MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 27 – The O.C.S. School - Early Spring 1963
With two weeks relocation leave used by officers moving on to their new assignments, since we were not relocating, we once again reveled in the time we had together which was all so new to us. After Billy began his permanent part-time job at Moore’s Store, we only had Sunday afternoon to resume exploring our beloved mountains, so although there were no mountains, we spent the time further exploring the area around Ft. Benning and Columbus. We decided not to apply for quarters, even in Battle Park, since our apartment was more comfortable, and even a bit larger, and by now was ‘home’.
Not wasting any one moment of any day, we even drove over to the infamous Phoenix City, Alabama, although in broad daylight, but I did not understand what all the fuss was about, or why it earned the dubious nickname of ‘Sin City’. It simply looked like so many other ‘rough’ districts found near military posts, with lots of bars, pawnshops, and liquor stores. Billy told me he heard stories, and assured me many of the storefronts were facades for illegitimate bordellos. When I questioned him further about how he knew so much, having been here without me during Summer Camp, he only laughed and said I was the only woman in the world who would make love to him with poison ivy covering his penis! Reasonably, I also knew he had very little spare money to pursue any carnal pleasures, but again we were playing a game.
Certainly, I was terribly jealous of anyone whose beauty Billy admired, to include the busty movie star, Ann Margaret with her flaming red hair, or the pinups in Playboy. Although I can be almost certain he never owned a Playboy, at least after we married. I also delighted that his own jealousy extended to anyone I commented on as ‘nice looking’, and he would always ask if I wanted to trade, which of course I never did. Whether we played this game to keep the other on their toes, as in my case, or if he was truly jealous too, I never knew for sure. That is until many years later when a friend who had been with us at Ft. Benning told me Billy had warned his fellow officers that NO ONE danced with his wife except him, so there was no point in even asking.
Billy also spent hours playing with Michael, who was just about to walk on his own. During those increasingly rare occasions when our son took a nap, he helped me finish unpacking those boxes I had left, not knowing where we would be living after Basic. We made a cozy ‘nest’ in our small apartment, and were quite content living there. We probably could count on this assignment lasting for at least two years, and then it was anybody’s guess where we would go. We decided if he went directly to Vietnam from here, I would just stay put since I was within driving distance of both families, as if I might visit without his ‘protection’, but I could spend some time with my grandmother.
One miserably rainy weekend we spent two days stripping all the old wax off the floors, and Billy used paste wax to bring them back to their original color and shine; like with his shoes, I could see my reflection in them. I scrubbed the bathroom until it was sparkling, even taking out the screws to the toilet seat to disinfect every crack! It was as if by cleaning away the previous tenant’s residue, this small apartment became more our own home. Billy used Windex to clean the windows until they sparkled, and Michael’s sunbeams were brighter than ever. When we first moved in, he decided since we did not know if we would remain here, and since January was not a good time of year to clean windows, that chore could wait for fair weather, so now they sparkled.
When his leave was finally over, and he reported for duty at the Officer’s Candidate School, the apartment was immaculately clean and Billy even charmed the manager into having the rough stucco-like walls repainted. After she saw how spotless we kept everything else, plus the fact we were staying at Benning, she agreed to send the painters, who worked full-time for the management, to our apartment next. It may have been small, but now it was home and completely unlike any other apartment in the huge complex. As a Navy brat, I learned how to transform rented houses into homes, and now I put this knowledge to good use because no matter whether we would be in one place for two weeks or two years, for the moment it was ‘home’. Now, our small ‘home’ was shaping up nicely to serve us comfortably for whatever time we would remain here.
Once the O.C.S. class started, I quickly found out that I had to take a backseat to the Army, and the needs of the officer candidates in Billy’s platoon. There were nights he would work well past supper, mentoring and supporting, and I found myself becoming quite jealous of the Army and his dedication to duty. Since the night of our first date, I had always been his first love, but I was beginning to think that perhaps this was not so anymore, although he continued to profess he loved me ‘more than life itself’. Often I felt lonely and even neglected, and at times, I felt as if I were sharing him with a ‘new mistress’ – ‘the Army’, but this was just Billy. He put his all into everything he ever did, except perhaps his studies, but as far as the Army was concerned, his dedication surpassed none other. I would have to learn to live with ‘duty, honor, and country’, or so it said in ‘The Officers’ Wives’ Guide. Nowhere did it say I had to be happy about it, just that I should make his home his ‘castle’, where he could escape from the stress of a long day, and that included not nagging or complaining, which for me was almost as difficult as asking a bird not to fly!
