Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 10 – chance encounters of the best kind

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Looking Back: 10 – chance encounters of the best kind

     Sometimes something wonderful happens when you least expect it

US Naval Base, Norfolk, VA
      Perhaps Norfolk had a a negative view of sailors because of the size of the naval base there and the ratio of military personnel to the actual civilian population. At any rate, Norfolk didn't make us feel like “America's finest” and the “good” people tended to shun us. It was really two different worlds and rarely did the twain meet—if ever. The feeling was mutual and that was why I couldn't get out of Norfolk fast enough and landed in the clink. Henceforth, I'll put Norfolk and negativity to rest once and for all.

like sunshine emerging from a dark cloud

      Florida was like sunshine emerging from a dark cloud and so seemed the people. The Key West Naval Air Station was a small naval base at the southern end of the Florida keys. Sailors were not tainted with the brush of notoriety and bad reputation. Key West was a pretty laid back, sleepy mañana kind of town, hospitable to people of all persuasions—including sailors.

Naval Air Station,  Key West, FL
      Being stationed in Key West was the next best thing to being on permanent holiday. Except for my dipstick Ensign of broken bridge wing fame, duty on the Sally was pretty hassle free. We were in the auxiliary service fleet, rigid regulations of dress and protocol were relatively relaxed. It was as nearly idyllic (from my decidedly non gung-ho point of view) as it is possible to be in the military. We were between wars—hot ones that is. The Korean War had ended with an armistice in 1953. In 1954, President Eisenhower stated the “domino theory” related to Southeast Asia after the defeat of France at Dienbienphu. The paranoid fear was that other SE Asian nations would fall, like dominoes, to Communism. The Geneva Convention (1956) had split Vietnam in two (North and South), and the first American military advisers and trainers arrived in Saigon laying the foundation for America's evolving involvement. But the debacle it was fated to become was still just a blip on the horizon and we were enjoying the Florida sunshine.

typical roadside establishments in the Keys
      A couple of my shipmates and I were on one of our usual sojourns up the Keys. I think it was around Key Vaca, but I'm not sure. At any rate one Key was pretty much like another along the Overseas Highway, basically lined with drive in restaurants and motels. Key Vaca is situated about halfway along the Overseas Highway between Key Largo and Key West. We had stopped for something to eat at one of these drive ins and were eating, drinking and shooting the bull. There was what appeared to be part of a family (no man) sitting at a nearby table, an obvious mother and four kids (three girls and a boy). The oldest girl was about my age, maybe a little younger, and very attractive. The whole family, as a matter of fact, was attractive. Assuming they wouldn't want to associate with a bunch of sailors we pretended not to notice them.

     All of sudden, the mother addressed us quite boldly and straightforwardly asked us if were trying to avoid them. I guess our masquerade of pretended indifference was pretty transparent. Taken aback, we turned and started laughing. I said something bantering like: “No we're just minding our own business and keeping out of trouble. Hope we weren't being too loud and disturbing your lunch.” That broke the ice and we all started chatting. 
painting "At the Silver Slipper, Key West," by Waldo Peirce
     Peg, the mother, was very open and vivacious, but my eye kept roving back to Carole, the eldest. They were from Kendall, a suburb in Dade County south of downtown Miami, and, like us, they were out for a drive in the country—or, I should say, a drive in the Keys. Mr. T., who was an airline pilot, was away on a flight. We told them that we were sailors stationed in Key West and, lo and behold, no “Oh!” and no raised eyebrows. We were being treated like ordinary guys instead of dissipated sailors and it felt wonderful.

      And then, beyond belief, these terrific people invited us to visit them at their home in Kendall and actually gave us their address and telephone number. I think I said something like: 
      "Thanks. We don't get up to Miami very often, but if we're ever in your neighborhood we'll give you a call."  

     And, then silently, to myself:

     “We'll be there with bells on!”

To be continued....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The experience of being an outsider within your own world, in Norfolk, reminded me of the movie An Officer and a Gentleman.

I LOVE Key West. You described it perfectly.

Can't wait for the next installment of …As Joe's World Turns!

This is such a wonderful gift to Robin, incidentally.