MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 12 – Summer Camp
© 2003 Diane Sanfilippo
Chapter 12 – Summer Camp
The spring quarter ended all too soon, or so it seemed. I knew Billy was going away for six weeks to summer camp at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia, but how could I live without seeing him and not sleeping in his arms. If only I had a choice, but there was none since I had to stay in Dahlonega. There was my job to think about, and Joan would be staying too, although we now knew for sure we would be the only residents in the valley over the summer.
One afternoon in late spring, one of our neighbors came to find Billy and told him a local resident was getting ready to destroy an unwanted litter of puppies. Billy had often said he would like me to have a dog to protect me while he was gone, and I knew Helen had never wanted any ‘dirty old dog’ around. The empty doghouse in the backyard in Griffin spoke volumes. I had grown up with a variety of pets, since fortunately my mother was as crazy about animals as her children were. We had always had a dog, and sometimes two. Kittens were abundant thanks to a black ‘Mama’ cat who had taken up residence with us.
I can only guess our neighbor had heard Billy say he wished I had a dog, and I knew Billy well enough that he could not just sit there and let the man destroy those innocent puppies. Of course, he rushed off with the neighbor to see if he could save them. I had wanted to go with him, but he did not want me to have to witness the cruel deed if he arrived too late, and firmly, he insisted I stay home since he always tried to protect me from the cruelties of the world. He knew I would just get upset if there was nothing he could do to intervene.
Thankfully, he was only gone about half an hour. When he walked in the open door of our humble home, he was carrying a tiny black and white puppy, definitely the result of an accidental breeding, or an irresponsible owner and certainly of non-descript parentage. He had managed to save three of the puppies. He kept one and took the other two to the town square where he found homes for both in just minutes. The one he kept was a male, and looked like a mixture of half a dozen breeds. He placed the wiggling bundle in my arms and soon I was wet with puppy kisses, and then suddenly I was wet from another puppy trait. We both stood there and laughed as the over excited pup could not contain his enthusiasm and made a puddle in my lap. I just hoped we could get him housetrained before Billy left, or I would be coming home to layers of wet newspapers every night, but I could not refuse the gift since Billy brought him home as company for me.
While he cleaned up the puppy pee, and I went to the bedroom to change my clothes, I heard him suddenly break out laughing again. When I asked him what was so funny now, he said, "Some protection that little rug rat will be, but maybe he will at least warn you if anyone comes near the trailer."
"Well I can just imagine that I will have to protect both of us with the pistol," I said in reply, and we both laughed visualizing the tiny pup hiding behind my legs while I stood up to an intruder.
The name ‘Rug Rat’ seemed to fit this wiggly little pup, so it stuck, and we either called him by that name or simply, ‘Pup’. We stretched our budget to have him wormed, and immunized so at least I had something warm to share my bed while Billy teasingly insisted that ‘Pup’ would be the only other male allowed.
It was not as if I needed anything to cuddle up to, as it was unbearably hot in the valley. Inevitably, heat and humidity, trapped in the hollow, wrapped around the small trailers like a muff on a child’s hands, and the entire effect was stifling. On one of our rare trips to Griffin, Billy had ‘borrowed’ a window fan to put in the single small bedroom window. With this running and the two small casement windows in the front room open, the stagnant air was at least moving, although we continued to sleep without so much as a sheet.
All too soon, Billy was gone and the pup and I were alone. Joan was next door, but she went inside her trailer the minute she got home from work, and I never saw her except when we rode together back and forth to Gainesville. Since she and William had never been very sociable with the other couples anyway, I was not surprised, but I felt so terribly alone. I had hoped perhaps we might get to be friends over the long six weeks, but obviously, this was not on her agenda. I spent my nights reading paperback books, listening to the love songs on the radio, writing long letters, and missing my Billy, even more than I thought I would.
