by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
This one is a personal thank you to a very special person. A sort of long overdue acknowledgement of how special the memories are that she so unselfishly gave to me, so many years ago. She said recently,
"I always thought of myself as a submariner's girl. It's nice to know I really was."
There was never a qual card for qualifying as a submariner's girl but if there had been, Susan Elisabeth you would have made it hands down.
Where do I begin. She was my high school squeeze... Fresh, wholesome, adventurous, devilish... 100% red-blooded American girl... And could wear you out chasing the tail of her comet.
When Sue was your love, you got a bonus... A kind of surprise package deal... You got her lovely mother, Grace. Anyone who didn't fall in love with Grace was past salvage. She set a table with home cooking that could draw a fellow away from a tie ball game in the ninth inning. I loved Grace and for reasons never fully understood, Grace loved me. I still have her Cheese Grits recipe, so I still have breakfast with Grace. She's in Heaven... Most likely, feeding stray bluejackets who show up on her doorstep, great chow and telling them when Sue arrives they better hit the supply officer up for fresh batteries for their pacemakers (Main power electricians will probably be dragging around one of those one ton MLA 77A Exide wet lead acid monsters on a solid gold hand truck).
Most girls dropped you like a hot potato when you got to Great Lakes, and didn't write. 'A' School and New London didn't improve your love letter production a helluva lot either. Susan Elisabeth never failed you.
At submarine school, we studied the Becuna (SS-319). It was nice to escape from all that gahdam trim and drain... IMO pump pressure ratio to the hydraulic accumulator bullshit... And read the words "I miss you so very much"... And catch five minutes of daydreaming about magic moments in a '57 Olds... Where a lovely girl allowed intimate moments beyond bra hooks... And made you forget about everything but her, the stars and lightning bugs. There is something wonderful about unasked for... Wholly voluntary hugs and the gift of soft lips... Softest lips ever.
The letters came. I had a lower rack in Barracks 142... Definitely not the penthouse at the Waldorf Astoria but everything looks the same when they turn off the lights.
"Whatcha want, Armstrong?"
"Let me borrow your flashlight."
"Wanna look at my girl's picture. Beginning to forget what real good looking women look like... Need a refresher... Kind of a wet dream booster shot."
"Get outta here... Jeezus Armstrong, you keep it up and the medics are going to be sprinkling wierd stuff in your chow."
"Gimme yur gahdam light... You wanna see one helluva good looking girl?"
She was. That may be an understatement.
Boat service could be a lonely business. Oh sure, there was a lot of superficial sex... One nighters... Commercial conveyor belt sheep dip. Commonly known as "That'll be twenty-five, here's your white hat" sex. Not the same as being loved. Knowing someone, somewhere truly missed you and was waiting someplace on the other side of the pressure hull, to wrap her arms around you... You can't buy that.
When I got in and the lines were doubled up and we shoved the brow over so some lard-ass mail clerk off 'Mother Onion' could drag a couple of worn out, postal-reject mail bags over so the chief could pass out mail and make wise-ass remarks about paternity subpoenas and missed car payment notices. It was great to get an envelope with beautiful handwritten addressing… And an imprint in lipstick. You smiled the wise, all-knowing 'I just robbed the cookie jar' smile and shoved the envelope in your dungaree pocket.
You didn't read it right away. It was like fine French wine… To be savored slowly and enjoyed at leisure. (How the hell did I become an authority on fine French wine? Sly Fox wasn't French… Hell, I'm not sure it was even wine… More like turpentine-based roach extermination fluid.)
So after the liberty sections went over the side, I would find a dry spot next to a well-ventilated section of pressure hull forward of the escape trunk where the impulse air flasks didn't impede air flow from the limber holes, and enjoy my letter. Forty years later, that may not appear to be a big deal to folks who never existed on bad air, chewable coffee and love letters for long periods of time.
If you could wangle a seventy-two, scare up a clean set of whites and fifty bucks, you could hitchhike home and wrap your arms around your deep saltwater fantasy and with luck, be able to field test the latest in lingerie fastenings… And hope that lovely Susan Elisabeth didn't catch a high heel in the electrical spaghetti wire under the dashboard of the old man's car.
"Jeezus Christ son… What in the hell did you do to the gahdam car last night? Damn seat adjustment is out… Power windows won't work and the lighter won't light… What the hell happened?"
I knew instantly he didn't want to hear the truth. Sue's high heels got tangled in the wire under the dash. Once your dad finds cotton undies under the front seat, you don't want to visit that subject ever again, on purpose.
"Dick Marshall's dog jumped in the car."
Dick Marshall didn't own a dog… Had to remember to tell him he owned an imaginary dog that screwed up the wiring in the old man's car.
First love is freely given… No expectations other than full commitment… Life is new… Still has the original cellophane intact. The cynicism that comes with maturity isn't there. You have suffered no disillusions, no skepticism, no hurts, no major disappointments… they are in the future. At nineteen and twenty, you own the world and can operate out of a diesel boat side locker and a bunk bag. You can also take your trusty electrician's knife and pry out a couple of pop rivets in the side locker frame just enough to create a slot big enough to wedge a picture of Susan Elisabeth in, to focus your dreams.
Somewhere, sometime, somehow we lost it… Lost what we had… Lost each other. We cashed in our dreams for the reality of life and grew up... We cheated ourselves.
Yes, Susan Elisabeth, you were a submariner's girl… The best. You spent a lot of time at sea, wedged in a side locker frame.