We purposely got a late start from Troutdale, Oregon on May 12 in order to avoid the passing bad weather and any residual rush hour traffic around Portland. We only had a little over one hundred miles to travel to get our next stop, Centralia, Washington.
Centralia is the home of my older sister, Holly, and her husband, Clark. I had not seen them for over 13 years and it had been much longer for Connie. In fact Connie had never met Clark. It was a good albeit long overdue reunion. We had them visit the motorhome where we had camped in a nice little RV Park not far from their home. After a few hours of catching up we went over to their house for a tour then it was off to dinner for more catching up and, of course, good food. We made it an early evening and went back to our coach after dinner. The next day Connie and I did a little shopping and exploring and met up with Holly and Clark at their house in the late afternoon and eventually went out for dinner at a little local Mexican restaurant. All in all it was a good visit. It was too short, but at least we were able to start to bridge all the years since we were last together. And certainly the conditions under which we met were much improved as the last time I was in Centralia was when our mother had passed away rather suddenly.
From Centralia we moved up the road to McChord Air Force Base just south of Tacoma. Our original plan had been to use McChord as a home base for a few weeks and make day trips in all directions to visit friends, family and places we had not seen in a long time. Prior to arriving in Centralia we altered the plan to include the stop in Centralia and shorten the McChord stop to several days and then move over to the Kitsap Peninsula for a few days and finally cross over the Puget Sound to the Seattle area for a few more days before heading north. As we examined that plan we decided it was not economically sensible and would not afford us an opportunity to do a little resting. So we went to a modified plan A and stayed at McChord for two weeks and traveled all directions but south to do our visiting.
The plan was supported by our good friends Joe and Janet Drouin. Janet was Connie’s matron of honor at our wedding. Joe is one of those really nice guys everyone likes to call a friend. They are sort of retired now as well (Joe is the director of the Kitsap County Rodeo, for one thing and Janet is working 2 days a week with a senior citizen who needs some home assistance) so they decided to bring their fifth wheel down to McChord and spend a few days with us. They couldn’t get there before May 21st, so we made other visiting and travel plans to fill the time between our arrival and theirs.
One day we took a drive to Mount Rainier which is literally out the back gate of McChord. Well, out the back gate and around a few corners and several miles to the east. Certainly it looks to be out the back gate as you drive through the base. Anyway, the day we picked was sort of bad weather-wise. The forecast was for improving weather in the Tacoma area. So we went for it. We were about half way to where you start climbing towards the mountain and the weather was deteriorating when I turned to Connie and said we should have checked the weather for the mountain. After a short discussion on our shortsightedness we decided to push on. Boy, were we glad we did. Within a few miles the weather started improving. The traffic was super light and we essentially had the road to ourselves making it easy to drive slowly and take in the majesty of this great volcano. We were frequently the only people stopped at the several overlooks we pulled into. It was a wonderful drive. At one scenic overlook we spotted a nesting pair of Bald Eagles. We could not tell if they had any little ones in the nest as it was so deep that when one of the adults was in the bottom all we could see was a head. We were able to share our discovery with two other couples who stopped to enjoy the view.
We enjoyed stopping and looking at the many waterfalls coming off the mountain as well as all the wildflowers that were still in bloom. Eventually we made it to the Henry Jackson Visitor Center which unfortunately was the end of the road as a section of the road a short distance away had not yet been cleared of snow and ice and was therefore closed preventing a complete drive around the mountain. We enjoyed a small lunch at the visitor center while watching hikers work their way up the snow covered mountain in groups of up to 10 or 12. We made the return drive with far fewer stops, but we took with us many memories and photos that will eventually be posted on my web album.
