“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” Thoreau.
With Tech School at Ft. Lee, Va. almost complete, we set out sights on our new duty station in California. The papers for a 30 day leave in my pocket, we began to get ready to spend some time in New York, visiting family and friends. The Rambler didn’t look like it would make the trip to Albany, and surely would not make the West Coast. We spotted a used car ad on television for a Barracuda that was in our price range. Saturday morning we headed for Richmond to check it out. A cool, October rain was tapping the convertible roof when we arrived at the dealership. I found a salesman wandering the lot and he directed me to the advertised Barracuda. It looked nice, as it did in the commercial. At least on the driver’s side. A quick walk around the car revealed the passenger side had been crushed from the front fender to the rear quarter panel. That explained the low advertised price. We spotted a decent Ford Galaxie and traded the Rambler. The standard four-speed transmission had some syncro problems and I had to hold the shift lever in second gear to keep it from popping out, but it would do. The 390’s ability to chirp the tires when hitting third gear, made the driving a little more tolerable.
We packed up our few belongings a week later and headed to New York. The 600 mile trip seemed longer as we had not been there since our wedding in May. After a couple of days in New York, we had visited our families and became uneasy with the trip ahead and began to plan our drive to California. We shipped a couple of trunks full of clothing and assorted dry goods to my cousin who was stationed near Las Vegas at the time, conveniently on the route we were planning. Sending those ahead would give us some extra space in the car. Once the trip was mapped out, we grew even more restless. My father kept looking at my recently acquired car, doubting that it would survive the miles. He generously offered to swap cars with me, putting us in a car that was one year newer and in far better shape. We opted for the roughly 3000 mile southern route to avoid any early winter driving. The trip would prove to be relatively uneventful. We did get our first look at the desert southwest traveling through New Mexico. More on that some other time.
We were no longer feeling like newlyweds, even though we had only been married for less than five months. The move so quickly from NY to Virginia right after the wedding and the shifting from one place to another over the past 6 months, had been hectic, to say the least. At this point, we had only really known each other for less than a year but the maturing process that comes with marriage was well under way. We were now spending 24 hours a day together and much of that driving the Ford. We listened to music when we could find a Top 40 station but we really talked as only young marrieds can. We talked a lot. Keep in mind that this was the decade of the best music produced in modern history so, it gave us plenty to enjoy, but we were deeply in love and every conversation was fresh and full of interest for us. If the time spent early in our courtship and those first few months of marriage were the seeds of love, then this was when our love would start to bloom. That time would further set the stage for our early days as a couple. We were deepening our relationship and that would be more important than we could have imagined. Real intimacy takes openness and the freedom to explore each others deepest thoughts and desires. Looking back now, we understand that one of the reasons for our ability to grow as a couple, was our young age. It gave us the freedom to love with abandon. That was the beginning of an ability to share our deepest thoughts and that continues today. We have never held back anything, and by God’s grace, never will. Another reason for cementing our relationship early on, was leaving our friends and family. It was difficult, as neither of us had been far from home at that point in our lives and the next three-plus years we would have to rely almost entirely on each other. It was unintentional and literally forced on us but if there was any single thing that we see today that cemented our relationship, it was starting out together and breaking back-home ties for that period of our marriage. We knew of too many friends who never separated themselves from their pre-marriage relationships and subsequently led to a variety of problems. We have never understood ideas of things like separate vacations and nights out on the town without each other. Even now, doing things apart holds no interest for us. The years ahead would give us long-term friends that we made together, not as singles. The few close friends we have from our dating and single days, extend back to high school and college. The closest of those couples, married soon after us, remain our very close friends today. Anyway, the transcendent principal continues to be our love for each other. Lest I sound like I’m writing an essay on marriage here, we both agree that it is essential for a husband and wife to be the very best of friends, exclusive of any one or any thing else.
A little more than a week on the road and we were pulling into Henderson, Nevada, for a couple of days with my cousin Dave and his wife. Late October in the desert has cool nights, followed by 80 degree days with plenty of sunshine. We left Nevada early in the morning and headed across the desert for Edwards AFB. The desert sun pounded the Ford for the four hour trip. The lack of air conditioning made the car more like an oven. The arrow-straight road was punctuated with small rolling hills. We learned later they were referred to as “dips” by the locals. It’s like riding on the ocean in a fast-moving small craft, rhythmically lifting and settling. The telephone poles alongside the two-lane highway looked like sentinels, sewn together with wire. We passed a few, very small towns that were scattered between Las Vegas and Edwards. Back in Virginia when I chose Edwards, it seemed like a good idea at the time. We reached Boron and North Edwards, nearing the entrance to the Base. The flat desert, little towns and scorching heat caused us look at each other and wonder what we were doing there. Eventually we spotted the sign for the Base and turned left. From the sign by the highway, you could see only empty desert for miles even though we were on the Base property. There was nothing in sight, not even a building. What had we gotten ourselves into? Maybe this wasn’t the best choice of duty stations. What seemed like an adventure a few weeks ago, was now looking more like a nightmare. We had been married less than six months, moved to Virginia, traveled 3000 miles from home to settle where we had no friends, no family and no place to live. All we had was each other, and that would prove to be enough for us. Making things even more complicated, it would be in a few weeks that we would find out that Olga was pregnant with our first child.
