Friday, July 10, 2009

Living in the Past

They say you can never go back – and I guess that’s very true. Things are never the same as “they used to be.” When Ole was in the Navy we lived in Iceland for just over two years. One of our greatest desires has always been to go back and visit again; to make the trip with dear friends of ours that lived there at the same time. Unfortunately, when you’re young, busy raising a family and trying to get ahead in the world, those kinds of things get put on the back burner. As of September 2006, the NATO base was closed – turned back to the Icelandic government, as it should be. But it would have been fun to see it once more in full operation.

Ole was an Electronics Technician, responsible for the maintenance of all the microwave gear that was used to communicate with all the submarines, airplanes (spy planes –shhh – don’t tell anyone) and various ships that were patrolling the North Atlantic during the time of the cold war with the Soviet Union. The North Atlantic was a busy place then, and Iceland was in a very strategic location. Ole had an extremely high security clearance at that time, so he really couldn’t talk about a lot of the stuff that he did. I remember when he was investigated for that security clearance – they did everything including look down his shorts (hope they saw something interesting!) along with everyone else’s shorts that he knew – both presently and in the past.

I was fortunate enough to get a job working as the secretary for one of the Commanders of the NATO base. (Back then we were called secretaries – not administrative assistants. I guess we were secure in our status knowing that we, in reality, ran the offices, and didn’t need any new and improved titles to make us feel important.) Commander Davis was in charge of the Supply Office – the location where EVERYTHING that the base used to function was kept and disbursed. There were six divisions within the Supply Office, and each division was supervised by an officer of a lower rank and a secretary, along with a number of enlisted men. There were a total of 300+ enlisted men working in the Supply Office at that time, a number of Icelandic Nationals, and seven American females – one for each division and myself, the Commander’s secretary.

My specific office consisted of the Commander, myself, two yeomen (male secretaries), a mailman, and a couple of chiefs. In my opinion, a Chief (E7, 8, 9) is a disposable entity in the Navy – their sole purpose in life is to hold a coffee cup (snicker) and sit with their feet on their desk.

You would think that in a situation like this our office would have been very busy – but I have to say this was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had due to the lack of enough to do. I would accomplish my workload within a couple of hours in the morning and then had nothing to do for the remainder of the day. I have to say that the Commander was well trained in holding a coffee cup and sitting with his feet on his desk also, as were the other six division heads.

So my days got very long. I read magazines, wrote letters, paid bills, anything I could think of to make the time go faster. AND I played Ann Landers to a lot of the guys in the entire Supply Office. THAT got to be quite interesting. I didn’t apply for that job – it just happened. I must have some kind of sign on my forehead that says “good listener” because people have always unloaded on me and still do. I heard everything from stories about married guys that were having affairs with Icelandic girls (Iceland is the land of “free love” – more on that later) – to guys who were trying to get a Section 8 (just like Klinger on Mash). Most of the time it was an information overload, believe me. One young man, in particular I struck a tight bond with. He was a fellow Minnesotan, an 18-year old from the Iron Range, who had just found out his girl back home was pregnant by another guy. He still wanted to go home and marry her. He finally did, but wasn’t granted leave until after the baby was born. He came back to Iceland, served his time and then got stationed stateside. I often wonder what happened to him. I should try to look him up sometime.

Then there was a guy from Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He was a true hippy and I often wondered what he was doing in the military at all. He was tall and slender with a handlebar moustache that would wrap around his head and meet in the back when he stretched it out. He used a lot of wax on it and coiled it to keep it in order. His best buddy, from New York City, was a short red head with rose-colored granny glasses. They made quite a pair, and when dressed in civies (civilian clothes) you would never have guessed they were part of the military with the exception that they didn’t have ponytails. I have to say the military standards back then were quite different for haircuts than they are now. And especially in Iceland, things were much more relaxed. Most of the guys had big moustaches, LONG sideburns, and hair that touched their collars. Not the clean-cut shaven, shorthaired military you see now.

