The Best Laid Plans Change...
What do I do now? I would like to say that I stepped forward in the line and when it was my turn to check out, I said "Hi, Grace, How are you?" Like an adult, like a Marine, but the plain fact was that I was completely terrified, and so dazed by the whole situation, I just panicked, I wheeled around and went back through the store putting my items back on the shelves and got out of there.
My mind was in complete turmoil. I was having flash back memory bites. I was remembering what it had been like being 14 years old and in love with this woman. When I got back in my car and was headed down the highway toward the Keys. My mind was reeling with the memories of what I imagined might have been. I knew that I was not being rational. I knew that I had been a horny teenager and that what I felt for Grace most likely had been nothing more than an adolescent crush.
Most likely triggered by my recently discovered perpetual fascination with sex. Heck, it had only been 6 months before that I had found out what other things my ditterdoo was for besides peeing. I woke up in the middle of the night with a hard on, a not unfamiliar happening, but this one was different, after a bit of light stroking and pulling, all of a sudden I was squirting all over the bed covers and my self. WOW, that was pretty cool. It only took a few days to figure out that I could make it do that most any time I wanted. Problem was, I had no real idea what my dick was for other than this In 1959, there weren't to many outlets for a horny teenager. No Playboy, no Hustler, nothing to gratify a young man's imagination about the opposite sex. Yes, I had attended Sex Ed. In the 6th grade, taught by a Nun who old and dried up and had about as much interest in teaching a bunch of kids about sex, as she did walking to the North Pole. Needless to say it left most parts of Sex completely to a raging imagination.
As I drove, I was trying to figure out why I had been so strongly affected. I know I had though about Grace many, many times over the years. You never forget your first love. I came to realize as I drove that evidently there were some of the old feelings still there. Why that might be so, was a mystery.
Why I got out of there was obvious, I just couldn't face her, at least not right at the moment. It was all to much to fast. I resolved to go on to see Al and Bernie and enjoy my stay before going back to Miami and settling down to my studies.
I got to Al and Bernie's place about 18:00, they were just coming in with their skiff, they had been out fishing for supper. They had gotten a few nice fish, I don't know what kind they were. I am sure they told me, but my mind was not focusing on my stomach.
I had showed up empty handed. I started to apologize for not bringing anything, They just told me to shut up and make my self to home. They had been to the store that morning and stocked up for some serious eating and drinking.
We sat out on their small dock and watched the sun go down. It was a really beautiful evening. They asked me a few questions about the last 2 years, I just gave them a short up date and left most of the details out. Finally I was able to steer the conversation away from me and that was all they needed for them to tell me the great time they were having. They were dating a couple of local gals, and told me that the ladies would be along any time. One of them ran a local eatery and was a great cook, she was closed today, and volunteered to cook for us all as long as they got the fresh fish.
As I listened to them talk, my attention kind of wandered off, they noticed.
"Hey, earth to Gary, where are you at man?"
"Oh, sorry, guess I am just kind of beat from all the driving and was trying to sleep with my eyes open." "Is it OK if it hit the rack for a short nap before the ladies get here?
"Yeah, no problem, we'll call you when the food is ready." Said Al.
I went into the bedroom where they put my gear and stretched out on the rack. I started to think about all that happened that day. I had just started thinking about Grace, when I was jerked awake with a yell. "Chow's up."
The rest of the evening was taken up with eating, talk and laughter as we all got comfortable with one another. The ladies were nice and went out of their way to make me feel welcome.
As the evening wound down. I asked Al and Bernie what the plan was for the next 3-4 days. I didn't have to be back for school till a week from today.
The next morning they woke me up in the traditional Marine Corps manner, broom handle beating on a steel garbage can. Needless to say, I levitated straight up and on to my feet.
"What the hell is going on, it's only 04:30." I yelled.
"Thank you for the time check, now move your ass. We have to be gone, like 15 minutes ago." Al yelled at me.
"Come on shake a leg Gary, the water is glass smooth, and we want to get a lot of miles off shore, we have some big orders to fill for big fish." Bernie yelled back.