He said he would try to get home as often as he could get a ride, since he left the car with me to get back and forth from work. I just wanted him to miss me as much as I missed him, but I understood his day would not end with supper, rather summer camp for R.O.T.C. cadets was much like boot camp for recruits, and he would be polishing boots and brass long into the night, and studying for classes too. I was surprised and delighted when he sent me a sweet card with a scented ‘pillow’ for our three-month anniversary on June 24, and I still cherish this first card, although I had forgotten to send one to him. I did write every single night, and now I think about it, I wonder what I wrote about since my job was boring, the campus was empty, and the valley was still and quiet.
I will never forget that first weekend he finally caught a ride on a Friday evening, not long after I arrived home from Gainesville. At first it seemed I was dreaming, but I was in my darling Billy’s arms, and poor thing; poison ivy covered him from head to toe. When I rushed towards him, at first, he held me back not wanting me exposed to the oozing rash, but it would have taken more than poison ivy to keep me away.
I had been exceptionally sensitive to the nasty weed as a child, and once I had it so bad that my mouth crusted over and I could only take liquids with a straw. My eyes too, covered with the rash were swollen shut, and I had to stay home from school for a week. The doctor told my mother the maintenance crew at the Mine Warfare School in Yorktown, where we were living on base, had been burning debris and weeds they had cleaned out of the ditches, and I must have gotten into the smoke, although I had not remembered doing so. Billy certainly did not have it that bad, but he did have it almost everywhere, even on his penis!
Oh what should I do? However, is there any doubt what I did? We made love from dusk to dawn, waking several times during the night to begin again, always with Johnny Mathis crooning in the background.
I cooked his favorite meals, and I had even bought a new outfit of black short shorts with a white popover top trimmed in black. I knew Billy would like it, which he did, but he warned me not to wear it into town or anywhere else when I was not with him. I did look good, and had lost a lot of weight not cooking the heavy carbohydrate meals that were his mainstay, rather eating mostly tuna salad and other cold foods. Besides, it was too hot to be hungry, at least for me, but the heat certainly did not affect Billy’s appetite, not for meals, and especially not for sex. We never saw another single soul the entire weekend, only opening the door to let the pup out, and we were always within a hand’s reach, not wanting to be out of the other’s sight.
The weekend passed all too quickly and soon it was Sunday evening and time for Billy and William, Joan’s husband, to return to Ft. Benning. I cried in Billy’s arms when they were ready to leave. While he held me close, I soaked his shirt with my tears, and he promised to come home again as soon as he could. Kissing me tenderly from the rolled down window of the car, he told me he loved me "more than life itself," and I cried even harder as the car made its way up the hill to the highway. I had never missed anyone so much, but then again I had never been married or so deeply in love. Billy filled my heart and soul, and each waking moment I thought about him, and when I slept, I dreamed about him. I knew I not only loved him ‘more than life itself’, he was my life, and he always would be.
As the week passed, I firmly believed I would wake up one morning covered with poison ivy ‘down there’, and all over. I knew I would have a hard time explaining to the doctor how I managed to contract the rash in that most sensitive of places, but fortunately I never had the first blister. Perhaps that one severe case I had while living in Yorktown was so bad I was now immune. I just know until recently, I never had poison ivy again.
One exceptionally hot night as I slept in our bed, that was all of a sudden no longer too small, I woke up with the puppy whimpering and pacing up and down. Outside I heard the gravel crunch as someone or something made its way towards the open window in the back that contained the fan. Frozen with fear, I knew it would take only one hard jerk to pull the door off the hinges and enter the trailer, so I had to do something!
With a bravado in my voice I certainly was not feeling, I shouted out, "I hear you out there and I want you to hear this," as I clicked the safety off the pistol. "I am armed and I know how to use it, and I will shoot you if you stick your head around the corner."
