Chapter Fifteen: There and Back Again– A New Life

As promised, we are back with our hero and his wife. They had just said their goodbyes to both families, and off they went to a new life full of adventure and yes, of course, love. They are newlyweds, after all. They only had three days to go almost 1,600 miles, or approximately 24 hours of actual driving time, so there was not a lot of time to lollygag.  They were, however, able to squeeze in a few stops along the way to do a little sightseeing.  Of course, Grandpa Gordon had his trusty Contax camera with him. On the open stretches where there was little traffic, Clara helped with the driving so Grandpa Gordon could catch a few winks along the way.

Being a military man, I am sure the reader had to know that Grandpa Gordon would have the three legs of their trip all planned out. Each leg would be approximately 530 miles in length, with an average driving speed of 60 mph and with rest stops for eating, gas refills and calls of nature, you were looking at around 11 to 12 hours each day on the road. By sticking to this schedule, they had plenty of time to not only rent a motel room each night and to eat, sleep, and relax and most importantly to make Whoopi. Jeez, is that all you think of? At least now, they didn’t have to worry about their family hearing them do the nasty.

Instead of listing the route and discussing the roads taken, I am going to try something different and that is to discuss the stops Grandpa Gordon and Clara made instead.

Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store (Jim’s Apple Farm)| 1,546 Miles to Vegas

To start their Minneapolis to Las Vegas drive on the right foot, they decided to  fuel up with some candy. This store was a favorite among many Minnesotans because it carried hard-to-find sweets, fresh baked goods, the world’s largest selection of soda, and other savory options. (Historical note: this store was opened up in 1979. But since it was such a cool place and it would definitely have been a place that the newlyweds would want to stop at, I used a little poetic license and changed the opening date just to accommodate our newlyweds.)

Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park | 1,006 Miles to Vegas

The next stop along the way was the home of famed showman and scout William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The local historical society created a park that encompassed some of his old stomping grounds. Unfortunatelyour Newlyweds were not able to check out the guided trail rides. (Historical note: this state park opened up in 1965, and for the same reason I had the couple check it out. What is the point of a fictional work if you can’t be a little creative?)

Ogallala Front Street | 956 Miles to Vegas

From 1875 to 1885, Ogallala was the end of the Texas Cattle trail, and is now the designated “Cowboy Capital” of Nebraska. Grandpa Gordon and Clara stopped by to check out the sites. They saw the Crystal Palace Saloon where they got to see the Crystal Palace Revue, unfortunately, that was all they had time for. Well, they did manage to squeeze in a steak at the Front Street Steakhouse, You couldn’t go through Nebraska without eating a steak, could you?

Salt Wash View | 348 Miles to Vegas

Grandpa Gordon and Clara made a quick stop to see the Salt Wash overlook, while there was no actual scenic overlook in the 1950s, there were plenty of areas that you could pull over and take in the beauty.

The list I have included is by no means an exhaustive one. Suffice it to say that they made a few additional stops along the way where Grandpa Gordon trotted out his trusty camera. The photography was even more fun now that he had a beautiful model to pose for him. Besides Clara seemed to be enjoying herself a bit as she hammed it up for her husband.

They continued on their journey until they finally pulled off on the exit for the Nellis AFB from the Las Vegas Freeway or the I-15. Grandpa Gordon believes that life isn’t only about the destination, it’s about the journey and this trip bears that out.

When Grandpa Gordon and Clara pulled into Las Vegas, thanks to planning ahead, they already had a place to stay at Nellis Terraces. It was a small off-base development for enlisted families and officers. It certainly couldn’t compare with Clara’s parents house, but at least it was clean and thanks to all the military families living there it was not only safe but a good place to meet and make friends with other military personnel. However, there was something that did just not appeal to either of them. Even though they could afford the houses in this neighborhood, they both decided to wait a little longer before jumping in the water.

Like I said it wasn’t the money. Grandpa Gordon’s estimated monthly salary plus allowances amounted to $816.00, so even without Clara’s salary they were going to be OK. He did not factor in Clara’s salary just yet because he didn’t know how long it would take for her to find a job since she was a brand new nurse with no experience. Besides she still had to get her Nevada nursing license. All this took some time to do.

Their car was paid off, so all they had were their utilities and food and other incidentals. After doing their less than overwhelming drive through, it was simply too late to do anything else. Besides they were quite tired, the only thing that had carried them this far was the thought of getting their own home. Now that this was no longer a sure thing, their energy level dropped substantially so they had no choice but to stay at the Thunderbird Hotel that night. Since they did not know how long it was going to take to find a more suitable house, they paid for a week in advance and by doing so received a welcome discount.

In the morning, Grandpa Gordon backed up the car and trailer in a corner of the motel parking lot that was reserved for trucks and trailers and such and unhitched the trailer. Clara then drove him to the base. She kept the car so she could take care of some errands, and to do a little scoping out for likely neighborhoods for them to check out together. The first thing she did was to find a small newstand where she bought a couple of the local newspapers that had classifieds. She figured this was a good place to start looking. She then picked up a few food items so that they would have something to snack on and to drink back at the hotel.

