When I was 16 my friend, Richard, took me to an archery club he had joined so we could improve our skills and have some fun doing it. The instructor, Mel DeLonais, was a no-nonsense kind of guy who everyone instinctively knew to obey for two reasons: 1) He was either carrying his bow or it was within his reach; 2) He was a dead-on shot; and, 3) He was always right. So, at 16, he was someone we listened to and obeyed. OK, that’s three reasons. There are probably more but those are the ones that rise to the top when I think about him.
Also in attendance at these lessons was his daughter, Diane. She was 13 at the time and I pretty much knew right away that she was going to be my life-long partner. She didn’t know that, of course, because that’s not something you tell a 13-year-old girl. I waited until she was 15 or 16 to that, and fully eligible in many countries to be married. At this stage of life the math is fuzzy but my intentions weren’t. She was a Freshman during my Senior year of High School and we were a couple most of that year and stayed in touch via letters and visits home after joining the Navy her Sophomore year.
Wise beyond her years, she turned me down the first time I proposed citing a very valid reason that she should probably finish High School first. That made perfect sense to me so I let her go to experience those tender years on her own. We stayed in contact over the intervening years as she grew up, went to college, and went to work.
When she was 21 I was home on leave after riding the newly commissioned USS Cleveland from Norfolk, VA to San Diego, CA where it was staged for a trip to Viet Nam. It would be my 2nd deployment to that area of the world. This leave period allowed me to attend my 5th Class reunion and I was poised to make the party on my own as I had no one to take with me. During those years all my High School friends had stayed connected, went to college, and some married each other as everyone knew they would. I was a loner because it’s difficult to find dates while living aboard a ship and being transferred all over the place on a regular basis. The loner part was me spending my time waiting for Diane to finally see the potential in me.
That moment came when I visited mutual friends, Junior (my golf partner today) and his wife Nancy. While I was there Diane showed up. I hadn’t seen her in three years. Once again I was stunned by her appearance into my life but managed myself quite nicely, I thought, visiting for a while then excusing myself to go home.
As I was backing out of the driveway Diane came running out of the house. I stopped to see what she wanted and we chatted a bit as she leaned on the passenger window. This was a Friday. She asked me if I was going to my class reunion and I said “yes, would you like to go?” She responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
The rest, my friends, is history.
I don’t remember how much time we had left before the ship for deployed to Viet Nam, but we spent every possible moment together. The catalyst for our future was when she came running to my car like she did. It was THE moment in my life when everything came back together, making the world right again. Had that not happened, had I been allowed to drive away without that conversation with her, I’m confident there would have been another moment in time like that in the future. I’m forever glad she finally chose me that day so I no longer had to wait.
When I picked her up for our trip to the reunion, she slid next to me on the bench seat, like she’d always done on our dates years ago, but this was different. It was as if we silently, mutually agreed, that the final decision had been made. We were a couple again. It was a terrific day, and we made the remaining few we had just as great.
Then I was off to San Diego. There was no one on the pier for me as the ship pulled away but I knew Diane would be there in the future. Life was good.
The following April I transferred from that ship off the coast of Viet Nam and flew home to marry my one true love and embark on an incredible adventure that took us from one side of the world to the other more than once – Okinawa to Italy to Florida to Guam to California to Hawaii and more. Now we’ve been home in Oregon since 1989 and don’t plan to make any long trips. We will, however, be making trips around the Northwest to see what we missed during all those years away.
Now, here we are after 50 years. I’m still stunned every time I look at her because what I see is my High School Sweetheart when she was 14.
I always will.
Happy Anniversary, My Love.