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Why is this story titled The Purpose Driven Retirement? Well, we always seem to have to have a purpose for everything we do. Although maybe many people just retire as and end to an active life, the character of this story looked forward to retirement as a change of careers, change of scenery and change of direction for his life. Therefore, he was driven by a passion to achieve his goals in retirement. Ergo, his retirement was purpose driven.
Where to begin this story? Well, it seems to make sense to start this story shortly before Tim was suddenly offered early retirement and with Tim day dreaming a bit of his prior five years of enjoyable life in the Marshall Islands and actions taken during that time that set him upon the path, journey, adventure that follows his retirement. That way, you will have a better understanding of just why Tim did what he did. We always have a free will to choose which fork in the road to take, but, our choice, like Tim’s choice in this story, to retire early or not to retire early was severely influenced, and almost mandated, by seemingly logical and reasonable choices and decisions Tim had made years earlier.
Early one cold late winter morning Tim was once again working as the Finance Officer at Dugway, Utah. He was deep in thought searching his memory for solutions he’d seen employed in other places for similar seemingly insurmountable office problems. He’d been able to come up with solutions that way on many of his assignments and after modifying those solutions a bit, implementing them and achieving speedy resolution of the problem(s). But this time, the solutions just weren’t coming. And, he was having a very difficult time keeping his mind on finding solutions to the problems. His mind just kept wandering off onto other things.
He looked out the office window. The sky was gray and dismal in stark contrast with the bright white snow covering the fields. That was typical for a March day on the high desert plateau at Dugway, Utah fifty miles West of Salt Lake City and forty-five miles south of the I-80 freeway west. The gray clouds fortunately lacked the light reddish brown tint that usually foretold of more snow. Although he liked snow on TV and in movies, he no longer enjoyed it first hand. There had been plenty of snow already that winter and the roads and sidewalks at Dugway were still mostly covered with it. As far as he was concerned, they didn’t need any more snow. Walking to work early in the morning the crusted snow and ice wasn’t slippery underfoot. But at noon, walking home and back for lunch the snow and ice melting in the bright sunlight made the sidewalks as slick as two slugs fighting in a barrel of snot. And, whenever he took a deep breath of the fresh air outside, it was so cold it made his lungs ache. The cold climate unpleasantries made him long for the warm days of the life he had enjoyed in the Marshall Islands for almost 5 years before this current assignment at Dugway.
Tim’s present job was to supervise the accounting technicians who paid the bills, recorded the expenses in the accounts, paid the payroll and issued the monthly financial reports. When he’d been assigned to Dugway the first time about 8 years earlier, the authorized staff level for the finance office had been 30. This time, however, and in spite of the fact that the amount of funds and the number of transactions had almost doubled, the staffing level had been reduced to 23. The acting finance officer during Tim’s almost 5 year absence said that upon return of the man who had re-employment rights to the Resource Management Officer’s (RMO) job, the RMO had increased his budget office staffing to “cope” with the increases in funding and number of transactions. The way the RMO had done it was that every time someone retired or quit, the RMO had refused the Finance Officer’s request to ask the CPO to recruit for the vacant position and then, after six months had passed, the RMO would declare the position not needed in the Finance Office and would move it to the Budget Office. Although the Test and Evaluation Command (TECOM) Headquarters in Aberdeen,
Maryland continually complained about Dugway’s high payments for interest on many late payments on commercial accounts and for having too many payments of bills suspended in the “error pool” of transactions instead of being properly recorded in the individual accounts. The RMO just ignored them.
These same problems had existed when Tim had been assigned to Dugway the first time, and was told they had existed for a long time. But, Tim didn’t accept that condition as uncorrectable and set about to resolve the problems. He wasn’t a yes man but he did try very hard to comply with requirements. The RMO at that time was a new fellow not yet at Dugway and he gave Tim complete latitude to do whatever was necessary to get the job done and asked that he be kept informed. Tim got over hire authorization and overtime approval. Expanding the available manpower enabled him to get most of the backlog in commercial accounts cleared off (most of the commercial accounts were paid on time and few interest payments for late payments had to be made) and the error pool of suspended transactions was substantially reduced to transactions which had been paid in the last 30 days or less. That made TECOM, the Dugway program directors, and the reimbursable test customers happy. And, that made, the post commander and deputy and chief scientist happy with the accomplishments of the new finance officer. They hadn’t received such service before. But, all good things must come to an end. I do not know why, but they just say that. Anyway, after about 17 months on the job, Tim received an offer to go and work on Kwajalein, Republic of the Marshall Islands. That was an Atoll/Island half way between Hawaii and Guam. It was warm there all year around. Well, who could refuse such an offer? The answer of course was -almost no one. Tim had worked with a man in Riyadh Saudi Arabia who had worked and lived on Kwajalein for five years and the fellow had spoken highly of the place. So, Tim accepted the job offer and left Dugway. He left the Finance Office in the hands of his deputy who had let the problems grow before but retained re-employment rights to the Finance Officer position.
That’s something nice about serving overseas. You almost always have a job in the USA to come back to even if you don’t like the job.
Anyway, after Tim’s return to Dugway from Kwajalein and checking into the records at the Finance Office, he was shocked and dismayed to find that the backlog in commercial accounts, interest payments on late payments and the size of the error pool were about double the size of when he had first reported to work at Dugway. He asked why and was given the excuse that the RMO kept taking away finance technician positions every time someone quit or retired and that without the necessary labor, the backlogs increased. Tim reviewed and verified the situation. He briefed the RMO and asked for over hire authority for one person and overtime pay approval. He got that but only for the rest of that fiscal year, about 10 months. With the over hire authority he excitedly drove to Provo and rehired three times retired Bill Peterson, a super accountant who could go in to a problem area, quickly identify, and quickly fix most accounting problems. He talked with his many dedicated and skilled accounting technicians and most agreed to work overtime to get current with commercial accounts payments and to clean up the error pool. They said they had nothing better to do on Fridays and Saturdays in the wintertime anyway and were delighted with the opportunity to earn additional pay. The workweek at Dugway was four ten hour days.
Tim was not allowed to receive overtime pay so he didn’t work outside of regular hours. And, there was little for him to do since he did not do the detail technical work and wasn’t supposed to do it either. But, each Friday he cooked one or two large combination pizzas, depending on the number of people working, and took them to the office for his stalwart workers to enjoy. It is surprising just how much extra effort workers will put in when the boss brings them a free lunch. Tim did that deliberately and out of his own pocket, he was that dedicated to eradicating the financial problems. The accounting technicians worked diligently and made substantial progress month after month reducing the backlogs and the number of
transactions in the error pools. That such a small addition to the labor was able to accomplish so much was surprising since the cost of the one over hire and the overtime used didn’t even amount to the pay of three accounting technicians working regular hours and that was far less than the shortage of seven personnel assets fully recognized by the manpower survey office as necessary to accomplish the workload of the office. He told the RMO of the gains being made on reducing the backlogs with the limited additional resources and asked for more resources to clear up the backlog quicker. But, he was told no and that since the limited additional resources were getting the job done, that proved that the prior staffing level of 30 for the finance office was greater than what was really needed. Tim argued that the accounting technicians were only putting in the extra effort because he’d asked them and that some of them had told him that they had not received any thank you’s for the work they did until he came back. He might have been shouting into the wind for all the good that briefing did. He got no more resources and was reminded that those resources would go away at the end of the fiscal year (FY).
It was now March, 6 months after the fiscal year end and the end of the “extra” labor assets. Since October the finance office had stopped making headway on reducing the backlogs and was slipping further and further behind again. This was extremely frustrating for Tim. He felt like he was shoveling sand into the wind (Saudi expression). Try as he might, there was just no way he could get the workers to continue putting in the extra effort to work off the backlogs. It was physically impossible and they were reaching burn out too. The finance office personnel were already producing more than what the manpower survey office expected of them. Customers were complaining again and Tim could do nothing but say he was sorry and that the Finance Office would do it’s best to get the work done while knowing fully well that things would not get better. To lie to the customers was against Tim’s basic character. He wouldn’t lie so when questioned, he told them how the RMO had reduced the available labor in
an attempt to put pressure on the RMO to let him hire against his authorized vacancies. But, nothing ever came of that.
Then, when he thought things could not get worse, they did. The last of the three authorized clerks in the travel pay section quit and another accounting technican in the accounting branch which brought the total labor down to 20 and when Tim asked the RMO for authority to have the CPO recruit for that vacancy, he said no. The RMO again wanted to move the vacant position to his sacred budget office. That loss left Tim with no one to compute travel vouchers for payment other than the chief of commercial accounts and if he had that person compute the travel vouchers, more commercial account payments would be late and more interest payments would be made. He had that person process five vouchers a day but that wasn’t enough. The scientists and other testing officials were up in arms. They continually called him and told him that they were getting dunning notices from their credit card companies for failure to pay their accounts. Tim had a solution in mind. He’d run across a solution used in another finance office he’d audited many years before. He requested and received permission from his next higher headquarters in Aberdeen, Maryland to send the travel vouchers to their finance office for computation and back to Dugway for payment. That gave some relief. However, the difficult vouchers were returned without computation and of course those travelers screamed bloody murder and rightfully so. Tim already had his three people in Quality Assurance regularly working in commercial accounts to keep most of those payments current so had no resources to throw at the problem. It was an issue of just which holes in the dyke were going to be plugged while knowing fully well that not all holes could be plugged and that soon the dyke would collapse anyway.