The plan was to meet Grandpa Gordon at the AFB during his lunch break so that they could take care of the banking situation. Lucky for them, the Nellis Air Force Base Credit Union was located there. One of the things they needed to get done on his break was to put her name on Grandpa Gordon’s  account. They also needed to open a joint checking and saving account.

Since there was really nothing else she could do at this time she relaxed on the bed and started to browse through the newspapers and the ads.  After looking through them for well over an hour and her eyes were beginning to glaze over, she came across an ad that made her heart start racing. Could this be their dream home?

When she saw this ad, she knew they had to go there today. Unfortunately, her excitement would have to cool a little. There would simply not be enough time to go over and to look at the houses  during Grandpa Gordon’s lunch break, besides they had to make their banking arrangements first.

So she went out to the hotel lobby to use the public phone. She had two calls to make. First, to make an appointment to go and look at the house after Grandpa Gordon finished work and secondly, she could simply not wait to tell him the news. When he heard the great news, he could hardly contain himself.  He thanked her again and said he had to get back to work, they phone kissed, and said they loved each other and hung up.

Of course, this news from Clara temporarily took his mind off his work. The first thing he thought about was his financial status. He had been a member of the credit union since 1949 when he first became an instructor at the Gunnery School.  All of his pay checks were automatically deposited into his account. Frankly, he did not even know how much was in it. He had only taken money out on a few occasions, once for his camera and another time when his father and he had bought the Buick. Otherwise, he had only wrote a few checks for cash and had never even bothered with balancing the account. That was something he could no longer afford to do because he now had a household to manage. He also wasn’t living on the military dole any longer and he was going to actually have to pay bills now. He smiled and thought becoming an adult was really complicated.

The day flew by like a whirlwind and lunch finally came by. Clara came and picked him up and they took care of their banking business at his credit union. Knowing full well that Grandpa Gordon would not have much time to eat today, Clara had picked up a couple of deli sandwiches and dill pickles so that they could get a quick bite to eat after they finished their banking. Even though they only had a few moments to spend together, it was still heavenly. Grandpa Gordon thought to himself, how lucky he truly was.

The afternoon just flew by for Grandpa Gordon. After General Miller had gotten promoted he had assigned one of the senior trainers to keep an eye on the school until Grandpa Gordon could take his rightly place at the helm. What had actually taken place is that all of the instructors worked together to keep things working smoothly.

The mess that Grandpa Gordon expected to walk into never materialized. The senior instructor gave him a tour to show him what had changed during the time he was overseas fighting in Korea. Frankly, not much had changed. The planes that they were now flying had been updated to jets. He was a bit saddened by this because this meant that they were no longer training on the P-51s. When he returned to his office he found that there were a lot of requisition forms to sign and other paperwork that simply could not be completed by the senior staff. So he sat down and started waiding through the folders that were in front of him. True to military form, they were all organized and in order. By the end of the day, he had caught up with the busy work.

His timing was spot on as always because as he wrapped things up his Clara just pulled up to his office. Her arrival was fortuitous because he was getting excited about looking at the new houses. As they arrived at the Mountain Shadows Planned Community and pulled up to the office, the salesman was waiting out front to greet them.

The salesman said, “We are just wrapping up stage one in our development plan. I am sorry that we only have one model to look at, but I think you are really going to like it.” He further added, “We have been using it as the model to show all of the perspective clients the housing development. Since our next stage is going to involve a totally different floor plan, we no longer would need the old model. One of the perks with this model was that it is virtually move-in ready. It is totally furnished and it has all the extras that usually cost more to add on, including a pool in the backyard. Because this house cannot be sold as new we’re not going to charge more for all the extras.”

After the salesman showed Grandpa Gordon and Clara the house, all they could say was, “Where do I sign”? While a lot of the furnishings were modern, the house was still spectacular. They could not believe their lucky stars. They were so fortunate to find this house. It was heads and tails above the houses they had looked at yesterday and the price was better. Not only was everything cheaper it was all nicer, and the neighborhood was more inviting. They had to keep on pinching themselves to make sure that they were not dreaming.

The salesman said that since he was a military officer and a member in good standing with the credit union, his mortgage was pre-approved already. He told them that they could move in by the end of the week. The inspection, while necessary for the mortgage company was just a formality, The house will be professionally cleaned in the next couple of days. The salesman told them that they could come by the office after work and sign the final forms and he would give them the keys to the house. Grandpa Gordon said that was perfect because he had the weekend off. 

This would give them ample time to move their meager belongings into their new house and to return their U-HAUL trailer.

The next day at work, Grandpa Gordon sat in on a couple of lectures and went through the manuals that were being used to see if there were any issues with the curriculum that needed to be addressed. His school was the premiere aviation school in the Air Force, and he wanted to keep it that way. His plan was to bring guest instructors from the aviation schools of our allies to see what kind of work they were doing and if he could improve on any of it. He discussed his plans with his boss, the Brigadier General who was immediately on board with them as they were all good ideas.