My first tour of duty following commissioning in the fall of 1983 was aboard the USS Long Beach. My commanding officer for most of that tour was Captain Fred Triggs. Fred was more than just the commanding officer; he had established an atmosphere within the ship that encouraged the complete development of the Sailors and officers; not just the required development as watch standers and potential war fighters, but the more traditional education in Naval customs and in the case of the wardroom social customs and what we used to call wardroom etiquette. For me the association with USS Long Beach and more importantly the training I received from Fred Triggs was instrumental to my eventual success as a Naval Officer. So, why am I sharing all this? Because our next adventure was meet Fred and his wonderful wife Judy at their home in Edmonds with follow-on travel to Naval Station Everett where their “boat” Nord Lys is moored. As it turned out the Triggs were going on a weekend trip within the Puget Sound with several other members of their yacht club. They had asked us to come along, but we could not commit to that much time. As a substitute we helped them pre-flight the boat by taking it out into the bay (Connie got a stint as helmsman to her great joy) and over to the fueling piers and then back to the holding tank pumping station. Our underway time was just a bit over an hour total with about a half hour stop to fuel and fifteen minutes to pump tanks. None the less it was a great time. Of course Judy would never let anyone spend any time on her boat without fixing at least one meal. Before getting underway she prepared a delightful lunch. Upon our return to the dock she brought out the appetizers as Fred teased us about the place they had selected to take us to dinner. Following appetizers Connie distracted Judy long enough for me to get deep into washing dishes so I could say I contributed to the beautiful day in some small way. We then secured the boat and headed off to dinner. Of course Fred’s teasings were accurate and we had a marvelous dinner. The Cooper River Salmon had just arrived in the Seattle area that week and of course was front and center on the menu. Oh, what a great fish!
Our time with the Triggs was a lot of fun. I was really happy to be able to once again thank Fred for the positive influence he had on my career all those years ago. It had been over twenty years since we had last seen them although we have maintained contact through the years via holiday cards and e-mail. It was really great to see them and spend such a wonderful day with them. We promised to budget more time the next time we are in the area so we can cruise with them on Nord Lys.
Another long time Navy friend, Bob Aronson also retired in the Puget Sound area. He and Peggy now call Poulsbo, Washington home. When Bob got our e-mail saying we were at McChord, he immediately called to say he would be in the area between meetings at Fort Lewis and Seattle and would love to stop by to see the motorhome and us. Not sure which he was most interested in seeing, though. At any rate Bob did come out to the RV Park on McChord Air Force Base and spent a good bit of time catching up. We then made loose plans to meet at their home in Poulsbo before we left the area.
While Bob was visiting us I got a phone call from another Navy buddy, Rodney Hall. Rodney was the Diving Officer on USS Simon Lake while I was the Production Officer. We had a great relationship even though he had to work for me. Once during that tour of duty the ship pulled into Agousta Bay, Sicily where we completed voyage repairs on several ships of the Sixth Fleet. While there Rodney, Marsha, the commanding officer of USS Simon Lake, Kennon Wilson and his wife Barbara and Connie and I went on a sightseeing tour that included a gondola ride part way up Mount Etna. Once at the top of the ski run we then boarded a snow cat configured as a bus and continued several hundred meters on up the volcano. At the end of that ride we then followed our Italian guide further up the slope. Our goal was to get to the rim and look into the caldron. However the water vapor was far too heavy and our visibility was reduced to near zero. Therefore, our guide suggested that we turn back. Now, a little background; at the base of the mountain the temperature was in the mid 70’s. Where we got off the ski lift the temps were probably in the high 30’s. As we got off the makeshift bus I know the temperature was well below freezing and there was a pretty good wind. I had gathered everything out of the back of our car that might help to keep us warm. As we ascended the volcano I began passing out the jackets and blankets I had stuffed in my day pack. Rodney had come in a short sleeve shirt, and shoes with no socks, yet he refused any of the clothing I had to offer. Making matters worse, the guide pointed to a steam vent coming from the side of the mountain and suggested in his less than perfect English that we might want to use the vent to warm up a little. As the six of us gathered around the vent we immediately started feeling better. Seconds later I realized that the humidity of the vents exhaust was approaching 100% and I backed away and warned the others that we were soon going to not only be cold, but wet and cold. Rodney was the last to stop hugging the vent. He borrowed a jacket for the walk back down the slope.
