Making It Through December
Chapter 1

As I wrote in my story "Gus", we came back from Japan in April 1964. We had the son, Jason, and a 4-month bun in the oven. I still had another year in the Navy. I had to extend an extra year to get 3 years in Japan.

This gave me time to advance in rate to SK-2, which allowed me to ship household goods, including wife and child, to the States at the Navy's expense.

My next duty station was in Long Beach, CA, (then Calif ... come and live in Florida). No way am I going to bring a pregnant, recent immigrant, language challenged wife to Long Beach. Just as well, I was at sea when my daughter was born.

Gus was left with my parents in South Georgia, where she endeared herself to my close-knit family, as well as the whole community.

October brought a beautiful baby girl, named after my Dad's Mother. That December was fine, even though my daughter was 9 months old before I saw her.

I was discharged in early July, 1965, one day before involuntary extensions for all the Navy. Lightning struck just behind me, but missed.

I was on the USS Valley Forge, a converted carrier which now was a helicopter assault ship. We ferried three loads of Marines to Okinawa, part of the big Nam build-up after the Turner Joy incident. Three round-trips to WestPac. I did get to take 1 week of leave in Japan, to visit in-laws. That was my longest stretch on land from late January until discharge.

I did get to go back to the town outside of Atsugi, to visit Satchiko. I carried two very innocent sailors with me, and she shook their hands (see "Satchiko"). Actually one poor geeky virgin wound up with her panties over his head, much to everyone's amusement.

Our Division Chief was manning the enlisted brow when we returned. He was pleased that I had taken the two under my wing, and got them safely back. He didn't know each of us had 4 fifths of whiskey, in neatly wrapped packages!

It was a long trip back to the States, but each Navy ship must do one high-speed run annually. The old girl was still able to achieve 35 knots, even though it took 24 hours to build up, 24 to maintain, and 24 to decelerate.

I landed a job in my hometown, at a farm supply/commodities warehouse (read peanut plant, ala Jimmy Carter).

We moved into my Granny and Papa's cracker cottage, which my Mother owned. One gas space heater, no insulation, one of the coldest Decembers I ever experienced.

My job was a back-breaker, and in addition, all the local farmers knew where I lived, and had no qualms asking me out after hours to sell something they just didn't have a chance to come get during normal hours. They were out hunting, or fishing, something I never got a chance to do, thanks to them.

My boss was no Hank Steinbrenner, and the wages and equipment reflected that. We were going into the hole, financially, and I was taking my life into my own hands each time I drove any equipment. My last trip, on an old flat-bed with a nitrogen tank mounted with 16d nails, terminated with me making an emergency turn at an intersection, flipping the nitrogen tank off the truck, and a busy intersection ahead.

With no brakes, and a drive shaft that was stuck in neutral between hi/low axle, I angled through a shallow ditch, into our boggy yard, and finally stopped. I took the keys to my boss, told him where his tank was, and where he could place the tank, keys, and job. He wasn't amused, but wisely was silent.

I went home, called a cousin in Tampa, FL, who owned a Sheet Metal shop, and had connections with the local union.

The tank episode happened on Wednesday, Thursday morning we were headed to Tampa to see the lay of the land. Friday morning, I was accepted as an apprentice in the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, commencing in two weeks.

Saturday, we went house hunting, and found an FHA home for sale we could afford. The owner was Air Force, and it would be one and one-half months before he could vacate

On Sunday, Gus told me she was pregnant, again. This was in February.

On Monday, we signed the papers, and left for Georgia.

Wednesday, I headed back to Tampa. I would not be indentured until February 15th, but I was allowed to work at my cousin's shop until then. I left Gus and the kids in Georgia, until we had our house. Turns out to be a most miserable February, and they were constantly cold. I stayed in my cousin's lakefront cabin, and went home on weekends.

My indenture was to a roofing and sheet metal company, doing much different work than I had experienced at my cousins.

Forging ahead, I went to work with some of the best sheet metal mechanics (journeymen) in Florida. They were also some of the craziest. There was constant teasing, (You can always tell a Georgia Cracker, you just can't tell them much!) Gus and I fit right in, with them and their families.

In early March, I rented a U-Haul in Tampa, left after work, and drove til midnight to get home. We go up early, loaded the truck, and headed south about noon.

Four of us riding in the cab of a very rough truck, we were all thankful to reach the cabin at 8:30 that night.

Tired as I was, I was still at our house at 7:00 AM, where my cousin helped me unload. I returned the truck, and after filling it with fuel, I had $10.00 left in my wallet. I retrieved my car, went back to the cabin, got the family, and then Gus and I unpacked. Midnight, with sheets as curtains and drapes, we slept. Why would this beautiful woman go through this for me?

Even though it was just March, this set the stage for why "I don't mean to hate December, it was meant to be the happy time of year". This was the start of some of the hardest financial times I have ever faced. But we would definitely "Be In A Warmer Place Come Summertime".

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