Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Long Ago and Far Away

Tagged earlier by Tara Dawn, I have chosen to respond in installments.

Part Two of 4 Jobs I have had:

Office Filing Clerk: United States Air Force Base; Summer job

What a job - a dream job for a 17 year old! A few positions at a nearby Air Force Base were designed specifically for high school graduates who would be leaving for college in September, and I was the lucky recipient of an early appointment! Good salary and good benefits, especially for a "first" job with no experience in the working world.

I was offered an office assistant position with a team of 3 men inside a larger department regulating the purchase of Air Force vehicles. No one had ever managed the clutter or brought order to the filing system these men had developed. And, no woman had ever been a part of the team in this office which they called home for 8.5 hours a day.

This team of three, Lucas, Barry, and Jack, worked hard and enjoyed each other. They were excited about the arrival of the new office assistant and the balance of energy a female would bring to the team.

Lucas, stoic and sure-footed, a man in his late 30s, was the manager of this work group. Jack, the handsome and youngest man, was the comedian who painted the walls with laughter and charm. A fatherly type nearing retirement age, Barry was quiet but warmly inviting.

At first, I was a little intimidated by Lucas whose reserved demeanor met me at the door. He took charge with easy firmness, his quick aptitude waving flags as he spoke. I learned there was sensitivity lurking inside his detached manner, but he was a taskmaster who expected hard work and consistency.

Apparently, disorganization had never concerned Lucas since papers were stacked high across open spaces like fences marking territory. No matter in which direction I looked, I was staring into heaping drifts of papers piled haphazardly in front of me. First I would have to understand the function of the papers in order to organize them appropriately. I had my hands full.

These men treated me like a valuable gem they had just uncovered. They were respectful and always looking out for me. I was pampered while learning about office politics and being introduced to the massive paperwork trail of our federal government.

The equal rights activists a few years later would have frowned on the pleasure I took from being spoiled. Once, when the office A/C system stopped working, they sent me to the library to work, pushing a good book into my hands with verbal permission to leave early since they didn’t want me to get too hot! They doted on me and made my work life easy and fun. It was a mutual admiration society in which we were all thriving.

Suddenly Lucas was promoted and transferred to SAC headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, and I was forced to get honest with myself. During the course of this assignment I had developed a huge crush on this man who was my supervisor, and I was as sad to learn he was leaving as I was relieved. He was married and 20 years older; I was innocent, afraid, and on my way to college in another city. It never occurred to me to share my feelings; they scared me too much. The tenderness I felt toward him would remain my secret. Nevertheless, the prospect of telling him goodbye was very painful, and I sobbed when the moment arrived.

Several weeks later at the end of my summer appointment when it was my turn to leave, Lucas surprised me and the others by showing up at my “going away” party. I never knew if he came back specifically for the party or if he had business on base or in the city that day; he had been in Omaha for 2 weeks. Crying as I opened the gift from the staff, a hematite and pearl necklace which I still have, I was sad to tell them all goodbye. Lucas stayed a little longer than the rest, and holding my face in his hands while thanking me for the summer work I had done, he leaned down and kissed me gently. Then he turned and left. We would never see each other again. He was gone in much the same way he arrived, quickly and without fanfare.

We exchanged one letter and had one telephone conversation during my freshman year in college. Both were casual and well-wishing without mention of our last encounter or the kiss. We never spoke or corresponded again.

Many years later when I was telling this story to a friend, I decided to try to call him. I didn’t know if he was still in Omaha. It was now 18 years later, and I was happily involved in my career and my relationship, but I remained curious about this man who had stirred such a whirlwind of confusion and feelings in my innocent heart so many years before.

Omaha directory assistance gave me the phone number, and I nervously made the call. His wife answered the phone, and I introduced myself as someone who had worked for her husband many years ago and asked to speak with Lucas. She was silent for a moment, and I was immediately concerned that she resented my call. She finally broke her silence and quietly said that Lucas had died of lung cancer several years before. Thanking me for calling, she shared a little about his struggle with this disease and the difficulty he had endured his last year of life. I listened to his widow’s story, and I cried.

His wife was a lucky woman. Long ago a very nice man made the right decision.


Patry Francis said...

What a lovely story.

Wenda said...

oh sky, I am so moved by your rendering of this tender story. Thanks so much for sharing this personal treasure.

tara dawn said...

This is such a touching and poignant story. A true coming-of-age tale, both heartwrenching and refreshing. Thank you for sharing this story, and allowing me to learn more of the parts of your history that existed before my time.
Love and lots of hugs!

liz elayne said...

I had tears in my eyes as I read these last few sentences. A glimpse inside your youth with such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing this...

Gillian Young said...

Great story, you set the scene and had me in it until the end. Your writing is clear, honest and moving.

Paul said...

Harrumph. This is so well told that it has caused me to violate my policy of not commenting on meme-inspired writing. Not fair.