The plane touched down in DC after a seemingly short flight from Albany. Sunday afternoon had arrived and we had been married for a whole day. The days were little more than a blur since I’d left Ft. Lee on Friday night. The hustle and lack of sleep had taken its toll and I was beginning to feel a bit feverish. I decided to ignore it and chalked it up to the post-wedding jitters.
The only way to get to Petersburg on a Sunday evening from the Capitol, was to take a Greyhound, so we made our way to the downtown bus station in a taxi. The combination of the ratty terminal and the smell of diesel fumes was not making me feel any better. We arrived in Petersburg and then another cab ride that took us to the run-down Holiday Inn that would become our honeymoon cottage. We agreed that Alfred Hitchcock would have thought the place would be a perfect movie set.
Early Monday morning, I had to report back to Tech School, as if nothing special had happened. I showed up for Reveille, as usual. I wasn’t feeling any better so foregoing noon chow, I figured I’d better go visit the Air Force Liaison and get permission to marry, especially since I had my new wife with me and had no plans to be in the barracks for Bed Check that night. I noticed the Lieutenant wasn’t much older then me when I approached his desk, came to attention and saluted. He asked me what was on my mind and I told him that I had flown to NY two days ago and had my new wife in tow. He put his head in his hands and began banging his head on the desk. He said, rather angrily, “What is wrong with you guys? You know you have to get permission first. Fill out this paperwork and I’ll sign it. Then, get out of my office and back to your classroom.” I was going to quote the old military adage, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” but the kid Lieutenant appeared to have no sense of humor.
The fever was getting intense and I began to consider the events of the past few days may be a hallucination. Ever the wise one, I figured this would be a good time to head for Sick Call, rather than the 90 degree classroom with no air conditioning and precious little ventilation. I trusted my diagnosis to an Army Medic with a six-week tech-school training. He decides to send me back to our version of the Bates Motel, armed with antibiotics, aspirin and Darvon. After a few years in the Service, we found that Darvon was the military’s answer to every ailment.
It seemed to my overheated brain that it was a long ride on the City bus until I arrived at the motel. Olga found herself two days married, six hundred miles away from home, me in bed sleeping off strep throat, no transportation and not even a hotplate or a pot to make a cup of tea. So much for a romantic honeymoon. To fill her time, she thought it would be nice to go downtown and window shop, while I remained partially unconscious. That worked for the first few hours but with no spending money, she figured that doing the laundry was in order. There wasn’t much in the way of laundry as all we had was the one suitcase with a couple of changes of clothes, but it would fill the time.
Back in March, when I was getting ready to leave for Basic Training, the Recruiter’s office gave us a list of what we were to bring to Lackland. Other than the civilian clothes we were wearing, we were instructed to carry a ditty bag (gym bag to you civilians) that was mostly empty with the exception of shaving gear. We left Albany, flew to San Antonio with one layover, then they bused us to the Base. Chow came next and then on to the Barracks where we waited until the next morning to head for the Green Monster (recruit processing building) for our haircuts and uniform issue. All in all, about 72 hours in the same clothes. Once we had our new uniforms, the clothes we had been wearing while traveling and for most of the day in the Texas heat, went into the ditty bags and quickly stuffed into a closet. We didn’t see them again until we left Lackland some 2 months later, giving them plenty of time to ferment. I wasn’t about to break the seal and unleash whatever might have been growing in there.
Back to Virginia and Olga deciding to do laundry. She unzips the ditty bag and releases the pent up odors, suddenly questioning herself if this was what she had signed up for. This is married life?, she thought. The decision was made to wash and not burn the rancid clothing.
A day or two passed and I was feeling better and back in classes. Soon, we had been at the Holiday Inn, Bates Motel version, for nearly a week and the money was disappearing rapidly. We decide that other accommodations would be preferable so we began searching for an apartment that would hopefully fit within an Airman’s meager budget.
That’s when we discovered The Hopewell Hotel, a few miles from Petersburg. There was an inexpensive restaurant in the hotel which seemed like a good change from the Holiday Inn buffet. The biggest drawback was that we had to share the bathroom with an adjacent room where some strangely quiet old-guy was living. I did get to meet him more than one time as we both wanted to use the facilities simultaneously. Olga didn’t appreciate those encounters when both doors opened at the same time, so she had me stand guard. Something told me that we wouldn’t be staying there very long.
The days were long for my new wife while I attended school for long hours. As I mentioned, we had left home with only that one suitcase, containing very few clothes. She spent a lot of time in my bright orange USAF-PC T-shirt with “Air Force” emblazoned on the front, matched with a pair of cut-off jeans. The cute blonde in that outfit gained plenty of unwanted looks and jeers from the men that were hanging around the hotel. It wasn’t until a few months after we moved from the hotel that we discovered the reason. Unknown to us at the time, the hotel was located right in the center of the red-light district and was heavily populated with working girls. Embarrassed, would be putting her feelings mildly.
We vacated the hotel after a week and decided to rent a room from an older lady in Hopewell. I left Olga there in the morning when I went to the Post and found her packed and ready to leave, sitting right where I left her, when I arrived home later that same day. The look on her face said it all; Get me out of here. The woman rarely cleaned the house and Olga found the bathtub dirty and full of bugs. To complicate things further, she had to wash the few clothes she had with her at the local laundromat. Leaving for a few minutes to get coffee, she returned to find her favorite polka dot culottes (remember those cute knee britches?) had been stolen right out of the dryer. As we recall the incident even now, she admits that she remains traumatized over the loss of her favorite dress. Anyway, my ever-sensitive husband radar was on full alert as I was sensing that we needed to find another place to live or that whole Eastern European disposition might come to the surface. I was wrong and she kept her cool.
That evening, we found a furnished apartment in Colonial Heights where we would settle for our remaining 5 months in Virginia. The price was right. Using my Quarters Allowance for the monthly rent payment, we had an extra Five Dollars left over to spend wildly. We decided to use the extra cash to rent a tiny 14″ TV which I dutifully attached aluminum foil to the rabbit ears for the very best reception possible. It worked well enough to watch the moon landing that July.
We did have to procure some kitchen things but did so sparingly. The obligatory pots and pans and a coffee pot were purchased. We had received some silverware for wedding gifts but that was all back in New York. The minimal eating utensils were obtained. However, we only bought one spoon, so when we ate oatmeal for breakfast, I would eat my portion and then give Olga the spoon to use. No kidding. We didn’t have much but we both agreed that we didn’t much care. We had each other and that was good enough for us.
Are you wondering what happened to the honeymoon? We’ve been on it since those days in Virginia. The picture you see at the heading is in that Colonial Heights apartment. We have to admit that it’s not your typical honeymoon picture, showing off some exotic resort in the background, but we enjoyed the time.
God was at work even then, guiding and directing our steps, whether we realized it or not.