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”


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.

Music: Abandoned Luncheonette

This fits in nicely with the courtship stories from 1976-77 that I am in the process of reblogging…

David R. Deitrick, Designer

Consider the following terms:

  • algorithm
  • dichotomy
  • paradigm
  • ubiquitous

I don’t think I heard any one of these words prior to 1987 – and I didn’t learn the correct definition of any of them until long after that date. You see, unless the context absolutely demands the use of a “ten-dollar term” I prefer using less-ornamental language, which is why I think we did well enough with the alternate phrases like:

  • steps in solving a problem
  • contrast between two things
  • a model or pattern

…but I make an exception to the rule when using ubiquitous instead of “found everywhere”  as in “the music of Darryl Hall and John Oates was ubiquitous in the Seventies and Eighties!” because it was the absolute truth at the time that their work and faces were found everywhere. They were on the covers of magazines at newsstands. I couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing “

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1976 Beads

It just seemed like a good time to run this one again. While these “year-link” posts were all written to be used as chapters in a book there weren’t originally published here in chronological order. We’re getting closer to publication so I’m re-posting a couple of them in proper sequence to give you an idea of what is coming up.



David R. Deitrick, Designer

Kenai Central High School was not on the leading edge of popular culture in the 1970’s, but I had no idea how benighted we were until the Yearbook Issue of National Lampoon came out in the spring of 1971. It featured a parody of a 1950’s high school yearbook and as we leafed through the pages I was surprised to see that the Eisenhower-era fads, slang and dating customs Lampoon was mocking were the same ones we participated in. Even though television had been showing us how to look like other American teenagers of the time, our behavior was twenty years out of date.

College brought me a little more up-to-date, though attending the University in Fairbanks, Alaska still had me on side roads instead of the cultural freeway… My hair got longer. I dressed a bit differently and when I fell in love I did something I thought I…

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Music: Abandoned Luncheonette


Consider the following terms:

  • algorithm
  • dichotomy
  • paradigm
  • ubiquitous

I don’t think I heard any one of these words prior to 1987 – and I didn’t learn the correct definition of any of them until long after that date. You see, unless the context absolutely demands the use of a “ten-dollar term” I prefer using less-ornamental language, which is why I think we did well enough with the alternate phrases like:

  • steps in solving a problem
  • contrast between two things
  • a model or pattern

…but I make an exception to the rule when using ubiquitous instead of “found everywhere”  as in “the music of Darryl Hall and John Oates was ubiquitous in the Seventies and Eighties!” because it was the absolute truth at the time that their work and faces were found everywhere. They were on the covers of magazines at newsstands. I couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing “She’s Gone” or “Sara Smile” and every time I walked into my sister’s apartment the duo’s slightly androgynous first album cover would be staring at me from the front of her record collection.

Where I didn’t expect to see Darryl Hall and John Oates was the apartment of my friend Oly a.k.a. John Olsen who had been my good friend since serving our respective bicycle penances in New England a few years earlier. Upon returning  to school in the fall of 19761 we had taken adjacent apartments where each day we’d meet to conduct a post-game analysis of our adventures at the university. During these academic post-mortems we’d listen to our respective collections, which in my case consisted of a 100+ volumes of progressive rock…while Oly’s collection comprised of exactly two albums:

  • Lowdown by Boz Skaggs
  • Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall and Oates.

I’m not sure how we ended up listening to the actual Abandoned Luncheonette song because the LP’s breakout Top 40 singles2 were located on the opposite side of the vinyl. When we finally did get to the eponymous tune it didn’t make a great first impression – I tend to think of vocals as little more than additional instruments which can make  lyric-driven songs3  a dicey thing with me, but from the first note it was obvious that Abandoned Luncheonette had an important message for me personally.

The song opens with a simple mix of bass & percussion creating a staccato “typewriter-ish” sound subliminally setting up the song as a story first and a musical composition second. These rhythmic measures could easily be incidental music to a street scene from a 1970’s TV series – a nice touch in that the words are as direct and descriptive as a panel in a comic book.

