I'd been on that Greyhound for most of two full days when we finally pulled into Augusta. I was "home," but it didn't feel like home. I had only been living in Augusta for about six weeks when I'd left to join the army.
My folks had moved there from Indianapolis while I was still a freshman at Indiana University. That left me a "nonresident" of the state and faced with either moving with them to their new home in Georgia, or declaring my independence at the age of 18.
With no money and no job, what could I do? Not long after the end of freshman year, I followed Mom and Dad to Augusta.
Now, after 22 weeks of basic and advanced training in the U.S. Army, I was home for almost two weeks' leave before going to my permanent duty station: Ft. Dix, New Jersey.
My folks met me at the bus depot and we drove home. It was good seeing them, although Augusta still didn't really feel like "home" to me. But the weather was surprisingly mild for late January -- a big improvement over the winters I remembered up north.
It was 1957. "The South" was a very different place than what I was used to in Indianapolis or Bloomington. Augusta was a pretty, graceful little city, but the "Southern way of life" was going to take some getting used to.
Being new to the town, I knew no one. There was no "girl back home" waiting for me. Almost four days of my 12 days of leave were going to be taken up with Greyhound time, coming or going, so I was looking at only eight days of civilian life.
But I thought I'd solved to "no girl back home" problem. Tomorrow night -- my second night in town, we'd be going to the airport to pick up Millie Barkley, the pretty girl from Catskill, New York who had been my pen pal for three years -- ever since we were both high school students.
I'd never actually met Millie in the flesh, but we'd become intimate pen friends, and over the past three years, our letters had become progressively flirtatious, suggestive, and, well -- promising. We were two very young, somewhat lonely people who'd connected, through the written word.
Especially in the weeks since I'd been in the army and isolated from other social opportunities, Millie's letters had become a lifeline. She was still living with her mother back in Catskill, a small town up the Hudson River, well north of New York City. Now in her first year out of high school, Millie had a job in a department store, and was flirting with the idea of enrolling in junior college.
I expected to resume college someday, but for the moment, I was just an army private. The initial military training hadn't been much fun, but I had high hopes for Ft. Dix. It was in central New Jersey -- close to both New York and Philadelphia. To me, that promised to be a relatively glamorous assignment.
Millie and I had exchanged photographs on several occasions. I knew she was a pretty brunette, fairly tall and quite thin. I had a nice photo of her in a plaid one-piece bathing suit that showed she had thin-but-pretty legs and a shy smile.
In all the photos, her face had a wistful expression. It always reminded me a little of the pictures of Anne Frank that I'd seen in magazines. Anne Frank's photographs, though, were black-and-white and a little blurry, whereas Millie's features always came through sharp and clear.
Still, Millie seemed to have the quality of a waif about her. She was young-looking and very thin. She looked as if she needed protecting.
I was eager to meet her at last. She wasn't my girl back home, but she was as close to it as anyone. As anyone in Indiana or Georgia. Her only "rival" for my affections was as much a stranger to my past life as Millie was -- the female Marine I'd met on the Greyhound, on the way home.
My parents didn't know it, and probably never would, but for one brief night, alone with Delores Gallegos in the darkness of the Greyhound, I had enjoyed the most intense sexual experience of my 19 years! It had only been -- what? Thirty-six hours ago, and our time together had been measured in hours, not days.
But it had been unforgettable!
Waiting for Millie's arrival at the local airport, I thought of those stolen hours with Delores. Would I ever see her again? What effect would that brief, glorious experience have on the coming few days with Millie? Could we possibly get along as well, in person, as we had, for three years now, in our letters?
I thought Millie and I had possibilities. I sure hoped so.
The plane she arrived on was a Southern Airways flight. Somewhere -- Richmond, perhaps, or Raleigh, Millie must have had to transfer to that ramshackle airplane for the remainder of her flight to Augusta. I was near-certain that Southern Airways didn't fly to Catskill, New York.
The plane's passengers slowly emerged and walked down an outside ramp, across the tarmac to where my Dad and I waited for Millie. I saw her, and took the few moments before she saw me to appraise my "girlfriend" -- if that is what she was going to be.
