Sunday, June 24, 2012

1966: Count Your Blessings

“Now that is a bitchin’ babe”.  The speaker was Brian Beach, my roommate during our freshman year at the University of Texas in Austin.  We were first semester sophomores at the time of this declaration and attending a fall football fraternity party.  He was referring to my date for the evening, Debbie Bickerstaff.  Normally, I never paid much attention to what Brian said.  He was a jock with a C- average and as far as creativity went....well, let's just say, for Brian, painting-by-numbers was a challenge.

I acknowledged his comment.  “Yeah, I guess”.

“That’s more like it, son!” he continued, “She looks like she could ride the donkey all night”.  Imploring him to keep his voice down I defended her, “Yeah, well, she is a nice girl”. 

“My ass”, Brian exploded, raising, rather than lowering, the decibel output of his normally boisterous approach to just about everything. 

Turning my attention back to my date standing across the room, talking to one of my fraternity brothers, I observed her perhaps in a different light. Debbie was a bleached blonde with streaky highlights at a time when that was not yet fashionable.  It made her look a little hard but she had a very pretty face to soften it.  She was somewhat petite at 5’ 2” but had a firm, fit body with a nice bosom.  There was a “trashy” edge to her and that is what attracted Brian, I was certain.  She did love to party.  When I was tired of studying I would call her up and in a Texas minute she would accept my invitation to go up on Mount Bunnell with a six-pack of Jax beer and look down at the Austin city lights, “grub” a little, lose track of time and rush back to her dorm just ahead, sometimes just behind, her curfew.  She was fun to be with.

“You have been dating such skaggs”, Brian went on, “it’s about time you came up with a bitchin’ babe”.  He slapped me on the back and cruised off with his beer sloshing out of his cup, hailing some girl across the room with whom there was better than an even chance he would have carnal knowledge later in the evening, but who was ignoring him at the moment. 

“Yesterday”, the Beatles # 1 hit came on the stereo in the main living room and people began to dance slowly in the thick of the crowd.  Debbie was definitely better than the bevy of girls I had been dating my freshman year. There had been a short string of “skaggs” since Diane Jolley. Fact was, I had been engaged to Diane out of high school.  She went to Sam Houston State when we graduated and I headed off to the University of Texas at Austin.  Our engagement lasted exactly two months after our paths diverged.  In October of our freshman year she met a senior who was graduating top of his class in ROTC and had accepted a commission to fly in the front seat of F4C fighter jets.  Why a girl would dump me for some jar-head flyboy, who was most certainly going to Vietnam at a time when most college guys were going to great lengths to preserve their deferments, was beyond me, but she did.  When I got the “dear John” phone call, I trashed my dorm room, spend half the night walking around the track in Memorial Stadium, then woke up one of my friends from high school at the Scottish Rite dorm.  She snuck out, still in her nightgown, and we sat on the lawn talking until dawn. 

By noon the next day I was over it.  Diane was not the girl I would marry and I told myself I should count my blessings.  She sent back the ring I gave her. The diamond ended up in my UT senior class ring…a gift from the girl I would marry. Diane ended up marrying the aviator.  He survived Vietnam and the last time I heard from her she was raising show dogs in New Jersey.  I understand she spent most of her time at dog shows while her husband got really fat being an armchair quarterback and watching all sixteen games a week on the DirecTV NFL Premium Package.  I guess we get what we accept.

By October of 1965, some things going on in the world were getting pretty hard to accept.  The Democrats were in power in the United States and President Lyndon Johnson was beginning to listen to what some people thought was bad advice from his commanders-in-chief.  Back in March, President Johnson had ordered the first “official’ combat troops into Vietnam.  As we watched on TV and saw the first 3,500 servicemen land at Da Nang, many of my college buddies, including myself, started to get nervous about our draft status.  Apparently we were not alone.  Exactly two weeks after the landing, the first “sit-in” to protest the war was staged on the University of Michigan campus.  It was followed closely by another protest at Columbia University and then others, mostly on northern campuses.

By the middle of the summer, B-52 bombers were attacking Viet Cong strongholds and the first major land offensive, which included 3,000 US troops from the 173rd Airborne Division along with over 800 Aussies, spent a month tracking the enemy through the jungles of South Vietnam.  It should have been considered a bad omen that, despite this huge force of men, they failed to make contact with the Viet Cong.  The military’s solution was more troops.  Before the year was out, there would be nearly 185,000 American servicemen in Southeast Asia, but tonight, watching all these happy people celebrating the Longhorn’s victory earlier in the day, all of that seemed so unimportant and so far away.

Debbie was now talking, in animated fashion, with Jack Slayton.  Jack was a huge figure of a man, with dark, thick brown hair, which always looked a little disheveled.  He stood 6’ 4” and weighed well over 250 pounds.  Even though he was not that bad looking, he was our entry every year in the campus Ugly Man Contest. 

Debbie was fun and funny.  She was sexy, perky, even bubbly at times.  She looked like she could drink more than she could possibly consume in food.  She could drink many of my brothers under the table but could still kiss you goodnight without slobbering all over you.  She was intelligent and made good grades.  She looked good on my arm.  So, what’s to lose?  Count your blessings and move on with it.

I wanted to take the relationship to the next level but Debbie was hesitant and suddenly became cool.  She wanted to date other people before she committed to one man, she said.  We dated on and off into the winter, but on the night of our fraternity Christmas formal, she had to go back to Dallas for a “family gathering”.  The same thing happened at our Spring Formal.  I found out later it was to see her old high school boyfriend who was attending SMU.  Consequently, I attended our Spring Formal as a single.  It turned out to be a turning point in my life and another blessing to be counted.

No comments:

Post a Comment