They sat in an abandoned luncheonette Sipping imaginary cola

drawing faces in the tabletop dust

His voice was rusty from years as a sergeant in “this man’s army”

They were old and crusty

“ So this is how addicts are made” I thought as listened to a song that started out as bubble-gum for my ears slowly transform into a powerful narrative that drew me right in. In perfect timing an adaptable melody, brilliant in its simplicity, starts contributing to the story, as when a Benny Goodman clarinet flourish instantly pegs the setting to the 1940s – a touch of nostalgia typical in mid-Seventies entertainment.

She was twenty when the diner was a baby

He was the dishwasher, busy in the back, his hands covered with Gravy

Hair black and wavy Brilliantine slick, a pot – cleaning dandy

He was young and randy

Unfortunately it’s at this particular point that the song almost lost me the first time I heard it. The music  goes into a rippling electric piano effect much like the “doodle-oodle-doodle-oodle” flashback sound in Scooby Doo. At first it seemed very contrived but after listening through the whole song a couple of times (and soaking up the entire message) the effect seemed more appropriate. The addition of a formal string backing to the chorus also rinses out a lot of the “ Scooby-Doo” as the symphonic effect reinforces the chorus as a chronal bridge between different eras in a person’s life.

Day to day, to day today Then they were old, their lives wasted away

Month to month, year to year They all run together

Time measured by the peeling of paint on the luncheonette wall

Here’s another ten-dollar word: Serendipity – or development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”.  While Abandoned Luncheonette  was a song I stumbled onto by chance it contained an important  message tailor-made for me in late 1976. Between my own doubts4 and another’s dire predictions about “a marriage doomed to failure” my relationship with (take your pick)

  1. a) Alabama
  2. b) My Beautiful Saxon Princess
  3. c) Lori
  4. d) All of the above

…was almost over before it got started. As the last verse spooled-up the story with the couple in their later years I felt a warmth, a longing to have the outcome in the song to be my future as well – and I wanted Lori to be with me as well.

They sat together in the empty diner Filled with cracked china

Old news was blowing across the filthy floor And the sign on the door

sign on the door read “this way out”, that’s all it read

That’s all it said

 … and this last verse is where Lori and I are now. Our life is much like the empty diner in that we’re not in the future we envisioned in 1976. We lived from day to day – to yet another day that spun out to many, many more until we ended up here in 2018 (Today) and are of an age where our own existential door with the “This way Out” placard  is never far from my thoughts.

 Day to day,

 to day




  1. Oly had been a spectator – nay – participant to my courtship of “Alabama” – which was the name I used for Lori in the beginning. When we hit a rough spot in our relationship Oly was the guy in which I confided “I’m going to ask Alabama to homecoming – and if she says ‘No’ I’m dropping her like a hot rock”. He’s also was the friend to whom I said, “She said yes – now what do I do?”
  2. “She’s Gone” was released in early 1974 and reached #70 on the Billboard Hot 100, and then hit  #7 when it was re-released during the summer of 1976 in the wake of the success of “Sara Smile”.
  3. That is “lyric-driven songs” NOT sung by Gordon Lightfoot or Harry Chapin
  4. See 1976: Beads

1976: “What Gang Did You Run With?

swanson river

The first missionary I ever met made the best observation about the experience that I would ever hear:

  • He couldn’t wait to finish the best two years of his life.
  • He was glad he went on a mission but didn’t know if he’d do it again.
  • Two years goes by a lot faster than you think.

I thought about those comments on the long flight(s) from Boston back home to Alaska and as the hours went by I came up with a couple observations of my own:

  • I had knocked on approximately 100,000 doors during my two years in New England.1
  • Going home from a mission was as scary as going out in the first place.

Any major change will bring on anxiety but it didn’t help that I was leaving the best area and companion of my entire two years of bicycle penance. Many of my missionary peers  considered Fall River (MA) to be one of the toughest to work in but I found the maritime climate pleasant and the extensive Portuguese influence intriguing2. In a similar vein I must have been friends with Elder Phil Haslam in a former life. I couldn’t have picked a better “last” companion – With our similar interests and talents we didn’t tract as much as put on a portable door-to-door comedy act that brought greater success to our labors than a more conservative approach.