And then, as if these problems were not enough, the Army in an effort to reap a peace dividend after the Berlin wall came down, was making reviews to select installations to close and, you guessed it, Dugway and Tooele, right across the mountain towards Salt Lake City,
were in dire competition for survival, perhaps as a combined installation. That would have been odd because Tooele was part of the Army Materiel Command (depot command) and Dugway was part of the Test and Evaluation Command. There were many late night meetings on how to make Dugway look better and thereby save it. That included a reorganization to eliminate some positions, including Tim’s position as Finance Officer, to make Dugway lean and mean. There were numerous visits and inspections by teams of experts from the Test and Evaluation Command and the Army Finance Center tasked by congress with combining finance office operations to save on costs if the installation were not closed. Trying to satisfy the slate of problems in the finance office and answer the questions and provide the data the visitors requested took most of Tim’s time and considerable time of his accounting technicians too which of course put them even further behind. Talk about running up the down escalator.
Tim continually tried, unsuccessfully, to get relief for his workers but as is so often the case in times of trouble, the name of the game was “to shoot the messenger”. Why? Well, he is the one bringing the bad news. Isn’t that right? And, if you shoot him, you won’t get anymore bad news. Right! So was it any wonder that most of the people in the Finance office walked around in a daze and displayed dismal moods like the gray sky outside the window that cold March morning?
Although Tim had enjoyed many exciting and rewarding events and had received awards and other recognition for many of his achievements in his long career working both sides of the street, as auditor and in operations, and back and forth again and again, this present assignment certainly wasn’t going to be another exciting and rewarding event. Yes Dugway was in Utah and Utah was a Mormon state. That meant that you were either Mormon or non-Mormon. As non-Mormon, you were considered and were treated as a foreigner who had to be tolerated. Tim was a non-Mormon. This had not posed problems during his first tour of duty, but when things got tough for jobs, well, you know, foreigners were left out in the cold.
He’d been sent back from Kwajalein to Dugway because his audit position had just been moved back to Huntsville, Alabama (Tim wasn’t a southerner either) and with the threat of bases being closed, command figured they were doing him a favor of sending him back where he had re-employment rights before that installation got closed instead of perhaps sending him back after the installation was closed which would have caused yet another move on his part. Yeah and the road to hell is paved with good intentions too.
This tour of duty just wasn’t working out. Tim could count the non-Mormons in the Resource Management Office using less than one hand. So, like Tonto had said, “We’re out numbered kemosabe.” Therefore, the urgent need for self survival rose to the surface as his number one priority above thinking about solutions to the office problems. Tim was wondering just how and even if he could survive to a point some five years hence when his ticket would be punched and he would be able to get on the retirement bus. Without that ticket punch, the monotonous daily grind had to be endured and survived. Tim remembered very well that his friend Larry Keenan, deputy comptroller of the Army had attained position, status, glory and the very substantial salary of a top level Senior Executive Service person. But, poor Larry hadn’t made it to the ticket punch and the retirement bus. Larry had died several weeks short of the mandatory 30 years service and 55 years of age. He had never reaped any of his well deserved retirement rewards. The stress of unsolvable problems had been too much for him and his heart had given out. Although Tim had envied Larry for his position and salary, Larry had envied Tim for the comparative peace and calm of his assignment at Ft. Bragg as Installation Accountant and comfortable salary of a GM-13 and had told him so on the first visit Larry made to Ft Bragg to give a speech at a financial training course Tim was presenting for Colonel Allred. It was the usual case of “the grass is greener over there on your side of the fence than here on my side”.
We each do the best we can and we have to live with the consequences of our choices and actions. While Tim had thought that Larry was on a fantastically good roll, as gamblers would say, appearances are not the whole story. Larry’s luck had run out in the worst possible way. He was taken out of play and would not roll the dice ever again. The lesson in that may be that we need to make the best of every opportunity because there may be no second chance or another opportunity. We only have the now.
How could Tim solve the problems at hand or get out of this box? Well, maybe the office problems could not be solved and maybe he had to leave. He was still loaded in the Army personnel system as being interested and available for many positions in many places. That had proven helpful before and was how he’d gotten the jobs in Riyadh, Dugway the first time, and in Kwajalein. But now he was desperate. He now replied that he was interested and available to almost every announcement he received and even called previous supervisors to call the selecting officials to put in a good word for him. But, all of that was to no avail. With the peace dividend action in progress, no one was hiring to fill any vacancies. When Tim asked the selecting officials, he was told that they didn’t want to hire someone and then shortly thereafter have to let the person go. That made sense. But, Tim wanted out of Dugway right away and needed to get out in order to survive professionally and personally. He vividly recalled poor old deaf George, an auditor friend with 5th Army. Near the end of his career George had gotten a hard ass young supervisor who took a dislike for George and did everything he could to force George out. He was given demeaning and impossible assignments fit for someone with a lower grade and then unsatisfactory job appraisals and downgrades in attempts to get George to resign. But, George gritted his teeth and kept plodding that happy road to destiny. With save pay George didn’t lose very much money but he certainly was treated badly and was defamed in public numerous times. George had told Tim to watch out because once they got their teeth on your Achilles heel, they would not let go until you were a gonner. Oh, there were rumors of early retirement offers which would permit
retirement before achieving the double nickel minimum age of 55. But, only one offer had come to Dugway and that had been in January and it had been too restrictive. Tim and most of the other disgruntled employees were not able to meet the minimum requirements. But, the eighteen people who met the criteria, accepted the offer, retired, got gone real quick and weren't heard from again either. They’d taken the money and had run without a backward glance. When it rains it pours. Making the situation feel even more glum, many of the officers and senior enlisted men at Dugway had already been given and had taken liberal early retirements (golden parachutes). The civilians at Dugway believed that those early retiree military folks had taken the last few good jobs with industry and were therefore grumpy because they couldn't even apply with industry because they didn't know if or when they could retire. Consequently, the mood among many of the older workers at the installation was definitely not one of cheer and goodwill. The whole place emanated an air of ill will, bad feelings and ill times to come.
And, the accounting problems were not the only problems. There was another seemingly petty new annoyance which was just a powder keg ready to blow up. The nonsmoking workers objecting to cigarette smoke in the workplace had finally gotten heard and workplace rules had been changed. That change, however, had not settled the problem. There was still a constant battle among the smoking and non-smoking office workers in the Finance Office. Before, the rule changes, the office windows were opened to let the smoke out. That allowed the cold winds in and people often caught a chill and got sick. The solution by top management to forbid smoking indoors and to allow smokers to take “5 minute” smoke breaks as necessary to go outside the building and smoke had seemingly been practical but that solution did not address or solve the issue of the smokers not working as many hours as the non-smokers. The smokers just had to have a smoke just about every fifteen minutes and they took ten minutes to do that. The result was a work slow down on the part of the nonsmokers. And, although the smokers went outside to smoke, they usually kept the outside
door open and/or smoked in the doorway of the stairwell outside because of the biting cold outside. And, of course to get that last puff of smoke and nicotine that their bodies craved, they took a deep drag before throwing their butt away, held their breath until they were inside the building, and then exhaled the smoke inside. Of course they didn’t think about the consequences to the non-smokers. Smokers are just that way. Because of the smokers inconsiderate actions cigarette smoke continuously came into the building and permeated everywhere. Tim could even now hear Viola and several other women who were extremely sensitive to the smoke and whose asthma flared up with the slightest whiff of smoke on the warpath again shouting “Someone is smoking in the building again.” Tim knew he would have to talk sternly to the smokers again and that that would further increase the animosity of the smokers and would further reduce the productivity of the office
Tim absolutely detested sitting indoors at a desk hours at a time pushing papers and being required to solve unsolvable problems with the reduced staff level and being the resident senior old person to maintain continuity and peace by saying a firm no to most requests. Tim preferred taking the bull by the horns, wrestling it to the ground and winning. But here, this time at Dugway his every effort was thwarted. He hadn’t completely given up yet but he was getting very frustrated. He desperately wanted to improve operations, there were too many accounting transactions in the error pool not posted to the individual accounts and the reimbursable order customers were continually demanding status on their old orders for tests already completed because they needed to quickly provide additional funding if the funds previously provided were insufficient or move unneeded funds to other projects and tests they needed to have performed. Tim had put a lot of effort into trying to solve that problem. That problem really originated with the people in budget making errors in the accounting classification and expense account numbers. It continued with the perpetuation of those errors and additional similar errors by the Procurement office personnel. Those errors resulted in rejected transactions in the Finance office when the payments were made which then required
extensive research and input of correction documents to correct the fund provision, the commitment, the obligation and the expensing of the disbursement and adjustment of the commitment and obligation. Of course the budget and procurement folks were two to four pay grades higher than the finance clerks and they looked down on the “dumb” finance clerks. It was no wonder that battles ensued between the finance office and the other two departments. Tim visited the Procurement Officer to try and get at least a bit of recognition of the source of the problem and a bit of help from him. But, the fellow blamed the finance technicians saying that his people did not make mistakes on the accounting classifications in the procurement documents. The finance technicians knew what codes were correct and the other departments neither knew nor could be bothered by such trivial details. And, you guessed it, the Resource Management Officer also gave Tim a deaf ear because he didn’t understand or want to understand the problem either and he took up the cry of the budget and procurement people that the Finance clerks were not doing their jobs.
Half way through this current posting to Dugway a newly promoted Colonel was made Commander. His predecessor had been sort of ok but not nearly as good as the Commander and Deputy whom Tim had served during his first stint there. This new Colonel evidenced, according to those working close to him, little knowledge of operations and he directed actions which were not good for Dugway or the customers. He did that so often that the deputy facility engineer and deputy commander, an old Major on his 2nd posting to Dugway were both so upset that they went around post and very carefully spoke with other senior civilians to try and get them to join forces with them to conduct a coup and take over control of the operation from the new Colonel and his right hand man who was an inefficient and twisted E-7 who continually violated Army rules and regulations.
