I have come across several ideas about what to do for a New Year’s Eve post. I felt attracted by the one where you put out the first sentence of the first post of each month for the year. Then I went and checked my first sentences of each month. Egads, how dull. How banal. How un-indicative. Anyone who wants to read them is welcome to visit my archives.
Some people are talking about their resolutions. I don’t make those any more. The making and regular breaking of them is too depressing. I count my blessings all the time, I don’t have to wait for the New Year to be induced to do that.
Really, I have found that I am a story teller, so I’m heading right for the story.
I’m over fifty, so I have experienced a lot of New Year’s Eves and Days. Most of them don’t really stick out in my mind. Oh, there was the year that our strong psychic connection resulted in both of us bringing home two identical bottles of champagne, so we had four bottles of bubbly that we felt compelled to try to drink. The evening was giddy, the next morning hung over. My resolution that year was something about not drinking too much the night before, not enjoying beginning the year with a headache.
And there was the year I actually scored tickets to the Grateful Dead’s New Year’s Eve concert, attended in an altered state and had a profound religious experience. That is a pretty good story, come to think of it.
There have been numerous parties involving good friends, fireworks, and bonfires. But nothing really stands out above the joy of greeting a “new year” with the people you love best.
But there is one New Year’s Eve that will forever stick in my mind. Jim and I had been married for a little longer than a year. He had managed to get promoted to Chief Petty Officer, and was scheduled for his regular duty rotation, which generally happens every 3 years. There are all sorts of considerations when you start talking to your detailer about where you are going to go next. He had been on a shore assignment, and had to go to a ship. But which ship? Where would it be stationed? Where was he likely to go after that?
We had managed to build up a fairly sizeable credit card debt, and we wanted to get out from under it. We wanted to save some money and use it to make a down payment on a house at our next duty station. He wanted to have some leverage with his detailer so he could stay on the West Coast rather than have to move to the East Coast.
Before he met me, Jim had spent a couple of assignments at Whidbey Island in Washington, and he really liked the Pacific northwest. I had some experience with it myself, having lived for some time in Juneau. So I was not averse to living in the Seattle area, in spite of all the rain. Housing prices in Bremerton and Silverdale were not out of reach for us.
An unaccompanied overseas assignment would garner us a little higher pay because of the hardship. There was an assignment that was in an area that was considered dangerous, namely the Persian Gulf, so there was also extra pay for that. I had a good job in San Francisco and would not have to move if he went to the unaccompanied assignment. In fact, when he returned from it, the taxpayers of the United States, in the form of the Navy, would pay to move us to our new place. And the detailer promised that if he went to the dangerous hardship assignment, our next assignment would be on a ship stationed in Bremerton, WA.
So, Jim chose the unaccompanied assignment, a ship called the LaSalle, which was the flagship of the Indian Ocean fleet. He was to be gone for one entire year. During that time, if we were lucky, he would get to come home for some leave.
The USS LaSalle was forward stationed. The port that she sailed out of and got supplies through was Manama, Bahrain. She never came back to a United States port, but stayed out in the Indian Ocean until it was time for her next refit. All personnel that were assigned to her were flown there, courtesy of the US government. As I understand it, getting from San Francisco to Bahrain by way of Norfolk, Virginia and Rota, Spain was quite the odyssey. But that is not my story, it is Jim’s.
When he got the new assignment, I had one of my first real tests as a “new” Navy wife. He was ordered to be in Norfolk by 8 a.m. on the 1st of January in order to catch the military flight to Bahrain. Needless to say, this cast rather a pall over our Christmas celebration. But it taught me a valuable lesson in the importance of living in the moment.
Around Thanksgiving Jim had gone through his stuff and packed up the things that he wanted shipped out to Bahrain. This included the dinner dress uniforms, which he was required to purchase since he was going to be on the Admiral’s ship and there were likely to be social occasions where he would need them. You don’t want to know how much the Navy’s version of a tuxedo, with all accompanying insignia and miniature medals, costs. And we had to buy TWO of them, one black, one white.. Actually, he did look rather splendid:
Anyway, we decided that we wanted to spend as much time as possible together before he actually left for the overseas assignment, and so when he got his airline tickets, he got the last possible flight out of San Francisco that would get him to Norfolk in time to catch the C5A that would take him across the Atlantic. It was a United Airlines red-eye leaving at 1:05 a.m. New Year’s Day.
Without going into too much detail, it was this particular assignment that taught us that you should not expect to have a real physical farewell when you are both under a lot of stress. There were certain hydraulic and concentration difficulties on both our parts that made our planned ecstatic evening fizzle most depressingly. We couldn’t drink to excess because there was a drive to the airport in the near future. After our wonderful dinner, which I can’t remember after all this time, I watched him complete his packing chores.
I remember being astonished that he could put all the clothes and gear he needed for the next year (with the exception of those aforementioned uniforms), into one sea bag and a carry-on that would fit under the seat in front of him.
The hour finally arrived, and we loaded up his baggage and headed off to the airport. At that innocent time, you were only required to be an hour early for your flight. Security consisted of walking through a metal detector, and anybody who wanted to could go to the gate area. We wanted to spend as much time together as possible, and so we decided to go to the gate together. Over the years we learned that the airport door drop-off is less stressful, but we were still new at this.
There was almost no one on the freeways as we drove to the airport. It didn’t help my frame of mind any to know that all the people who were usually driving around were probably at parties: dancing, drinking, getting ready for the countdown with their loved ones.
We got to the parking garage and found it nearly deserted. Not surprisingly, there was an extremely convenient parking spot. I had just gotten out of the car, and Jim was leaning over into the back seat, getting his bags out, when we heard all the taxis blowing their horns, and lots of ecstatic yelling from that direction. We looked across the car at each other, and Jim said, “Happy New Year, dear.” I returned the salutation in an equally unenthusiastic tone.
Bags checked, boarding pass in hand, we went to the gate area. All the bars in the terminal were closed, for some inexplicable reason. So we sat there, holding hands, and not saying a whole lot. The flight was called, one last kiss and hug, and then I watched him disappear around the corner of the flyway. I stood at the window of the the terminal, and saw the plane button up, back up and leave the gate.
I turned to walk back to the car through the deserted terminal. I made it a few gates down, and then I just sat down and cried. It was January 1, 1987. We got our bills paid by April, in spite of the amazing phone bills you incur when calling collect from Bahrain to san Francisco. I didn’t see him again until July 19, when he came home for two weeks leave. He returned for good from that assignment on January 11, 1988.
I’ll tell you, when young ladies complain to me about their husbands being gone over the week on a business trip, and they just don’t know what they will do with them gone “for SO LONG,” all I can do is sigh. And I tell them, “You have it easy, honey. I could do four days with both hands tied behind my back.”