One of the other platoon leaders in 53rd Company, along with his wife and two daughters, lived in the next apartment block, and he and Billy began to ‘carpool’ so either Margaret, his wife, or I, had a car at all times. Naturally, before long, she and I became best friends and confidants. Margaret was born and raised in a prestigious family in Charleston, South Carolina, my birthplace, and her family, like so many old Southern families had more tradition than money. She was the youngest by quite a few years, and her mother had spoiled her unmercifully so she had an even more difficult time adjusting to our husband’s erratic schedules, and they quarreled regularly about the time the tact officers spent with their ‘charges’.
Larry was an Army brat and a Citadel graduate, so he had watched his father keep the same kind of schedule, and he could not understand why Margaret was so angry most of the time. When Billy and I discussed this, since I always talked to Billy about my concerns, he thought perhaps after Margaret and I became better friends I might be able to help her understand Larry’s position since I seemed to be doing such a good job. However, not wanting to betray my own inadequate feelings, I did not tell Billy I was having my own difficulties with their hours. I just hoped with Billy’s help, I could learn more about their duties, and then I could explain them to Margaret when she was not argumentative or hurt with Larry. How well I knew in the heat of an argument, one party does not necessarily ‘hear’ exactly what the other is saying since they are so involved in defending their position, but soon I hoped I could talk to her.
One of the best things that came about after making friends with Margaret was their youngest daughter, Anne, was very close to Michael’s age and soon they too became good friends. In many ways, this was a help to both of us since two children together are usually easier to care for than one, unless they are warring siblings. Often, early in the morning, I would find Anne at our door still wearing her baby nightgown, just as Margaret would find Michael at her door in his pajamas and diapers, and both of us called the other instantly so neither would worry. Anne was a little doll. My son, although not yet two, instantly fell for her blonde daintiness, and they, like their mothers, soon became the best of playmates and rarely quarreled over anything.
As ‘tact’ officer’s wives, Margaret and I, along with the Commanding Officer’s wife and the other ‘tact’ wives were tasked with teaching military and social etiquette to the candidate’s wives, so once again ‘The Officer’s Wives Guide’ became my Bible. As ‘staff’ wives we would host teas and luncheons, coffees and lessons, with each a part of teaching how to best enhance our husbands’ chosen career. We taught the candidates’ wives when, and when not to use candles – never use candles on a table unless they will be lit and never before late afternoon, and other sometimes trivial ‘rules’ done the Army way. Wives were encouraged to buy ‘The Officer’s Wives Guide’, and to order their ‘calling cards’ for social occasions, while we taught them when, where, and how to use them.
Billy and I had ordered our own cards not long after his reassignment since protocol here was stricter than in most combat units. This was the Infantry School, and here everything went by the book. I also quickly learned if I was on post when retreat sounded, I should pull the car to the side of the road, get out, face the nearest flag, and put my hand over my heart until the bugler’s last notes faded into oblivion. Here I was, just barely twenty years old, not even old enough to buy alcohol, even at the Officers’ Club’s Class VI Store, but I could drink sherry or wine at coffees and luncheons, and mixed drinks at evening socials with our husbands. Even many of the candidate’s wives were much older than I was, which could have been intimidating, but I had the advantage of being an officer’s daughter, and now an officer’s wife so they respected my advice. Although often questioned about their husband’s progress, I knew it was more than an unwritten rule that we never discussed anything to do with their husbands – that was between their husband and his tact officer, and wives did not get involved.