While Tim appreciated the fine complementary words of the leaders of the Coup, he had served with them at Dugway before and knew they only had the best for Dugway and the Army
at heart; he was very concerned and scared about getting too close to such an unauthorized take over. He didn’t want to lose his pension over the issue. So, he told them he would support them when and as he could but that he could not be quoted or be involved as an active front line supporter. That meant that he would not tell on them, would not throw stones at them, but would answer any of the technical questions they asked truthfully and completely which he strove to do all the time with all people anyway. He told them that if their effort blew up in their faces, he would use former President Reagan’s plausible deniability method to avoid any repercussions. They sadly said that they understood, thanked him and left. Sometimes not objecting to actions being taken actually gives support to those actions and those guys certainly did not want him objecting to anything they were planning to do since Tim’s word on financial operations was widely respected.
Tim’s sub-conscious changed his thoughts wandered to more pleasant things. Upon Tim’s return in November 1992 from Kwajalein Tony, a half Indian half Italian husky man with long straight black hair and a large protruding nose giving a nasal twang to most of his speech and a red headed wife welcomed Tim back. They said they wanted to do something to thank him for hiring Tony before Tim had gone to Kwajalein when no one else would give him a chance. Tony said he wanted to take Tim and Neilani into the desert on adventure trips to see interesting things. Tim had hired Tony during his previous assignment at Dugway at the Civilian Personnel Officer’s insistence that Tim give him a last chance. Tony was a loner and had traveled the area extensively to get peace of mind and in season a deer or antelope. He said that on his outings no one told him to do anything or that anything he did was wrong. He was just out there enjoying nature by himself. Over the years, Tony had found many Indian Petroglyphs and had taken photos of them. He showed the photos to Tim proudly saying, "The University of Utah is very interested and wants me to take them to all of the sites. But, I refused because I did not want the sites plundered and destroyed.” Tim agreed with him about that. Tony proudly became the tour guide for Tim and Neilani. Tony told him that Tim was the
first and only person he had taken on tours of the desert surrounding Dugway. Tim felt
Tony drove Tim and Neilani on
many weekends to the places where herds of Antelope roamed and through the colorful countryside where the Wells Fargo stagecoaches and the pony express riders had ridden and which later became the famed Lincoln highway, which was later replaced by I-80 skirting the Southern edge of Lake Bonneville. Tony pointed out the side of one long hill out in the desert that had been dug out for the wheels on one side of wagons saying that that place was the source of the name Dugway.
Dugway and the surrounding area was a historic area and Tony was the best possible guide to show him the historic points of interest. They stopped and walked around a Boy Scout camp located at one of the old stone stagecoach way stations and a sportsman's hunting camp ground at another. Those places were very rustic and tranquil. There were no other people around that day. On another trip South of Dugway and deep into the Desert Mountains, Tony pointed out mines where a vibrant reddish pink ore was being extracted. Later, out in the valley on the main road to Delta, Tony showed Tim and Neilani the mill where the ore was crushed and partially processed. The vibrant reddish pink dust was all around the area and down the roadway. Then Tony said, "The metallic oxide extracted from that ore is used to make the ceramic tiles on the nose of the space shuttles. This place in this desert is
the only place in the world this particular metallic oxide has been found. Here we are, out in the middle of nowhere and yet we are directly connected to the most modern cutting edge technology and pursuit of mankind.”
Although the trips into the desert with Tony were great, Tim had other friends too who wanted to go into the desert with him. So Tim and Neilani went into the desert with them to dig for geodes and to hunt for jasmine and other Topaz quartz crystals after the heavy spring rains and before the scorching heat of the summer and for picnics. He was told by rock hounds in the post recreation center where to find the geodes and crystals. Tim never did find or see any yellow Jasmines in the rock wall where he could see many people had chipped and dug before. But, he and the party he went with always found nice clear Topaz crystals, even if they were broken half and quarter crystals. An unbroken one was usually 3/16 of an inch thick and up to ¾ inch long and is 6 sided and looks real nice on a gold chain necklace as a pendant. To find them, just like looking for quasumi diamonds near Al Batin in Saudi Arabia, you have to get up early in the morning because you have to face the sun and look from 30 to 50 feet ahead of you on the ground with the sun from one to five fingers high with your arm fully extended to the sun, your palm facing you and your fifth finger on the horizon. The angle of reflection is critical. You can see the glint of the crystals in the distance and have to walk directly to the spot without taking your eyes off the spot and hopefully have some other thing on the ground to mark the spot. You can be directly over the crystal and not see it. Crystal hunting is best in the spring after heavy rains wash the dirt and the dust off the crystals exposing them to the light. One time they went just off the Dugway reservation to the west to where the people in the post craft shop said they dug for and got many geodes. For these trips, generally three couples, Tim and Neilani, Bill and Lurie went
, and Dianne always took three vehicles, a sedan, a GMC carryall, and a Jeep Cherokee 4 wheel drive for safety.
Bill and Diane worked in Tim’s Quality Assurance office. Tim had hired both of them during his previous assignment at Dugway. Bill was an older white haired very savvy man who had a real knack of finding the cause of problems and fixing them. He’d owned and operated his own appliance store for years and had also worked for IRS as a pistol packing collections agent where he said the IRS had taught him how to pluck all the feathers from the chicken (the errant taxpayer) without killing the bird. Diane had survived many difficulties in life and had gotten into the accountant intern program late in life. Dianne’s father had been one of the scientists on the Manhattan Project and her family had moved around a lot. She said her father had spent many a summer away at Bikini Atoll without ever saying what he did. Upon his return from Kwajalein Tim had shown Diane videos of the Marshallese turning their land over to the Americans and of some of the atom blast tests. She appreciated learning what her father had been working on. They ended each excursion into the desert with a picnic barbecue in a remote but picturesque site near the base of a white stone bluff about 150 feet high and a quarter of a mile long. Apache tear drops could be found nearby. Apache tear drops are pieces of black obsidian polished into round shapes and burnished for centuries by the blowing sand. The burnishing is called desert varnish. The solitude and fresh air in the
desert with the medium blue sky setting off the white cliff seemed to make the food taste better. The scenery in the remote and seemingly barren desert is far more spectacular than from any restaurant window or even from the sky top Sunday brunch restaurant in Salt Lake City.
Bill and Tim always took revolvers along on their trips into the desert. They told the women they were in case they came across rattlesnakes. That was partially true. They were for protection against rattlesnakes but the variety of snake they most feared were the young male polygamists or satanic cult worshipers roaming the desert and taking advantage of whomever they found. Those guys had neither fear nor respect for others and took what they wanted at gunpoint. Pretty young girls like Neilani were their delight to capture, rape, kill and leave for predatory animals to destroy the evidence. Tony had warned Tim repeatedly to never go into the desert alone and without firearms and preferably to only go with him or with other men likewise armed with guns. Tony told numerous accounts of bodies found in the desert in shallow graves by hunters. It seems as though the nice people of Salt Lake City had gotten tired of dumping bodies in the river Jordan running through town, previously used frequently for body disposal, and were planting them instead in shallow graves in Skull Valley and further on out into the desert too.
Even though Tim understood Tony’s cautions, he decided one nice weekend day the previous spring to take Neilani to have a picnic lunch at the Boy Scout camp across the road from the stagecoach station just off post and down the old Lincoln highway which was also the old pony express route. He had taken his pistol though figuring that would suffice for protection. They stopped and walked into and around the old, original, stone stage coach station. Then they drove across the road to the picnic table area. When Tim stopped near a picnic table there were no vehicles or other people anywhere in sight. But, within ten minutes and by the time they had the picnic lunch out of the trunk of the car and spread out on the picnic table, Tim could see people and cars and jeeps and pickups moving in on them from all
degrees of the compass. It was like they were the un pollinated flowers and the strangers were the bees coming in to do the pollinating. Tim looked carefully at the approaching people and he didn’t discern any smiles on their faces. They looks were very sinister. Without hesitation, Tim carefully and quickly took his pistol case out of the car and made a big show of taking the pistol out of the red corduroy case, putting the clip in, and putting a shell into the chamber while softly telling Neilani “Put the picnic things back in the trunk now and go sit in the car.” He noticed that the people moving in on him did not even slow down when he brandished the pistol.
Neilani objected saying “But you said we were going to have a picnic and I want to do that here and now.”
Tim said, “Neilani, do it now. Look around. Do you see all the vehicles and people closing in on us?” She did and then quickly put the picnic things in the trunk, closed it and went and sat in the car. Then Tim quickly got in the car and with pistol in hand and above the dash board started the Caprice and drove quickly out of the camp ground and onto the dirt road and headed directly back to Dugway where they had their picnic lunch in the safety of their government quarters. It wasn’t until that incident at the Boy Scout camp ground that Tim became firmly convinced that Tony had really been telling him the truth about the dangers out in the desert and that he was really trying to protect Tim and Neilani. Tony had not overstated the danger. Two men with pistols or rifles was a far safer situation than one man with a pistol. And, riding in Tony’s pickup was even safer because Tony and his truck were well known in the desert. Until this incident, Tim had though the problem wasn’t quite as bad as Tony made it out to be. But now he knew that Tony had been absolutely right. Paranoia can be an honest and realistic fear. There are times when they really are out to get you and to do you harm. And that trip for a picnic that day was the last time Tim and Neilani went alone into the desert for any reason.