We arrived on the Base late in the afternoon and I secured a few nights in the transient housing. The good news was that more permanent housing on Base was available for married Airman as this was considered and “isolated stateside tour”, due to the distance to the nearest town. The bad news was that there was a long waiting list for availability. Anywhere from 3 to 6 months was the norm.
Rosamond wasn’t much of a town and nearly 25 miles from the main part of the base where I would be working. Lancaster and Palmdale were nicer but further away. We had less than a week to find an apartment and I was busy getting settled at my new job assignment.
The number of one-bedroom, cheap, furnished apartments were few in Rosamond, but we managed to find one that was fairly clean and even had some dishes in the tiny kitchen. It looked as though we could put up with the place until Base housing became available.
The apartment “complex” consisted of ten units on one floor, stretching together along the side-street. The back of the unit was three feet from a concrete block desert wall. This was not a nice neighborhood. The rooms were so small that we could sit on the living room couch and change channels on the TV across the room, without rising from the couch. That was in the days before remote control. Sitting there one late afternoon, we could see a shadowy image on the kitchen window curtains of someone moving slowly toward the door in the back of the apartment. The doorknob now began to turn as the figure was blurred behind the cafe curtain. I rose from the couch slowly and made my way in to the kitchen where I retrieved a large knife from the cupboard drawer next to the back door. Grasping the knife with one hand, I twisted the doorknob and pulled the door open quickly, surprising the young man whose hand was tightly clenched to the other side of the handle. Drawing the knife up to a menacing level, I asked him what he was doing. Noticing that the kitchen knife was inches from his throat, he blurted out some excuse about looking for some tools. He made a quick exit after I gave him a brief synopsis of what I would do, should he come around again, looking for any more tools.
Olga would do our laundry while I was at work during the day. Her habit was to hang our things out to dry on the line poles near the desert wall behind the apartment overnight. I was getting ready for work one morning and looked at the empty clothes line from the kitchen window. Asking her if she had taken the laundry down early, we suddenly realized that every piece of clothing had been removed, and not by us. Someone had taken all of the freshly washed clothes, even my GI underwear with the laundry markings. Now, we were even more anxious to get out of there and into Base housing.
The afternoon and occasional night winds, could get pretty strong, blowing sand and transporting sage brush across the sparse desert areas. The head of our bed was close to a window that lacked a decent seal, causing us to wake up after a windy night with sand in the bedding and crunching it in our mouths.
The cool nights were beginning as the desert temperatures began to drop after sunset. There was a heater mounted on the wall in the living room. A simple device with a single row of gas ports about a foot long, mounted behind a vented metal door on the front. It did not have a thermostat, so it was either on or off. The control switch was next to the burner, behind the door. We settled down after dinner and decided to give ourselves a little heat while we watched TV. I opened the door to turn the knob so we could enjoy a cozy evening on the couch. As the door creaked open, a spider fell out. Giving it a quick smack, I reached again for the knob and noticed and entire nest of the little buggers. They began to rain on the floor, scurrying in all directions. We did a little dance trying to squash them but there was too many. I was down on all fours when I took a closer look and found the all too well-known hourglass mark on the bottom of the little creatures. Black widows by the dozens.
I proceeded to the complex’s manager’s apartment and knocked on the door. He answered and I told him of our plight. “Hang on a second”, he said. “I’ve got something here for you to use”. He retrieved an aerosol can marked “Bug Spray”. “Hit them with this”, he told me. “You can’t be serious”, I retorted, thinking of my young pregnant wife having to spend the night wondering when the first spider would climb into bed with us. I insisted that he get an exterminator or I would let the Base higher-ups know what kind of place he was running. We managed to get through the night, checking every so often on our little roommates. The local landlords depended on the military presence. My threat must have worked on the manager, as the next day the pros showed up wearing respirators and toting all kinds of poison gases, putting an end to the eight-legged creatures that had invaded our abode.