My passage home was for the most part uneventful; I did go through a slight moment of disorientation when I was given my formal release3 but all too soon I was crumpled on the bunk in my attic loft bedroom, totally exhausted and jet-lagged but mentally agitated about the next phase in my life. I wanted to achieve my bachelor’s degree and a commission as second lieutenant in the army as soon as I could but I had a formidable obstacle to overcome first:

Swanson River Oil Field.

By the end of the coming week I would be back at work for Chevron USA at the Swanson River Oil Field and I had mixed feelings about doing so. I had worked on the field twice before –as a roustabout for Chevron in 1972 and a general laborer for Northern Oil Operations in 1973. My time there had been a “qualified” success. The first summer I was an adequate worker but I failed to get hired back the following year and was able to get on with Northern Oil scant weeks before my return to school in the fall.4

I hoped that during the intervening years I’d changed for the better –between ROTC and my mission experience I had developed an elevated level of discipline, industry and initiative.  I decided that I was going to apply those lessons when I returned to the oil field and a job that paid extremely well, a job that I wanted to keep coming back to every summer until I finished my studies. My only hesitation was a social concern as most of the people I would be working with had life styles  much more hedonistic than mine. I wondered if there would be mockery or harassment, but given the emotional gauntlet missionaries have to run daily I figured I could handle anything in the locker room.

I needn’t have worried; while TH Auldridge was still the roustabout gang foreman, there had been a 90% turnover among the crew during the preceding three years. There were extensive changes among the production operators, mechanics and other workers on the field as well so it looked like I would be making a fresh start.

TH and his family were also our closest neighbors so I’d hitch rides with him a couple of days each week.  I was hesitant about riding with him to begin with – he had been pretty gruff that first summer on the lease, with an endless litany of corrections about everything from the way I put my paycheck in my pocket to how I addressed other men on the job. It turned out to be a much different situation this time around – he took interest in my mission experiences and plans for the future and in turn shared stories about his service in World War II and his subsequent career in the oil field.  The closest he came that summer to a critical remark was when he told me “a man don’t need to run while he’s working” when I would hustle between the tool truck and work in progress.

I came to see him in a new light as I did other more seasoned men like the head mechanic Ken Slater. My mother and younger sisters belonged to the same Girl Scout troop as Ken’s wife and daughters and I’d spent an evening or two in his home when I was dating a young lady they’d taken under their wing.  That familiarity may have been the reason he was slower to accept my changes as genuine, but that hesitation left the day he stopped by while I was working at the shop located by the field main office.

I was using a steamer to clean some heavily encrusted valves that TH wanted to repurpose for repairs on a washed out line.  As Ken started talking to me I could hear just a trace of a familiar accent in his voice that I hadn’t noticed in years past. I knew that the Slater family  had moved to Alaska from California but there was almost an east coast inflection to the words he spoke. Finally my curiosity got the best of me and I asked him where his home had been – where he’d grown up.

He grew quiet, started to fidget a bit then began; “It’s not something I talk about very often. I grew in a rough environment. There was a lot of poverty, a lot of despair and I wound up running with a gang when I was a teenager.” He continued “I doubt if you’ve ever heard of the place – it’s so far away from here. It’s a town on the southwest coast of Massachusetts called Fall River”.

I replied casually: “So….did you run with the Flint Street Gang or the Tecumseh Street gang?”

It was the classic deer-in-the-headlights look. Ken stood there tongue-tied, his eyes darting left and right then quietly said “What?”

For a millisecond I was torn – do I mess with his head or do I let him off – but respect won out over snarkiness. Instead of laughing I smiled and told him that less than a month earlier I had been in Fall River living on the more peaceful end of one of those streets. He chuckled and said that I was the first person he’d met in twenty years who knew where Fall River was located, not to mention knowing individual street names. We continued to chat for a couple of minutes then he left for the compressor plant and I finished cleaning the gunked-up valve.

I’d driven to work that day and without a passenger or working radio I was alone with my thoughts on the dusty commute home. When I was younger my quick wit had been the only defense in a bipolar household so the street gang response had happened automatically. I’d put Ken in an awkward situation and in earlier years I would have drawn out the moment for maximum amusement, but this time was different – I’d eased Ken’s bewilderment almost immediately. Was it only because of the respect I had for a great mechanic, father, and man of faith?  Was I feeling empathy for his discombobulation after twenty-four months of being on the receiving end of verbal harassment myself?