Across the mountain pass towards Tooele and then south there was a road up to an old mining town, seemingly a nice place for tourists to visit. Tim drove there one bright Saturday morning for an outing. He noticed that there were numerous old buildings and mining shacks lining the narrow road up the narrow canyon. He also noticed that people came out of those buildings as he drove up and were still out looking as he drove back down and out of the canyon. Those folks weren’t smiling either. Then just as he got to the intersection with the main highway, a gray car approaching from his left stopped and the driver got out. It was the cashier from Tim’s finance office. She asked him if he had car trouble. He said no and that he’d just driven up the road to the old mine. She shook her head as she said that was a bad place to be and to never drive up there again as those people were down right unfriendly towards strangers. He thanked her and said he’d remember that. Well, Tim had friends who were looking out for his well-being but not on the job. And, the places Tim wanted to go exploring, like the 100 acre woods of Winnie the Poo, were not safe at any time. Damn, but he detested these limitations on what he could do.
After each of the desert picnic trips with the other people and without Tony, Tim got sick but Neilani didn't. It wasn’t until shortly after the third desert picnic trip when he was again sick and when he happened to comment to the other two men who had gone with him on the picnic trip about getting sick after each of the their three trips that the “sickness from the desert” problem became apparent. The other two fellows said the same thing had happened to them each time too and that they also needed to go to a doctor to get penicillin to get well but that their wives hadn't gotten sick. They, like Tim, had said nothing about their illnesses to others. You know, most men will deny being sick even when they are very sick. It is an incorrect, manliness thing, and it causes delays in proper treatment. Tim and the other men had each concluded that their sudden illness after each trip into the desert had probably been caused by catching a chill or something in the dust where they’d been that they’d breathed. They knew
the areas where they had gone were down wind of where the military had conducted extensive testing for many years but had considered them safe because the Army didn’t advise them there might be a hazard there.
During the cold war years the Dugway scientists had tried to develop a flu bug to incapacitate sixty-percent or more of enemy male soldiers when exposed to the agent so that they would be unable to fight for three to five days, during which time, the US forces could over run the enemy. The scientists never claimed success but they had conducted many tests. Tim remembered many old time residents at Dugway telling him that they never went down wind of any of the test areas and always left the digging of geodes and prospecting for jasmine and topaz crystals to others. Although he had repeatedly asked them why, the old timers always just changed the subject. Those old timers knew who buttered their bread and what not to talk about.
After the repeated illnesses after visits to those areas, Tim decided to do as the old timers did, he stayed out of the desert. He also he didn't get sick again either. He didn’t need an explanation on a silver platter. He could put 2 and 2 together and figure out a solution and implement it. However, to confirm what he thought, he mentioned the sickness thing to Tony who said "Of course. I never took you through or to any of those areas where people get sick from the dust unless the soil was wet so that we wouldn’t have to breathe the dust." That acceptance of reality by Tim put an end to the occasional planned exciting desert adventures and picnics too. Oh, they’d talked of maybe visiting some of the abandoned gold mines in the area and Tony’s son sort of offered to be a guide since he had been in most of the abandoned mines. But, his numerous stories of venomous snakes inside the mines spoken with vivid details coupled with Tim’s fear of venomous snakes was too much. He always felt it was better to be safe rather than to be hurting and sorry so made no more trips into the desert.
Without the trips into the desert, Tim and his wife went to the on post craft shop and made ceramics. Tim had done that before in Germany and on Kwajalein and had gotten quite good at it. The assigned Catholic priest at Dugway was frequently in the craft shop. He was always perfectly dressed in a black suit of very fine cloth and with slightly high heeled highly polished black boots with a side zipper. He looked like a dandy. He was friendly enough but always spoke in a manner that put the people down he was talking to. The priest’s claim to fame was that he had been assigned as chaplain to Princess Grace Kelley in Monaco for a number of years. That was fine. But after hearing that story in many versions many, times, it got old. And, the extreme contrast of the two assignments-Chaplain in Monaco and Chaplain in Dugway only begged the question “Was the assignment in Dugway a form of punishment for something he did or didn’t do in Monaco? “ When Tim asked him, the priest denied it with a cold annoyed quick response and abruptly left the room. The priest never made any ceramics, he just hung around there. Hum, um, what was he doing there?
To relieve the boredom of staying on post on weekends, Tim and Neilani drove to Salt
Lake City on many Fridays and spent the entire day and sometimes even the evening too shopping and eating in nice restaurants. On one return journey to Dugway late one clear and cold winter afternoon as he and Neilani were driving in two of the three tire ruts up the Skull Valley snow covered two-lane road he detected movement in his peripheral vision to the right. Skull valley was desolate but not totally devoid
of life. He quickly turned his head to the right and saw a large tawny colored puma bounding through the deep snow about 100 feet the other side of the barbwire fence paralleling the road. The puma was heading in the same direction as Tim was driving. Tim slowed down to get a better look. The animal was beautiful and showed its power, grace and confidence as it bounded along. In the middle of one long 30 foot or more bound, it turned its head and looked boldly and confidently at Tim's passing car as if to say “This is my hunting ground. You go away.” Tim was glad they were safe from attack inside the car. Tim stopped at the next polygamist’s farmhouse about 2 miles further up the road and told a young farm girl he saw in the barnyard about the puma. She asked where he had seen it, what it looked like and what direction it was running. Then she ran to her house to get her rifle. Tim knew she had to protect the family’s livestock but hoped the puma would get away. After doing his good deed, Tim continued driving back to Dugway.
Living at Dugway was often boring but there was occasional excitement. One dark and very cold and foggy evening the previous November, four MP vehicles pulled up and parked outside Tim’s house and left their motors running for several hours while they searched the house and sheds of a civilian chemist neighbor three houses up the street from Tim. The searchers found plenty of unauthorized chemical agents the chap had stolen from the test labs in the desert where he worked. The guy had been taking some of his work home with him. Some folks said he had enough chemical stuff at his house to wipe out all the residents of the housing area. He was taken to Salt Lake City and was placed in jail and was never seen again at Dugway. That was one of those cases where after the event and after telling others of the event each person did a shoulder shrug several times to get rid of the uneasy feeling that the story created. Gee whiz, there are weirdoes and nuts everywhere.
Tim had shared his dream of retiring to the Pacific islands and building rental cottages on a beach with his Marshallese friends. They had fully supported him. Their national policy
was to develop tourism to the islands. His friends included two Senators in the Marshallese Government who even invited him to start his project as soon as possible on their land instead of on Emidj Island in the Jaluit Atoll. Tim’s retirement dream had evolved over 20 or more years from an original plan for a tourist hotel/pension somewhere in Austria or West Germany where he'd lived for eight years with a German wife; to tourist cottages in Pohnpei when he had a Pohnpeian wife; and then to tourist cottages in the Marshall Islands with his Marshallese wife. The many South Pacific movies and adventure books he’d seen and read had only served to reinforce his desire.
He’d always enjoyed museums and had done research on some of the South Pacific islands and indigenous peoples by reading history books and by visiting museums wherever he was. He was surprised to find that Polynesians of the South Pacific islands were defined as those living south of the Equator and Micronesians as those living north of the Equator. The exception was the Hawaiians living north of the Equator who were called Polynesians. He visited the local cultural museum in Majuro, the Bishop's Museum in Honolulu, and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. The Majuro museum showed the Marshallese people as peaceful fishing folk who made interesting handcrafts. Bishop's Museum in Honolulu showed the same for both the Pohnpeian and Marshallese. The Smithsonian Museum, however, showed them as a heavily tattooed fierce and war like people with sinister looking lances and clubs made of ironwood with shark teeth imbedded on opposite sides. Tim knew an enemy couldn't grab one of those weapons to stop a blow without getting severely lacerated. He thought about the noticeable differences in the presentations and concluded that the Smithsonian Museum must have obtained its materials before the arrival of the Boston missionaries and the others must have obtained their artifacts and stories after arrival of the pacifying missionaries.
After an especially arduous fiscal year financial close out in Huntsville, Alabama, his second year at Kwajalein Island, Tim took a ten day vacation to Pohnpei. In addition to the briefings he'd received about Pohnpei in general by people on Kwajalein Island who had already enjoyed their excursions there, he'd also seen a slide show of Nan Madol presented by a Corps of Engineers employee visiting Kwajalein Island who had visited Pohnpei. The slide show and lecture had favorably impressed Tim and he wanted to see the place himself.
So, after return to Kwajalein, Tim flew to Pohnpei late one Friday afternoon arriving just before dusk. Looking out the airplane window upon approach to the island, Tim could see an outer ring of coral islands, an inner lagoon, and big mountains on the main island partially obscured by clouds. Pohnpei was mountainous and had lots of lush vegetation in many shades of green in stark contrast to the flat and palm covered coral islands in the Marshalls with little vegetation.
Saturday morning after breakfast on the terrace with a splendid view of the massive black basalt rock cliff over looking the harbor, the Pohnpeian equivalent of Diamond Head, he asked the hotel desk clerk about sight seeing tours. She said "There are no tours around the island. You have to rent a car and drive yourself. Here is a map. Do you want me to call for a rental car?"
He’d said, "Yes."
She called a car rental agency for him and said, "There are tours available to two different cultural dances and to the historic ruins of Nan Madol. Do you want reservations for them?"
He said, "Yes, the trip to Nan Madol and one of the two cultural dances." The tour of Nan Madol was the next morning and the cultural dance in Uh was in the afternoon after the boat tour.
The rental vehicle, a pickup truck, was delivered within a half hour to the hotel and he set off with the map and directions the desk clerk had given him. The countryside was picturesque and cheery. Tim enjoyed feasting his eyes on the many different varieties of big trees and lush vegetation. In every direction he looked, he saw many shades of green from light and dainty to dark, almost black. There were breadfruit trees heavily laden with large ripe fruits, banana trees with bunches of light green and yellow bananas, and large plots of taro growing by the roadside in low muddy areas. He saw mountains with peaks shrouded in clouds. He encountered many light rain showers but also had plenty of sunshine on the trip. He knew the island needed plenty of rain to be as lush and green as it was. He crossed all seven rivers and passed through all seven kingdoms on the island. He saw women washing clothes in each of the rivers while children splashed and played in the swiftly running cool and clean waters. They waved cheerfully at him and he waved back as he drove past them.