Grandpa Gordon also planned on giving some supplemental lectures to his cadets. He also wanted to keep his flying skills sharp, so he planned on doing two to three flights a week, with at least one as a practice dog fight with his best instructor as his opponent. Whenever pilots came in from other countries to lecture, he flew with them to see first hand what they were doing and how they responded in various scenarios. This way he could see how effective their training had been.

He had a lot of plans for his gunnery school.  He didn’t want to be like other Commanding Officers who just rested on their laurels. Besides, he wanted to retire as a general since the pension would  be significantly larger than that of a Colonel. Besides the higher your rank, the more you can affect things. He wanted to make positive changes in the Air Force. He firmly believed and to loosely quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “the world should be a better place because you have lived in it.”

I will not devote a lot of space discussing his time as the CO of the gunnery school because frankly, I think you would find it boring.  I know I would, and I am the one who is writing the story.

Over the next nine years, Grandpa Gordon was in charge of running this school. True to his word, when he finally moved on, it was the best aviation training facility in the world. There was even a waiting line to enter the school. During this time, he kept his word and all the things he promised he did and he also continued to keep a hands-on approach. He gave lectures, he flew two to three times a week, and he was always accessible to his staff and his cadets.

Even though I won’t cover his career during the next nine years, I will devote quite a bit of time discussing his private life and family.

I will now pick up where I left off with their new house. Grandpa Gordon and Clara went to pick up their keys after he finished working that Friday. Since they had already paid for Friday at their hotel and they still had to hook up the rental trailer, they decided to sleep at the hotel one more night.

Grandpa Gordon and Clara woke up early Saturday morning after both enjoying a sound sleep. Their breakfast consisted of the rest of their snacks that Clara had previously purchased. When they finished their repast, they hitched up the rental trailer and headed to their dream house.

When the newlyweds arrived at their new house, they made short work of emptying the trailer. Since their was no food or consumables like paper towels and toilet paper and such they needed to go shopping. On the way to the grocery store, they dropped off the tailer at the U-Haul rental building.

They then decided to pick up some towels and a few other items before they went shopping for food, so they stopped at Pittman’s Department Store in Henderson. When they had purchased all the necessary linen and towels and such, they went on to Dick’s grocery store and rounded out their shopping. When they were finished, not only was the trunk filled, but the back seat was full as well. Grandpa Gordon realized they had over did it a little, but how often do you move into a new house? Even though the house was furnished, there were still items and things that they simply couldn’t do without, so the shopping spree was unavoidable..

On the way back home, they took a different route so as to become a little more familiar with the city. Fortunately for them, the city layout was pretty simple and for the most part was a simple grid. It was composed of several main arteries. Once you learned their names the rest was a piece of cake.  After making a few wrong turns they finally made it back to their house in Mountain Shawdows. They actually drove by their house several times just to look at it from different angles.  They truly couldn’t believe it was their house because it was absolutely perfect. They both could not have been happier with it. Even Clara’s parents did not have a pool in their fancy house.

After a few months, the newness finally started to wear off some. It took a little while to purchase all of the little knickknacks and doodads that a house needs to make it a home. Finally, they were finished and they had hung their last photo and picture, towel rack and ring, and now their house was finally perfect. It was time to relax and enjoy the fruit of their labor.

Now that the work was done, Clara had nothing to occupy her time. All of her life, she had been just doing stuff, running around with her siblings or parents, and when she graduated from high school she entered nursing school.  It was only now when she was floating lazily in her pool that she came to this realization, she had no hobbies or interests.

Now that she was a nurse, at least she could pursue her career and hopefully along the way, she would develop some interests, hobbies and establish some new friendships. There is no family from either her side or Grandpa Gordon’s family out here, so they were both going to have to start from scratch. At least, Grandpa Gordon had his co-workers at the base and his photography that he enjoyed, what did she have?

Though to come and think of it, Grandpa Gordon had not been at the base in over three years which in the military was like an eternity. And besides, he is the boss now and that is going to change the whole dynamic with his old friends. Lets face it, they both had a lot of work to do to reestablish a social life.

After much reflection, Clara knew what she had to do and that was to get a job. The absolute first thing she needed to do was first, ha ha, to get off her float and out of the pool. The next item on her list was the resume. Lucky for her, she brought her portable typewriter when she came to Las Vegas. She had used her trusty typewriter all the way through nursing school, now it was going to help her to get a job. All that remained was the actual writing part.

Seeing as how she had no real work experience other than her time as a candy striper and her good grades in the program to show what she was capable of, her resume was going to be quite sparse. At least, before she left Minneapolis she had the foresight to get Annabelle, her charge nurses address and phone number and permission to use her as a reference. She also had two of her favorite nursing instructors’ information and permission, so she was able to complete the reference section which is the most important part of the resume. Before too long, Clara had before her a fairly serviceable resume while it was not perfect, it would simply have to do.

Grandpa Gordon had taken the car to work that day, so she wasn’t able to get out that day and drop off her resumes and to fill out applications. She would remedy it the next day by getting up early and taking him to work so she could start looking for work. Since they did not get the daily paper, she called up Grandpa Gordon and asked him to pick up a couple of classifieds at the newsstand at the base on the way home. This way, she could look through them after dinner.