I hadn't been up this early in months. It seems that this was going to be a working vacation for me. I was going to be the one on vacation and they were going to work. They had been making some good money delivering fresh fish to the local restaurants that they got out in the Florida Straits as they called it. A lot of miles off shore. They either free dived for them with spear gun in hand or for deeper areas, they used their tanks. Now this I was excited about. I use to be a pretty good free diver, but my idea of pretty good was about 30', their idea of free diving routinely went down below 60 feet. It had been almost 3 years since I had been in warm water diving. I was really looking forward to the trip. They planned to be gone over night, since I was on board, they thought that they could get a big haul as, I could stay on board and they could both dive and hunt for fish. I couldn't wait to try Scuba.
Scuba, back then was pretty privative. Al, of course had learned in the Navy. He taught Bernie over the first few weeks after Bernie got down to the Keys after Viet Nam. I had never done it, just seen it on TV watching Sea Hunt. That was one of my all time favorite shows.
We loaded up on to their big boat, I am not sure what the boat had for motors, but it just flew. It was about 34' with two huge inboard/outboard motors. There was a wheel house for steering in bad weather and a fly bridge for coning the boat up on top to see down into the water to spot big fish when they were out sport fishing with clients. They had their own compressor, live well and iced storage for fish.
Al, leaned on the throttles and we were off. By the time the sun came up, we were many miles south.
Once Al had the boat up on plane, he throttled back a little to get the best use of fuel out of the motors.
With me watching the port side for traffic and Bernie the starboard we settled down to travel.
Once the sun was up, Bernie got busy in the galley making some breakfast for us.
After we had eaten, Al throttled back and Bernie started suiting up, I asked what they were doing.
Al was going to tow Bernie behind the boat looking for likely coral and rock formations to find fish.
You have to remember, that this was way before much of the fancy fish location devices and long before GPS. Navigation was not a whole lot better than the previous century. You could get close to where you wanted to be using normal navigational methods, but hitting a precise under sea point was very difficult. Visibility could could be great, and still you could miss what you were looking for by a 100 yards or more. So the idea of going back to an area that had been particularly productive was not really something they wasted a lot of time trying to do. It was a big ocean out there. Their idea of locating a likely hunting ground was to pull one or the other behind the boat with a mask, fins and snorkel until he saw a good spot and stop there and give it a shot.
It wasn't very long and Bernie was waving frantically, that he had found what they were looking for.
We pulled him in and he said that he had found a lot of big coral heads that rose up to with in 30' of the surface. They decided to free dive the first couple of times, Bernie, thought that the sand bottom was about 50-60'. They could get more dives in not having to resort to the tanks. Because of the inherent problems of breathing compressed air, the number and depth of the diving had to be limited to only a few dives per day. Free diving was limited to your physical strength and conditioning. Al and Bernie were in the best shape of their lives.
It only took a short tutorial for me to learn how to run the boat. I was to stay on board and follow them and take the fish each time they surfaced, if they had fish. They were free shafting and using a stringer wire. They wanted try for 2 or 3 fish on each dive. I though that seemed overly ambitious, but then I had not seen professional spear fishermen at work. I couldn't really watch them as I had to stay in the boat, but it was pretty obvious that they knew what they were about. They started bringing up fish on the first dive. Al brought up 2 very large Hog fish and Bernie brought up a nice Red Snapper. They would dive until the resident shark population made it too uncomfortable for them The speared bleeding and struggling fish brought sharks in pretty quickly on some of the dive sites. In the next 2 hours, we moved several times and the fish just continued to come up. So many varieties that I can't remember them all.
Finally, they were wore out and took a break for lunch. I made lunch while they just sat back and relaxed and sharpened their spears. We sat and talked, they told me that they would start teaching me to scuba dive after lunch. We were in relatively shallow water and a couple of the coral heads came pretty close to the surface. We found one that had been broken off by a large ship and anchored by it. The water was only about 5' deep on the top. We slid in and Al proceeded to show me how to breathe through a regulator and how to regulate my depth by inflating my lungs or releasing the air to sink. You have to realize that this was long before BC's (Buoyancy Compensator) All the gear amounted to a mask, regulator with a double hose from the top of the tank and a weight belt. That was about it. By today's standards, pretty primitive.
The lesson didn't last too long because Al was watching the weather and he decided that we had better make a run for the dock. The black clouds coming up in the south did not bode well for us.
We had a lot of fish, not what they set out to get, but they told me that they always erred on the side of caution out in the Strait in a small wooden boat. Al cranked her up and we were off at full throttle. The wind caught us after a couple of hours or so and the rain arrived an hour and a half later. We still had a good hour's run in. I have normally not been prone to sea sickness, this time it was close. By the time we made the dock, the waves were 6-8' out in the open and when we hit the breakwater, it felt so good to throttle down and cruise on in on relatively smooth water. That boat felt about the same as a walnut shell going down a storm drain on the last few miles in ... I was never so glad to see solid ground as I was that evening.