The beige colored thatched roof cottages dotting the landscape around the island caught his fancy. He took many photographs. He saw many poor people but also saw that they were smiling and friendly. He noticed that most of the young people were very good looking and that some had long thin oval faces, a thin body, and a very dark skin tone while others were more round and chubby with light brown skin tones. He thought that the people with the long thin oval faces and thin bodies looked exceptionally handsome and beautiful. Tim knew he was on a good adventure. Tim asked about that later and was told that the people with long thin oval faces were direct descendents of people who had migrated from Papua New Guinea.
It took Tim about six hours to drive leisurely around the island. It was less than fifty miles distance but he had stopped many times to see and photograph interesting scenery and buildings. And, the road was nearly washed out in a number of places making driving slow and difficult. He arrived back at the hotel mid-afternoon, took a cool shower, and laid down for a nap. Tim was delighted with his cottage at the Hotel Pohnpei. It had a Pandannus thatched roof, split and woven bamboo walls, and dark reddish brown mangrove wood plank floors and was perched on a steep hillside on mangrove wood pilings. The cottage was cool, quiet, and peaceful even during the intense daytime heat. The thatch breathed and let the wind blow through gently and the heat escaped from the gabled roof. About dusk, he walked to a small restaurant down the street for fried chicken recommended by the hotel desk clerk. The waitresses were friendly and pretty and the meal was delicious. He wanted to ask one of the girls out for a date but was embarrassed to do so as they were all attentive and listening and he feared a no answer and his possible embarrassment if he got a no answer. He preferred to ask a young woman quietly in a place and in a manner which would allow him to leave without embarrassment if the answer was no. He was also concerned about the possible embarrassment of the woman so felt his method was a good one for both parties.
The bachelors on Kwajalein, who had already visited Pohnpei, had told Tim about their trips there. They told him that about 7 P.M. every evening the local girls just came out of the bushes and onto the roads and waved down white skinned tourists to join them for evenings of pleasure. So, Tim drove around town and out into the countryside looking for those girls. It was raining lightly and either the fellows had been pulling his leg or the rain kept them in their houses. He saw none. He stopped in the liveliest bar in town. Counting himself and the bartender there were five people. The only place he’d ever been before that had been less lively was to a movie house in Whitefish, Montana one cold winter evening. He’d been the only customer in that movie theater that night and the projectionist stopped and rewound the movie to start it again telling him that since he was the only customer he could do it so that he
wouldn’t miss the first part of the movie. Anyway, about 10 P.M. Tim gave up on the bar in Kolonia and went alone back to his cottage and had a restful night's sleep in his cottage.
The next morning, he woke to the cheerful chirping of tropical birds and bright rays of sunlight streaming into the cottage through the cracks and gaps in the bamboo thatched walls. The flowers around the hotel were bright red, yellow, ochre, and white and the fragrance was intoxicating. After a light western breakfast on the terrace, he drove out along the road he'd taken the morning before and as he turned a corner in town and glanced through the window of a building there he got a quick glimpse of a beautiful young woman in silhouette and naked from the waist up stretching as though she had just gotten up. She was gorgeous. Further down the road, Tim took a left turn instead of a right turn at a particular unmarked intersection that had been described to him by the desk clerk. There were no road signs anywhere. He arrived shortly at the place where he was to meet the boat and tour guide for the tour to Nan Madol. Another vehicle pulled up beside him and there were three more tourists for the boat tour. The tour guide and boat came to the shore and they all got in. The boat took them across a shallow sandy-bottomed lagoon that was a natural breeding ground for manta rays. Tim saw more than 50 manta rays swooping around in the shallow water while crossing the lagoon first to sand island and then on to Nan Madol. The manta rays swooped so gracefully.
Tim found Nan Madol very interesting and the history as told by the guide intriguing. The local people were afraid of the place and wouldn't live anywhere nearby and refused to be there after dark. Tim took many pictures.
The words of the Corps of Engineers lecturer showing the slide show on Nan Madol came rushing back into Tim’s consciousness. He found it almost unbelievable how eight centuries earlier the people of Pohnpei had hauled the massive basalt pillars of stone from islands as far as five hundred miles away to this place and had constructed buildings with straight lines that would be difficult with modern equipment today. It was a stupendous feat of transport and engineering. The corps of engineer fellow had said they had taken samples of the pillars at Nan Madol and had gone to other islands and taken samples there too and that was how they had located the sources of the basalt pillars.
After the Nan Madol tour, return to the hotel, and a short nap, he went to the Village hotel to meet the bus and follow it to the cultural dance performance in Uh. He chose to follow the bus with his rental pick-up truck in case he happened to get lucky. He followed the bus down the road, driving the same route as he had driven for the around the island drive and also for the boat trip to Nan Madol that morning. The road was starting to become familiar. After a few miles, the bus turned off to the right and went up a narrow and steep deeply rutted gravel road waddling all the way over the uneven surface. Even though the pickup truck was
fairly high, Tim scraped bottom in a few places, and was glad he had rented a pickup instead of a low sedan. They drove up the road for about a mile and then the road turned left and leveled off onto a wide shelf on the side of the mountain. The bus stopped near a tin roofed long rectangular traditional Pohnpeian house. This was the settlement of Uh where the cultural dance was to be performed.
The tour guide directed the tourists to go inside the house. The base of the house was U shaped with a concrete and stone base about three feet wide on the sides and twenty-five feet wide at one end and sixty feet long. The open area of the U was about eighteen feet by twenty-five feet and had a dirt floor with a few log benches to sit on. A rusty corrugated tin roof on a pole frame covered the entire base and the three sides were covered half way up with either tin or wood planks. The tourists sat down and watched the dancers preparing themselves. They were busy applying coconut oil to their skins to make them shine. Their only clothing was under pants for the men and panties for the women with long Hibiscus bark skirts died dark yellow on top. A few of the dancers also wore red Hibiscus flowers in their hair. All the dancers were either singing or talking excitedly. The sounds were melodious and pleasant to the ear. The tour guide said the dance would start soon and to go out to the benches in front of the nearby stage. The tourists did as directed, and two bare breasted nubile young teenage girls brought trays of coconuts for the tourists to drink and cut up pieces of the center of sprouted coconut to eat.
The performance began with one handsome young man, Roberto, coming on stage, kneeling on one knee, and blowing a conch shell to call the other dancers to the stage. Then other dancers ran up both sides of the stage and into their dance positions. The dancers sang, danced, and beat sticks on boards in rhythm. They also performed a mock battle with wooden spears. Tim and the other tourists couldn't get enough of watching the performers, especially the provocative bare breasted young women.
He noticed that the older European women tourists were also openly ogling the young male dancers too and tittering to each other about what they saw and then giggling. After the state show was over, the tourists asked to take and have their pictures taken with the dancers. Tim watched with glee as a couple of older and rather stout German ladies dig into their huge purses and take out large Tobelerone chocolate bars and give them to the handsome young men after they got their pictures taken with them. Not just standing or sitting normal pictures, but hugging and fondling pictures. So, don’t think it was just the men who were lustful at the cultural dance.
The last act of the cultural dance performance was the Sakau ceremony where kava roots were cleaned, water added, and pounded with stones in a high metallic content lava crucible in a ritual with much singing.
The resultant light brown liquid was then passed around in coconut shells to the tourists to sample. Tim had been warned to leave that stuff alone as it had an extremely numbing narcotic effect. The dancers consumed it and got quite numb. Tim did however, found the metallic ringing of the pounding and the accompanying singing absolutely enchanting.
Tim scrutinized the young women dancers and selected one to ask out after the dance. He caught her attention during the performance and she returned his smiles. He thought she was the prettiest girl in the dance troupe and wanted her. She had a beautiful oval face with alert inquisitive eyes, was about five feet tall, slim of body, nicely proportioned with large tits, and weighing maybe 90 lbs. Her hair was long and black and came down to her buttocks. Her skin was very dark brown/mahogany, almost black and looked velvety. After the performance,
he waited for the tourist bus to depart. He didn't want fellow tourists watching him being turned down. He beckoned her to come to him. She came with her sister. Her name was Elisa and her sister was Susan. Susan spoke English better than Elisa. He asked if Elisa was married and was told no. Susan said the old man conducting the dance was her uncle. Elisa was very shy. Tim found that strange after seeing her dance practically naked on the stage in front of all the tourists. He asked her to come and have dinner with him in town. After much talk and encouragement by her sister Susan, Elisa agreed but said Tim was to come and get her at dusk. Tim found out later that there was no such thing as dating in the Pohnpeian culture. Going out by unmarried couples was on a sneak basis only with no one seeing anything. If a man and woman were seen together they were considered married, especially if they left an abode together in the morning. This style was different from that in many other parts of the world.
Tim drove back to the hotel following another pickup truck loaded with some of the dancers and boys who lived in town. On a shady level stretch of the road the driver of the other truck stopped and offered Tim one of the dancers in the back of his truck. Apparently the one of the girls had told the driver to stop and to talk to Tim because she wanted to be with Tim. That was how the girls did it there. That girl was pretty but not as pretty Elisa whom he’d already asked and who had said yes to his invitation. He thanked the other driver for the offer and drove to the hotel, took a short nap, a shower, dressed in clean clothes, and drove back to the cultural dance place. Tim was excited. Wow, his exotic erotic fantasies were starting to come to life. Maybe those bachelors on Kwajalein had not lied about the women of Pohnpei after all.