Michael still despised the nursery, screaming as I left and still sobbing when I picked him up, and Anne was so tiny and at times, frail, that Margaret and I began to share a babysitter, usually at her house since her apartment backed up to the playground. This worked out very well, and Michael, having Anne to play with, did not cry when I left him at their apartment, and I was not nearly as anxious attending to my duties as a tact officer’s wife. Often Margaret and I would take care of our commissary shopping after our functions, thus saving both of us time, and relieve us from the burden of having to take the children shopping with us. Although we soon became the best of friends, we did not socialize outside of the O.C.S. school functions. Neither she nor Larry played bridge, which Billy and I enjoyed, so we had other neighbors we played cards with on the weekends, often shared our meager meals.
When Billy and Larry were together, I somehow sensed a hostile competition between the two, most of the hostility coming from Larry since Billy always had a smile on his face. Later, Billy told me Larry never let him for forget – not for one second – that he had date of rank on him, and rank among lieutenants is like virtue among whores! Or so I heard.
Michael was ‘hell on wheels’ in the commissary now he was walking on his own – actually, as I suspected would be the case, he never walked, only ran - once completely destroying a pyramid display of tomato soup! All items in the cart also became convenient missiles to hurl at other shoppers, the displays, or even his mommy, so it was only a matter of time before the manager would ask me not to bring him into the store if I could not control him. It was nice to shop with Margaret, knowing my precious, but precocious son was well cared for in their apartment. The fact that he did not even seem to miss me made me realize how quickly he was becoming his own little person and no longer a baby, and his 1st birthday was rapidly approaching. I had never heard of a baby walking so soon before they turned one-year-old, but my mother assured me I had done the same, and Kay wrote that Chris was about to walk too!
Billy and I had just celebrated our second wedding anniversary, and our son was not only walking, but in constant motion from sun up to sun down and kept me always alert. It was never a good idea to allow him out of my sight, even for a brief moment, as he could get into mischief as quick as I could turn around. Where had the time gone? It seemed as if he was a baby for only an instant, but then again I could not believe Billy and I had not only survived each other for over two years now, but also had fallen more in love as each new day dawned.
“My goodness,” I told Margaret, my only confidant, “By the time we celebrate our 10th anniversary, I will be insanely in love with him!”
She just laughed and said it would not be much longer before the dew was off the roses and we would be at each other’s throats like she and Larry were, but I was determined I would never allow that to happen. If I was anything, it was determined, and while I might have to bite my tongue, I would never get into a battle royal with my handsome husband since both of us, above all, craved a peaceful home for our son, and for ourselves, or so I thought.
It was when Michael began walking and running that Dr. Rivers saw he was turning his feet inward and was ‘flat-footed’. The only remedy for this was to put him in Stride Rite orthopedic shoes with high tops to support his ankles and a wedge in the heel to turn his feet outward to compensate for his inward pronation. These prescription shoes cost $20 a pair, which was a lot of money in 1963, but for our son, nothing but the best would do, so we tightened our belts a bit more and kept our rapidly growing toddler in new shoes every month to six weeks. There was also only one store in downtown Columbus that carried these special shoes, but on a Saturday afternoon when Billy was not on duty, we would all pile into the car to buy new shoes for our son. As much as Michael loved to go barefoot, Dr. Rivers wanted him to wear the shoes all of the time when he was not sleeping, so in order to keep him from constantly untying them, we bought little plastic covers that screwed over the laces which thwarted even his best efforts to remove them. An added advantage to the covers was the tiny bell on top that helped us instantly locate our mischievous son, and Billy laughed as I said it was like belling a cat to keep the mice on their toes!
Also Michael was now climbing out of his crib at night, and I feared he would fall on his head on the hard tile floor so I laid old quilts all around his crib to lessen the effect of any fall. Worse, it annoyed Billy when he would come sneaking into bed with us at night. Michael knew his father would instantly put him back into his crib, so he would climb into my side of the bed, where I would put my arm around him so he would go back to sleep and not disturb his father. Usually it would not be long before I would feel the spreading warmth of the overflow from Michael’s diapers and would have to awaken Billy anyway while I changed the sheets. This did not make Billy very happy since he worked long hours and needed a night of undisturbed sleep, but nothing would keep Michael in his crib, other than a net, which I refused to consider for fear he might strangle himself. He continued this bad habit for a very long time, which unfortunately I had created while Billy was in the field.