Holding my breath for what seemed an eternity, I finally heard the footsteps move off away from our tiny home. I did not get much sleep that night, or the next few nights until I felt sure I would not be bothered again. The location of our trailer behind the local jail was somewhat reassuring, but at the same time a bit scary, since I knew the sheriff’s office was on the ground floor, above the basement cells. I also knew the building was empty of staff during the night. Dahlonega, in the early sixties, was just too small to require a twenty-four hour a day sheriff, although he certainly was in contact and available if needed. Often the jail cells contained occupants and I could hear coughs and other noises from the dank basement. Usually they were drunks sleeping off a night on the town, but having grown up in a house where alcohol and violence were synonymous, I was hardly reassured.
Billy had told me to keep the pistol in plain sight by my side on the front seat of the car. His thought was that anyone who saw me, and could see into the car, would also see I had a gun, but I had to keep it in full view, since I did not have a license to carry a ‘concealed’ weapon. I had thought the gun unnecessary, but had gone along with Billy in his efforts to take care of me, until that night when someone was outside my window, and now I carried the gun everywhere I went. When Billy taught me to shoot out at the town dump, he said I was a ‘natural’ and of course, I was pleased, but I have never shot a gun since those days in Dahlonega. Now, I probably would not be able to hit the side of a barn even if I had the strength to pull the trigger, and my protection these days are two BIG dogs – two real BIG dogs!
I had no more trouble with intruders, and Billy was upset that anyone had been down in the valley around the trailers. He thought they were probably only looking for a place to sleep, but then again he was frightened for me. When he was home, he had enjoyed teasing the town drunks locked overnight in that tiny Lumpkin County jail, which dated back to the early 1800’s.
Often the drunks would call out the barred windows for someone to call their wives or to say they were thirsty, and Billy would tease them and call back, "What’s your number?" and "Want a coke?"
Of course, those who were sober enough to remember replied with their phone number and all said they wanted the coke, and of course Billy did nothing to help them. His entertainment worried me, and I told him that one day one of those drunks was going to find out who was teasing them and come looking for him. On the other hand, Billy was sure come morning, they would never remember what happened during the night, and he was probably right. Fortunately, we never had any unwanted visitors, at least not until that one night.
Joan, and I, along with another wife drove down to Ft. Benning for the "after summer camp" dance. Somewhere between Griffin and Columbus, on a hot highway, it was just our luck that one of the tires threw its tread. With the rubber flapping along behind us, we had to pull off onto the shoulder of the road, but none of us quite knew what to do next. I had never even watched closely while someone was changing a tire, so we stood there, baking in the hot Georgia sun, hoping some Good Samaritan would come along and offer assistance. We joked about hanging a bra on the radio antenna, but none of us had the nerve, so we waited.
There was not even a shanty shack around, just miles of kudzu-covered trees, although there could have been a house buried underneath and we would never have seen it. Even if there had been a shack nearby, swaying on its cinderblock foundation when anyone inside moved, I doubt any of us would have had the courage to walk there and ask for help, and more than likely they would not have had a telephone. So there we stood, beside that blistering blacktop highway where the heat coming off the road rose in visible waves in the stillness of the noonday sun.
Whether it was kindness or the fact that we were three young and attractive ‘women’ standing helpless by the side of the road, a kindly trucker stopped and changed the tire for us. We admitted that none of us even knew how to begin, or what tool did what, and he doubted we would have had the strength to turn the lug nuts anyway. All I could think about was seeing my Billy at the end of our journey and the dance, where he would hold me tightly as we swayed slowly to the soft music.
We finally arrived in Columbus in mid-afternoon. We expected the men to meet us at The Camellia Garden Apartments where Joan, William, Billy, and I were sharing a 2-bedroom, weekend rental. Joan and I had just checked into our room, and had not even begun to unpack our suitcases, when Billy and William walked in the front door.
My heart leapt about 100 feet into the air and I felt like I could not draw a breath! That was the effect seeing Billy for the first time in three weeks had on me. As soon as I was in his arms, with his lips touching mine, I knew neither of us would want to go to any dance that night.