After a rest in his cottage and freshening up, Tim drove back to Uh to pick Elisa up. As Tim drove into the parking area in front of the cultural dance place, Elisa and Susan came out of the uncle's house to meet him. Elisa was wearing a white blouse, three-quarter length red
jean pants, and rubber sandals. The whites of her eyes and teeth gleamed in the dim light of the kerosene lantern Susan held shoulder high in her hand. Tim's hand trembled as he reached to take Elisa's hand and lead her to the truck. Oh boy! After a few words of encouragement by Susan, Elisa got in and Tim drove down the mountainside and back to town. When he asked which restaurant she wanted to go to, she said, "I want to go to the bar in the park near the airport." She directed Tim. It wasn't a bar. It was a picnic park on a point of land, which caught the cool ocean breezes in the evening. It had tables, cooking places, and had two concessionaires selling cold beer and soda pop. The place was a popular hangout for the young crowd. Music came from the concessionaire’s radios. Tim bought Elisa three cans of cold beer and two cans of cold coke for himself. After sitting in almost silence for about a half hour with Elisa sipping her first beer, Tim suggested they go to his cottage in Hotel Pohnpei where he had a radio and there was screening to keep the mosquitoes away. She nodded assent.
At the cottage, he put two of her beers into the small refrigerator, turned on the radio, and sat on the edge of the bed since there were no chairs in the room. He pulled her to him and she sat on his lap. He couldn't keep his hands off her, nor she, her hands off him. Off came the clothes and the touching, kissing and lovemaking began slowly and then became fast in a sudden burst of furious and ardent passion. She was as willing and lively in bed as she was gorgeous and dancing on the stage and she wasn't the least bit shy. Afterwards she pranced naked around the room showing off her supple and exquisite body in the moonlight. They took a nap before resuming bed games. Tim thought he was either dreaming or had gone to heaven.
Before going to the cultural dance, Tim had not been having much fun and when asked by another tourist at the Hotel Pohnpei how long he was staying he’d said, “I’m not having much fun and will leave after four days if things do not get better.” Well, things were
dramatically better and now Tim was ready to stay the rest of his scheduled vacation in that thatched roof cottage with Elisa. If this was what living with an island girl was like, he wanted more of it. Elisa didn't talk much, but Tim wasn't interested in long conversations at the time. He had no doubts that this was what the sailors in the Mutiny on the Bounty jumped ship to stay in the Islands for. This was far better than any doxy or tart in London Town.
After three days together and only going out briefly for meals and to buy Elisa a few clothes, the red pants were Susan's, Elisa had none, and Tim suggested they drive around the island. Elisa said, "Good, but first we need to visit my cousin Vincente. He is the senior male family member of my family since my father died two years ago." Tim drove where Elisa directed, stopped, and they went into Vincente's house. Elisa introduced Tim to Vincente and left the house.
Vincente was a very big man. He stood towering above Tim who was seated and he spoke sternly with a fearsome scowl on his face. He looked much like the fierce warriors Tim had seen in the Smithsonian museum but without the shark tooth battle sticks. Vincente said, "What you're doing with Elisa is not acceptable in our society. Pohnpeian custom doesn't permit a man to take and keep a girl with him as you have done with Elisa unless the man intends to marry the girl. To have a girl sneak in to see a man at night and for the girl to leave early in the morning before anyone sees them together is okay. But, there is no dating allowed in Pohnpeian culture."
Ah shit. With the menacing look on Vincente's face and his huge size, Tim was scared for his physical safety. Tim’s friends on Kwajalein had not informed him of any of this. Apparently the girls they had picked up had left early in the morning and no one had seen anything. He said to himself, Ah shit, you have really gotten yourself in a jamb this time Tim. He figured that if he didn't satisfy Vincente with his answer, he was going to get beaten up
badly. He knew he couldn’t run. He would have to get out of this with his brain and glib tongue. He knew he had to make his answer very good and plausible because there was no escape from the island for another two days when the next Air Continental plane flying East to Kwajalein would come again as the last flight out had departed an hour before. Tim swallowed to moisten his suddenly dry mouth and throat and said with a forced smile on his face, "I have honorable intentions and want to get to know your niece Elisa better." That was sort of true at the time and Tim was willing to say anything almost anything to get Vincente smiling. What Tim said satisfied Vincente who upon hearing those words smiled and took his hands off his hips. Tim, still smiling, took a deep breath of relief. Well, that problem had been overcome.
Vincente called Elisa into the house, spoke with her in Pohnpeian, and then Elisa told Tim, "Come, we go visit mama in Uh." On the way, Elisa asked Tim to buy cigarettes, frozen chicken, and some rice for her mother. Tim was so gratefully relieved that he had avoided a physical beating by Vincente that the purchases were not an annoyance. He was now in a rather giddy mood saying to himself “I’m not going to get badly beaten and I’m not going to die today. And, wow, I’m going to get keep on playing with Elisa. Hoorah!” He cheerfully paid for the items Elisa wanted for her mother and then they drove out to Uh and up the hill to the cultural dance place. She told him to park the truck where her uncle could watch it so that the bad people further up the mountain could not break in and steal things. Then Elisa led Tim behind the cultural dance building, a traditional Pohnpeian family house, up past the end of a new gravel road, and about a half mile further on up a steep path through the middle of a creek bed with fast flowing water. They finally arrived at yet another traditional Pohnpeian house
where a new canoe was being made.
Elisa said this house belonged to her brother Roberto and was where her mother lived. She introduced him to her mother, Margarita, an old woman to two of her sisters; three of
her brothers and their wives; and to several aunts and uncles. They were all smiling with grins from ear to ear. That gave Tim another sense of calm. He thought this welcome was much better than Vincente’s initial angry scowl. Tim felt he was on a good roll. Then two more of Elisa’s uncles showed up. Those uncles, brothers of her father, and two of Elisa’s brothers shared the same oval face, lean body, and dark brown/mahogany almost black skin color as Elisa while her mother and all of the others had round faces, thicker and rounder bodies, and a medium brown skin color. Tim asked Elisa about the differences and she told him that her father and his two brothers had come from Papua New Guinea and had married Pohnpeian women.
Tim was told later that during the 1800’s many a whaling ship had visited Pohnpei and that the local women, wanting bright light skinned children, had bedded the sailors. That story accounted for the occasional light skinned person.
Elisa spoke to her relatives and there was a lot of excitement in the air. Although few English words were spoken, Tim could tell they were talking about having a party for him before he flew back to Kwajalein and assumed it was to be a going away party that he knew he couldn't gracefully say no to. He was having a good time so why be a party pooper now. The party was planned for Saturday afternoon the day before Tim flew back to Kwajalein.
Tim didn’t have even the vaguest idea that the party might be a wedding for Elisa and him. He figured that after mollifying Vincente he was home free. But, he was in for a rude and shocking surprise. After eating, Tim and Elisa walked back down the creek bed to her uncle’s house. When they got to her uncle’s house, Tim saw the hotel tour bus there for another cultural dance. The young Japanese tour group driver saw Tim and asked him if he had come again. Tim replied no that he hadn’t really left. The fellow smiled a knowing smile. Island girls can be very fetching.
He and Elisa got in the rental pickup truck and drove back to town in the dusk. When the sun went down, it was especially dark in Uh as Uh was on the Eastern side of Pohnpei and there was a big mountain between Uh and the Western side. The only light at night was the dim yellow/orange glow from kerosene lanterns or cloth rags soaked and stuffed into bottles containing kerosene and lit and carried head high.
The next few days passed blissfully. Tim and Elisa enjoyed each other day and night and took many naps. He felt comfortable with her. He didn't sense any urgency on her part to flee suddenly. Tim knew he was going to have a difficult time leaving at the end of the week and returning to Bachelor life on Kwajalein Island without this beautiful young woman to comfort him. Bachelor life on Kwajalein Island was neat and tidy but it was also extremely boring and empty. Tim at this time was still of an age when he firmly believed he needed a good woman to live with him to share his life.
Early Saturday morning, Francesca and Emaline, two of Elisa's chubby sisters knocked on the hotel cottage door and said, "Come, we go shopping for the party now."
They went to several stores picking out things for the party. Of course Tim paid for everything, the party was for him and they had no money. After everything had been purchased, Tim drove to Uh, parked at the uncle's house again, and several young boys appeared to carry the party things up the creek bed to the family place. Tim, Elisa, and the two sisters walked empty handed up the hill. Half way up, they stopped at a place where the water burbled out of the ground with considerable force. The women told him to drink from the rush of water. He did and found it cold and refreshing. The women said the spring was called the old moaning woman. Upon arrival at the house, the women quickly started cooking fires with dried coconut husks, fanning them with large green breadfruit leaves to bright glowing red
embers. The chicken was cut up, spiced, and put on the grill to cook over the red embers and the rice and cassava were put in kettles to boil. It was interesting to watch them work. They worked with crude and rudimentary implements but the cooking too much less time than in most modern kitchens. Margarita took Tim and Elisa into the traditional house and sat them down at the closed end of the raised U shaped raised concrete base, the place of prominence only Tim did not know that was the place of prominence.
Roberto, Elisa’s brother, served Tim and Elisa a nice ripe bunch of eight medium sized bright yellow bananas to eat while the other food was cooking. They were yummy. Tim had never seen or tasted that variety of bananas before and found them sweet and exceptionally full flavored and delicious. Roberto strummed an old guitar and sang with a rich deep melodious voice and then the family joined in. Roberto had been the young man blowing the conch shell to start the cultural dance. He was smiling and his body language was of welcome and friendliness. He was obviously happy. After the singing, Roberto's wife Elvina gave Tim a large plate heaping with food and Elisa proceeded to feed Tim. Tim was embarrassed because no one else had a plate of food yet. He felt uncomfortable eating alone with all of the other people looking hungrily on. He asked Elisa about that and she told him that it was custom for him to eat first, and that after he was finished, she and the others would eat. Tim took pieces of food from the plate and fed Elisa while she fed him. That lessened his embarrassment about eating alone with everyone watching intently but he knew he wasn’t supposed to do that. Glancing around at the other people in attendance he noted smiles on their faces and a few nods of apparent agreement with his feeding of Elisa. After finishing his plate of food, Elisa was given a smaller plate of food to eat. Then the other adults got medium sized plates of food and ate. The children ate last. Elisa's brother-in-law sitting below the platform on the dirt floor in front of Tim, said "Tim, tell your wife to serve me a bottle of beer."
