A man I once loved died recently. He was my ex-husband, Steve, the biological father of my son and the adopted father of my twin girls. We met at the officer’s club one Friday night when I was out with my girlfriends. Steve and his friends joined us, all young good- looking lieutenants. He was the funniest of the men and kept us in stitches all night. It was his sense of humor that attracted me to him, more than anything else. We were hoping to get the men to buy us steak dinners so we could take the leftovers home for another meal. As the single parent of twins, money was very tight. He did take me out for dinner, 2 eggs, because all he had was 80 cents. I worked, went to college and took care of the girls. That was my life.
We began dating and my mother was thrilled. She always wanted me to marry an officer in the Air Force. He didn’t bat an eyelash when he learned I had 4 year old twin daughters. He fell in love with them as they did with him. The weekend we got married they went around telling all the neighbors their mother was marrying their daddy. He adopted them soon after. I remember the judge sitting the girls on his lap and asking them if they wanted Steve to be their father. I prayed they understood and would give the right answer. They said yes and I was so relieved. The Viet Nam war was looming then and I dreaded the thought he would be deployed. We both opposed the war. Our first tour was in Mountain Home Idaho where he underwent training as a navigator in the RF4. (or backseater as they were called) He wanted a son so I got pregnant with Travis soon after we were married. His parents didn’t come to the wedding. They didn’t want him to marry me. His dad was a general, my dad was a sergeant. Plus they thought I was divorced. I wasn’t, but in those days having children out of wedlock wasn’t socially acceptable so we told everyone I was divorced. When his parents finally called to congratulate us on the marriage some months later, we told them I was pregnant and when I was due. You could almost hear them counting on their fingers over the phone.
Our first tour after training was in Okinawa before and after reversion. (it reverted back to Japan while we were there.) We had to buy a house so I could get there before I gave birth. It cost $4,000.00. I sold it 3 years later for $7,000.00 to a Japanese madam who owned a bar and had 20 prostitutes. What a hoot! That is how I got started in real estate. Steve spent a lot of time in Korea TDY while I stayed home in an 800 square foot house and took care of 3 children, 2 dogs and 6 cats. We had one male cat then a stray Siamese clawed her way in one day through our screen door, and never left. She and our male cat fell in love or lust and my cat and I were both pregnant together.
One of my most vivid memories of those days and I have many is when Steve brought our Korean spitz puppy home in the back of an RF4. I had fallen in love with spitzes when we were visiting Thailand and when Steve was in Korea, he found a puppy for me. The only way he could bring it home was in the back of an RF4, probably a violation of all kinds of rules. He put it in his flight bag and when he landed, he saw the drug sniffing dogs coming to check the plane. He put the bag on the tarmac and ran to greet the dogs hoping they would be diverted from checking his bag. That night we went to a party and his commander asked me how I liked my new dog. We both looked surprised wondering how he knew since the pilot was sworn to secrecy. He told us it didn’t take long to figure out when he saw Steve’s flight bag going blip down the runway. When Travis was born Steve was ecstatic. He never treated his son any different than he treated the girls. They were all his children.
When he was stationed in Korea on a remote after Okinawa, he had the proud distinction of being the first “streaker” in the military. He put on his combat boots, gas mask and “steaked” the officer’s club during a performance one night. He was even written up in the Stars and Stripes. He got caught and his father, the general, was horrified. I, the daughter of a sergeant, thought it was hysterical. He spent 10 days under house arrest. I am sure his father’s intervention kept him from getting court martialed. After the war, he was honored to be chosen to escort a prisoner of war home from Hanoi and he had the most amazing stories to tell, many with his usual sense of humor.
He was gone on another TDY (temporary duty elsewhere) when Travis was run over. He was given leave until after the initial crisis passed then had to go back leaving me with 3 children including a son who needed constant care. Such is the life of an Air Force wife and mother.
When we divorced some years later I suggested we use just one attorney but his friends said he should get his own. So, I had mine and he had his. After looking at all his demands then responding with our own demands I thought this was stupid. He was staying in one of the houses we owned so I went over with a long yellow tablet and said we can pay our attorneys or use this money for the children’s college. He agreed and we sat down and divided up our houses, property, etc. When we took our agreements to our respective attorneys they were furious but we stuck to our guns. We probably had the cheapest divorce in history. Mine cost $400.00. He often said I got the pool and he got the chlorine. He did get one of the houses.
We stayed friends until he remarried. Her name is Candy. Then as often happens we moved on with our separate lives. When Cari was killed he knew before I did. He and my father were waiting for me when I came home. He said he would help me though her funeral and we both agreed not to go overboard on her casket. However, when we went to the funeral home, we both saw the most beautiful and expensive white casket with pink lining and decided to spare no expense. When we were at the funeral (there were more than 300 people there) we sat in the family section where no one could see us. We could hear everyone sniffling and crying and Steve cracked, “I wish I had the Kleenex concession.” We all laughed and I knew in that moment I would survive because for a time, I thought I wouldn’t.
He is gone now. My children are grieving and I grieve with and for them but from afar. My grief isn’t just for him but for the family we once were, intact, a mother, father and 3 children. He is with Cari now.