When Will My Ship Come In? The Misadventures of a Navy Wife
The Calm Before the Storm
Days filled with sunshine. Nights filled with moonbeams. Weekends filled with romantic walks on the beach. Love. Wedding bells. Two hearts being forever entwined as one. For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. Until death do you part. Wait! They forgot to mention sea duty!
We met during the closing months of his tour of shore duty. I knew he was in the Navy because I'd seen him in uniform and he had a special little sticker on the windshield of his car giving him access to the Naval base. He even too me to a St. Patrick's Day banquet hosted by his squadron (Air Anti-Submarine Squadron Forty one, VS-41 - The Shamrocks).
This was my first direct encounter with the United States Navy and from what I saw it was great! Dan worked from 7:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon. Most of his weekends were free. He (therefore, I) had access to the Commissary (the on-base grocery store) and the Navy Exchange (the on-base department store). And not only did he have access to the base where he was stationed, but he had access to all the other bases in town, too!
“Would you like to see where I work?” Dan asked one evening.
“Sure. I've never been to North Island before,” I replied.
“I'll take you tomorrow.”
Dan was stationed at North Island Naval Air Station (NAS), in Coronado, San Diego. I was born and raised in San Diego and had never set foot on North Island. I felt slighted. But the injustice was soon to be rectified!
The following day we made the short yet scenic drive to the base. I was greeted by palm trees, planes, ships, and sailors. It was a moving experience.
So thrilling was my first experience on a military installation that Dan took me to NAS Mira Mar the very next weekend. I stood in the Exchange parking lot watching a formation of F-14s fly overhead. I had to admit they were a bit more majestic to behold as an adult, holding my boyfriend's hand, than as a child watching them fly overhead at the city dump, which is adjacent to the base. (That was always a big treat for me; helping my dad empty out the station wagon at the dump, hoping to see the planes. I am easily amused.) It seemed to me that being in the Navy was just like any other job, but with more benefits. If this was the Navy, let me have it!
Hindsight being what it is, I see now that I was totally unaware of the realities of the Navy. I'm sure it was for the best. Besides, I had fallen so hard for Dan that it was physically impossible for my brain to comprehend anything that didn't involve romantic sunsets or candlelight dinners. Ah, love.
I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up - a wife. Oh sure, there were the more practical and economically satisfying aspirations: figures skating, nursing, and playing the cello for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Coming of age in the seventies didn't help matters. I felt caught between my mother's generation (“Go to school until you meet your husband, then be a good little housewife.”) and the newly emerging, self-confident woman that was being foisted on society by the feminist movement (“We are Woman, We don't need Man. Resistance is futile.”). So I secretly kept my dream of being a housewife alive, hoping that one day my dream would come true. Shortly after Dan and I started seeing each other we began talking about the “M” word. We decided on an October wedding. That would give us seven months to prepare for my dream wedding. Or so I thought.
Things were going along smoothly. Being in love in Paradise was wondrous. I dreamt of Dan and I marrying, having children, and growing old together - in San Diego, of course. Being forcibly removed from my hometown was something I never even contemplated - until one fateful day in May.
Dan called to ask me out for dinner. He said there was something we needed to discuss. He sounded serious. . . too serious. He picked me up that evening and on the way to dinner asked, “How would you like to live in Miami?” I knew I was in trouble.
“Is something wrong with San Diego?” I asked a bit defensively. Did people really live anywhere but San Diego? (I once had a bumper sticker that read: “There is No Life East of I-5.” I led a sheltered life.)
“No, there's nothing wrong with San Diego. But, I'm being transferred for my tour of sea duty. Oh, and I think we should move the wedding date up to August so your paperwork will clear before we move. Otherwise we'll have to pay for your part of the move.”
My heart sank. In fulfilling my dream would I have to leave all that I held dear? With all my heart I wanted to marry this man. But move? Oh well. I'd think about moving later. I had a wedding to plan! “For August? Who gets married in August?) I didn't realize it at the time, but from that moment forward the course of my life would be charted by a force so portentous that to try and reckon with it would certainly bring disaster. What was this force? The United States Navy!
In the weeks that followed I ran around like the proverbial headless chicken. Somehow we found a church, reception hall, photographer, florist, and tux shop all able to accommodate our new and improved wedding date as well as our budget. And since I was making the gowns for everyone except my extremely pregnant sister who was to be my Maid-of-Honor, I sequestered myself with bolts of satin (for me), bolts of taffeta (for they), and my sewing machine, vowing not to show my face until the gowns were gowns! The weeks flew by. Finally, the day had arrived! My dream was coming true!
