30 April 2014

I Feel Naked

She was the Lifeguard at the Officer's Club swimming pool.
I was the Officer's Club manager.
She was almost 5' 2" tall, weighed 104 pounds, and looked good in a two-piece bathing suit.
We talked.

Spending the summer with her folks in Savannah, her full-time job was teaching kids at a school in Alpharetta, Georgia. She was smart, funny, and cute as a newborn pup.
I asked her out. She allowed as to how that might be fun.

It was June of 1972.
For it or against it, most everyone in the country had decided the way we were prosecuting the war in Viet Nam sucked, and wanted our troops to come home, including several hundred Prisoners of War.
I had noticed an outfit called "Viva" was offering bracelets with the names of P.O.W.'s and M.I.A.'s designed to bring attention to their plight. I mentioned this to the Lifeguard, the gal that would later become my 1st wife, and she replied, "Let's get two of the same name to wear!"
So I put a check in the mail for two, requesting they have the same name on both.
Two weeks later they arrived. I put hers on her wrist, she put the second bracelet on mine.
We both vowed we would not take them off until our guy's status was determined.

Keeping the bracelet on my wrist was sometimes a struggle;
At my annual flight physical with the ARMY, the technician giving me the EKG would invariably say, "Take that off", pointing to the bracelet. And after I explained that wasn't gonna happen, most of them would acquiesce and wrap the bracelet in tape, then continue with the procedure. There was never a problem.

One summer day in 1982 I was mowing a lawn for a friend. The temp that day was in the 90's and the humidity was almost that high. Finished mowing, I was hot, sweaty, and covered in dust and grass clippings. To rinse off I dived into our pond.
Instantly I realized the bracelet wasn't on my wrist. Under those circumstances the bracelet would have held a little residual heat, but this time my wrist felt instantly cool.
I panicked, retraced my steps and couldn't find it. I gave up the search and started to walk away, but something in my head said, "Take another look".
I walked straight to a Honeysuckle bush attached to a fence in the rear of the yard and there it was...
The bush had reached out and grabbed my bracelet!
I put it back on, and in 42 years that was the ONLY time it was ever off my wrist.
Now and then I'd do an internet search to see if I could find any news about my guy.
It always ended up the same; they had found bones/DNA from his navigator, but nothing on him.

This week I searched again.
They've officially declared him K.I.A.. I was shocked to see one site even reporting they had found his DNA at the crash site. More importantly, that site had comments from his nephew, including a home town. Another search netted me a phone number, I called and left a message.
The nephew called the next morning. We talked for half an hour about his Uncle, the war in Viet Nam, and my experiences there. I told him of my intent to not remove the bracelet until his Uncle's status was determined, then to send it to a family member. He told me the report they had found DNA was not true. Still, he's been officially declared dead.
The nephew was excited to hear I'd send the bracelet.and gave me his full address.

I removed the bracelet yesterday and boxed it up for its journey.
It's like a part of my body is gone. Washing my hands, I always bump-bumped against the bracelet to remind me it was there.
Now every time I wash my hands I'm reminded.

Forty-two years.
Well over half my life.
A spot on my wrist needs a tan.

I  can only hope this brings peace and closure to this hero's family.

25 April 2014

Selling. Reluctantly.

"You guys are welcome to stay a few days in our condo."
We left home late, and arrived Destin at about 2 A.M..
We grabbed an adult beverage and went out on the balcony. Overcast... no light at all, we couldn't see much. BUT...
We could hear the murmuring of water hitting the beach and could smell the sea.
We finished our drinks and, worn out, retired to bed.
In the morning we returned to the balcony and our jaws dropped...
We were separated from the beach by old highway 98, but the view was absolutely breathtaking!
Sugar white sand. The water ranged from deep emerald green to aqua in color.
Where can we sign up for more of this?

So we went to the manager and asked, "Do you have a list of people who would like to buy when units become available?"
She answered, "Yes, and I'd love to see some new, YOUNGER faces around here." She recorded our phone number. I expected a call in a year, maybe two.
Three months later I answered the phone and heard, "The unit next door to the one you stayed in is for sale. I've talked with the owner and the price is reasonable. Act NOW!"

But "reasonable"?
Try as hard as I might, crunching the numbers didn't make me comfortable with the purchase.
So, knowing they had the money and might be interested in a second unit, we called our friend that had generously allowed us to stay in their unit those months earlier...
"We can't afford it. If you want the condo, here's the number to call."

"Would you be interested in owning half of it?" they asked.
And the answer to that question put me smack in the middle of my comfort zone.
That was April of 2000. Together we bought the condo with the gorgeous view of the Gulf, put a solid week of sweat equity into painting, wallpapering, repairing, replacing old appliances;
All intended to make the place attractive to add to a rental program so others would pay the bills.
At least that's how it was supposed to work.

In 14 years, the place has never fully paid for itself.
Oh, don't take me wrong...
We've LOVED owning it.
We've loved the idea that at some point in "the future", we'd be able to come spend Winters here, away from sub-zero temps and snow plows running up and down the road.
But every time we came down to spend time here we've had to bring a hammer, screwdriver, and a paint brush. The blinds inevitably have been screwed up by renters. The carpeting ALWAYS needs minor or major cleaning.

In 2005, if our crystal ball had been working, we could have sold the property for three times what we paid.
But our crystal ball at that point was just an interesting piece of glass. The market pretty much collapsed and the value of the condo returned to just about what we paid.
But it has slowly, surely, been going up since.

And then came the anxiety.
Our country is changing. Our economy is changing. Seemingly EVERYTHING is changing.
I don't like what I see.
As much as I love being here looking at that gorgeous beach, I think having money in hand to buy things we might need in case of "trouble" might be more important than owning a piece of property most of a day's drive distant.

We burned the mortgage two months ago.
We have what appears to be a solid contract for the condo.
The sale won't make us rich, but will put some money in the bank and, almost as important, will take the worry/expense of always having to fix something renters have broken off our shoulders. 
This week we're spending what may be our last week in this second home as "owners"...
The table where I wrote the first post for "Pitchpull"  in April of 2005 will no longer belong to us.
Our sadness is somewhat tempered by the fact that money in the bank will allow us to come rent here most anytime, anyplace we want.

And we DO still LOVE Destin.
We'll be back.