Poor baby, his poison ivy was even worse than it had been the weekend he was home, but again that did not keep me from rushing into his arms. He could have had leprosy and I would not have cared. I loved him so much I was not sure, at that moment, if I could survive emotions that intense. He must have been feeling the same, although he was cautious holding me, once again afraid I would catch his poison ivy.
The rash covered him, from head to toe, his face was raw where he had been shaving over the blisters, and he was miserable! I could not possibly ask him to dress in a shirt, tie, and uniform and take me to a dance that was going to be outside, No, not in this miserably hot and humid weather! We would stay right here, and I would take care of him just as I had longed to do all summer.
We all went to our rooms at once, only to discover our bedroom had no air-conditioning while the other bedroom did! How could we spend a weekend in this stuffy, hot room with Billy covered with this awful rash? We did not even have our car, or we would have left right away for Dahlonega. Instead, we had to wait until the next day. I was angry when I realized that when Joan made the reservations she probably knew only one room had air-conditioning, and what made them so special they got the cooler room.
Billy could see what he used to call my ‘evil twin’ taking over. He calmed me by saying we knew William and Joan would go to the dance, and that would be our opportunity to make love in a cool room! At least we could leave the door open to our bedroom and let the air conditioning from the living room cool it. Then that night, hopefully Joan and William would close their door, and there was no reason why they should not, and we could once again open our door, at least enough to keep the room tolerable. He always knew how to work things out, and I did not have a diplomatic bone in my body when I felt cheated or even worse, when someone cheated us both. I rarely hesitated to voice my complaints, but Billy was my ‘control’, and the peacemaker.
"But its just not fair," I complained, thinking more of him than of myself, but he assured me it would all work out just fine, and he was right – it did.
After William and Joan left, Billy and I walked to the pharmacy to buy some Aveeno salts to put in the tub so he could soak, and more calamine lotion so I could cover his rash. We ate a hamburger at the nearby bowling alley and then walked back to the room. I filled the tub with lukewarm water and put the prescribed dose of salts into his bath, and while he soaked, I poured the medicated water over his back and arms hoping to relieve his itching. I was wiping his face with a soft washrag I had dipped into the tub when he leaned forward for a kiss, and when I leaned forward to meet his lips, all of a sudden he pulled me into the water with him, clothes, and all. It was not long before it was obvious we could not wait a moment longer to make love.
We dried each other off and raced for the now cool bedroom. I had planned to tend his rash immediately with the calamine but when he removed his towel, I knew that would have to wait. We did not even pull down the spread, but on top of the rough chenille, we made love as if we had been apart for years, not weeks. I had never flown as high as I did that evening with my poison ivy covered husband. When finally he lay back on the bed exhausted, I covered him with calamine, and the more I touched him with the soothing lotion, the more excited we both became, and soon we were soaring high again, and again, and again.
"Oh, little girl," he said, as exhausted we parted and he flopped back beside me on the bed, "I have never made love like that before, and if you keep putting that lotion on me when we get home, neither of us will get any sleep until the rash is gone!"
As I expected, this preliminary action of softly dabbing him with calamine just increased his longing, as I hoped. Finally, completely pink, Billy got up just long enough to plug in the stereo, which I had thought to bring with me, and in just a few moments, Johnny Mathis was once again telling us what we already knew. That we would love each other ‘Until the Twelfth of Never’, and ‘that’s a long, long time.’
Just as soon as we covered ourselves with the stiff, clean white sheets, Billy was once again prepared to make love, and I was in his arms in seconds. I did not care if I got poison ivy from head to toe, I was going to make love to my husband whenever and however, and I could have stayed in his arms forever.
"Oh, Billy, hold me," I pleaded, "Hold me, hold me close, and never let me go"
"Don’t you worry about that, little girl; I am going to keep you so close to me you will tell me to go away."
"Oh, don’t count on that." I replied. "I can never get enough of being with you, or making love to you, or just loving you, more than life itself."