After we had unloaded the boat and loaded the pickup truck with the coolers of ice and fish, Al took off to sell the fish and Bernie and I sat down to take a break.
"Gary, I kind of get the idea that something is bugging you, what gives?" He asked.
I thought about it awhile and finally decided to tell him about Grace and what had happened. It took me a while to tell him all about the history and the previous days event. He didn't ask any questions and when I ran out of steam, he said. "Let's get the chow going, Al will be right back, the fish we have will go fast to our customers.
As we started on the meal, Bernie asked the obvious question. "When are you going to go and see her?"
"What's the matter, are you afraid?" He said. As I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that, yes indeed I was afraid. I am not sure just exactly what it was that I was afraid of, just a general fear of being rejected. I really don't know to this day, what I was expecting to have happen. If I went to talk to her, of course she could reject me. Did I have any right to expect more than mild interest and little more from a woman who I had only know for about 4 months, 11 years ago.
We waited for Al, and when he arrived, we had supper and then sat around and swapped lies and tall tales about the big fish that got away. Since I have never been much of a fisherman, my stories were limited to bullheads and Channel Cats that I had caught in the muddy Iowa streams and farm ponds. I never could figure out why my uncles liked to catch and eat the dumb things, they tasted terrible. My Grandma always fixed the fish and the only way she knew how to cook fish was to fry the poor thing until there was not a drop of moisture left in it. What you ended up eating was a dried out brown husk somewhat shaped like a fish without the head.
We hit the racks after the news and weather on the radio. The weather forecast was more of the same tomorrow. As I laid down, I decided to go up and see Grace at the grocery store in Homestead.
The next morning, I got up when Al and Bernie did and we had coffee and a light breakfast. I told them that I was going up to Homestead and would see them later in the day.
The drive was relatively quick and before long I found myself in the parking lot. I could see her working inside through the big plate glass windows on the front of the store. The traffic in the store was pretty light. I waited until there were no other cars in the lot and decided it was now or never.
I got out and went in, walked around the store side of the cash register lanes and walked into hers.
She looked up at me, smiled very nicely and said. "Hi Gary, I am so glad you came back."
WOW! She had seen me, recognized me and had wanted to talk to me. Was I ever gobsmacked. I stood there much like the first time I saw her so many years ago. Completely mute. Almost tongue tied.
"Well, aren't you going to say something?" She asked with kind of a half giggle. "Sure." I answered, well here I go again the glib practitioner of the one word answer.
She saw that I was nervous and jittery, she walked around from behind the counter, took me by the arm and said. "Come on let's go to the back room." Finally, my tongue came unglued from the roof of my mouth and said. "Don't you have to stay up front?
"No, this is my store and one of the other girls will take over for me." I followed her along behind like a 6'6" puppy on an invisible leash, with my mouth hanging open and my tongue hanging out, just like I had years before.
When we got to the back room, we went into her office, she closed the door, turned around and wrapped her arms around me and hugged me like there was going be no tomorrow. You will remember if you have read the previous chapters, she was a very tall and slender woman. At least 6'2" and no more than 140 lbs. I stood there holding her, smelling her hair and stroking her back.
After a short while, she kind of sniffed and leaned back so she could look me in the eye and said. "I told myself that if you came back that I was going to behave like and adult and not get emotional, and look at me, I am starting to cry like a baby."
Finally, my wits came back from where ever they had fled too, I reached up and took her chin in my hand and lightly kissed her and told her there was no reason for tears. She should be happy, I know I surely was. She snuggled in against me again and we stood there just feeling each others heart beat. All of a sudden, someone knocked on the door and called out to her that she was needed up front. "I'll be right there." She replied. She leaned back, lightly kissed me and told me. "Honey, I'll be back as quick as I can."
It was just a short while and she was back, back in my arms, back in my life. She said. "Come on, let's get out of here. I want to hear all about you and what brings you here."
We went out to my car, and when she saw it, she kind of laughed and said. "Now that really suits you. What is it?" "It is a 1966 Impala Super Sport Convertible with a 396 in it." We walked toward the car, I opened the passenger door and helped her into the seat, ran around and jumped in.
