I had not been in the Navy very long when I realized that, at least in my case, thinking about marriage was not an option. I would see ships depart San Diego almost on a daily basis and they were no sooner gone than the “WestPac widows” would hit the streets. “WestPac” is Navy lingo for Western Pacific. Ships destined for WestPac headed for places like the Philippines, Korea, Australia, and Hong Kong, and Japan. “WestPac widows” was the term commonly used to designate unfaithful wives who, when their husbands were not in port, entered into or continued liaisons with other men until their husband’s ship returned. I did not want to have that happen to me.
So it was, not long after I received my last discharge on 3
November 1972 that I started dating Mary Ann Whited of Vallejo, California.
I had met Mary a few months before asking her out and had not made a good impression on her. She was working in a Christian book store and my best friend Floyd and I had gone there to buy some books. Another employee was assisting Floyd. Mary thoughtfully asked if I needed help. I responded jokingly that I could help myself, meaning something quite differently that what she understood. That was her introduction to New York humor. She told me later that she thought I was the rudest person she had met.
A few weeks later I arrived just before opening time on a Monday morning and banged on the door. Mary waved me off with a “We’re not open yet.” I quickly informed her that I worked there now. The look on her face told me that she was greatly displeased.
Her displeasure slowly dissipated when she realized I could do the heavy lifting and reach the items to high for her. I also began to start liking her, but I did not want her to know. One day Mary and Cathy, another employee, were talking and I heard Mary say she was twenty-five years old. “I hope I never get that old,” I quipped. Irritated, she stormed off. Some days later after she had discovered I was a couple of years older
she lit into me. I just laughed. (If Mary was here to tell this story you would get a much more unfavorable telling of it. I was a stereotypical New Yorker).
Over the next few weeks our relationship improved as we got to know each other better and as I made an effort to be nicer. I got up the nerve — barely — to ask her to go ice skating with me. We would be on a double date with Cathy and her beau Rick. She accepted. It never entered my mind that very few people in California ice skated. We got to the rink and put our skates on and headed out. Mary gamely followed me but it soon became evident she was not a good skater. Within seconds she was off her feet and down on the ice. She really fell for me. I helped her up and she said, “I have weak ankles.” I said, “You don’t have weak ankles, you haven’t laced your shoes correctly. Here, let me fix that for you.” So, right there in the middle of all those people flying by at supersonic speed, I bent down and re-tied her shoes. The rest of the evening was much better and Mary started to get the hang of it. It was, however, the last time she went ice-skating.
After skating we all went to a pizzeria. As we got out of the car Mary realized her thumb was bleeding. I happened to have a first aid kit in the car so I grabbed it. I cleaned her wound and bandaged her hand and joked that she cut a pretty figure. Mary later told me that she had neither ice skated nor eaten pizza before.
Our meal over, we headed to Cathy’s house and talked until the wee hours of the morning. An officious woman at church heard about it and asked me what we were doing up so late. I told her, “skinny dipping.”
Over the next few weeks we continued to work together and went out on a few dates, spending New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day together. On the fourteenth of January we double-dated again with Cathy and Rick. Someone — I think it was Mary — suggested we wear railroad engineers’ hats. We found
some at the Army-Navy surplus store and went to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. While there we visited the DeYoung Museum. When you first enter there is a humongous room with statuary. I remarked that it was just like my home back in New York. Mary told one of her friends that I came from a wealthy family. Was she going to be disappointed!
It was about this time that I learned my dad had esophageal cancer. At that time esophageal cancer was considered terminal within six months. I was really down all week. I need to lay everything out on the table for Mary so we went out for a cup of coffee and some pie down on the waterfront. I didn’t want to go back to my residence so we went for a walk. I told her all about my family, about New York, about my aspirations for the future. We walked and talked for a long time. She thought I was going to tell her that I was going home. Not knowing it was just moments before midnight I asked her to marry me. At that precise moment the Mare Island Naval Shipyard midnight whistles went off. Mary swore she heard bells.
I took Mary home a little after 2 A.M. She went into the house and passed her mother’s bedroom on the way to hers. Mom yelled out, “Where have you been. It’s late!”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Mary retorted, “he’s going to be your son-in-law.”
“What?!” her mother yelled as she bounded out of bed and down the hallway.
“We’re getting married.” And we did, four months later.
Sadly, these orcas are no longer in the park. They were removed when the building behind them was replaced. They are now in storage awaiting refurbishment.