I drove myself to the church in my dad's pride and joy - his convertible Mercedes Benz. I was so nervous that I came within inches of introducing the car to a retention wall on the freeway. (God does look out for fools and brides-to-be!)
Safely inside the church, I prepared myself. Draped in tiers of satin and clutching my bouquet, I made my entrance. My father escorted me down the aisle and handed me over to my soon-to-be-husband. Suddenly I found myself in a whirlwind. We exchanged vows, danced our first married dance, and smeared cake on each other's faces. Before I knew it we were driving home from the reception - husband and wife.
The next morning we headed for Las Vegas. We were married in 1984 and the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games had just concluded. Most of the spectators seemed to have stopped in Las Vegas on their way home. It felt like Disneyland, only with gambling. Then the honeymoon was over.
Before the wedding Dan had asked for the order to Miami. After the honeymoon he received orders for Jacksonville. Jacksonville hadn't even been on his original list of choices! But it was still Florida. And since I naturally assumed that all of Florida was exactly like San Diego it really didn't make any difference to me.
As moving day approached, we carefully packed our worldly goods and saw them safely on a commercial moving truck, generously provided by the United States Navy. We studied the atlas and plotted a route from San Diego to Jacksonville (this was a no brainer - get on I-8, merge with I-10 and go east). Then early on cold and misty December morning, amidst hugs and tears, we bid farewell to my family and the only home I had ever known.
Dan drove us out of San Diego (by way of Burger King). I cried. He drove us through El Centro. I cried. He drove us through Arizona and places called Mohawk, Dateland, and Gila Bend (but we didn't see any Gila monsters). I cried. In fact, I cried all the way to Lordsburg, New Mexico, where we stopped for the night. It seemed my crier was all cried out. I'm sure Dan was very thankful. It was a bit nippy when we got to our hotel room, but we were both so tired all we cared about was getting some sleep. While we slept, the weather turned bitter cold.
In the morning I peeked out the window to see what New Mexico looked like in the daytime. Everything looked white. I put my glasses on for a less myopic view. Snow! Everything was covered in a light blanket of snow! What a treat! As we drove out of New Mexico and into Texas, cactus and tumbleweeds glistening with snow enchanted me. We spent our second night on the road in Ozona, Texas, after an uneventful, tearless day.
Before beginning the third day of our trek we broke out our box of diversions: joke books, embroidery, candy canes, and trivia books. (Driving twelve hours a day for five days straight can get a little tedious.) Then it was back to Interstate 10. Our third day took us through San Antonio and Houston. Having had our fill of Texas - it's nice, but oh so big - we pushed on to Lake Charles, Louisiana. I had never driven this far in my life. The charm had worn off. I had had it. I was suffering from a sever case of car-lag.
Dan, ever the optimist and a road-hardened driving veteran, complimented my perseverance and fortitude. He really laid it on think, but it worked. The next morning I got back in the car.
Day four took us through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and into Florida. We stopped in Crestview for the night. I was overjoyed - only one more day on the road!
Five days after leaving San Diego, we drove into Jacksonville. I started crying again. Why? Stress. Lack of sleep. Homesickness. Car-lag.
Reality came crashing in. Instead of a Jacksonville dotted with palm trees and looking just like San Diego, I was seeing the real Jacksonville. A Jacksonville filled with pine trees, oaks draped in Spanish moss, and people with funny accents. I suddenly realized we were in the South. Beautiful, but different than what I had expected. Very different.
We found an inexpensive motel and freshened up. As soon as I stopped crying we went out for dinner and a movie. We sat down in the theater and both started laughing. “You think we've been driving too much?” Dan asked. We had both tried to buckle our seatbelts.
We spent the next few days finding an apartment. Our furniture wouldn't arrive for two more weeks, so we got back in the car and drove for four more hours to spend Christmas with Dan's parents. After Christmas in Okeechobee, we stopped in Largo, on the Gulf coast, to visit my aunt and uncle who I hadn't seen since I was ten. Then it was back to Jacksonville, Cecil Field Naval Air Station, and Air Anti-Submarine Squadron Thirty (VS-30) - The Diamondcutters. It was time to break in our new home and our new marriage.
I didn't know it yet, but I was about to be broken in, too - by the United States Navy!
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