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All People > anadyr > Roger's Ramblings--the Anadyr/Stepping Stones Blog > 2017 > November > 09

My Journey

Posted by anadyr Nov 9, 2017

It was just a small, cellophane-sealed package of Lucky Strike cigarettes placed on the airline’s gleaming china plate. There was silverware, a folded linen napkin, the formal place setting. The stewardess guided me to my seat, at the window, over the wing.  My tie felt tight around my collar. I was sweating.  I heaved my travel bag in the webbed shelf above. The sputter and gasping of piston engines, first the left, then the right stopped conversation.  I stared out the window, gripping the seat.  I fought tears.


Less than an hour before I’d said my goodbyes to my parents and sister. I turned down drinks, ate little food. Twenty-seven hours later I arrived.  I still remember the furnace heat when the door of the plane opened, the intense humidity.  I was tired, excited, and apprehensive. 


My seatmate awoke, yawned.  “We made it,” he said and got up, a mass of wrinkled clothing.  He had slept most of the flight, drinking too many miniature bottles of whisky.


“Yeah, guess we did,” I said, my voice shaking.


“Got a ride?” He asked.


“Think so, hope so.”  I looked out the window, now steamed, to see if anyone was there.


The Guayas River was brown, muddy, hot to the touch.  I was on my way to an adventure by myself to an island off the coast.  I sat, my hand making wakes in the muddy water, thinking about the hundred other passengers, their lives, my life.  I would go back, finish high school.  Most of these people would never see high school.  Soft tunes sung in Spanish and Quechua, smells and sights of another country. A cow fell off a barge going up river.  The water was white with movement.  I heard someone mention Piranhas, the fish with teeth and a lust for meat.  I took my hand out of the muddy river, checking fingers, and put it back in my pants pocket.


With boys my age I walked the city streets after school.  We saw a beggar and her child.  The child was deformed.  They had their hands up asking for money.  They were filthy, sitting on a flattened cardboard box.  Flies buzzed around them.


“Don’t give her anything, these people do that to their kids just for pity!” My friend Pincho says.


I walked on.  Played tennis with the other rich kids at the club.  Armed guards kept us safe. The boys wanted to learn English swear words.  I knew a few but they wanted more.  We spoke in low voices.


Uncle Nelson was going to the airport.  The maids were excited, even the family’s parrot was agitated.  Nelson was a physician, a man of intelligence and education, about 40.  He and his wife lived with us in our large apartment.  He opened his desk, pulled out a revolver, loaded it, then put it in his waistband. “Politics,” he said with a wink.


I was trying to fall asleep.  The heat, even at midnight, hung heavy in the air.  I strained to make out a dark moving shadow going left to right on the ceiling.  I called for my adopted mother. 


“Don’t worry,” she said in her best, slowest Spanish, “It’s only a bird-eating spider.  They won’t bother you, unless you’re a bird.”  She laughed. I did not sleep that night. bes.jpg


I wrote home a lot.  Wrote President Kennedy, told him about the things I saw.  Got a letter from the U.S. Counsel in town telling me the president appreciated my concern.  My parents wrote too.  Asking about me, my health. I had malaria, but that's another story.


Maria lived next door.  She was 19, I was 16.  We had a true, formal courtship. Her mother always nearby.  I asked permission to speak with Maria.  Mother hovered in the next room.  Her parents probably saw Maria’s American citizenship, I saw only her. She spoke no English, I knew about twenty words in Spanish   She was a secretary; I was a high school student.  We were in love.  She did not come to the airport to see me go.  She cried for days before I left.  I missed her for a long while.  I still have her picture.


Just a couple dozen faded color slides I never look at anymore.  Other memories sandwiched between the covers of a red plastic- jacketed high school yearbook.  Friendships made, dropped after a few years. Another language learned, now spoken haltingly, infrequently.


Fifty-five years come and gone.  A lifetime. A journey.



Posted by anadyr Nov 9, 2017

“Alan, you look great,” I said, giving him a bear hug and a hand grab. 

Embarrassed, he pulled back, flashing the same grin that I’d seen on his boyish face for the last 20 years.  He was still wearing his hospital badge and the dangling plastic rectangle caught in the buttons of my shirt.  We both laughed.

I was about to tell him of my recent fall from a deck chair, the pain, the trip to the ER, the medications—all the ingredients for a tale of old age, my stupidity, and a side effect of something new in the medicine cabinet of my life.  Instead, I said, “So, what’s new?”