Then there was Chief Conroy – one of those Chiefs that had a permanently malformed hand from holding his coffee cup all day. He was probably in his late 30s or early 40s, with a beer paunch and an attitude that thought he was God’s gift to women (yuck). He was constantly trying to put the make on all the young females in the department. Fortunately being non-military, I could tell him where to go.

For some reason sailors drink a lot of coffee – probably out of boredom or something. At that time Ole didn’t drink coffee. Each week one of the sailors in his office was assigned the job of coming in early to make coffee in the big 100-cup pot so that it would be ready by the time the officers came in to the office. Well, when it was Ole’s turn, he didn’t like doing this because he had to be there by 6 a.m. in order to have it ready by 8. So one morning when he was there alone, and before he got the coffee going, he found a dead cockroach, stuck it in the spigot from the inside to plug it, and then went on about his business making coffee. The first officer came in, managed to get a cup of coffee, but it didn’t come out very fast. More officers came in, and the coffee was running slower and slower until finally it wouldn’t come out at all. They knew the pot was full, so they started poking around in the spigot and cockroach parts started coming out!! Ole didn’t get out of making coffee, but he got a few chuckles out of that one.

Here’s a picture of me in my office – freaky glasses, huh?

They say you can't go back - but I sure wish I could go back to being that thin!!
Love, Lena


kitschinlogic said...

That is the cutest photo!

harrietv said...

Coffee is a funny thing; for some reason it defines the hierarchy to some people. It never did to me, because I always loved coffee and my rule of thumb was, "if you empty the pot, you make a new one."

I had a supervisor who got mad if I stopped to make a new pot, even if I had poured the last cup for her.

But the clincher came in another job, where for once I wasn't the first one in (I was off that day -- unheard of). One of the engineers came into the room, a woman, to find three guys standing there helplessly and saying, "no coffee?" She chewed them out -- "You think only a woman can make coffee? Are you helpless?"

Then she made it herself, because who has time to wait for helpless men? I've written about the role of "secretary." Let me know if you want the URL.

Memaw's memories said...

I got home a little early yesterday and turned on the tv to find Beach Party on TCM with Frankie and Annette. It brought back such memories of dating at the drive in.

I told one of the younger girls that I laughed at how silly it was. That I didn't remember much of it since I was making out during most of it.

In fact I've laughed about it all day.

Marge said...

Boy, isn't that the truth! Thin is too long in the past, I'm afraid. Now I try for healthy!

Capitolady said...

OH ya! To be thin again. SIGH!

StitchinByTheLake said...

Interesting post Lena. I don't drink coffee and don't understand the addiction some people have. Of course, I'm addicted to chai lattes so it's about the same thing! blessings, marlene

Susan said...

I'm a coffee-addict so I understand the addiction quite well. I also understand the desire to go back to a certain time in our lives - too bad we can't and take with us all the things we know now.

I'd take the thin too - stumbled across a site called the "Blue Thong Society" where the ideal is not to be frumpy in our prime...guess I don't qualify for that one either - frumpy is comfortable - who in the heck wants to where thongs at 40+ years? Okay, so they don't make you wear thongs to join, but...

Very interesting life you have had!

Grandma Elsie said...

O Lena I am sorry you need a hip replacement...
Well at least they have them..My brother in law has had 3 ..course he drank a lot so didn't take care .
Old Arthur is a mean companion and i don't like him a bit. I am afraid all my problems are coming from my back where Osteoarthritis is my problem, or so say the doctors.Its every where ,knees too.
I am on the wrong end of 60 and close to 70 so I am hoping to make it a while longer.You know if I don't bend a lot ( like changing bed sheets ) I can do ok except standing...No No painful ..
old age ain't for sissies !!!!
Have you scheduled the hip surgery yet ? Make sure they do the right one !!!!! HEE hee
Elsie <><