How I Met My Wife
Back in 1977, I was a single young E6 in the navy, stationed on board the USS Von Steuben, a ballistic missile submarine home ported in Charleston, South Carolina. At the time, I was probably the oldest and most senior guy living in the enlisted barracks, but also probably the wealthiest, drawing my regular base pay along with submarine pay, sea pay and Basic Allowance for Quarters. My financial resources allowed me to live a lifestyle that many hardworking guys would probably envy. I bought a new car every two years, even traded a car in because it had two flat tires. My clothing budget was more than some sailors entire paychecks. And life was good.
There were trips home during the off crew periods, even a trip to Paradise Island in the Bahamas and a week at the Playboy club in Jamaica. Needless to say, I was one happy go lucky bubblehead.
Well, life was almost good.. Living in the barracks had benefits and drawbacks. One major benefit was that it was rent free. One major drawback was having to pack up all your personal effects in boxes and store them in the barracks storeroom for the three months that you were deployed. Other than that, when you didn’t want the hassle of explaining to a mad female why you hadn’t called her in a week, you simply didn’t answer the one public phone and you knew she couldn’t get into the barracks to confront you.
I had a rare edition of the Ford Mustang. Rare because I ordered it with every possible option during a trip back to Detroit. When I took it into the local Ford dealership here in Charleston, the salespeople all went goo goo eyes over it.
I was in the barracks one weekend when I got a phone call from a young lady I had cut off relations with. “How do you like what I did to your car?”, she said. “”What?”, I replied. “Well, I hope you like your new paint job”. That didn’t make sense since I knew my car was safely parked in the barracks parking lot right here on the base. Turned out, there was a car almost similar to mine that she had seen parked in front of another girl’s house and she thought she’d get revenge.
I got cursed out in the base exchange in front of several navy wives and their kids by another girl I had dated, a young Filipino sailor. Most of the women, or girls, I was dating then were real losers, some had psychological problems, some were just unemployed, but I was still having a great time, partying with my buddies and patronizing the local night spots. I was having such a great time that the wives of some of my married friends commenced a covert campaign to find me a “suitable” mate. Well, most of them were real losers too. Either unemployed or uninteresting.
Then, one day, one of my shipmates, we called him John John, invited me over to his house for dinner and I got to meet his wife Mary. Mary was a nurse at the old Charleston County hospital and had a friend that she wanted to introduce me to. “Sure”, I said, from her description, I thought well, she don’t sound too bad, why not just give it a shot.
The Von Steuben was having a family picnic in the base picnic area that weekend with the obligatory baseball game in the plan and we agreed that I could meet her there.
On the day of the picnic, I arrived kind of early to pick a spot that would provide for a stealthy escape should the blind date not look especially appealing. I did that quite often with my cousin who was stationed on another submarine, often leaving him with someone I had just dumped.. After completing my second strike out to the jeers of my shipmates, I looked over and saw someone had parked their car almost directly behind mine. There would be no “stealthy” escape and that’s when Mary introduced me to Gwen. Unknowingly, She had parked her little Honda right behind my Mustang.
She was about the size I preferred. and really very pretty, but the first two things I noticed about her was one, she had a terrific smile. And, two, she wasn’t wearing a bra. Despite being a gentleman, the lecherous old submarine sailor in my head always noticed things like that.
After the picnic disbanded, we agreed to meet up at John John’s house where we had a few drinks, did a little bit of slow dancing, and had several more drinks. Looking back, I could see that this was all part of a plan.
I was getting used to this little girl as we seemed to be a fairly good match and she was intelligent, much unlike the girls I had been dating. She was also a registered nurse and worked in the old Charleston County Hospital emergency room. So, not only being a professional working person, she was also used to making those quick, life saving decisions like we submariners are trained to make. At least that’s what Big Me was thinking. Little Me, however was still focused on her breasts. As sweet as she was, Gwen was also into the liberated woman thing, which I guessed kind of explained her decision to go braless. With my mind still focused in that direction and holding her close to me as we danced, it wasn’t long before my uncouth submarine character suddenly engaged my mouth before I could think properly. Looking down at her breasts, I said “nice t*ts” and regretted it as soon as the words left my mouth. Her reply was “well, you just keep your f—ing hands off of them”. That was it. I was hooked.
I designed the engagement ring and had it made by a local jeweler, so it would be one of a kind, although I don’t remember when I actually made the proposal. And thus started a relationship that evolved into a marriage that would last forty one years, through twenty six deterrent patrols and one out of state transfer.
Fredric Durrette served one tour in Viet Nam, retired as E8 in the navy submarine service after 23 years. Major hobbies are collecting old stuff from the 20s and restoring old racing bicycles. Worked as a commercial photographer at JL Hudsons in Detroit and continue photography as a hobby. Love Sade, sixties soul, seventies rock, and all jazz. Attended Woodstock in 69!