Rodney is now partially retired and he, Marsha and son, Pierson live in Silverdale, Washington. We made plans to get together at sort of the halfway mark for each family. That place was a really good pizza place. That is really good if you have ever eaten real Italian pizza. For an American restaurant they do pretty well. We spent an evening catching up with not only what the four of us had been up to, but what many of the other folks who served with us in Italy have been up to. We left our respective jobs early in 1996, so there was a good bit of catching up to do. It was great to see Rodney and Marsha again. I had not seen Pierson since he was a wee baby. He is now old enough to not want to sit and listen to his parents and their friends talk about other people he may or may not know.
Joe and Janet finally showed up at the RV Park and got the last remaining space and it was just across from us. We were all so happy to see one another again. It had been some 23 years since we had last been together, but within an hour you wouldn’t have known it. Another couple from those days was on the east side of the sound for the day, so Joe called them and we met them for dinner at one of the casinos in the Tacoma area. This particular casino has a pretty neat deal. When you arrive you check in with guest services and get a card. Among other things that card knows when you checked in. Then you go play the slots for two hours and when you check back in at guest services you get a voucher that pays for your dinner at a super buffet on premises. So, we checked in, got our cards, spent some amount of time catching up with B J and Lois and then played the slots for the balance of our two hours. Between Connie and me we broke even on the slots, so dinner was essentially free. We spent the dinner time really catching up with B J and Lois. It was all great fun and, by the way, the food was really good as well.
We ended up spending the long weekend with Joe and Janet. One day Joe drove us into Seattle to the Pikes Place Market. I wanted to see the original Starbucks store and their newest store just up the street a few blocks. The original was just too neat. It looks like an old coffee roasters market only they actually brew coffee there now. When it was first opened all that was sold there was roasted coffee beans. I had a cappuccino there and then we walked to the newest store in the area. I wanted to see the new store because it was built as a “green” establishment. There are a lot of requirements that must be satisfied to call an establishment green. In the case of this particular Starbucks all the furniture is re-used from other places, the counters are remanufactured from previously used materials. Even the stall walls in the restrooms are constructed of a composite material that used to be plastic bottles. The store does not look modern and that too is okay. It really has a lot of charm and felt really comfortable to me. The company plans to build many more stores on this model. That means each will be unique. As time goes on not all Starbucks will look alike, but the coffee will always be the same high quality.
Back at the Pikes Place Market I found a T-shirt featuring the first Starbucks store. Needless to say it is now in my closet.
We walked along the Market both before and after lunch. Lunch was had in the Market in the upper level looking out on the Puget Sound. We could see the ferry boats coming and going. It was great fun.
For our last night together I grilled steaks and roasted vegetables and potatoes on the grill while Janet prepared salad and provided the dinner table in their fifth wheel. It was the perfect meal to end our weekend together.
Before I leave Joe and Janet I have to say that they brought with them their Wii game. I wish they hadn’t. Connie has been after me for a good long while now to buy one. I had effectively resisted by just ignoring her. After an evening of playing golf without having to look for a ball in the rough and another evening of bowling while we checked the machine out on our TV and finally some extreme skiing, I was pretty much hooked. We have not bought one yet, but I fear one is in our future.
It was really great to get back together with Joe and Janet. It is hoped that we will be able to meet up along the road somewhere in the future as Joe has a job that he can work from anywhere he can get to the internet. Janet is currently working part time, but that situation could change in the not so distant future making them much more mobile than they are now. We sure hope so. They are a wonderful couple and we really enjoy their friendship.