If I had to name the one thing Billy and I most often fought about, I would have to say, ‘money’. We were always ‘broke’, but so was everyone else, and Billy simply had not been taught how to control his spending. Often he would splurge on something unnecessary and that would make me angry when I knew if he had not spent the money we might buy ice cream or Coca-Cola or some other rarely enjoyed treat. He had even made a ‘deal’ with the local Texaco station owner where he would ‘buy tires’ and return them for cash when we would run so low we could not buy even the essentials. Sometimes Billy even humbled himself and called his father for money, and usually Gene sent it, knowing he would never see it again.
The second thing we mostly fought about was his overly strict discipline for Michael, or at least to my way of thinking. Michael was still a baby and my baby, and I could not stand it when Billy would ‘switch’ him or spank him, and I would cry along with Michael. Billy so much wanted his son to be ‘perfect’, and he would not tolerate Michael’s frequent temper tantrums when things did not go his way. However, Michael had been cursed with both his mother’s and his father’s temper. When he would get angry while sitting in his high chair, he would start kicking the footrest as hard as he could, and wearing those heavy shoes, he made a tremendous racket of metal on metal as the footrest hit the legs of the chair. One night while we were all sitting at the table and Michael began this kicking because he wanted to get down before he finished his supper; Billy picked up his extra large glass of iced tea and threw it on my baby, our toddler son! I was horrified! Michael gasped as the cold liquid poured over him, and almost in tears, I immediately grabbed him out of the chair to change his soaking wet clothes, but he never kicked the footrest again. Gene had been a strict, hands on disciplinarian father, and Billy was only duplicating what he thought was the right way to raise his son, but I hated to see my little boy cry, whether he fell down and hurt himself or his father spanked him. I had to admit Michael was a willful child, and he continued to think of new ways to make his daddy angry, although this was not the child’s intention. He was just a mischievous, curious little boy exploring his world, but trying Billy’s patience as he did so. Often, I would ask Billy how I managed to stay home all day, every day, with our son, yet his tantrums and pranks did not incur my wrath.
Finally, one night Billy said, “You have spoiled him and kept him your baby for far too long – he needs to learn to get along in this world without kicking and screaming.”
I knew he was right, but not yet, not now, not until he was no longer a baby! Billy thought if I had my way, he would remain a baby, and a Mama’s boy, but I still defended my son when I knew his daddy was angry with him.
The third thing we fought about was the amount of time Billy was NOT spending with his family, but due to his new responsibilities, I could have been more understanding. However I loved him, and I wanted to be with him, like we were in the days before we became parents, and before he reported for active duty. It was this love and possessiveness that sometimes urged me to ‘nag’ him about spending more time with us, which probably drove him further away, although I never felt that when we were together.
Gradually, we finally learned to make our time together more intense and more loving, both as husband and wife, and as parents. We were both still very young, and I was not altogether pleased with the changes his new job had made on our lives. Never had I been one to keep my feelings to myself, although in retrospect I wish I had the wisdom that many years of married life brings, and the patience that raising children demands, only then could our life have been ideal and our quarrels fewer. The one thing I was certain of though was the love between us still electrified the air, and that would always keep us together, and I doubt if we could have loved each other any more than we did.
Regardless of whether we were having a disagreement over money, his time, or about Michael, Billy and I would never go to bed angry, and we could always work out our problems making love. He continued to make sure I achieved satisfaction before his own, and I continued to fall more deeply in love with my handsome lieutenant as each day passed. When I saw him across a parade field my heart still leapt into my throat, and I would feel so proud to be his wife!
He seemed to feel the same, and when we went to dinner dances, he refused to allow anyone else to dance with me, or to cut in, and his excuse was always the same, “Sorry, but they are playing our song.”
