancing across the screen. When Lori and I first discussed marriage it seemed like we had all the time in the world but the third week of April 1977 unexpectedly nudged its way into my life while I was otherwise occupied with final exams and portfolio reviews.

My last review was scheduled just a few hours before my flight to Washington DC to get married and in an ironic twist of fate the session went overtime when heretofore disinterested faculty members started asking complex questions about my work. Unfortunately as…

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