I was learning, learning how to love Billy the way he wanted to be loved, and with that, he loved me back, just the way I wanted. I knew that nothing, or no one, could ever come between us.
Without a doubt he had missed me just as much as I had missed him, our lovemaking had been more intense than ever. We could not get enough of each other, and I have no idea how many times we made love or how many times I flew to the moon and back, but fulfilled and exhausted, we were sound asleep by the time Joan and William returned from the dance.
They must have gone straight to their room. Just as we expected, they closed the door seeing that our door remained open, so Billy and I were able to sleep in each other’s arms without causing him to perspire and agitating his rash. I slept without waking for the first night since he had last been home, and he seemed far less miserable after his long soak and the soothing lotion. I have to admit that he looked a little ‘pink’.
I just hoped he would be over the worst of his rash before he and William found part-time jobs, and they would begin looking just as soon as we got home. Billy was also going to attend the second session of summer school to make up one of the classes he dropped failing while we were dating, and I knew he could not work while going to class. He would not even have transportation since I knew I would not be welcome to ride to work with Joan and William if his hours were the same as hers. Billy had counted on that since by now he realized how remote they were around the rest of the married students, as if they wanted nothing to do with us, but we would work it out, we always did.
We all slept late the next morning, and Billy wakened me gently as he rolled over on top of me ready to go soaring again, which we did. Once again sated, we heard William and Joan stirring, so we dressed hurriedly, checked out of the room, and then looked for somewhere to have a quick breakfast before driving back to Dahlonega.
It was halfway between lunchtime and suppertime when we arrived in Fertile Valley and Billy was starving. We said our good-byes to Joan and William – not too happily, since we thought we should have paid less for our room without air-conditioning – but Billy wanted to keep the peace since all of us would have to depend on each other to get to work and back. The men would need one car to get to work, and Joan and I would take the other, at least until summer school started. Since Joan’s office was on the way to mine, it made more sense for me to drop her off and then pick her up on the way home, and Billy and William would take William’s car and go to the state employment office the very first thing on Monday morning.
We had left ‘Pup’ alone for the first time that night, and he had done a good job and not missed the papers once. His food bowl was empty as I expected, and since I had left twice as much food in his bowl, I imagined he had finished it all that first night. He put on a good show of welcoming us home and peed all over the papers with excitement, but he was as hungry as Billy and I were, so while Billy cleaned up the papers, I took him outside. There was just not enough room in that tiny trailer for two people to do one job, so we divided the work and kept it spotlessly clean. Putting more food down for the rug rat, I suddenly realized I had not thought about preparing supper, so with an almost bare refrigerator, Billy and I walked hand in hand to the Dixie Grill where he had hamburgers and I had a ham sandwich. Honestly, my stomach was in such an uproar just wanting to be in his arms that eating was the last thing on my mind. Billy was home! Summer camp was successfully completed and now he was officially a senior!
The summer camp experience had been more than successful for him. His peers rated him second in his company for his leadership abilities, which he hoped might give him a chance for a company in the fall when classes began again. For the first time in several years, North Georgia College cadets won top honors, even over The Citadel cadets who looked down their long aristocratic noses at our small co-ed mountain college. However, this year, the NGC cadets outscored all other schools, and Billy’s high rating would have added considerable points to the overall score. In only a matter of weeks he would learn his assignment for the upcoming year and he so wanted to be a Company Commander. I was not so sure this would happen since he lived off-campus, but the military advisors knew he was a leader, and I felt confident some position of leadership, even if just platoon leader, would be forthcoming, and he would not be stuck on staff. If he was going to be disappointed, I was ready to take the blame. After all, if we had not married and he could still live on campus, he just might have gotten a company. At least that was my thought at the time, not realizing his grade point average was as miserable as it was, and he was almost half a year behind his class. Nevertheless, it was not quite time to worry about that yet.
