"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Feb 4, 2020

"To Make a Long Shory Stort..."

Andrea and Ex-Man #2

A Tribute

I’m terrible about creating new email accounts connected to this-or-that and then forgetting about them; which is why the other day I was stunned to discover a year-old email from Ex-Man #1 informing me that my second husband had passed away the year before, he’d learned from #2’s ex. That would have made him about 70. I’m hoping #1 was mistaken and meant #2's widow, because it gives me a nice feeling that in the end my Ex was with someone he loved.  He deserved that.  Fiction or not, that’s what I choose to believe.

Frederick Darryl Reed, U.S. Army, Ret., from Ashland, Kentucky, near the borders of Ohio and West Virginia.  Born to a school-teacher Mom, can't remember about his Dad, Fred grew up with an older brother and sister, who remained in Kentucky.  He and his sweetheart married young and had two daughters, who he adored.  Their divorce and the loss of his tween-age girls almost broke him; and a year later is when I came into the picture.

Fred and I had a brief courtship and married in the early 1980's.  We were working at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), NM, midway between Las Cruces and Alamagordo; an isolated base in the middle of nowhere which often felt like being on the moon. Following our wedding we headed for our honeymoon in Las Vegas, where Fred's league was playing in a bowling tournament in Circus Circus.  Not exactly romantic, but we didn't have a church wedding, either, and I think we saw Tom Jones at Ceasar's Palace, even found an online video of the show. He was a classic performer in Vegas, so we went to see.  What's New Pussycat; It's Not Unusual...definitely inspired by Elvis.  During our performance, women in the front threw their underwear on stage, which he'd wipe with body sweat and throw back. Yup, there he goes.  Must be a trademark-thing, like Gallagher smashing watermelons.  Keep your Super Bowl Halftime show; give me Tom Jones performing Ladies Night any day of the week.  It is fun to listen to while you read.  Fredder, as I called him, loved bowling and was good at it, so like a good partner I joined the ladies’ league; got my own ball and everything.

Fred, about 7 years my senior, was a good-nature'd guy with a slight Country accent who liked CW music and disliked conflict. Always had fun dancing the two-step. He was career-military - a missile-man, first the old Nike Hercules and then the Patriot missiles being tested on WSMR. There was a miles-long single road leading from the base out into the desert, where all the contractors had testing facilities.  At first I was working for Raytheon and we'd commute together, but I moved back to Civil Service on post; still, Fred had regular hours for the most part, too.  He enjoyed playing golf on the weekends and I joined him in that as well, but despite lessons and practice, I was really best at driving the cart and watching for rattlesnakes.

I'd been living in Las Cruces after my own divorce, but once Fredder and I married we moved into base housing, for economy.  We needed creative entertainment, so after reading an ad in the paper I surprised him with tickets for a hot air balloon ride over the Mesilla Valley.  Because of the July heat we went very early in the morning and no more than one passenger could go up with each flight.  I went first.

Don’t ask why I didn’t take the camera but Fredder kept it on the ground.  It was great fun once you got used to wobbling a bit in the basket, and whenever we got too close to the ground the pilot would Poof the thing and up we’d blow, startling the grazing animals below.  I thought good times were finished once when we landed, but it turned out to be almost as much fun to be bouncing along in the back of the open pickup with the crew, chasing the balloon containing Fredder and the pilot, through fields and places where no roads exist.

After it was over we were asked to kneel as if we were being knighted.  We had no idea the initiation included being doused with champagne (see photo above), which was fun but sticky, and made me wonder afterwards if the cops having breakfast in a nearby booth noticed we reeked of booze at 9am. My card shows evidence of the bubbly. Highly recommend the experience.

Some friends of ours asked if we’d be interested in driving up to the border near Colorado to take an old-time locomotive train ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, their website shows a short film.  Our weekend trip included the 4 of us spending the night in our friendf's VW bus, which was pretty cramped but inspired us to consider purchasing our own camper. From the Cumbres website:
“Climb aboard our National Historic Landmark for a 64-mile day trip you’ll never forget. Our coal-fired steam engine carries you through steep mountain canyons, high desert, and lush meadows as you zig zag between the Colorado and New Mexico border. Open your eyes to spectacular and rare Western scenery which can only be viewed from our train’s unique route.”
We lived on White Sands for almost three years, during which Fred's daughters came for a brief holiday visit.  I could live with that, but was stunned to hear hear him explain his daughters were coming for the summer and possibly to live, since life was unbearable with their mother and step-father.  What could I say?  I caved.

In addition to the rug rats, as I used to call all children, we inherited Boots; who I initially derided as a skunk with ears, due to her Papillion appearance.  Boots, the kids and Fred's terminally ill Mother descended all together, and during that period of time I had my tubes tied, that's how certain I knew kids weren't for me.

