Thursday, May 7, 2009

35 years and counting

We met on a blind date in San Diego. Neither one of us wanted to go on that date. We did so, however, on the request of a mutual friend on her 21st birthday.

My first impression of her was that she was very pretty. Her eyes were captivating and she was kind of shy. That was until her and her sister, Gaye had just a little too much to drink while we waited for our tables at the Charthouse on Shelter Island. Then, at the table, with two more flagons of wine, she ended up stealing much of the items on the top of the table including heavy glasses and ash trays. As we left, I put my arm around her and under her rabbit fur purse to keep it from jingling from the items inside knocking together. Both of us were not impressed that evening and welcomed the end of that first date.

A week later, our same group of friends decided to go out to the fresh snow in the foothills outside of San Diego. This was not something that happened that often so there was somewhat of a traffic jam getting to those hills. I was stuck in the back seat of that same girls car with Judy and her sister. They giggled and laughed along the way as they had some fun with the police that were directing traffic in one of the areas. I remember her sister leaning over and whispering in my ear, "If she says that she is all knocked up....she is just tired, OK?". They both laughed at that description of the differences in our two countries words. You see, she was and is Australian. Her and her sister were working their way through the US and were bound for the UK.

That day was the true start of our relationship and we dated and saw each other as often as we could in those coming months before I departed on my first Westpac cruise on board my ship and she went off to the east coast and eventually England. We wrote each other quite often and both of us had tales to tell of events and happenings along the way.

A year later, she came back to San Diego on a fiance visa. We had three months to decide if we were meant for each other. We rode a train together to Oregon where she met my family and one evening while driving into Bend to see my brother and his girlfriend (of whom he is still wed also), on the hill going up towards the entrance of Sunriver, with tears flowing down both of my cheeks, I garnered the courage to ask her those words......"Well, do you want to marry me or what?". She said "Yes" and we celebrated that evening with Rudy and Roxanne.

We were to be married aboard my ship with my captain doing the service. It was to be held on the helo deck with all hands in Dress Whites. But, as things go in the Navy, we were given orders to go out to sea trials to prepare us for another rather rushed Westpac. The Vietnam war was making a turn and our ship was being called up.

Instead, we were married in a small chapel in East San Diego by a rather gay man with bad breath. For years, we had the tape of that service where he stated "Just as this ring goes round and round indefinitely, so shall your love go round and round indefinitely". At the end of the tape, while our witness and best man, Bob Smitherman, who had first introduced us attempted to take pictures, you hear him in the tape saying, "Come on Lyle, Smile!".

We spent our first evening in a dirty motel somewhere in the south of Los Angeles. We had very little money but did have a pass to Disneyland, a free night at the Disneyland motel, and an Arco credit card for gas. On our way up to LA, a police cruiser pulled up next to our marked car which said "Just Married" on the back. They turned their speaker towards us and asked us how long. We told them just a few hours and they congratulated us as we drove down the freeway.

Later, as we were sitting at a light in Anaheim, a man in a flower truck behind us jumped out and gave Judy a dozen roses. Still later in our honeymoon as we drove down Hollywood Blvd, a man in a large convertible drove up next to us and passed me over a rather large cigar.

Our day in Disneyland was fun but without much money we purchased some popcorn and that was about all that we ate that day. That evening on the way to our plush room, I noticed some lidded plates outside other rooms. I snuck back out and grabbed one bringing it back into our room only to find just fully eaten crab shells. We were rather hungry that evening but that was nothing for two young people in love.

The day after our honeymoon, I left for two weeks at sea. This was to happen quite often as our ship prepared to deploy. We were given leave just before that deployment and Judy and I drove all the way from San Diego to Gilchrist in one day. After a visit with my family, we took what was to be the most memorable road trips that we have ever taken seeing many national parks in just a few days. In Yosemite park, we nearly ran out of gas on a dark rainy stretch of road through the forest. In Las Vegas, the only room that we could find was in a gay motel somewhere close to Circus Circus. We were put in the straight part of the motel back in the corner next to another straight couple. The patrons of the motel were very friendly but they did watch us rather oddly as we walked into the lobby holding hands. Our final national park was the north rim of the grand canyon of which I did something that other men only dream of doing......I peed into the grand canyon. Judy and I giggled about that as we drove back to LA and her departure for Australia. I recall the drive into the LA basin and both of us crying as we approached the airport. It was one of the hardest times of my life saying those goodbyes and I felt so empty as I drove back to my base in San Diego.

