December was wearing on and it was getting closer and closer to Christmas. I was going through the motions of a “normal” life. Get up in the morning, eat my breakfast of toast and eggs or a bowl of cereal with milk. I might or might not have some OJ but it was never fresh squeezed. I liked fruit. I always have but I rarely had it in the house. It would have probably just rotted since I had little appetite. My work day started early at 7 am. I was expected to be at my station ready to start. I got two breaks—one in the morning and one in the afternoon—plus a half hour for lunch. I might take an egg sandwich or maybe peanut butter and jelly. There were snack machines so the sandwich could have a side of a bag of chips. At 3:30, the whistle blew and I was off work for another day.
Then it was home to an empty apartment or to my friends’ place out in the country. More often than not, it was the latter. When I’d get home, I’d go to bed and I usually slept well. I’d learned early on as a child not to be nervous when there were unexplainable noises. That stood me in good stead during the months I was alone.
The communication between my DH and me was getting less and less frequent. Then one night there was a call. He and his boyhood friend were stuck in Utah. It was so cold the ancient BMW had frozen up and wouldn’t run. They were going to have to wait for warmer weather. I started praying in earnest.
The days crawled by with mind-numbing slowness. The mind-numbing was literal and increased as the frustration grew. There was no Weather Channel or World Wide Web so the forecasts for Utah were hard to come by.
I don’t know what happened or how it took place but one night there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, there stood my DH with that lopsided grin on his face. All I can guess is that he kept me thinking he wasn’t moving my way so he could surprise me. I wanted to hug him and strangle him all at the same time!
Word got out that he was home and my whole Support Team convened to welcome him back. Our little kitchen was crowded with smiling faces but the happiest of all was—me!
The fellow who had come over so many times to fix the gears on the Rambler was the one who understood that we might want some “alone time”. He urged us to go on for some much needed rest. It didn’t take any arm-twisting. Not on my part or DH’s.
We had a waterbed that was two pieces of plastic laid one on top of the other and heat-sealed around the edges. I guess it was so used to having skinny little me by myself that the shock of my body and another, considerably heavier, one resulted in its not being able to hold up. The next morning, I stepped out of bed into water. It wasn’t just the bed that was ruined. My collection of magazines was stacked under the frame on the floor. They included the April ’72 issue of Cosmopolitan with the famous Burt Reynolds centerfold. I tried to dry it out and save it but he didn’t look nearly as good all wrinkled so I threw it away. It wasn’t something necessary for my existence or anyone else’s.
Before we married, my DH had discovered waterbeds. At the time, he was enthused and I thought it was only because of the West Coast influence that he wanted one. Now, I understood and we were waterbed-less. Along with doing last-minute Christmas shopping for the boys, we were looking for a waterbed mattress. In the meantime, we put a regular mattress on the frame and slept badly but together. It was quite a joke that the waterbed disintegrated on his first night back home.
Christmas Eve came and we were off over the mountains to spend the holiday with the boys, Mother and Pop. The trip was much easier with a driver.
The boys were excited to see their Dad again after so many months. Mother was less positive but she was gracious and accepted him into her home. DH took my stepfather to the airport, rented a little Cessna 150 and took him up for a flyover of the house and surrounding countryside. My stepfather got a little sick when they were doing spins, lazy-eights and Chandelles but he had a smile on his face when they got home. Mother had no desire to fly. Not in that little toy airplane.
Mother always decorated the house to the hilt for Christmas and this one was no different. She had greenery on the mantels, an arrangement on the dining table, decorations in the windows. The tree was real and ladened with lights and ornaments she had collected over the years. Christmas extended to the kitchen with huge quantities of food including the always present homemade feather-light Parker House rolls. Good smells were everywhere. It was a time for celebration.
After Christmas was over, the wrapping paper burned in the fireplace and presents laid out for inspection, there were talks about the pros and cons of the boys staying put until school was out. Mother should have been a lawyer. She easily won her case hands down. The boys would stay with her and she expected us to continue to make regular visits.
I didn’t have a lot of time off work since I hadn’t earned anything but holiday pay. I had to be employed for a year before I got any vacation built up. We had to leave all too soon. There was a difference. I wasn’t going home alone.
It was easy for DH to get back on with the US Mail plus he started picking up other flying jobs here and there. Once he was hired to fly Class A explosives and the weather turned against him. He had to fly through a thunderstorm and told me about seeing St. Elmo’s Fire dancing around the outside of the plane. While I was horrified he was energized by the experience. He told me that the explosives didn’t have any detonators which, according to him, rendered them harmless. I don’t know. He survived them AND the storm.