"Now, Tom -- this girl is away from home," my father cautioned. "You treat her with respect, y'hear? You make sure she's comfortable."
I didn't have to answer. Millie had seen us and rushed over. "I made it!" she said.
I felt awkward, not knowing whether to hug her, or shake her hand, or what. Finally I grasped both her forearms and kind of held her out at arm's length. "Hey, Millie!" I said.
"This is my Dad -- Bill Sutter."
Dad was a little cooler than I was. He shook Millie's hand, and asked her whether it had been a comfortable trip.
"It was my first airplane ride!" she said. I flew to Baltimore on Eastern, and then got this little plane for the rest of the way. It was exciting!"
I looked at the disreputable-looking Southern Airways plane, which seemed to need a paint job and God knows what else in the way of maintenance. "I guess flying in that thing would really be exciting!" I said.
We got Millie's two small bags and headed for Dad's Ford, close by in the outdoor parking area.
"Gee, it's warm here, for January!" Millie said.
"Yeah, warmer than it was in Texas, too," I agreed. "I guess because the ocean's not that far from here."
"This is as far south as I've ever been," she said.
"Well, we're pretty new here ourselves," I said. "I'm not going to be able to give you much of an expert tour of the city."
"Mom and I will take care of that," my Dad said. "We haven't been here long -- but longer than Tom. And it's a pretty small town."
All this time, I'd been looking Millie over as subtly as I could. Her clothing was pretty ordinary -- inexpensive little skirt-and-jacket set, plain blouse. I knew she came from a one-parent household -- she and her widowed mother were alone. I knew they didn't have a lot of money to throw around.
And I figured the round-trip airfare to come down here had eaten up her savings pretty thoroughly.
It was a little disappointing, though, how skinny she was. She was really rail-thin, and as far as I could see, she didn't have any bust line at all. My thoughts strayed briefly to my encounter with Delores -- the Mexican-American Marine with the oversized breasts; breasts that had been sweaty and heavy in my hands, there in the darkness -- just two nights ago.
Millie was as pretty as her photographs had suggested, although her dark eyes and coal-black hair made her seem a little alien here, down among the Southern belles. The few Texas girls I'd gotten a decent look at were different from Millie, too. Her name was "Barkley," but maybe there was a little Italian or other Southern European heritage, somewhere in her ancestry.
But, God -- she was really skinny!
We got Millie home all right and I put her stuff upstairs in the guest room. Dad introduced her to my Mother while I was still up there, and I could hear them getting acquainted. It sounded like my folks were going out of their way to make Millie feel welcome.
That was nice. But I was having second and third thoughts about my anticipated romantic interlude with the New York Girl.
She was so tiny and thin! She looked like a junior high school kid, only maybe taller. She'd probably never even kissed a boy.
The things I had imagined us doing... well. Maybe none of that was going to be in the cards.
Next morning after breakfast, Mom and Millie disappeared. "Mom's taking her shopping," my Dad said. "The supermarket and stuff -- and Mom's gonna buy Millie a light jacket. That coat she brought down from New York is 'way too big and bulky to wear around here -- during the day, at least."
"I don't think her family's got much money," I offered.
"Neither does yours, far as that goes," Dad said. "but we can get the girl a little jacket. Listen, Tom, I can tell you're a little disappointed in Millie. I mean, she looks like she's about 13! I don't know what you were expecting, but she's a little young for you, I can see that."
"Dad! She's about ten months younger than I am!"
"OK, OK, fine. But what I'm saying, even if she's not Jayne Mansfield or something, I'm expecting you to treat her with respect... And more than that -- you take her out while she's here and show her a good time and all -- just as if she was Denise, visiting you from back home."
Denise wasn't my old girl friend. But she was the best-looking girl from my high school in Indianapolis that my Dad had ever seen around our house. She was the kind of girl no man would forget -- no matter how old he was. And, hey, my Dad was only -- what? Maybe 41. Even younger, when he'd seen Denise.
.... There is more of this story ...