…or was there a third option? When I got home from New England all I heard at first was how different I looked. True – I had shed 30 pounds since 1973 and I was a better worker, but perhaps the most important difference was something that was not readily visible.

…maybe I had grown up just a little bit


1. During August of 1975 I kept track of the number the doors we knocked on in one hour. I multiplied that number times the average number of hours we went tracting each week then multiplied that by the 104 weeks I spent as a missionary… and got approximately 100,000 doors.

2. A local humorist dubbed the Braga Bridge over the Taunton River as the longest in the world because it stretched from Massachusetts to Portugal.

3.As the district president was conducting my release interview I slowly realized that I’d been in that room back when another family had owned the house – it had been my friend Mike’s bedroom. President Lind figured I was just happy to be home but I was trying not to laugh  as I sat there in my suit, white shirt and tie and trying not to think about sitting in that same place in 1971 knocking back beers while listening to “Funk 49” by the James Gang.    Isn’t repentance great?

4. At the time I was told that the summer hire positions were to be given to minority applicants as part of a Federal equal rights quota. To his death bed my father maintained that I was not hired as a form of retaliation against him for his union activities, but when he broached the subject 6 months before I came home he was told that as long as I had improved my driving habits I was welcome back.

1976: Can You Ship a Pig?

It was a slow period for the battalion – it was the middle of the winter of 1982 and there were no field exercises scheduled until May so I decided to get in a couple hours of night flying. My flight instructor Don suggested we fly down to Kenai and back one Wednesday evening and I agreed:  – traffic in the air is scarce during the middle of a winter week and when he offered to pick up the tab for a sandwich at the Kenai terminal I was sold.

After the customary “Kick the tire/light the fire/take a leak” preflight ritual we took off from Fort Richardson and happily set course southwest. It was a nice night for flying with very little turbulence and a full moon to help with navigation – in fact the moonlight over the snow was so bright Don was able to pick out buildings and terrain features as easily as he would during the day.

15 minutes out he looked down and asked “I wonder what that is down there?” the “that” being a fairly well spread out pattern of dimly lit buildings and sparsely traveled gravel roads.  I looked down and started rattling off details

  • “Oh, that’s tank setting 215
  • That’s P&S
  • To our left are the two compressor plants
  • To the right is the office and change room
  • Right now we are flying over tank setting 3-4”

Don looked at me stunned – then I laughed and told him that I had worked “down there” for a good part of the 1970s, “down there” being the Swanson River Oil Field.

As I’ve written elsewhere my undergraduate years were very different from most other design majors. While my classmates went to Europe or held internships in design firms I worked as a roustabout for Chevron USA at Swanson River. It was the kind of summer job that drew snarky remarks from my classmates at the university, the common assumption being that it was a job that required a lot more out of my biceps than my brains, but that assumption would be anything but true over the course of my seasonal employment  there. It took just as much thinking as any college class, albeit a different kind of thinking.

It was a well paid job located in one of the most beautiful locales on earth, but what really made it great were the people I worked with. For example, T.H. Auldridge was the gang foreman, and I give him as much credit as any other human being for anything I may have become or accomplished in my life. He fought across Europe as a tank destroyer commander during WWII, and despite the lack of a college education or any sort of management training, he was one of the best leaders and smartest men I have ever known

When I started there I was surprised to find that the physical layout of the field required judicious study.  The field is located in the middle of a game preserve and is leased rather than purchased so everything will have to be restored to pristine condition when the oil runs out.  It’s also a gas injection field, which means there aren’t any of those “bobbing elephant” pumps most people associate with oil fields – the oil is situated under an impermeable shale layer and requires an alternate method of extraction. At various sites holes are bored down through that layer and propane is forced down through those holes which in turn force the oil back up –like blowing bubbles through a straw into your milkshake.

chemical truck

In order to keep various lines clear and pumping the system requires the addition of several chemicals which were periodically delivered and maintained by a dedicated truck and driver. Interestingly enough his official job title was “Chemical Truck Driver”, and while the job was rarely given to a summer hire, it has always been a point of pride that I was the chemical truck man and paid Roustabout ”A” wages from my second year on. I’m also proud of the fact that at the end of each summer as I would get ready to go back to school management would ask me to stay on as a permanent hire. I appreciated the gesture but invariably went back to school, however leaving wasn’t easy.   My heart really wasn’t in college – reality was Swanson River and working in oil production. School was just something I did until it was time to head back north to my coveralls, boots and hard-hat.