“Kinda tired, had a busy day yesterday.”  His voice trailed off as he looked over the menu, making sure that he read both sides.  A real detail kind of guy that Alan, always was and always will be, a man on a mission I always said. He asked the waiter several questions about the wines and finally settled on a house red, a brand that none of us had heard of before.

I shifted uncomfortably in my hard back chair, wishing that I’d popped another Motrin before coming, but I forgot.  “So, what happened?”

“Well, we had another interesting case. I was team leader.”  He stopped as the waiter delivered the wine in a scratched glass and withdrew.

I looked up from the menu and winced. My back hurt a lot.  “Hey hold that thought,” I said, “Gotta go to the potty.”  I stood unsteadily and walked slowly through the crowded room to the men’s.  Alan was sitting there intently reading the menu when I got back.

“What do you think about getting roast beef here?” he asked.

“Sounds good, you know I interrupted the flow about the team leader yesterday, and….”

“Yeah,” his face was contorted.  “A difficult case.”  He put his hands together then moved them slowly as he spoke.  “We had a guy, a guy who was hit in the face, the jaw in fact by a small arms round from below. He was a helicopter pilot.  Blew out his jawbone then traveled up the face to the eye socket.”

I had no witty comeback so he continued.

“I did the leg bone and then inserted it in the jaw, complete with blood vessels and tendons.”  His hands moved slowly and then he put them back on the table.

“Tell me more,” I said.

“There were ten of us in the operating room, I led the team for the leg then moved up to the jaw area.”


We removed a small piece of bone from the leg, and I refashioned it to be as much a jaw as I could.  Stuck it in and wham!  Seems to be a good fit.”  He leaned back to tell the waiter what he wanted to order.

“How long did this take?”

“Lost track actually, but one of the other docs said we’d been in there for 14 hours.  I did take a five minute pee break.”  He smiled and took another sip of wine.

“My God, 14 hours, that is a really long time.  Were you afraid you’d lose you concentration?”  As I said this I realized how stupid I sounded. 

“Hey this guy is kind of a miracle at Bethesda.  Took that round in his helicopter, destroyed most of the right side of his face, but he actually landed the chopper.  Medics told me that he’d lost nearly half his blood.  After he was hit he flew for another 12 minutes, putting it down at the base safely, probably saving the lives of his crew and people on the ground too.  I figured that those 12 minutes were worth 14 hours of my time, and the time of my team.” 

He attacked his roast beef with gusto, seeming to rally.  “So, what’s up with you, you looked like you were in pain when you stood up?”

“Nope, no complaints Alan.” I said.  “I’m fine.”




Posted by anadyr Nov 9, 2017

spars2.jpgShe fell forward, pencil in hand, on top of a customer in the little restaurant.  It was sudden, unexpected, and even welcome.  Age 86 she was a waitress at the same little diner on Cape Cod for nearly 40 years.


Her daughter is the owner, the cook, and normally faces away from the dining area, instead letting her Mom waltz around the tables, taking orders, barking some too.  Irascible, that’s what they called her, a woman who took no guff and gave a lot.


Her death came quickly, just as she fell.  There was a time with the rescue squad, a revival, but no electrical brain activity, and she was given a chance to sleep forever less than 12 hours after the fall.


Like her husband she died doing what she loved best.  He had come from a baseball game, the sport he loved as much as horseshoes, and sat down, not feeling well, only to die in the little house he’d owner forever.


I remember the year before his death.  We’d marched in the town parade, made up as clowns.  Sullie was getting the oysters shucked and Anita wanted to show me something inside the sweltering living room. 


She pulled out one of those black cardboard covered photo albums, the kind that have the pictures in with little black sticky corners.  Carefully she turned past snaps of family taken too far away to a single eight by ten, a glossy black and white of her standing tall against a sea of electronic equipment.  She was wearing some kind of uniform I didn’t recognize, but she told me she’d been one of the women in the Coast Guard, the SPARs they called them.  Stationed at Chatham, she worked in a top secret program.  The photo was one that she got after the war, and after the program, LORAN, was declassified.

index.jpgHer fresh face was stern, probably because the photographer told her that this was an official military photo.  Another shot showed her holding three pistols, each askew, and was obviously not as serious a shot.


Anita, the lady who died, was a person who helped save the world.  If you went into the diner where she worked you might be put off by her gruff manner, her forgetfulness, her stern disregard for giving you what you ordered.  But, aside from all that. She was a woman I was pleased to know, and who I mourn now as we approach another veteran's day.

Semper Paratus.