This is the eighth part of a series. Click here to catch up on previous entries.
Yummy, Yummy, Yummy.
I’ve Got Love In My Tummy.
Some people come in and out of our lives through the years guiding us and some people enter once and leave a lasting impression.” —Anon
A few days after the scaffolding incident I was assigned to work with a carpenter who was installing steel door frames on a floor that was scheduled to have interior concrete block walls erected. The carpenter had to co-ordinate our work with the block masons so that our frames were in place when they were ready to lay the block wall and he had to supervise my efforts to find the correct steel door frame and deliver it to the proper location for installation.
The job was mindless and a bit interesting because he would let me look at the print and figure out what was next. The more he came to realize how well I could read blueprints, the more responsibility he gave to me. By the second day the carpenter (let’s call him “Chuck” since I don’t remember his real name) and I were a good team. I hunted & gathered frames and Chuck installed them with my help.
During this time I learned that Chuck had worked on the Pentagon when it was being built back in the 1940s. He said that he was on a door-hanging crew and that they hung about 7,000 doors while he was there. Chuck was not planning to hang any doors at this hospital. According to him, installing door frames was as close as he would get to hanging doors.
After working with Chuck for a week I was feeling better about working on the hospital job. Our Big Boss seemed pleased with the progress that we were making and left us alone. I didn’t plan on making a career out of being a laborer, but it was something to do until I figured out my next move.
One evening after work I was just getting ready for a shower when the phone rang. My parents were both still at work and wouldn’t be home for at least another hour so I picked up the receiver. It was my girlfriend, The Lioness (TL), calling from Gainesville.
“Hi,” she said, “I hoped that I would catch you home from work.”
“You sure did, how are you? What’s up.”
“Can you talk? I mean, in private, is there anyone else around?”
“Yes, I can talk and yes, I’m the only one home. What’s going on?”
“I went to the doctor today… and I found out that I’m pregnant.”
There was a long pause that stretched from Ft. Lauderdale to Gainesville. I no idea what to say and the fear and anxiety that was coursing through me stopped me from responding.
“I,I,I,I’ve got a problem…”
“No,” I said, “we have a problem.”
Another pause and then TL said, “Will you marry me?”
“Yes, of course I will. I love you. Will you marry me?”
“Yes,” was all that she could say.
We both started crying, my body was wracked with spasms that I could not control. I thought that the world had just crashed down on top of me. I didn’t know who I was, or who I should be and now, just when I thought that I was getting a post-college plan together, marriage and fatherhood would be my go-to responsibilities.
The Lioness said, “I’m coming home on Friday (2 days away). Let’s figure out together how to break the news to our families.”
“OK.” It sounded like a good plan to me.
I hung up the phone and tried not to panic. The long weekend we spent together in Atlanta for the fraternity’s Sweetheart Ball 2 months before left us with more than just fleeting memories. Now I was faced with accepting the responsibility for my actions, and that made flunking out of school pale in comparison.
I had no plan. I had no clue. I had no idea how to tell my parents what was happening in my life. The concept of ‘think whatever you want but don’t say it’ made it next to impossible for me to envision ‘fessing up and admitting that I got TL pregnant.
I took a shower and although the water didn’t wash away my sins, it gave me a chance to consider my options. I called the minister of our Lutheran Church and asked him if I could meet him for a talk that evening. He agreed to see me at 7 pm that night and when dinner was over I made some excuse to leave the house and met him in his church study.
LG had been the pastor of our church for over ten years and he and I always got along. I served as an acolyte with him for over five years and it was my first experience with working a rotating schedule. In the fading light of an evening in April, I told him what happened earlier that day. I was an emotional wreck crying, sobbing and stuttering out my tale of woe. I used up my handkerchief, and his, as I tried to convey what I did not understand.
Pastor G helped me to put things into perspective that night. He assured me that I could talk to my parents, and TL’s, and he felt that we would be accepted and not shunned. The future was certainly going to be tough, but he thought that with God’s help we would be taken care of.
I was not entirely sold on this invisible cloud-being taking care of us, I mean look how he dropped the ball on the college thing. I went home and made an excuse to go to bed early. I might have been nineteen years old, but my father told me my first night home from college, “If you live under my roof, you follow my rules. I don’t care how old you are.”
The walls of my room started closing in and the ceiling appeared to get lower. Life was closing in around me and I didn’t have any alcoholic elixir to ‘ease my pain’ the way I did in Atlanta. My parents drank alcohol and there was liquor in the kitchen, but I dared not touch a drop unless they doled out in a small glass.
