Home from the War...
In February 1969, I came home from Vietnam to a Country that did not want anything to do with the men and women who had gone to war. The politics of the Vietnam War meant nothing to most of the men who went to war. Their Country called and they answered.
Now I was home, I only had one real direction. I knew that I wanted to go to college. I had graduated from High School with barely a 2.0 average and in 1965 that was not good enough to get into any college. By 1969, Junior Colleges had become wide spread across the Mid West. They were said to be a way of getting further education in a trade or the start to a profession. It was for me, a means of cleaning up my act and starting to pursue my dream of a career in Marine Biology.
I knew that I would be able to get help to go to College by using the GI Bill to pay for a good part of my education and as long as I got good grades, it would pay for most if not all of a four year degree. But first I had to get through a two year degree program and get my grades up so that I could be accepted into a Major University to go after a Degree in Marine Biology.
I settled down to working at what ever jobs were available to earn money for school. I had seven months to put money away and get ready to go to school.
My first job was a beef lugger in a Kosher Packing house, that was a man killer. It was also the highest paying job I could find at $4.25 and hour to start, it was double what any other jobs were paying back then. When I went to apply, I could almost see the Personnel Director drool. I was in the best shape of my life at six-five and two hundred seventeen pounds. He saw me as an answer to his prayers. The best lugger they had working, had passed away two days before of a massive heart attack, while working. He collapsed on the loading dock with a hundred and ninety pounds of beef on his shoulder. They needed someone big and strong and it looked like I was it.
For the next seven months it was up at 0500 hrs, in to work at 0600. I'd work one or two shifts, depending on how many beef had been processed the previous day. Most days seemed to end around 1500 to 1600 in the afternoon. By then it was all I could do to drag my sorry butt to the "Y," and soak in their hot whirlpool tub for an hour or so. For the first two or three weeks I was dragging myself home and collapsing in bed. My diet was mostly catch as catch can. Somehow, I'd manage to roll out at 0500 the next morning.
When you are young, your body gets into condition rapidly. It wasn't very long 'till I could walk out of the Packing House after work, and go with some of the guys for a beer at the local tavern. Time seemed to be heavy on my hands. I wanted to be away at school getting on with my life, but I considered what I was doing a necessary path to reach my goals.
While I was working I received notice from a small Junior College that was only in its second year of operation that I had been accepted, and to report for classes in the Fall. I could hardly wait. I had six months to go. I settled down to work, and to getting myself mentally prepared to study. I had never been much of a student in High School.
Before I knew it, it was time to leave for school.
Living off campus...
I left for school from my home in western Iowa and headed east to the small central Iowa Community College that was to be my home for the next two years. It was Wednesday when I arrived, I was assigned a room in the new men's dorm on the second floor. My new room mate arrived the next day. He was also a Vietnam Vet and it turned out that we were shirt tail relations. He was a son of a long lost cousin of my Grandpa. We hit it off pretty well from the beginning. I arrived a couple of days early, so I could learn my job that had been set up for me, to help pay some of my schooling costs. This would help the money I had saved before coming to school to last longer. I found out that my roommate had the same arrangement, and we only had to wait over the weekend for the Food Service to open the following Monday. We had to get through the weekend and then we would be able to get in to a normal routine.
We settled in to enjoy the weekend and decided to go out and scout out the town on Friday night. We went out and had a couple of beers and headed back to the dorm early. When we arrived, we found the floor was jumping with drunk teenaged football players. The team had been on campus for a couple of weeks longer than we had, and had gotten into the routine of practicing and getting tutored for classes that they would be having during the week and then tying one on over the weekends. Seems that most of them had been recruited for their playing skills and not so much for their academic skills.
After listening and hardly sleeping because of the noise all weekend, I decided that I couldn't live under those conditions very long. Monday morning, bright and early, found me in front of the desk of the lady in charge of housing.
After telling her of our experiences of the past weekend. I asked her what alternative arrangements were available for off campus housing. I still wanted to be able to work my job in the food service, but I knew that I couldn't survive the dorm life. Marine Barracks were tame and quiet compared to the chaos of a bunch of young males away from Mommy and Daddy for the first time in their lives.
Suzy, (the lady in charge of housing) and I had met the previous Wednesday, when I had come to campus. I guess I must have made a good impression. She was smiling and giggling at almost everything I said even when it wasn't funny.
"Tom, I think, I have just what you are looking for. Just this past Friday a very nice older lady came to the office looking for a possible roomer for her house. It seems that her previous tenant passed away a month or so a go. Now she was looking for a younger person to have the room. She specifically asked for an older more mature male student. She didn't want me to post the listing on the board, but to just send likely gentlemen over to meet her, she felt that her advanced age might be a hindrance for some," she said.
"Would it bother you to rent a room in a house with an older lady?" Suzy asked.
"I don't think so, how old is she?
"I don't really know. She was very nice looking and very tall, my guess, is that she is close to sixty years old."
"I don't think that would be a problem. I was raised by my Grandma and Grandpa. Being around older people has never been an issue for me. I enjoyed being around them sometimes. You can actually learn something." I laughed.
"Her name is Emma, here is her address."
Suzy wrote it down and handed it to me.
"How much is she asking for rent, for the room?" I asked her.
"Well, that is the best part, she only wants $5.00 a week." She told me that she wants to have someone in the house in case she falls or needs assistance. She doesn't have any close family and with out some one living there with her, She's afraid to be alone too much. Her husband passed away 10 years ago and an elderly lady friend moved in shortly after his death and she is the one who passed away last month. She has never really been completely alone for very long," she told me.
I decided to go right away and meet this lady. $5.00 a week for a room would really help me stretch my limited dollars. I could eat for free at the food service on the days that I worked. If I was going to live off campus, I would now have to figure out how to eat the other meals on my own because I would not be staying in the dorm any longer.
I drove around for awhile, her house was not easy to find. I went down the street to a cul-de-sac. I looked around for the address and didn't see a house with that number anywhere, the numbers seemed to skip over the one that I was looking for. As I was driving around the circle for about the 3rd time, I noticed a lane along the side of one yard past one of the houses. It was just a pair of gravel paths that ran parallel back into some trees. There was no sign or other indication of where the lane went. I decided to take a chance and go down the lane on foot to see where it went. I parked the car and started walking down the lane and very soon I was walking through a tunnel of trees with ferns at the bases and the scent of water and moss all around, it was cool and a light dappled shade suffused the morning light. I walked along for about a ¼ mile and then the trees started to thin out and I came to the edge of a beautifully manicured lawn and dozens of flower beds all scattered randomly about the grounds. I kept walking and came around a gentle bend in the road and came upon a beautiful white gazebo. I stood there looking at it and then past it to a beautiful large white southern style mansion. There were soaring white columns and a wide veranda. There were a pair of white rocking chairs sitting on the porch.
"May I help you, young man?" I heard a voice ask me. I looked around and didn't see any one.
"Over here." The voice said. I looked in the direction the voice came from and just down below the edge of the Gazebo floor along the edge to the right I saw a woman down on her hands and knees working in the flower bed.
"May I help you? The lady asked me for the second time.
"Yes, I am looking for a lady named Emma." I told her.
"I am Emma." She told me. With that, she rose to her feet very gracefully She walked toward me across the grass. She extended her hand. "Good Morning, how can I help you?"
.... There is more of this story ...