Connie and I took a day and drove over to the Kitsap Peninsula in the car to wander around Bremerton, Silverdale and the Submarine Base at Bangor. Connie had not been there since she left in December of 1986 when she loaded our household goods onto a truck headed for a ship headed for Scotland. I was safely in San Diego at the time having no fun at all getting the ship ready for its next deployment minus me. Anyway, it had been a long time since Connie had seen the area and it has certainly changed a great deal. It seems a lot of people relocated to the area from California in the 90’s causing a building boom. At one point in our little driving tour Connie remarked that she could have been dropped in with a blindfold in any number of places she might have been, but the Kitsap Peninsula would not have been on the list. That is true, unless she had been dropped at the front porch of her old house, which eventually became our old house as Bremerton is where we met and were married. The house we made our first home together looks pretty much the way it did when we left. In fact, I remember that shortly before we got married I installed one of those mercury vapor lights on the garage. It came on with the setting sun and went off just after dawn. I was pretty proud of that light. Shortly after we got married we moved to Hawaii. Some years later when we moved back to the area while I was on USS Long Beach we moved back into the house. I was talking to our neighbor across the street who had been there the whole time and he asked if there was something that could be done about the light. As it happened, the light shown into his bedroom window all those years and he had not had a good night’s sleep since I installed it. I was shocked to learn this and immediately went out and bought a switch to put in the circuit so the light could be controlled as a porch light. I was only trying to provide my bride to be with some extra security, I hadn’t meant to disturb our neighbor’s sleep for four years. Anyway, the house looks just like it used to and the light is still there.
While on the peninsula we went to Poulsbo and found Bob and Peggy’s home where we spent the late afternoon and evening catching up and having a delicious home cooked dinner. Bob and I had first met while attending specialized training in the Navy. Peggy and Connie met while each was visiting their respective spouse for the weekend and doing laundry at the same time. A few years later when Connie and I moved to Woodbine, Georgia, we would once again meet up with Bob and Peggy. At that time Bob was the Engineering Officer on USS Tennessee. He and Peggy lived next door to a couple whom I had both professional and personal contact with while Connie was able to enjoy only personal contact. The ”she” of that couple, of course, is our great friend Trish whom I have written about many times before. Through Trish we were reacquainted with Bob and Peggy and all have remained good friends since. So, once again it was great to be able to reconnect with these wonderful people and get caught up. If we have any luck at all we will all regroup in Key West next winter for a little fun in the sun. We are hoping to include Trish in that group.
Through all of this Connie and I are trying to run at least a few times a week in order to keep from losing all the conditioning we had gained while at Travis and Mission before. We did well to keep all the eating from hurting us.
On our final day of visiting while in the Seattle area we were to meet with two very special people in my life, my former mother-in-law and former sister-in-law. Charlotte Tasker and I established a mother-son relationship from the first time we met one another. We had a wonderful relationship. I remember one time my former wife, Mary Ann, and I were visiting Charlotte and her husband Ken in the small lumber town of Tahsis, British Columbia. Charlotte made a delightful dinner with the exception of a rice dish that she was trying for the first time. As I was about to take my first taste of the rice she commented that she had never tried that particular brand before and she wanted to know what I thought of it. Well, I was trying to be the polite son-in-law and I made it clear to all that it was just wonderful even though I had trouble forcing it down as it was truly horrid tasting. Of course as soon as everyone else had taken a bite the truth was out and I was immediately scolded for being politically correct (although I don’t think we called it that in those days). Some months later I had a birthday and to my great surprise Charlotte sent me a gift. To my even greater surprise the gift was the second box of what had been a two for one deal when she bought the rice she had served us that night. That act started what would become one of the longest exchanges of the same box of bad rice the world has seen. That rice had so many miles on it that the box finally gave out and when I last got it in the mail kernels of rice were leaking out of the package. Many years later and long after I was no longer married to Mary Ann, Charlotte’s other and older daughter Barbara, sent word that Charlotte would be celebrating one of those memorable birthdays and could I be part of the surprise. Our circumstances at the time prevented me from attending, but I did send a similar looking box of rice as a gift. Of course Barbara was in the joke and made sure that Charlotte knew exactly who the gift was from before she opened it. A great laughter came from Charlotte as she realized I still had one more move in me. Most of the other guests must have really wondered what was so funny.
