George flew back to the States and I stayed behind.  For a few weeks, I came home from work and just relished the lack of tension.

At some point, one of the officer’s wives, Tina, from the base decided that she needed to get me out of the house.  (I must have met her shopping at “my” store.)  She started taking me to the Officers’ Club every Friday night, saying that was the best night to go there because it drew the largest crowd – unwinding at the end of the week.  Tina’s husband had an administrative job, but traveled a lot.  So she had been hunting for a “running buddy.”

Actual fighter jet flying over our base

I obviously knew that I worked on a fighter base (the smallest one in Germany) – had seen fighter planes and fighter pilots – but I had never gotten to know any of them.  George had been an enlisted payroll clerk, and there is definitely a “caste” system in the military.

I must admit to you that once I started really noticing the fighter pilots – those guys were HOT!!  I wonder if it was those zippered jumpsuits or the fact that they were in such good shape…or just the fact that they were so darned cocky.  Whatever, it was very interesting hanging out with them.  I wasn’t ready for a relationship, because my self esteem was very low and after all, I was still married.

There was ample opportunity and rampant temptation, but I chose to become friends with several of them (since there were way too many to choose from anyway).  I was one of the very few unattached females on base, in the midst of a multitude of single, manly men. Almost all of the other women were married.  We had a female General, who also befriended me, but she was married also.

But I was ready to have fun, and Tina was more than willing to teach me how to make it happen.  I hope I’m not giving away any classified secrets by telling you about a game that was played each Friday night, called “dead bug.”  A random person would yell “dead bug,” and you had a choice – to freeze in place (not playing) or drop to the floor, on your back, with legs and arms in the air.  (I wish I had a picture because it was silly, but very funny, seeing all of these adults, including our lady General in a skirt – laying on the floor, imitating dead bugs.)

If you were the last one down, you had to buy a round of drinks for all participants.  This was a little too undignified for prim and proper Katie, so I simply froze each time – especially since I wasn’t a drinker.  Then, one night, I was accidentally knocked off my stool by a bug going down to the floor.  I decided to play from then on, even though I didn’t drink the free drinks and never had to buy a round.  I hadn’t laughed that hard in years.

There was also a very sad night because one of the pilots had been killed that week in a flight accident.  On that night, it was standing room only, so I ended up sitting on the floor, chatting with several of my new friends.  Not as many dead bug games that night; more toasts to our friend we mourned.  I had been in a marriage with very little talking, so I highly valued those Friday conversations and I think the men did too.  We talked about meaningful, important topics.

They began to invite me to their weekend parties.  The food was good and the friendships were even better.  By this time, I had finally started drinking German wine.  Wine tastings were a popular activity and again, very entertaining.  I decided that I wanted to learn all I could about the winemaking process, since I lived in wine country.  I had no idea there were so many kinds of wine, with varying tastes, depending on when the grapes were picked.  The vines were grown on hillsides on purpose, to produce numerous harvest times because of differing amounts of sun.

Once the wives realized that I wasn’t a threat, I made even more friends and got invited to more events.  Life was pretty good.  There was a group of 3 pilots that I hung out with the most.  One time, they invited me over to fix dinner for me.  I insisted on making the salad.  Bad idea.  Their knives were VERY sharp and I almost cut off my thumb.  One of the guys saw it happen and caught me as I started to fall to the floor.  I was half-conscious, and it wasn’t enjoyable at the time, but the memory of it now, makes me chuckle.

 

 

 

One guy started running around the house, looking for bandages; one guy threw me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and the third guy called the base hospital to ask what to do.   I did pass out, coming back to life in one of the guys’ beds, looking up at 3 terrified faces.  One guy was trying to “tourniquet” my hand with a towel.  I remember saying, feebly, “Sorry for ruining dinner.”  (I recovered and don’t even have a scar to show for it now.)

Then there was the time that I invited Sam, not one of our foursome, but another good friend.  We had a wonderful time, eating, talking and drinking wine.  He kind of tried to make a pass at me.  When I turned him down, he asked for a blanket and pillow, stating that he was too drunk to drive home.  He unzipped that jumpsuit, with literally nothing underneath, and promptly fell asleep on my couch.  When I got up the next morning, he was gone.  Our friendship, including my “reputation” stayed intact.  (Sorry to those of you who were wishing for a more spicy story!)

Other than Tina, my best girlfriend was Karen.   Tina and I had gone to Amsterdam for a fabulous weekend, speeding on the autobahn in her two-seater Mercedes, admiring windmills and tulips.  Karen and I decided to visit West Berlin one weekend, since her husband was on temporary duty in Spain.  We flew.  Why we took so much luggage for such a short trip, I will never know.  But I know we filled up one of those big carts, that looked like supermarket shopping baskets.

Karen was worried about how we were going to get that cart to where we needed to go, via escalator, but I told her not to worry.  I assured her that I knew exactly what to do, because I had observed people getting on the escalator with their carts.  It was quite easy.  You simply moved the cart to the edge of the escalator and the wheels locked into place, with their owner following behind, holding the handle.  We did that, and it worked perfectly.  She was impressed.

However, I had never watched anyone get the cart off the escalator.  We arrived at the bottom of the escalator and I pushed on the cart, but it stayed locked in place.  This wasn’t good.  You have to picture the fact that the escalator was continuing to move downward, bringing more people as they got on at the top.  Karen was literally crushed into me, screaming into my ear, “Get this thing off.”  No matter how hard I pushed, nothing worked.  I heard lots of German cursing behind me, and stole a glance over my shoulder, observing about 20 people running in place on the escalator, to avoid continuing to pile up at the bottom.

I would have started laughing then, but I was sweating and worried.  Eventually, I think the sheer pressure of all that weight pushing against me, against the cart, popped it off.  Karen was yelling at me, “I will never travel with you again.  I will never trust you again.”  I was doubled over, laughing so hard I couldn’t talk.  When I could, I said to her, “Why are you so upset?  We will never see any of these people again.  And no one got hurt!”  Actually, my chest was bruised from pressing against the handle of the cart, but I survived.

She didn’t travel with me again, but we had a very nice weekend.  Sightseeing in West Berlin was very different from our beautiful, calm wine country.  The evidence and damage from WWII surrounded us.   Seeing the “Wall” in person, made it more real.

I gave serious thought to living in Germany for a few more years, driving a Porsche, and continuing to party with the “in” officers’ crowd, but I knew that, in my heart, it wasn’t home.  I began to make plans to return to the States.  It took a few months to transition out of my job and crate up all of the furniture, paintings, and miscellaneous items I had purchased in Europe.  The Air Force allowed 2500 pounds, which was more than enough.

I had to face the music sometime…

 

 

 

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