It became a joke around the O.C.S. school that Lt. McConnell and his wife had at least two dozen ‘songs’, and when we danced he held me like he never wanted to let me go. Many years later Margaret’s husband, Larry, said Billy and I were obviously so crazy about each other, we were ‘silly’. Nevertheless, silly or not, we were still very much in love and still very young. Everything I did, and every outfit I bought, I thought to myself, “Will Billy like this?” and with his opinion more important than my own, I would make my decision. After all, he had to look at me and I did not.
Our social obligations magnified since Billy was now ‘cadre’ at The Infantry School. Not only did he have to have the appropriate uniforms, appropriately pressed and polished, but also I had to have appropriate dress for coffees, luncheons, parades, teas and formal dinner dances, which stretched our already very limited budget. On our visits to family in Atlanta, we would stop by Davison’s and visit with my grandmother, and she would always have some dresses she held back, for me to try on. Without her generosity, her employee discount and often ‘gifts’, I do not know how we could have handled all the expense. She allowed me to use her credit card on purchases required for my role as an ‘officer’s lady’ to include hats, shoes, stockings, gloves, etc. For birthdays and Christmas, she would let us use the card to buy gifts and clothing for Michael, but of course, we paid her back in full just as soon as we could, and never owed her for longer than a month at a time. We had our own Davison’s charge card, but tried to use it only for ‘must have’ purchases or when we could not get to Atlanta, although I would sometimes buy Billy something he needed but would not buy for himself. He could not have been more generous, and he would buy some ‘desired’ item for me when I considered it unnecessary, but he had watched his father ‘purchase’ love, although he certainly did not need to do so with me. I loved him when we lived in the valley, and when we ate casseroles every night, and I would continue to love him forever, of that, I was certain.
Fortunately, I could purchase my make-up, hair products, Billy’s toiletries, and other necessary items in either the commissary or the P.X. where we found huge discounts on everything, and no sales tax. The P.X. also carried a nice array of toddlers and men’s clothing, but there was rarely anything I could or would wear, so out came the charge card when a special function made a new outfit mandatory.
As the time drew closer for the first ‘cut’, Billy’s hours became longer, and I decided it was time for me to take drastic action! I had already tried every trick I knew to lure Billy into coming home at a decent hour, but then I just happened to pick up a magazine someone had left at the Laundromat one day when it was raining and I needed to dry diapers. There in the ‘It Happened to Me’ section was a story almost identical to mine, and their solution.
So, one day I decided the time had come to try what they called a ‘romantic interlude’. I asked Margaret if she could keep Michael so I could surprise Billy with a belated anniversary present, although I did not go into detail since I felt like what we did in our bedroom was sacred. If it worked for me, then perhaps some day I might share the magazine with her, but I was taking no chances she would slip up and tell Larry what I was planning.
I put our best sheets on the bed, some we had never used, saving them for what, I do not know. Then I went to the local florist and asked if she had some roses that would be dropping their petals by the next day and came home with close to two dozen wilted, but still fragrant flowers. I stripped all the petals from the plants and planned to throw them all over the bed just as soon as I heard Billy’s key in the lock. Surprisingly, he came home just before dark that night, and hurriedly I slipped into his favorite baby doll pajamas and tossed the rose petals all over the bed, then I lit the candles just as he called my name. When I appeared in the living room, I was wearing my old housecoat so he would not suspect anything. After a huge hug and a kiss, he commented that he had thought no one was home and when he asked if his son was already in bed so early, I then told him we were having a ‘romantic interlude’ and Michael would be home later.
“What magazine have you been reading?” he asked, and he was not joking.
As usual, he sat down on the couch and waited for me to remove his boots, which I did without hesitation, although I was afraid that the candles would all burn down before I could get him to the bedroom!
“I’ve missed you,” I said, tears beginning to form in my eyes,” and tonight I want you all to myself.”
However, I could not go on since I was about to choke on my tears. I tried to compose myself while unlacing his boots, and then almost cried because his poor feet were so red and so hot. I washed them with a cool washcloth and then, after putting powder into clean white cotton socks I pulled them onto his feet. By then the tears were coming so fast I could not stop them and I knew if I looked at him, I would begin to sob. As usual he had laid his head back against the couch and closed his eyes while I tended to his feet, and some nights when he was especially tired, he would doze off, but not tonight. As soon as I finished and managed to compose myself, he lifted me from the floor and held me close saying that while he had never shared this with anyone else, he doubted if any of his cohort’s wives had ever done this for them. I reminded him that I had spoiled him very early in our marriage, and he agreed that indeed his black eye had opened many new doors for him, and it was well worth it.