He looked so handsome sitting next to me at the Dixie, even with his shaved head and pink face that my heart ached with the love I felt for him. I just wanted to touch him, to feel him touch me, and oh, how I hoped he felt even half of the love for me that I felt for him.
Post-marked June 28, 1961
My dearest, darling Billy, as I sit here on what has to be the hottest night of the summer; so far, I assure you I am the loneliest girl in the world. I miss you so much my darling I even miss your snoring! I still haven’t washed your shirt that I am sleeping in again, or your pillowcase, which has your ‘smell’, and I won’t until you come home next time. I cannot believe we did not even once go outside last weekend, but we had fun, didn’t we?
I hope your poison ivy is better, although I know all the sweating is just making it spread worse. So far, I don’t see any signs of having it, which surprises me, but maybe I am immune to it now. It wouldn’t matter to me if I were covered in it; I would not have done anything different last weekend. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
All day at work, all I can do is think about you and how empty the house will be when I get home. Joan goes inside and never opens her door, so we only talk on the way to and from work. That’s OK with me though since all I think about is you, and all I can talk about is you. Your sweet anniversary card arrived the day before our 3rd month’s anniversary, and I am sorry I did not send you one, although, as usual, I thought about you all day! I am sure you are being kept too busy to think about me, and fall into your bunk at night so exhausted you are asleep before your head hits the pillow, but think of me now and then, and how much I am missing you. It won’t be long now, although every day seems longer, before you are ‘home’ for good and we can make love every night, and not just once, but as often as you want to. I never knew what I was missing until I met you, and now I cannot live without it, or you!
I think I will go to Atlanta this weekend and pray the car holds up, but I will put that sealant in the radiator before I leave and again when I reach Cumberland. So far, so good but I make sure I have plenty of water before we leave for work each day. My worse fear is I will get in the car one morning and it won’t start. Joan is thinking about asking William if we can ‘trade cars’ since she and I need to have one that is dependable to get to work, but then I won’t be able to get to Atlanta on the weekends you can’t get home.
I’m glad you liked my new outfit since I bought it just for you! I told you I have lost weight, but that’s from not fixing potatoes and gravy for supper. Not that I mind, and you need a good, hot supper to keep up your physical activity and your grades, and I can’t wait until you are home again, in my arms, and I will cook every night! I think that I have finally learned to make gravy that doesn’t ‘bounce’!
Better cut off the light and get some sleep so I won’t fall asleep at my desk, but I usually just daydream about you anyway. I love you ‘more than life itself’.
Your loving wife,
P.S. Can’t wait to see what you have for me!
Post-marked June 29, 1961
My dearest, darling wife,
Sorry this will be so short, but we have overnight exercises starting tonight and I just have a few minutes to get my gear ready and the camouflage stuff on my face. If anything, my poison ivy is worse, and it’s from all the sweating. If you think Dahlonega is hot, just wait until we move to Ft. Benning! I don’t think I have ever been so hot in my life and sweat just pours off all of us. We smell like ripe buffalo no matter how much deodorant we use! Some of the guys have bad rashes on their feet and wearing these heavy jump boots just makes it worse. So far, I am OK on that, but I change my socks as often as I can since I think the wet sweaty socks cause that stuff.
I miss you so much, especially when I go to bed and don’t have anyone to rub the lotion on my back, and, well, you know where. Can’t wait to see you and hold you in my arms again, and well, you know what.
Gotta go – they just sounded the first call and I still have to put that stuff all over my face which will probably make the poison ivy even worse. So far, I don’t have it on my lips, which are longing to kiss yours.
Your loving husband,
P.S. I love you M.T.L.I.
Anniversary card sent from Billy to Diane
(Front outside) orchids with a padded window filled with perfume
I’ll always remember
The day we were wed.
I’ll always remember
The words that we said:
‘To love and to cherish’
I’ll always remember
And always love you!
"On our third month"
"All my love, Billy"