Tim said, "No, get it yourself. Elisa is only my girl friend. She is not my wife."
He said “No, she is now your wife.” And he got the beer himself.
Shortly after all the food was consumed, the visitors left and since it was getting close to dusk, Tim said to Elisa, "It is time for us to go while we can still see our way down the creek bed."
The next day at the airport, Elisa and many of her family bid Tim farewell with lots of hugs, kisses, and flower leys. Tim boarded the Air Continental flight waving goodbye and thinking about how absolutely unbelievable his vacation had been. There had been a lot of merriment and gratification on that adventure. He hadn’t been beaten up as he had feared and had gotten out of the predicament. Tim thought the Pohnpeian adventure was over. He still did not believe he had married Elisa. But, Tim’s parting words to Elisa were that he would send tickets soon after he arranged for her to come to Kwajalein as that seemed the right thing to say.
After returning to Kwajalein Island and work, Tim saw some friends and co-workers. They asked about his trip. He told them he'd really enjoyed the trip and told them a summary of his experiences. Those who had been there before nodded their heads and smiled. Those who had not, said they wanted to go for there now for a vacation too. Shermie, one of Tim's friends who had a Pohnpeian wife living with him on Kwajalein, told Tim, "Visitors to Pohnpei don't get to go up the mountain side and see the places where the local people live. Even I haven't been to many of the places you say you were taken. That shows they liked you and have accepted you into their family group. You have were accepted and integrated into Elisa's family very quickly. That is very unusual and a very rare occurrence for a foreigner. That was probably partially because you married Elisa by sitting in the place of prominence together and acting as man and wife in front of the witnesses."
Tim stopped smiling and asked "Is that really true? I thought it was only a going away party. I was asked nothing and I signed nothing. I couldn't have married Elisa that afternoon."
Shermie said, "Tim, you married her according to local customs. Now it is up to you to decide what you're going to do about it."
Tim knew that he could chose to do nothing about Elisa, but then he wouldn’t be able to safely visit Pohnpei again. Tim was separated from his German wife, Anita, but the divorce hadn't gone to court yet. Therefore he couldn't bring Elisa to live on Kwajalein Island until he divorced Anita and married Elisa legally because the Military Authorities were very strict about that. Tim thought for several weeks about the problem. He made and remade his decision many times. Finally, he called his lawyer in the states to expedite the divorce case, requested and obtained permission from command to have Elisa visit him for six weeks, and sent her a letter, money, and a ticket.
Elisa arrived two weeks later and the wondrous rapture and joy was there again for six weeks. Elisa wanted to stay with him on Kwajalein. He tried to explain to her why she couldn't live on Kwajalein Island continuously, but she never fully understood. Over the next year and a half he brought her to Kwajalein three more times for a six week visit and one more time just overnight with a departure the next day to the USA on a business trip. During the trip to the USA he finalized the divorce from the German wife and legally married Elisa. Then, he took Elisa back to Kwajalein Island to live with him all the time. Or, at least that was his intention.
But, Elisa soon got restless living on Kwajalein far from her family and friends. After about six weeks on Kwajalein Island she just had to go back to Pohnpei for a month or two. After she returned she would stay for another six weeks and would again just have to go back
to Pohnpei. These trips got expensive and her long absences made his life lonely too. If he stalled on agreeing let her fly home, she would get extremely frustrated and would go to the northern end of the Island and scream into the wind Pwes a kino that literally translated means go fuck your mother. One time fearing that other people might see and hear her and call the police rode after her on his bike and tried to calm her down and get her to return to the trailer. But, she was not agreeable, made a big commotion and some people thinking it was a fight called the security police and that resulted in a blotter record that was to haunt Tim for a long time. He’d been afraid her actions would cause the security police to come and get her and arrest her as she appeared drunk or on drugs even though she had consumed no alcohol of drugs. What he’d tried to avoid happened anyway. Later Tim came to understand her frustrations better and to accept and tolerate her violent verbal outbursts. There was nothing he could do to avoid them or temper them other than to send her back home whenever she asked to go. Tim went with Elisa to Pohnpei on her trips when he could get leave from the job. Since he was paying about half his income on child support and alimony payments he couldn’t really afford to fly to and from Pohnpei frequently. He knew he was in one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’t kind of situations and that now that he had legally married Elisa, he couldn’t get out of the situation gracefully and without difficulty, problems, and embarrassment in the community. Ah, the powers society has on us.
On one of his last trips to Pohnpei and after watching a cultural dance in the evening for visiting businessmen from Guam who wanted to hire the dance group to perform in a hotel in Guam, the governor of Pohnpei, a cousin of Elisa, asked Tim, "Why do you and Elisa make so many trips to Pohnpei?" Tim told him that Elisa got uncomfortable after being gone from her close family in Uh after about six weeks absence and just had to return for a visit.
The governor chuckled and said, "You can take an island girl out of the islands but you can't take the islands out of the girl." He said he himself had married an American woman. Tim was to remember the governor's words many times as problem events with Elisa continued to occur.
But in spite of that, Tim had made plans to retire in Pohnpei and build tourist cottages like a few other foreigners had done who had married Pohnpeian girls. But, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how he felt at the time, that didn't happen because Elisa went crazy after being raped in jail by a known rapist on a visit home alone after she had wrecked a rental car and had been arrested and jailed. Tim found out what happened and beseeched the aid of the American Counsel in Majuro for assistance in extricating Elisa and received advice that it was best to leave her there and not to interfere. The counsel was correct, but a love struck man does not want to accept such advice. Elisa finally got out of jail and returned to him on Kwajalein. But, after the rape and believing she was no longer a person of any value she went into a rapid downward spiral of self destruction. Tim eventually had to send her back to Pohnpei because she started running around with some of the sex starved bachelors on Kwajalein and Tim had to start divorce proceedings before he lost his job and got shipped off island himself.
A month after he sent Elisa away the very last time, Katabang, one of Tim's Marshallese acquaintances who worked on Kwajalein, visited Tim, asked if he were still looking for a wife and if he’d let him introduce Tim to a couple of pretty unmarried Marshallese girls. Katabang had seen and observed Tim for about 5 years by this time and therefore knew him quite well. That he sought Tim out was an honor. The island people are friendly and know that a man just doesn’t choose to live without a woman and if he does not have one, it is their duty to find him a nice one so that he will be comfortable and happy. Tim knew this and accepted Katabang's thoughtful offer and in a short time fell in love with another island beauty. The girl that Tim was
introduced to was one of Katabang's daughters and her name was Neilani. She was a nubile dark brown skinned beauty with black wavy hair down below her waist, slim with a nicely curved full busted figure, five feet tall, and weighing about 90 pounds. Her eyes were bright with a thirst for life. Looking into her eyes was like looking into the soul of someone who desperately wanted to be a part of everything life had to offer. Her spirit was like that of a little white bird flying and inspecting everything. Katabang had just been doing what good fathers had done for eons. He’d sought out a proper and good man to meet his daughter to marry. That is proper in every society. After several months of visiting him on Saturdays or Sundays or he going to Ebeye on overnight passes on weekends to visit her there and to stay in her father's house, Katabang suggested Tim and Neilani go to Jaluit Atoll and visit Neilani's home islands and her grandmother.
Tim got two weeks of annual leave approved and flew with Neilani to Majuro spending an afternoon and a night there. During the afternoon, Tim completed the divorce from Elisa. But, because he made the stupid mistake of asking the court clerk, at Neilani’s insistence, how long he must wait after the final divorce before he could remarry and the clerk told the judge, the judge told Tim he wanted to slow him down a little and made the divorce decree final thirty days after the court date instead of the usual final on court date. That meant that Neilani, like Elisa, couldn't live right away on Kwajalein with Tim.
The next morning, Tim and Neilani flew to Jaluit Atoll and landed on the short and narrow coral and sand airstrip on Jabwor Island. They rode to Jabwor Island in an old rusted out yellow Toyota pickup belonging to the airline representative. Tim saw a number of bombed out concrete buildings from the Japanese occupation times being used as dwellings. Jabwor was a small town with a Robert Reimer's gasoline station/grocery store and two other grocery stores, a power plant, a post office, a grade school, a high school, and many houses. There was also a new concrete pier on the lagoon side of the town near the post office. They went to
the post office where Neilani asked Estes, the postmaster and her mother's oldest brother for a boat to take them to Imroj Island. Estes said to wait until high tide at 8 P.M. and full moon to minimize the risk of striking a coral head with the propeller.
While waiting, Neilani went visiting and Tim stayed at the post office. Estes said to Tim, "Jabwor Island used to be the cultural center and capital of the Marshallese Islands through the times of the Spanish occupation, the whaling by the Americans in their huge sailing ships in the mid-1800's, the German occupation just after the turn of the century, and the Japanese occupation time. The capital was moved to Majuro Atoll after the Allies liberated it from the Japanese. Since then, Jaluit Atoll has been a backwater with little activity. One firm came in and built a cold storage plant for big tuna that were supposed to be flown to Japan but that operation has not worked out."