Finally, after he thanked me for making him comfortable, he asked, “What’s for dinner?”
Now that was supposed to be my opening, and I was supposed to say, “Me!” However, I could not say a word. It was as if he was supposed to understand what I meant by a romantic interlude, and not what I was cooking for supper, but he actually thought I was joking! As I turned towards him to let him know I was not joking and that he had hurt my feelings, he sniffed the air and asked what was burning!
“Oh my God!” I said as I rushed into the bedroom with Billy on my heels. I envisioned the drapes in flames, only to see the candles burning safely and the entire room luminescent in their light with the soft aroma of the rose petals blended with the scent of the candles.
Billy gasped, and I mean he really gasped! Then he slowly turned to face me, and said, “Honey, I’m sorry, I’m really, really, sorry. I thought this was some kind of joke because I know you have been unhappy about me working so late, but as long as we have the moment, the place, and no Michael, we might as well get started with our romantic interlude.”
I then unsnapped my housecoat, and he gasped again, then hurriedly, with my help, unbuttoned his fatigue shirt and unzipped his pants – I do believe he set a record for undressing that night. I do not think I have ever seen him so anxious to please me, with no thought of pleasing himself, although I was definitely not to going to let him go until we were both exhausted.
“Billy, oh my darling Billy, I love you so, and I have missed you and our long nights of making love. I don’t ever want to lose that part of our lives no matter what happens. I still get chills when you walk into the room, and I probably always will, but darling, I need you, I really need you, but most of all I need you to need me!”
Again, he said he was sorry and admitted that from the first time he laid eyes on me, I became the one most important person in his life, and he would rather die than lose me, so he promised to work less and make love more. I just prayed he could keep this promise because I longed to be in is arms – day and night – whenever and wherever.
After an hour of making love and several trips to the moon and back, we ate supper by candlelight on our rose covered bed, thinly cut ham sandwiches with the crust off, deviled eggs, potato salad, and Coca-Cola – all things he loved. Dessert, delayed by more love making, was his very favorite lemon pie.
“You sure went all out for this, little girl,” he said as I served the pie.
I assured him this was just the beginning of many nights of surprises that would please him and make him want to come home.
“Baby, it’s not that I don’t want to come home. It’s just that I bury myself in my work and don’t think to look at the clock. This is my very first assignment, I want to be the best damn tact officer that ever passed through the O.C.S. School, and I want them to remember my name long after I am gone. If I can make just one soldier a good soldier, respected by his men, and not tyrants, then I have done my job, but you know me, I want to make them all that way! I know now I was wrong to neglect you, and everything I need and want is right here in our little apartment, and while I can’t guarantee I will be home on time every night, I can promise you I certainly will try a whole lot harder. You know you really frightened me tonight. For a moment when I first opened the door, I had a sudden, sinking feeling you had had enough and had taken our son and left, and believe me that was not a good feeling. You cannot imagine my relief when I found you here, but all this was beyond my wildest imagination! You always surprise me and keep me guessing, which is one reason I love you so very, very much – more than life itself.”
He was so excited that I refused to rain on his parade that night and ruin all the hurts and anxieties we had mended, but I knew this Airborne School issue would not go away, and eventually we would have another confrontation. However, this night, I picked up the dirty dishes, took them into the kitchen and we made love one more time before one of us had to retrieve Michael so that Margaret could put Anne to bed.