She said. "Can we put the top down? It has been a while since I have ridden around in a convertible."
"Where would you like to go?" I asked. "Let's go down to the Keys and find some place for lunch." she replied.
"That sounds good, I just came from there and if I can find the right restaurant we may even be able to get some of the fresh fish that I helped catch yesterday."
She looked at me kind of surprised and told me to tell her all about it. So on the way down, I told her all about Al and Bernie and our adventure to the Florida Straits South toward Cuba.
Life is good again...
I think now would be a good time to give you a description of a more mature and more beautiful woman.
Grace's most striking asset was here glorious hair. The only other hair that I have ever seen like it was Maureen O'Hara's in the "The Quiet Man" with John Wayne. My Dad took my brother and I to that movie in 1953. I was only 8 years old, even at that young age she made an impression on me.
Grace is unusually tall for a lady, she is right at 6'2" tall. Slender as a reed. Here breasts are almost non-existent. Here laugh and her smile remind me of an actress today. You know the one, Julia Roberts, when Pretty Woman came out and I went to see it, it was like seeing Grace all over again at age 29, the smile, the laugh and the legs that just go on and on forever. Her weight was about 135-140 pounds.
Every time I hear the song by George Jones, it describes her...
"The one I loved back then."
"Oh She was hotter than a two dollar pistol
She was the fastest thing around
Long and lean every young man's dream
She turned every head in town
She was built and fun to handle Son
I'm glad that you dropped in
She reminds me of the one I loved back then"
She was really long and lean and I was to soon learn just how much fun she was to handle and just how hot she could be.
I decided to go to Al and Bernie's place so she could meet them and get a recommendation from them for a restaurant where we could eat and get some of the fish that we had caught the day before.
When we arrived at their place, they were sitting around working on their gear and cleaning out the big boat. They saw my car coming and got up from where they were working by the dock and walked toward us. They were obviously interested to see who I had with me. Evidently Bernie had told Al about Grace, he walked to her door and opened it for her.
"Hi, you must be the lovely Grace, that Gary has told us about." He said.
She looked over her shoulder at me and kind of smiled. I just stood there and watched them walk away with her arm in arm toward the house. Guess, I was expected to bring up the rear. Once in the house, they cracked some beers for everyone and we sat at the table to visit. You realize of course that most all Marines and Sailors are normally quiet and shy. However these two were drooling all over her and she was loving it. Grace glanced my way and smiled at me noticing my discomfiture.
I finally was able to get a word in edgewise and ask them where June's restaurant was. Al looked at me and said. "June, June who?"
"Your girl friend you idiot" I said. You know the one who has the restaurant and cooked for us last night.
He jumped up and went to the phone, he called June and told her we were coming for lunch and to save some of the best fish for us.
We all headed out and they got into the back seat of my car and we headed for June's place. Turned out it was only a couple of miles away.
June greeted us at the door, I introduced Grace and she seated us. She took our drink order and then came back to the table and told us that the food would be along shortly. She sat down and started to talk to Grace, meanwhile Al and Bernie and I visited about the possibility of fishing the next day.
Once the food arrived, June left us to enjoy our meal. It was very good, she had prepared 2 of the Hog fish that Al and Bernie had speared the day before. The fish was very good and went down even better with cold beer.
When we finished, I went to June for the check, she told me it was already taken care of, and to come back soon. She kissed Al goodbye and we all headed back to the house. When we got there, I asked Al where a good place to drive to would be. He told me to just continue south down the Keys highway and just see the sights.
Grace and I left and headed down the highway to just look around, it was the first time that I had ever been there, and Grace had only been down it once before.
As we drove along, Grace asked me about what had happened to me after she left Colorado. I told her most of what has been related in previous chapters. She was very polite and didn't ask questions or interrupt. When I had kind of run out steam, she asked a few questions about my time in Viet Nam.
Then it was my turn to ask about her.
Grace's story after Colorado...
She started off by telling me how she had ended up in Aurora Colorado working at a Safeway. She and her mother were having problems. It was decided that she would go to live with an Aunt in Boulder and go to College there. The Aunt had a boyfriend and he made it very difficult to live there. Any time the Aunt was away at work, he tried to have sex with Grace. One day he tried to rape her and she just ran. She ended up in Aurora and because her Dad had owned the Grocery Store where I had seen her the day before, she had years of working at a Grocery store by the time she was 18. She found a small apartment and started at the store.