I went to work the next day distracted and in a daze. Chuck seemed to realize that I was having one of those I’m-only-human days and took command, leaving me with no choice but to do as I was told. I took his actions to mean that I was no good after all, that the truth finally caught up to me and exposed me for the loser that I really was.
The next day, Friday, was a long one. TL was sharing a ride home with some other students and we were scheduled to have dinner with my parents that night. Our plan was to tell my parents first, and see how that went, before talking to her mom and dad.
My mother served pork chops, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut for dinner that night. I kept an eye on The Lioness just in case her morning sickness flared up over the dried out, greasy pork chops or the overcooked canned sauerkraut that covered the creamy mashed potatoes. My mom could cook great mashed potatoes, if nothing else.
About halfway through the meal I summoned the courage to tell my parents about the pregnancy and our plan to get married. My stomach was already knotted up over the meal and as I told the story my stomach was almost inside out with stress. To this day I avoid eating pork, sauerkraut and potatoes together.
I told my father that we were going to try to find a place to live somewhere that nobody would know us. We didn’t want to embarrass them anymore than we had already when the word got out about what happened. Image was everything to my folks. We had to look as good as Christmas ornaments on the outside, no matter what was going on inside.
My father surprised me when he said that it was not necessary for us to live some place else. He said that we would figure out how to deal with this development and that was the end of the conversation. TL and I got in my 1965 Ford Ranchero and drove to her parent’s house to deliver the news to them.
When we arrived at her house, TL’s mother invited us to sit in the living room and it was there that I asked her father for permission to marry her. They were as surprised as my parents were just an hour before when we explained the situation to them. Her father gave his consent and left the room, seeking sanctuary in the bedroom.
The Lioness’s mom got a fresh drink, lit a fresh cigarette and stared at me through her one open eye. I have no recollection of what she said, if she said anything at all. I was in my own little world at that point and there was barely enough room for me. I left TL at home and returned to the other side of town where I lived. Thank God the next day was Saturday.
By the time I got up on Saturday morning the phone calls were burning up the telephone lines between Florida and Ohio. My mother had called her sister, AJ, to tell her about the upcoming wedding. AJ was a schoolteacher and to attend the wedding she and UA would have to fly down and back for the weekend. AJ had made one airplane flight in her life and vowed ‘never again’. She agreed to make this flight for her favorite nephew and his bride-to-be.
There was the issue of obtaining the Wedding license in time: TL was going to finish out the end of her sophomore year in Gainesville and I was in Ft. Lauderdale working. We had to have the signatures notarized in time to get married on April 27th. Fortunately for us my grandparents lived kitty-corner from my parents and my grandfather agreed to ride to Gainesville with me after work, stay overnight and take the two of us to the Alachua County courthouse and vouch for us to get the license.
The next day I told my boss that I was taking the following day off and that night my grandfather let me drive us north on the Florida Turnpike in his Oldsmobile Delta 88. We saw The Lioness briefly after arriving and the next morning the three of us went to the courthouse and got a wedding license. I drove my grandfather and myself back to Ft. Lauderdale after we had lunch with TL.
The following day at work turned ugly by 9 am when the Big Boss called me into his office. He was at the plans table with one of his field superintendents and they were having quite a laugh over something when I walked into the office. Mr. Big said that he wanted me to go get 2 cans of Coca-cola for them for their morning break. I said “ok” and waited for him to give me the money. Mr. Big shouted, “What are you waiting for? I want those sodas now!” and then he snickered as he gave me a glare that would have melted ice.
I left the office and got the sodas from the Roach Coach that was in the parking lot. I thought that he would pay me when I got back with the colas. When I did arrive back at the office he poured some of one of the sodas into a coffee cup and topped off the rest with vodka. He did the same for his guest. I stood there in silence watching and waiting to be reimbursed by the Boss who was sipping and watching me.
“Get your ass out of here and get back to work,” he yelled, “go on!”
I was too confused, scared and embarrassed to ask for the money for the sodas.
The Big Boss sneered. “I said, Get the fuck outta here and get your ass back to work.” He and his Royal Toady had a laugh over that exchange.
It was obvious to me that he wasn’t going to pay me and yet I was unable to ask for the money. I felt like a school kid who had been shaken down for his lunch money by a couple of bullies. I realized that I no longer wanted to work on that job at the hospital. I planned to quit the next week and get another job after we got married. It was a hell of a way to start a family, but it was going to be uphill from here. It had to be.
Fingerprints will continue with Part 9.