When we were kids watching cowboy movies and Dale Evans turned up, we would put our hands over our eyes and say,
"Oh no! The mushy stuff."
This one is the mushy stuff. I have a permission slip signed by Bob Harrison.
All stories of young love begin with some wonderful moment in time where two people meet... Fireworks go off... Angels sing and bluebirds fly merrily overhead. To be truthful, I can't remember exactly how we met. She'll most likely pin hell on me for that... But I just can't remember. If she says God delivered her to me from the clouds wearing nothing but a smile and a big red bow, I'll have to take her word for it. My brain cells are 'cashing it in' at a much faster rate than hers.
Where can I begin? One minute I was a free spirit, swinging from limb to limb... I had arrived at the eleventh grade with no particular goal in life but to spend the remainder of it eating regularly and not having to sleep out in the rain. You could summarize the entire scope of my long range ambitions on the back of a pack of book matches. Anything farther down range than next Wednesday was well beyond the outer limits of my comprehension.
Susan Elizabeth just showed up in my life and started to take care of me and let me kiss her. I don't know why or when it happened, but it did... And I've been grateful ever since.
One minute I was an 'untaken care of idiot' and the next I was a regular at her family dinner table... And stretched out on her sofa with my head in her lap eating fresh popped popcorn and watching Gunsmoke... Matt, Doc and Miss Kitty.
Sue was always soft, pink and smelled good. She was smart... I wasn't. She was pretty... And she was all mine. In the '50's, girls would become 'all yours' and for that you got to feed them at the local drive-in and shell out for movie tickets. If you were lucky and the theater was dark enough, you could be allowed a combined twenty minutes of 'arm draped over the shoulder breast massage'... Or at least until your arm went to sleep and your fingers died. If God had allowed young lads to write the plans and specifications for the perfect girl, she would have looked and behaved like Sue.
Our drive-in was 'Tops'... Tops Drive-In, home of the best damn double patty cheeseburger ever made... 'The Sirloiner'... These were the days where they ground up real genuine beef... No additives... No left over shoe leather... Soy meal... Styrofoam chips... Gun wadding or other wierd stuff. Just ground-up good parts of a cow.
The rival to the 'Tops' Sirloiner' was the 'Hot Shoppe's Mighty-Mo'... Both had secret sauce. I would do an abnormal sex act to know how to recreate 'Sirloiner' sauce. The bad thing about youthful memories... When the stuff goes it usually takes everything with it.
The Hot Shoppe also turned out a ham sandwich on a twisted roll called a 'Teen Twist'... They quit making stuff like that. Orange Freeze... What in the hell happened to the Orange Freeze? Don't say 'Slurpee'... I'd rather boil my socks and drink the result.
I remember a blue sundress... Light blue and white gingham check dress with a low scoop bodice that let the wild Indians view the trade goods. Thirty-six 'D' wonders upon which many vision re-runs played across the back of my eyeballs when plowing invisible holes in the North Atlantic. She was one lovely girl.
Sue could cook... Really cook, not just zip the lid out of a can and warm up the contents. Sue was a damn good southern 'scratch cook'. Lucky southern boys end up with scratch cooks. The ones that do spend the rest of their lives smiling and bragging. My mom was as good as they came when it came to scratch cooking southern style and so was Sue's mom, Grace. One of the greatest memories I have of my high school years were wonderful moments of laughter and great food shared with Susan Elizabeth and dear Grace at the family dinner table. Also, sitting on the concrete back porch steps sharing coffee with wonderful Grace waiting for Sue to return home... And necking with Sue in a straight-across front seat of a '57 Olds convertible. Ten minutes worth of what we spent hours doing would kill me today.
I have never actually figured out who to blame for my naval service... Rear Admiral Thomas M. Dykers, USN (ret) or Susan Elizabeth. Sue liked boys in sailor suits... Being a boy, I just went to get me a sailor suit and wound up in Subron Six. That's the way things work when you are eighteen and have no clear direction in life. 'Cute in a sailor suit'... Jeezus, was that one helluva deal.
When most girls come to realize that Mr. Bluejacket 'Cute in a sailor suit' is going to have his fanny parked in a steel seagoing loony farm and that it is going to be a long time between free hamburgers and bra hook manipulation, they find another source of amusement. John Q. college guy... Mr. Cool at State U... Mr. 'I've got cash, a gas credit card and wall-to-wall unaccounted for time' crawled out of the woodwork and became your stand-in.
The inevitable letter read,
"I know you will understand... I met this really neat guy. He's a junior at Dickey Doo Tech... He's studying braille gynecology and lets me help him with his homework. I'm sure you will find yourself another girl more suited to your unique lifestyle."
Sure... Twinkle Toes, the duty barmaid.
But if you were lucky... Damn lucky, you had a Susan Elizabeth... A gal who would drive two hundred miles to spend thirty minutes on a cold pier just to hold hands and tell you she was proud of you, and didn't mind all the separation... And let you louse up her lipstick and get the smell of her perfume all over your foul weather jacket.
And she wrote letter after letter. Blue stationary... Always light blue stationary... Beautiful, delicate letters and addressing... Prose that put lightning bugs in your heart and kick-started many a dream. Great letters. Never could find the words to thank her for all those letters... For taking the time from her very active life to write to an idiot riding an old, wornout smokeboat.
Things happened and has been the hallmark of my life, I was to blame and I lost her. Somewhere there is a place where all the good stuff you lose in life goes... I must have one helluva pile by now. If 'failed relationships' go there, I probably hold some kind of inter-galactic record... But the one that hurt the most was Susan Elizabeth.
We both got married, raised good kids and stayed in touch. Our spouses have shown remarkable understanding and we do talk by phone often. She still lets me slip an occasional 'frog down her bloomers' and I love the fact I can still make her laugh. Making her laugh used to be my full-time job.
Then I wrote Pier Dollies and when I spoke to her on the phone, she wanted to know if she had been a 'submariner's girl'... Resulting in a story about her.
In the story, I mentioned her picture that I wedged in a side locker frame. It was her senior class photo... One of the wallet-size ones. She cut her hair so she could have bangs... Grace went nuts... Totally jumped the reservation. For once, I kept my mouth shut... I liked the picture, but when lovely Grace hit the warpath, she didn't take prisoners... She left dead guys snorkeling around in her wake.
I loved that photo... Sure looked at it enough. She looked best on a two engine snorkel charge when you had time to crawl in your rack and look at those magic lips.
On the phone, I asked if she still that photo somewhere.
"Yes somewhere, but I'm not sure where... I'll look for it."
"Well peach blossom, if you can locate one, mail it to me and I will have it copied and mail it back to you."
She looked for two months with no luck. I gave up... Then one day, an envelope arrived. The dear sweet lady had cut the page out of her senior yearbook and mailed it to an old worthless sonuvabitch she once loved.
I copied it and if you ever want to know what a real boatsailor's sweetheart looked like... She looked like this.
She could wrap her arms around a grinning, foul smelling idiot wearing paint spattered, acid eaten dungarees... Mammy Yokum boots and a face that hadn't been next to a razor blade in weeks... And make him feel like the master-at-arms in the Sultan's harem.