Well, with that very long introduction you must be wondering where this is heading, unless of course you have quit reading. We had notified Barbara that we would be coming to the Seattle area and that we would love to see her (Barbara) and that I would love to see her mother and Connie would like to meet her as well. Barbara had once visited us when we lived in Northern Virginia therefore she and Connie were already acquainted. Barbara now lives in Bellingham, Washington, while Charlotte lives in Woodinville with my former wife and her husband Ken. As it turned out, Mary Ann and Ken were going to be out of town and Barbara was going to be staying at their house with Charlotte. She was also treating Charlotte to a pedicure on our last day in the area. We put together a plan that would cause Connie and me to meet Charlotte and Barbara at the nail salon about the time they were finishing. Barbara was not going to tell Charlotte of our visit until that morning to enhance the surprise. Then of course there was the issue of my hair and beard. When Charlotte knew me I was a proper Sailor with short hair and maybe a mustache although we were not sure. Barbara had seen photos of me with longer hair and the beard, but even she was not totally prepared for my now shoulder-length hair. Charlotte looked at me and knew it was me only because Barbara had told her so. When she finally let me say hello you could see the recognition all over her face although she tried to deny that she would have known me had I walked up to her and said hello.
We had a wonderful time over a Thai lunch catching up and just getting used to one another again. Late in the lunch I finally said that I had intended to greet her with a box of rice, but I had not been able to find one bad enough for the occasion. She roared with laughter, making my day, for sure.
I have short suited Barbara a bit in this dialog and I must correct that. Barbara and her son Kenny, and Mary Ann and I all lived together in Lynwood, Washington too many years ago to remember. Barbara and Kenny had moved up from Nicaragua to get to a safer place. Mary Ann and I were arriving from Napa, California at the same time. It made sense for us to all share the same apartment while Barbara got re-established and we adjusted to our new duty station. It is sort of ironic; the apartment complex that we lived in had a requirement that you had to have children living with you in order to rent there. Were it not for Barbara, Mary Ann and I would not have qualified. In fact, when Barbara found a full time job in another city, Mary Ann and I were forced to move out within a month. Anyway, in the nine months that we all lived together Barbara and I became close friends as well as in-laws. When the marriage between Mary Ann and me failed, Barbara and I remained close friends. So, our meeting again while in the Seattle area was as important for us as it was for Charlotte and me. We had a great day, albeit a little too short. We will just have to go back.
Soon after returning to McChord the last of our visitors arrived. Another retired Naval officer and good friend of ours, Jeff Cassius and his wife Teri, are now retired and living in Silverdale. As they were going to be at Fort Lewis for a good part of the day and they wanted to see our motorhome, it was practical for us to meet at the RV Park. Jeff and I first served together when he was an ensign and I was a first class petty officer and we were both in the Engineering Department of USS Haddock, SSN 621. The Haddock had gone through some pretty hard times just before and during the first several months of our respective tours. Jeff was learning how to be a division officer and I was honing my leadership skills and trying to have a positive impact on the ship. Obviously we did not socialize much during that tour as that was not allowed. We did have a mutual respect for one another. Many years later while I was serving as the executive officer of the Trident Refit Facility in Kings Bay Georgia, Jeff, who by then was a rear admiral, became the Commander, Submarine Group Ten, also in Kings Bay. Although I was not in his direct chain of command, our command had a position at the table for a variety of recurring meetings involving the submarine community in Kings Bay. I frequently represented my command at those meetings and was therefore able to continue to grow the relationship between Jeff and me. Meanwhile, Connie was active in the submarine spouses organization and was therefore in close contact with Teri during that tour. We all became pretty close friends and as we moved on to different commands and finally into retirement we have maintained contact mainly via e-mail.
Therefore, it was really good to get together with this wonderful couple in a relaxed environment without the constraints of rank we had to abide by just a few years ago. Connie and were delighted to see Jeff and Teri again and to have the opportunity to be just two couples working our way through life. We are so happy they made the effort to come to see us.
As you have just read the past few weeks a few days have been filled with reminiscing and getting reacquainted with many friends and the very location where Connie and I met and fell in love. It was a great few weeks with nearly every day filled to capacity. And with all we were able to accomplish there were yet other people in the area we were not able to connect with on this visit. We know we have to return and we intend to, we just are not sure when.
Saturday found us doing laundry and making sure all the pre-underway checks on the motorhome were complete so we could have a safe journey to the north.
The story continues when we arrive at our first stop in British Columbia. I am so close to being caught up I can almost taste it.
Please stay tuned.