Which brings us back full circle to our title: A pig is a tool for cleaning; as the Chemical Truck Driver one of my duties was to “ship a pig” each week, sending one of them through the pipeline to the refinery in North Kenai. The pig in question is a heavy duty cleaning tool measuring two feet long and was made of a series of thick rubber discs and metal brushes welded to a steel rood. As the pig moves through the pipeline it scours out the asphalt build up inside the pipeline until the pressure of the moving oil propels it to a “pig catcher” at the refinery on the other end. Because the asphalt could build up rather quickly pigs were sent down the line twice a week; failure to do so would result in:

  1. A reduction of the volume of oil transported
  2. An increase in the operating pressure within the line
  3. Excessive wear and tear on the pipeline itself.

The pig launcher at our end of the line functioned like an airlock providing access underwater. The flow of oil would be diverted, the launcher opened, the pig inserted and the launcher closed up again. The launching procedure was simple but allowed no room for error; manipulating the valves in the wrong order could result in a blow-out at worst or at best a failed launch with the pig lodged just ten feet or so past the insertion point. Consequently shipping a pig was a precise procedure that took concentration and attention-to-detail when it was being performed.

I never saw a mishap with a pig, but my foreman TH had witnessed a near-disaster. It was during a labor dispute years before I was hired that required Chevron to form a crew of replacements made up of administrators, engineers and other white collar workers to serve in place of the regular roustabout crew. It was all a big joke to those replacements until problems started cropping up, which they almost immediately did. To begin with they exhausted the entire annual budget for spare parts within ten days when they used all-new parts and pipe to make repairs: under TH’s guidance the same repairs would have been made by carefully repairing / recycling old material left over from earlier work. Shortly after that debacle several hundred gallons of solvent were spilled and lost when a replacement incorrectly set valves during a bulk off-loading. As bad as those two mishaps were, the near-miss at the pig launcher would have taken the entire field down.

Dual roles within the union and as crew foreman often took TH out to the field, and during one of those visits he happened to drive by the launcher just as it was being loaded by a replacement. He stopped to chat but as he glanced at the launcher he saw that the valves weren’t set correctly. He dove out of his truck and saved the field from a crippling blow-out only after physically pulling the replacement away from the launcher seconds before spinning that last crucial valve wheel. The air turned blue as tempers flared and harsh words were exchanged, but after a second look at the way the valve handles were set the replacement realized TH had just prevented him from “buying a ticket to Libya”1This story taught me that there is something to be said about the value of practical experience over theory and trade schools or university degrees. The replacement in this story had a Masters Degree in Engineering but that didn’t prevent him from almost losing the entire output of the Swanson River Oil Field. While I have three degrees and I’ve been a professor for the last thirty years I often startle friends and students when I come out strongly in favor of trade school. I think it is unfortunate that a good blue collar trade has lost much of the attraction it had when I was young. But when I think back to events like this I am very glad that someone decided that experience with a pipe wrench took precedence over solving equations.


  1. At the time Chevron’s least popular facility was located in Libya and involuntary reassignment there could be offered in lieu of termination for cause (as was the case when a former plant foreman that ended up there after the main compressor plant underwent a massive explosion on his watch).

To get the full effect this photo should have an accompanying “scratch-n-sniff” strip but I don’t know where to get a sample of “eau de crude oil”


1976 Beads

Kenai Central High School was not on the leading edge of popular culture in the 1970’s, but I had no idea how benighted we were until the Yearbook Issue of National Lampoon came out in the spring of 1971. It featured a parody of a 1950’s high school yearbook and as we leafed through the pages I was surprised to see that the Eisenhower-era fads, slang and dating customs Lampoon was mocking were the same ones we participated in. Even though television had been showing us how to look like other American teenagers of the time, our behavior was twenty years out of date.