My Mother-in-law was pleasant and only around for a short visit anyway, since she wanted to return home to be near Fred’s sister.  The girls however, who’d hoped to move in, only lasted a month with their Step-Mother-from-Hell before begging to return home; I guess their rules weren’t so bad after all.

Boots, their family mutt, was allowed to remain until they found a new place that allowed pets. I prefer big dogs and still recall my disappointment, bending down to peek into her luggage carrier in the airport.  But unlike the girls, Boots eventually stole my heart, and I was sad to return her to them when we were transferred to Darmstadt.  If I didn’t know better I’d swear she resembles BC, but perhaps my facial recognition problem applies to dogs, too.

I already owned a ’79 MG Midget, isn't she sweet, which we used on our frequent day-trips.  A favorite drive was up to the Inn of the Mountain Gods, a swanky resort owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe, near Riodoso.  I don't ski but I can lodge.  In my mind it was much more rustic and inviting than today's website portrays, with the largest indoor fireplace we'd ever seen; but that was, what, 30-some-odd, nearly 40 years ago?  She-it, time flies.

Fred loved wearing the tweed driving cap I gave him, squeezing his 6-foot frame behind the wheel of the MG, easier with the top down. Sports cars are a lot of fun, without a doubt, but they’ve got their down-sides: like windblown hair ala Bride of Frankenstein or Bridget Jones, depending on your generation.

After the girls left we picked up ‘Moby,’ a very-used VW camper with extended top, visible in the background, right.  Military personnel are allowed to ship one vehicle overseas so we brought Moby.  We lived in a 3-bedroom apartment off-base in Zwingenberg, south of Darmstadt, and took every opportunity to travel around Europe on our own, foregoing organized tours which are definitely more informative and restrictive.

When my mother and sister came to visit we took them through the Black Forest and walked to the top of the highest waterfall in Germany, near Triberg, which will shock the hell out of friends reading now. Even photographer Mom made the climb.  She loved Fred, who was always so agreeable.

Fred and I crossed the Channel and rented someone’s cottage in Kent for a week at an unbelievably cheap rate; and in-between pub-crawling we tooled around on the wrong side, visiting Stonehenge, touring London in a double-decker bus and visiting castles and cathedrals. We pursued interests as only couples without kids can do.  Most photos are still in storage.

Fred was completely supportive when I quit working for Civil Service and focused on completing my last 30 or so credits, and arranged a surprise graduation party when I earned my Bachelor’s after 10 years of night school.  He also surprised me with a Scottish Terrier puppy to keep me company, a not-so-great idea since I can’t train dogs, but at least Mac Fierce was small.

For a variety of reasons, immaterial in any event, our marriage was crumbling; so we separated, and I returned home to New Jersey with a hairy Mac in tow.  As fate would have it, my Father had become ill and I was needed to help with his small business in Manhattan.  Dad faded fast and died 6 weeks after my return, on the evening Fred arrived from Germany to supply morale support to us all.  Things generally work out the way they're supposed to, I've found.

We left things open when he returned to Germany, but I eventually went forward with the divorce.  I found a lawyer in the yellow pages and asked about a legal separation.
“Oh, you don’t need that,” she said. “Divorce for cause (neglect, mental cruelty, etc.) doesn’t hold the same stigma as years ago.  It’s just a formality; you can be divorced in no time.”
“You don’t understand.”  I explained, “My first husband and I dated for 4 months and we got married.  My second husband and I dated for 2 months and we got married.  The next time someone asks me out I’m going to say, ‘I do’.  I need this separation.”
I got exactly what I wanted: 18 months breathing space, and it was just what I needed, for more than once I disentangled myself from a relationship by claiming nicely, “My husband and I are going to give it another try.”  Worked like a charm.

We remained on cordial terms, and for years during my vacations I'd visit Fred while staying with friends in El Paso and Las Cruces.  Fred stopped by to say hello to Mom and me when he passed through on his way to another tour in Germany, and sometime after that we lost touch.  Fred and my first husband worked in the same field, and over time their paths crossed at various times; which is how I heard the news.  Must have been when my ears were burning.

There, I don’t think he’d mind what I wrote.  We’re all part of each other’s stories, either intimately or peripherally, and my time with Fredder contributed to who I am today.  So I’ll end with this anecdote which explains the title of my post:

In Darmstadt, Fred joined me in a two-day, single-credit course on Myths and Legends, easy-peasy.  On the second day we all had to give 5 minute summaries of different tales, but naturally people spoke too long and class was running late.  Everyone was tired and wanted to go home, it was raining, and Fredder was last.  Poor guy, he hated public speaking to begin with, and as he rushed through his speech, sweat pouring down his face, he uttered his immortal line: “To make a long shory stort,” to which he received a unanimous outburst of laughter. 

With love and respect, my friend.

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