In the middle of my deployment our ship visited Taiwan where I and a few others were shown around Taipai by some college students who wanted to practice their English. We went to a temple there and a priest told my future by reading my hand and throwing some wooden pieces up in the air that looked somewhat like bananas cut the length way. He said that I would remain happily married, have three children, live a long and rich life, and be very sick towards the end. I can still see his face and hear those words.

Our departure into the war zone was top secret and none of the crew were allowed to notify our families. Our orders were to help evacuate civilians to safe haven in a more southern part of Vietnam. Our initial goal was to pick them up in the northern part of South Vietnam but the Vietcong were moving so fast that we were sent to an area in the more central part. Judy first heard about it as she watched a news program in Australia that showed three ships steaming towards Vietnam. She knew the number of my ship and worried for my safety. As the lead person in the Navigation dept on board my ship, I read all of the top secret messages and was able to know things of what was going on that others did not. I wrote about that time in my life and that story was posted sometime last year in my blog. I spent our first anniversary there, just off of the coast of Vietnam in the middle of the pull out of Saigon. Judy spent it working in a school for abandoned kids in Australia.

And thus, our first year ended as one but apart.

Our ten year anniversary was one of probable turmoil of sorts. The first few years of our marriage had ups and downs. Two people being married from two different countries is much harder than most can imagine. I was working for Jake's and was new in my management of their restaurant. I was also going to college full time at COCC. I must admit that I don't recall what we did on that milestone.

But, I do remember the twentieth. We had won a trip to Acapulco through Sysco foods who sold to the diner. The diner was going strong and was gaining in popularity. Judy and I almost did not go on that trip as our youngest, Trinity was struggling with asthma. Our doctor and friend, Paul Johnson and his wife Sue agreed to let Trinity stay with them and thus have a doctor right there in case she had any problems. I will always remember the kindness of the gesture.

While in Acapulco, we decided that we were going to eat lunch at a local Mexican restaurant so as I traded for pesos, I was happy to meet a man who had what looked like official clothes on and who said that he would find us a cab who would take us to one. We got in the back of the cab and were shocked as he climbed in the front. I was beginning to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into. I took most of our money and shoved it into my shoe and winked at Judy trying to assure her that I was in control when I knew that I was not. He found us a small restaurant in the middle of the old part of town. While he was in the back of the restaurant talking to the proprietor, we snuck out and headed down the road. A block away, he found us again and we told him that we were not hungry yet and had decided to do some shopping first. He drug us into a shop and got us a bottle of beer. I watched as he took the storekeeper to the side and when he was not watching, I put down my beer, grabbed Judy by the hand and told her, "Run!". We darted out of the shop and down a small ally that seemed to lead to another small ally. All the time we were being stared at by eyes that did not see many white people in that part of town. When we finally found a street, I hailed the newest cab that I could find. "New Acapulco.", I stated, remembering our warnings to stay only there during our visit. "No comprendo.", came the reply. I thought for a second and said, "McDonalds.". "Se", came the reply with a smile and we made our way back to the safe part of town.

Our thirtiest anniversary was spent on the Oregon Coast. I had just been warned of the pending sale of Jake's and was a little concerned of my future but was bound and determined to make this milestone a good one. On the morning of the anniversary, I stole out of the room with my golf club seemingly to go out for an early morning round of beach golf. Instead, I drew a rather large heart in the sand of the beach in front of the room. In the bright early morning sunlight, I wrote both of our names in the middle and put the date of our marriage. "Thirty years and still in love." were also written. As I stood back to look at my masterpiece, hoots and claps were heard behind me and I turned to see many women in their nightgowns and bathrobes clapping from their balconies and congratulating me. I smiled, bowed, and returned to my room to awaken my bride and show her my art.

Last Sunday was the 35th year. We were going to go away for a couple of days but since it was raining, we stayed and worked what turned out to be the busiest day so far this year. Trinity was the cashier and before she started had made a banner to go across above her to be seen by all as they came in the diner. We worked with the congratulations making the fact that we were working much easier. Afterwards, tired and not really wanting to go out. We bought some takeout from the China Doll, rented a movie, and cuddled on the couch then dragging ourselves to bed from what was a tiring but happy day.

Thirty five years later, we remain in a very elite club. The club on one spouse. We have many friends and customers that are also in that club and I can only hope that we make it as far as the two that we met the other day who were celebrating their 60th.


monkeyinabox said...

Congratulations and thanks for sharing all of this. Great stuff.

diner life said...

Thanks Chris. Your magnet reminder (how creative, by the way, is on my file cabinet next to my desk. Just a couple of months away.

Anonymous said...

Anyone that has a picture of Merle behind them on the wall, looking over their shoulders, is bound to have a blessed life.

Keeneye said...

Thanks for sharing.