The first year was hard on Jim…. Cleaning a machine shop was not an easy job, he shoveled and carried shavings out in a wheel barrow for about 5 machines, swept the floors, cleaned the bathroom and finally was given a “promotion” as the guy on the big machine was wanting to retire….
Jim worked with some wonderful people – With his other duties he was expected to learn the machines from Paul….. .An older man and a wonderful mentor… Paul and his wife meant a great deal to us but Paul was getting ready to retire and had eyes only on returning to his home in Texas. Jim paid attention and within a year he was on the machine with Paul at his side teaching him all he knew…. Paul left Jim his tools when he walked out the door and Jim has them to this day… along with many of Paul’s old books that Jim has memorized over the years…
We only had one car in those days and with all three little kids still at home, I was stuck at home unless I took Jim to work so I could have the car to go to the grocery store or whatever was needed. A year later we were finally able to get a hold of an old pickup that Jim drove to work, a 1967 Ford….. It was a chore to keep it running but he did, enough to get to work and back. Our son started kindergarten and life became a little easier with two vehicles. That allowed me to get out more…..
And during this time I was making new friends…. The first who come to mind are Bob & Katie. For lack of a better way to describe our relationship, they adopted us. They were older than we were by probably 20 years. Their family had all grown and left home, they grandchildren a distance away, and they were lonely… They fell in love with our children, and us, and as lonely as we were, they became our surrogate parents. Bob worked with Jim at the shop and Katie cooked at the one of the local grade schools…. Often times if there were left over’s at the school Katie would dish them up and bring them over to us….. Her comment was always, “now they were just going to throw this away, so if you don’t need it don’t worry about it pitching it”….. She would not accept any thanks, it was always just here you are, I’ve got to run. So many times that was the only thing we would have had to eat and it was so welcomed…. We enjoyed card games with them, holiday meals when we couldn’t make the trip back home, and fun times on weekends at the lake. They had hearts of gold and I’m not sure I could have survived those first few years without them….
Through others Jim worked with we were introduced to Joyce & Cary, which opened up a whole new world to us.
They were both Jim’s age, older than I. Joyce had left her home after high school to join the air force. She was stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi where she met and married Cary who was born and raised there, then they moved back to Colorado. They also had 3 children. They also loved to dance so we went out with them as often as possible. Almost immediately they became very close friends. Joyce loved to party so it seemed that she and I were always planning something. It didn’t take much of an excuse to decide to get a bunch together…. I always took care of the food and Joyce made sure there was a good bar and that everyone was invited. We made quite the team when it came to entertaining, our parties were always a success.
In 1970 they had planned a trip back to Biloxi to visit Cary’s Mother & family, and ask us to go with them. Jim or I had ever been in another state past Kansas, Oklahoma, or Colorado…. We had never flown in a large plane before…we had never seen water larger than cow creek, and we had never taken a vacation away from the kids for a whole week.
As plans progressed and became a reality to us, we were being transformed into a totally different way of life neither of us knew anything about…..
The folks agreed to keep the kids, we had our plane tickets bought and from the moment we boarded the plane we were on a discovery journey that I remember to this day… When the stewardess found out it was our first flight we were invited to the control cabin to meet the pilot, something of course in this day would never happen. I remember the fear and excitement of take off and finally landing in New Orleans where we rented a car to drive to Biloxi.
As we walked down the steps of the plane on to the tarmac my first thought was that I had walked into an oven…. It was a heat I had never experienced before, but that was only one of many things I had never experienced before. Immediately I realized how much about this old world I didn’t know….
I had written in one of my earlier blogs about my limited contact with blacks, and as we were leaving new Orleans that day in the rental car we passed a park. Most all of the people in that park was black. In complete seriousness and total naivety, I turned around and ask Cary if they were having a convention. He laughed and seeing him just last June, 40 years after the fact he is still laughing about that and many other firsts we had experienced in his company. We were accepted into his family with open arms….. We met his brothers, aunts, uncles, & cousins and they were all there for some of ‘granny’s” gumbo & watermelon that first evening. I can see in my mind standing in the kitchen and watching Cary & his two brothers standing behind their mama as she was putting the gumbo together… each one would sneak under her arm or around her shoulder to steal a fresh shucked oyster out of the pot without her seeing them. I could only stand and smile.
We were there on the 4th of July so as soon as it got dark we drove down to the beach to watch fireworks off of boats out in the gulf…. I stood in the gulf for the first time, I ate my first raw oyster, I learned to dance the boogaloo, I seen my first live oak tree, I visited my first fresh fish market, I was buried in the sand for the first time, we went crabbing that night when the fire works were over, I ate red beans and rice for the first time, and we partied at small juke joints every night we were there….
The day before we were to fly out, we drove back to New Orleans, Joyce and Cary & one of Cary’s brothers & sister in law went with us. We rented a motel room and proceeded to see the city… We started with coffee & beignets at Café Du Monde in the old French market, walked around Jackson square, visited the cemeteries, toured the beautiful Madame Pontalba’s buildings with their intricate iron works and bought some pralines to take home to Mom & Dad.
That afternoon the six of us went back to the motel to rest and pick out a restaurant for dinner…The first criteria was that they serve fresh lobster. I had never eaten it before…. Reservations made, we then crashed and caught maybe an hour of sleep before time to hit New Orleans at night. Dinner was everything we expected and more…. I remember my uneasiness when a very black waiter approached me from the rear to tie a bib around my neck. I was simply amazed as he dressed the lobster for me… gently removing every little piece of meat, it was placed on the plate and he explained each part as he did it. I savored every morsel..
Dinner over, we drove to the dock area and watched some of the big ships unloading cargo…. Then we boarded a dinner/dance riverboat that left at 8:00 and returned at midnight….It was our first time on a riverboat and on the Mississippi river! That’s probably when I fell in love with cruising, and we listened and danced to some great jazz music……..
Getting off the boat we found our way back to Bourbon Street which was just coming alive….. The bars were calling us in, the activity on the street holding us out. We spotted Pete Fountain’s bar, immediately went in and made reservations for the 2:00 a.m. show, then continued wandering up and down the strip until time…. His show being over at 4:00 a.m. Jim and I were dropped back at the motel…. Joyce & Cary had another week so they all drove back to Biloxi that night. We ask for a wake up call at 6:00….and called a cab to pick us up at 6:30…. Our plane left at 7:00 a.m. The next thing we knew the cabby was knocking on the door…. He waited until we hurriedly dressed and rushed us to the airport…. We were the last to board and our plane took off west. Home, family and work awaited us….. Over 40 years later I consider it to have been a big step in growing up…. This was as foreign to us as someone else traveling overseas….
The trip had been a gourmet taste of life beyond Cow creek. This trip was definitely one of the highlights of my life…..
As I was soon to find out there was a lot more to learn about life just waiting on us……