Billy was exhausted, and he claimed weak-kneed, but he dressed, walked down to Margaret and Larry’s apartment, and returned with our sleepy son in his strong arms. While he was gone, I cleaned up the kitchen, and whisked the rose petals off the new sheets. I had already thrown away the burned candles and was soaking the saucers in hot water to get rid of what wax residue I had not been able to scrape off, but I still had on my baby dolls under my robe. Since I had worn them, I might as well sleep in them, although Billy warned me he was not sure how much sleep we would get if I got into bed with them on, or how long they would stay on. I was not so sure I was finished with him for the night either, although the mention of Airborne School had placed a damper on what otherwise had turned into a perfect evening, and a perfect surprise.
The next morning when Margaret called and asked how my surprise had worked, I told her it was all I had wanted it to be, and more. She begged to know what we had done, but while not ready to discuss our evening, I assured her I would share the magazine just as soon as I could find it again, as if I had misplaced it. I was just not ready to share my secret, and frankly, I could not imagine that Margaret would ever do such a thing, although I assured her I would take Anne and Sheryl if she decided to try.
Officer’s Candidate School lasted six months with the first ‘cuts’ made after 90 days, but before cuts were announced there was always a parade and then a dinner dance that night. For our first dance, I had found a pink floral ‘spring’ cocktail dress at Davison’s that fit me like a glove and did not even need hemming since it was a petite. Billy looked so handsome in his dress uniform that I counted the days until I would be dancing in his arms again.
We danced only to the slow music and once again, I found myself in my husband’s arms with his chin resting on the top of my head while I listened to the beat of his heart through his blouse. He kept both of his arms around me and when anyone would try to ‘break in’, he would just silently shake his head ‘no’. I cannot think of a place I would rather have been than swaying to soft music in his arms, oblivious of the rest of the world continuing to circulate around us. We were in a world of our own. If that was ‘silly’, then perhaps Larry was right, but for us it was all about being in love and having no desire to dance with another. I had not danced with anyone else since the day we married, and Billy was not about to allow that to happen now. Later in his career, protocol required that he dance with his commanding officer’s wife, and vice versa. However at the O.C.S. dances, that rule was not followed to any great extent, although several candidates, hoping for special recognition from their tact officer asked me to dance, particularly the fast dances since they noticed we sat those out. Little did they know that was not the way to gain favor with Billy.
The next 90 days were crucial for the Officer candidates since there would be a final cut just before graduation. Billy worked long hours, and often did not even get home for supper, and I was lonelier than I had ever been in my life, even with Margaret, and our other friends who were mostly in the same boat with husbands always away. I missed Billy so very much that even the antics of my precious son could not make up for my desire to be with his daddy.
I have always been one to want my ‘man’ with me, and I do not share graciously, even with the Army. Perhaps this insecurity goes back to my erratic childhood, filled with nothing but ‘mixed messages’, and now I needed the security of having my husband at home at night in order to feel safe.
Finally, the first class from 53rd Company took to the parade field as they received their commissions as officers in the United States Army. Billy was proud of every new lieutenant from his platoon. All of them seemed to respect and admire Billy’s leadership over the past six months, and those who remained behind at Benning kept in touch, and even came over to see us on occasion.
Following graduation, Billy took a week of leave, so we went to Griffin and borrowed Gene’s boat and launched into the Chattahoochee River. There was a boat landing on the far side of the airfield and since spring was still quite young, we were alone on that muddy ribbon of water. With Michael, secure in a life jacket, and a fear of the water that we had no idea where it had come from since both of us had been water babies; we did not worry about our son trying to take a swim! He was not about to move off the seat as we cruised the muddy river looking for a good place to drop anchor and fish. Those were days filled with fun and nights filled with passion.
We played bridge with the neighbors, sat out back in lawn chairs, and had cookouts with Major ‘Mac’ – an Army nurse who lived just two doors down from us. She adored Michael, Michael adored her, and she could not even get out of her uniform before he was knocking at her door saying, “Major Mac, do you have any candy?”
This was a daily occurrence, but she always welcomed him with a handful of sweets. Never married, she enjoyed borrowing our son since nieces and nephews were the closest she came to motherhood, and since he did not have an adoring grandmother, he relished her attention. Like most ‘grandmothers’, she had the best of both worlds – she could tell him good night and go inside and shut her door, and she could spoil him with ‘before dinner’ candy and not worry if he finished his meal.