Friday, April 26, 2013

I Ran Away From Home and Joined the Navy

 While in Florida for spring break with Perri, we visited my Aunt Helen for lunch. Three years younger than my mother and now a spry 90-year-old, she still complains about being the middle child and the "abuse" she suffered as a youngster at the hands of my mother (the eldest) and her youngest sister, Miriam.

Aunt Helen, 1943
Pensacola, Florida
"I had a terrible temper when I was younger," she told me and Perri. She relayed the story about being teased by the other two while they were all cleaning the house. "I got so angry at them that I threw a chair and broke the leg. Of course, Garie told on me and I got in trouble."

As the eldest, my mother (Garie) was the only one who got the opportunity to go to college. Aunt Helen decided she had enough of being picked on. "I decided to run away from home and join the Navy. When I told my parents, they said I couldn't do that, but I told them I was 21 and I could. Nana said they would never take me because I had crooked teeth." But after a physical exam, she was, indeed, accepted and was stationed in Pensacola, Florida.

"I was trained to work with the pilots who photographed strategic positions during the war. I also did secretarial work and wrote training manuals. One time, my boss brought another officer into the room to show him how fast I could type. The other officer said that when I finished my tour with the Navy that I should contact him, that he had a job for me. It turned out he was a professor at Princeton. But when I got out, I never contacted him. I wonder what would have happened. Maybe my life would have been different." 

Aunt Helen in her dress blues, 1943
"Do you still have your uniform?" Perri and I asked. "No, when we got out I was so glad to get rid of it and not have to wear it again." She told us of wearing her dress blues for special occasions, while most of the other girls wore dress whites. "I couldn't afford the whites," she said. "My parents saw a picture of me in the blues, while almost everyone else was in whites, and asked why I wasn't in white. I told them that I couldn't afford the whites."

A few weeks later, she said, a package arrived from up North. In it was a white uniform that her father (a tailor) sewed. "He did all that for me without even having me there to measure anything out," she reminisced. "I was very close to my father."

Aunt Helen always wanted to go to college, but thought she never could because she didn't have the high school language and science requirements. "Because I was a veteran, however, they accepted me," she said. Unfortunately, she didn't enjoy her first round of classes so stopped. "I wonder what would have happened had I tried a different class, if I hadn't given in so quickly," she said. "Maybe my life would have been different."

Throughout the afternoon as Aunt Helen reminisced, she ended each story with "maybe my life would have been different if..." She's probably right; her life would have been different...if she had followed her passion, if she had not played it safe, it she had not chosen the path of least resistance, if....

So, the lesson here is to have no regrets. We can't go back and have do-overs. We can, however, choose to be daring, choose to try the road less travelled, choose to dream and go for it, choose to be happy with our paths in life.

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