Something he had brought home was a hang glider. He started using afternoons he wasn’t working to find places he could fly. The Rambler sported a roof rack now so he could haul the hang glider around. There weren’t many good hills around the area where we lived. About the only place was the slope beside a dam. Many of his afternoons were spent there with his friends who were interested in seeing him glide down the hill and trudge back up carrying the ‘glider. He got plenty of exercise. He’d take me to work in the morning and come pick me up in the afternoon.
Summer came and we made one last trip as the two of us over the mountains and brought the boys home. They got settled back into their room and would go on hang gliding forays with DH while I worked. I cooked again and I’d fix enough food that they’d be supplied during the time I wasn’t there.
I noticed that DS2 was ignoring me a lot when I’d speak to him. It was beginning to grate on my nerves and I wondered if there was some underlying psychological cause. But…one day, on a hunch, I stood behind him and said, in a normal voice, “Do you want some ice cream and cake?” He gave no indication that he’d heard me. I repeated it. Nothing. I finally took hold of his arm and turned him around, asking if he knew I was talking to him. No, he didn’t. Something was wrong.
When DH got home, I told him what had happened and he agreed we needed to take DS2 for a thorough examination. I called and made an appointment. Fortunately, I had a good insurance policy that covered the whole family for $15 a month. After tests the diagnosis came back that fluid was built up behind the eardrums and he would need surgery to insert tubes to drain it. His eustachian tubes were blocked and wouldn’t “pop” the way they should. Surgery was scheduled and I was allowed to take off work so I could be at the hospital with him.
DH, DS1, and I were in the waiting room when the doctor came and told us that, in his experience, he had never seen the volume of fluid that DS2 had. His hearing loss had been at 80% because of it. We could go see him but he wasn’t fully awake yet.
When we got to the room, there was nothing to do but wait so DH switched on the TV. It wasn’t long until there was a cry from the bed, “Turn that down! It’s hurting my ears!” He could hear! Not only that—he could hear better than we could!
As I recall, the insurance paid 90% of the bills and we were left with, I think, $122. That doesn’t happen any more.
With the plusses of the surgery, there was a downside. DS2 couldn’t swim and he’d have to have cotton in his ears when he took a bath. Summer had barely begun. It was going to be hard. I went to a beauty supply store and bought a shampoo board. Modesty was out the window when I watched him bathe to make sure he didn’t dunk his head under water.
During all this, DS1 was his own happy-go-lucky self. He enjoyed visiting with the neighbors, our friends who would stop by, and the people at church. His disposition rarely was anything but sunny. He was my messy child and DS2 was the ultra-organized.
The factory ran low on orders which caused a slowdown in material to work with. I had been there just about a year so I didn’t have much seniority to speak of. I was laid off for most of the summer which was fine with me. I got “rocking chair pay” and was able to go on the hang gliding outings with the three men of the family. I’d pack a picnic lunch, fill up the Igloo with KoolAid and ice, throw in a blanket or two and off we’d go. It was nice not to have to go to the factory.
The summer days went by one after another and it wasn’t long until school would start. Every now and then, I’d have to go re-up for unemployment and then one day the factory called. My job was being started up again and they wanted me back. If I didn’t go, I’d lose my benefits. I went. Reluctantly. I had enjoyed being a wife and mother.
DH still had another year to go before he would graduate. There was no incentive strong enough to persuade him to do it. Flying was what he wanted to do so that’s what he did. He wanted to learn other flying techniques besides the ones that the local flight school taught so he went to a town closer to Nashville to practice in a plane that was fitted with a STOL (short takeoff and landing) kit. It was right up his alley. He loved a challenge.
I was beginning to hate working in the factory. It was the same old same old day after day. Most of the people I worked with were nice but there were some there who were strange. One little lady would walk along like she was on a mission wherever she went. She’d never say a word but I noticed she had several fingers missing on her right hand. I asked someone about her and was told that she had lost them operating a serger. It’s a machine that would do a 2-thread chain stitch and a 3-thread overlock, and trim the fabric all at the same time. She had one of the highest averages on the pay scale in the factory because she was fast but she cut off her fingers on the razor-sharp blade to make it. Another fast sewer was all but carried out one day because of the same kind of injury. I was glad I had failed at sewing.
The days, weeks, and months went by. DH flew, took more training, the boys went to school and I worked. We’d go across the mountains to visit with both sets of parents and I’d cry with my mother when we’d leave. I think she was crying more because of “her” boys leaving than any other reason.
The months turned into years, birthdays and Christmas came and went, the waterbed had long since been replaced and the hang gliding bug bit again. This time it was more serious. The 4 to 1 glide ratio “kite” just wasn’t going to get it. It was 1975 and DH wanted a SunSail custom built glider. We sat down and designed one together and submitted the drawing for a 17 foot hang glider. It was going to be beautiful. But would it be safe? Yes, but it would open the door to disaster.