College brought me a little more up-to-date, though attending the University in Fairbanks, Alaska still had me on side roads instead of the cultural freeway… My hair got longer. I dressed a bit differently and when I fell in love I did something I thought I would never do: I started wearing beads. Nothing over the top – a strand of multicolored seed beads that my Best Friend and I each made one of while sitting on the couch watching Night Gallery one evening. During the next week’s episode t we were both surprised to find we were both still wearing the beads so I decided to keep on wearing mine as token of my feelings – not the same thing as wearing a ring but perhaps a more accurate symbol of my commitment as the beads had me by the neck in grip as secure as the one my Best Friend held on my heart

I was still wearing those five years later as I was returning to college to resume work on my bachelor’s degree.  I had taken a break in my studies for a two year bicycle penance in New England and now all I wanted to do was finish with school and get on with my life. I had a plan with a schedule and a checklist, all of which were designed to get me to my degree and a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army as quickly as possible

…none of which made any allowances for a life co-pilot.  Just prior to that two year mission my Best Friend and I parted ways in what was one of the hardest trials of my life. I had hoped that losing myself in service in the New England States mission would help me move on, but I had little chance to forget. The first (and longest) area I was assigned to was Lynn, Massachusetts and the similarity of that place name to my (former) Best Friend’s name guaranteed that the matter was never out of my mind. Fulfilling much the same function as a white flag, the strand of beads remained in place around my neck and under a white shirt and tie for twenty-four months.

…but all that was past and I was now living in 1976. When I left school in 1974 the counterculture was in full swing and everyone wore long hair, love beads, and embroidered Levi 501 trousers and listened to Cat Stevens and Neil Young.  Two years later things had changed a bit; the hair was still longish but now it was razor-cut, the denims were $50 designer label pants, the beads had been replaced with medallions and we were sailing mindlessly into the disco era serenaded by the falsetto tunes of the Bee Gees.

I jumped into school, my days taken up with design studies and ROTC while my nights were devoted to “quainting”; either getting reacquainted with old friends or going to “get-acquainted” dances after hours at the school, all the time making sure that I didn’t spend too much time with any one young lady.  I had a plan with a schedule and a checklist to follow…but I also still had a string of beads that I wore around my neck. I told myself that at this point wearing them was an unconscious habit, that they were essentially the worry beads that figured so prominently in pop psychology at the time but deep down wearing them was less a matter of worry than it was a matter of just Not Letting Go.

As for school: If my class schedule were a tangible object it would have been made of cardboard, parts of broken appliances and duct tape.  I was off-cycle with both my design classes and ROTC so my semester schedule included 200, 300 and 400 level classes, one of the 200 level design classes being  Presentation I, an industrial design class teaching  techniques for presenting concepts and stressing perspective drawing. It was an extremely testosterone-laden class populated primarily with industrial design students designing cars and tools; while my taste was more towards military or space vehicles I fit right in with the rest of the guys…except the class wasn’t made up of only guys.

The gentle cascade of light brown hair caught my eye first, but the water-color blue eyes with the slightly sad tilt and a hint of a Southern accent clinched the deal. I moved to her side of the room on the pretext of showing my portfolio to our teacher and was surprised when she moved over closer when I mentioned I had studied under Richard Bird in his ground-breaking graphic design program at Ricks College two years earlier. She’d  also taken classes from him  which got us to talking and by  the end of  class we were fairly well acquainted: her name was Lori Howell and she was from Huntsville Alabama,  her father was an engineer with  Boeing and  the local stake president in the Church.   As I walked along idly fiddling with my strand of beads two thoughts came to mind:

  1. I was definitely “interested”
  2. Based on what I had learned about Lori that day it was a sure thing that given my interests and background I was not part of her world and never would be.

What followed was a confusing whirl of dates-that-weren’t dates and statements that often echoed a parent’s feelings instead of our own.  As the semester progressed I was becoming more confused and by the time Homecoming rolled around I felt it was time for an ultimatum. “I’m going to ask Lori to homecoming” I told my friend Oly “and if she turns me down I am going to drop her like a hot rock”

She said yes.

…and I was glad she did because the Homecoming Dance was a magical night, but as enjoyable as the dance was, it did little to dispel the anxiety that was developing right along with my feelings. I was happy with an idea of a low-key casual relationship, but when she presented me with an afghan comforter she’d knit for me it was all I could to avoid a full-scale panic attack. The afghan was just too similar to the red, white and black knit scarf that my Best Friend had made for me five years earlier. Suddenly the half-verbalized concern that had been lurking in the back of my mind became crystal clear:  I didn’t want to get hurt again. More importantly I didn’t want to hurt anyone else again, but the way the relationship was developing we’d soon pass beyond the point of any possible emotional damage control.

It was with this anxiety that I climbed aboard a truck a week later and set out for a three day field exercise in southern Utah with thirty other ROTC cadets. As I gazed out over the tail gate on the trip south a buddy’s raspy voice startled me:” Hey Deitrick you hippie – what’s with the beads? ” Old habits die hard – I had forgotten I was wearing them and was toying with them as I watched the miles roll by from the back of the deuce-and-a-half.  Moments later I forgot about the beads and the comment as we pulled off the road to our start point, where we jumped off the back of the truck and into a rugged adventure involving a midnight crossing of the Dirty Devil River and a shivering twenty kilometer hike to our objective.

I shuffled along under the stars wearing the same uniform as the others and armed with the same weapon, but I was also carrying a burden my buddies weren’t weighed down with: a strand of beads and a heavy heart. I was in love with Lori but I couldn’t see any sort of relationship ever happening. Our worlds were so far apart. At the same time I had to admit that hard as I had tried to get on with my life I was still  damaged from the loss of my Best Friend.  My feet started to feel heavy from the miles we’d walked and the mud that clung to our boots, but my heartfelt even heavier’ “Lord, what am I going to do? I can see no resolution to this issue that doesn’t entail someone going through the kind of misery that I swore would never happen again.”

I was so caught up with this internal debate that I was surprised when the sun started coming up again – we had spent the entire night hiking through the desert.  We started to check weapons and prepare for the assault when were all unpleasantly surprised: a quick check of the map showed that even though we had been walking for over twenty shivering kilometers we were still more than twenty three kilometers away from our objective. It was an easy enough mistake – our cadet platoon leader had made an error with his compass when we set out the night before, a small error that had compounded as we walked the night before. There was not much of a forgiving mood at that point though – the rage was palpable and had there not been a Regular Army advisor in the group we would have thrown the guy over the edge of the closest ravine.

The major grinned and sardonically said” “It’s time to suck it up cadets. You know Duty, Honor County?  Be the leaders you’re supposed to be and stop whining like little girls“…and with those words he turned and started to trot in the direction of our objective. While it took a moment or two for the platoon to collectively shake off the fatigue of the previous night’s trek and start after the Major I personally had no problem breaking into a run: I didn’t care about the miles. I didn’t care about the thirst. I finally had an answer.


The word had ripped through me like a bullet through jello. To the rest of the platoon it was a command to get moving, but for me it was the answer for the question that plagued me more than the mud, blisters, or cold. I loved Lori, but I was holding back because I was afraid of what might happen.  I never wanted my heart broken again, and I certainly didn’t want Lori’s heartbroken either.

But then there was the “D” word. Duty. Sometimes Love wasn’t just about the romance or the hair, eyes and curves. It was about commitment.


….and sometimes duty is a higher emotion than love.  I had been given a charge, a duty to love and live with and protect this daughter of God no matter what fears I may have or what problems we would encounter at that moment or in the future.

Past that epiphany I remember little else from that day. We crossed the desert floor in record time, completed the exercise then climbed into the back of the truck to bounce back to campus and the Welles ROTC building.  I stopped at Lori’s apartment on the painful walk back to my place and made the usual dumb Ranger jokes but somehow being there with her seemed a little bit different. The edginess was no longer there.

It was the same way when I came back to see her later on that evening. We didn’t do much other than curl up together in a big white chair and listen to “Peaceful Easy feeling”  on the eight-track player but somehow the whole universe had changed.  My plan with the schedule and checklist would have to be adjusted accordingly

…and the beads were now sealed in an envelope stashed in the back of my sock drawer.