About dusk, Freddie, the boatman and Neilani's mother's youngest brother asked Tim to go with him to buy the gasoline and oil for the trip. Tim helped carry the plastic fuel containers to RRE's gasoline station. They left Jabwor Island about 8 P.M. heading northwest up the windward side of the lagoon close along the shore. The boat trip in the moonlight was thrilling and the air was cool and fragrant from the salt, tropical vegetation, and night jasmine. The stars were crystal clear and easy to see. Freddie was of medium build with a dark brown skin tone, round face, and a round featured but not fat body. He was of average appearance, about forty years old, well mannered, and didn't talk much. He carefully slowed and steered around the numerous coral heads. The only sounds were of the outboard motor, the bow of the boat making waves, and the waves gently washing up on the sandy beaches.
The boat trip was about four hours long. Tim finally asked Freddie "Is that light up ahead where we are going?"
He replied, "Yes, mother has two kerosene lanterns on poles on the beach to guide us in."
Fifteen minutes later they landed on the beach. There were loud shouts of excitement. Grandmother was happy to see Neilani who she hadn't seen since six years before when Katabang took his family to live on Ebeye Island in Kwajalein Atoll. Grandmother was a frail skinny old woman smaller than Neilani but still with a vital spark of life in her. She was bent over with arthritis, had very pale skin from lack of sunshine, wore glasses with very thick lenses, and had long light gray/white hair with a yellowish cast to it.
Grandmother's house had a concrete floor, plywood walls over a 2 x 4 frame, and a corrugated tin roof. Estes had built it for his mother a few years earlier. Freddie was her youngest son and it was his duty in life to take care of his mother until she died. There was a young family of three living in the house with grandmother and everyone except grandmother, slept on pandannus mats on the floor or on the bare floor. Grandmother had a single old hospital bed. She insisted Tim sleep on her bed and told Neilani to sleep on a mat on the floor beside Tim. Grandmother then went to sleep on a mat on the concrete floor. After grandmother and all the others were asleep, Neilani woke Tim and he joined her on the mat for a brief love making session in the quiet Marshallese style. He wanted to sleep the rest of the night on the floor next to her but she whispered, "Get back into the bed or grandmother will get mad at me."
The next morning while it was still cool, Neilani took Tim on a walk around the island. The island was clear of most vegetation, clean, and beautiful. Neilani said the residents did that so the ocean breezes could blow over the island to keep it cool and to get rid of the mosquitoes. The people were all busy working and singing. It seemed to be a happy and friendly place. The people were obviously glad to see Neilani and congratulated her on
catching a white skinned foreigner for a husband. And, Tim noticed that Neilani was the prettiest of all of the girls on Imroj Island.
About 10 A.M., when the sun was high enough to give good light into the lagoon, Tim and Neilani went swimming with facemasks and snorkels. They floated above the coral heads and watched more than fifty different kinds of vividly colored fish dart in and out of the coral heads. The water was clean, clear, and below three feet, it was refreshingly cool.
After the swim Tim lay in a nylon hammock under palm trees near the beach listening to the wind blowing through the palm fronds and the waves gently lapping on the beach. He was just drifting off to sleep when Neilani said lunch was ready. Neilani had two palm frond baskets. Each contained a nice freshly caught and fried red snapper, rice balls rolled in freshly grated coconut, and a fresh green coconut to drink. There were even limes to squeeze lime juice onto the fish the way Tim liked. This was the kind of living Tim had dreamed of for retirement.
After lunch, grandmother and her younger sister Rosalina were busy talking to Neilani. Finally Neilani translated. She said, "They want you to come back to Imroj Island when you retire and build tourist cottages over there on the shore using their land."
Tim said, "That is a very gracious offer, but I have to work at least seven more years before I can retire. Perhaps I can return after I retire and accept their offer." Neilani translated what Tim had said and the women nodded and smiled.
That evening, Neilani asked Tim if he wanted to go on a sightseeing boat trip the next day on her grandmother's brother's boat. He said yes. The next morning, with mask, snorkel and fins he, Neilani, and Rosalina went on the boat trip for the day. They left at low tide. They
went first to Bird Island a half kilometer from Imroj Island. The tide was out. On the North side of the island was a flat coral area where Rosalina dug out large clams with a tire iron. She ate most as she dug them up. A few, she put in a bucket to share with her sister later. She was having a good time. Tim went down inside one of the large holes in the coral about six feet in diameter and twenty or more feet deep to see the small delicate branch like red coral. The water was a translucent light green. The coral was in many shapes and colors. There was white, ochre, red, and brown coral.
They left Bird Island and proceeded south. The three-crew boys on the inboard diesel boat fished with hand lines as the boat chugged slowly along. The motor chugged along with the sound of "boom boom" not unlike the old John Deere Tractors in the US fondly referred to as Johnnie pops. Locally, such boats were naturally called boom boom boats.
As the boys caught fish, they either partly cooked them holding them against the hot engine exhaust pipe or just ate the top off the back of the fish raw and threw the rest of the fish back into the lagoon. They went South past Aijigen and Emidj Islands and on toward Jabwor Island. After two hours, they finally stopped at an old three hatch very rusty WW II freighter sunk in the lagoon. It lay upright but diagonal to the reef and beach with the stern in the water and the bow up on the beach. At low tide, the stern was above water. At high tide, the water came up to the base of the stern side of the superstructure. There was a large hole mid-ship at the waterline on the starboard side. Tim thought the ship had probably been hit by a torpedo or a skip bomb and before sinking the quick thinking skipper had turned in toward shore and given full power to beach it and save the crew and cargo. Tim wanted to go on board but was told it wasn't safe.
After seeing both sides of the sunken ship, they waded ashore to see the remains of an old Japanese power plant. In the jungle with vines growing over the building was an old bomb
shattered concrete building with huge rusting steel doors gaping open. Inside were three diesel engines with the name Yanmar on the sides of the engine blocks and what was left of the electrical control panel on one wall. The place had been stripped of anything of value and trashed. Tim was shown the exhaust pipes, which sent the exhaust into the concrete and outside for a distance of a hundred feet or more into the jungle to disperse the exhaust so spotter planes wouldn’t see it.
After seeing the old power plant, they went back to the boat where the boys began diving and bringing up oysters to eat. The boys foraged and ate constantly. The oyster shells were black on the outside and radiant opalescent on the inside. They were the kind used for mother of pearl inlay on Chinese furniture. They stopped at Emidj Island and went ashore where Neilani quickly visited many relatives. All were excited to see Neilani. Tim walked the beach on the lagoon side to check out two seaplane ramps, a jetty, a communications bunker, airplane engines, and numerous airplane engine propeller blades. Neilani finished her visiting and they went back to Imroj Island on the boom boom boat. Tim napped on the bow of the boat with one leg hanging over each side to keep from being rolled off into the lagoon as the boat gently rocked in the waves. The next few days, they stayed on Imroj Island swimming, snorkeling, and visiting. The last night on Imroj Island, the women of Imroj Island gave Tim a welcome to the
At first, he
thought it was for both he and Neilani. But later Neilani told him it was especially for him. The party started after dusk. The women sang as they walked through the palm trees and carrying things to the party. When they reached Tim, who was seated outside in grandmother’s old chair on a large pandannus mat with two large kerosene lanterns beside him for light, the women began circling him. As they went around him, they sang, danced, and gave him gifts of beautiful cowrie sea shells, sea shell necklaces, Neptune's Helmet sea shells, strings of Marshallese candy, palm frond baskets of food (pig, chicken, rice balls rolled in coconut and pandannus/breadfruit/coconut deserts), one stalk of small green bananas, and one stalk of small ripe bananas. After the gift giving, the women started dancing and singing in earnest. Two of the women did erotic dances brushing their tits and buttocks up against Tim and then with their fingers motioned for him to come with them. They were being playful. To add to Tim's obvious discomfort, the women laughed uncontrollably and that caused the old bump and grind dancers to dance even more provocatively.
On departure morning Tim and Neilani left Imroj Island early for the four-hour boat trip to Jabwor Island to catch the afternoon plane to Majuro. The departure was sad because they were leaving the beautiful place. When they got near Jabwor Island on the North side of the pass from the lagoon to the ocean, Neilani told Tim to look down over the edge of the reef. The water was shallow out from the island for a distance of about 500 meters and then dropped off to a depth of more than 100 meters. The water was an exquisite turquoise on the shallow side and a deep blue on the deep side. Neilani told Tim that the edge of this drop off was best for catching rainbow runners at low tide. Those fish looked like rainbow trout but were longer and sleeker. They were highly prized for sashimi because the meat was firm yet tender and succulent. Tim and Neilani peered over the side of the boat at the great plenitude of colorful fish and coral along the reef edge. The colors were vivid and the water was clear. Tim thought he could see down for at least thirty feet.
Upon arrival at Jabwor Island their baggage was carried ashore to the airline representative's office to be weighed. Knowing that the weight limit was fifteen pounds, Tim had left one of his bags and many of his clothes with Freddie. But, he couldn't leave the gifts behind. Tim bought the return airline tickets and found that he had to pay excess baggage for the two stalks of bananas. He thought of leaving them behind but he knew he couldn't without insulting the givers. Rosalina had accompanied them to Jabwor Island and continuously sang a song she'd made up for them. Tim vowed he would return after he retired. The natural beauty of the place and the friendliness and kindness of the people had hooked him.
Tim and Neilani stayed overnight in Majuro at the Adjirik hotel where they had stayed on the way down and flew on to Kwajalein Atoll the next morning after being taken by the Fijian assistant manager to the airport. Neilani took the ferry to Ebeye Island. Tim went over that night to Ebeye Island to visit and to thank Katabang for suggesting the trip. Neilani had already told him and her mother, Jabel, everything about the trip.
Katabang asked Tim, "How did you like Jaluit Atoll?"
Tim said, "It was very nice and I really liked Imroj Island. They showed me the power plant, which had been stripped. What happened to the copper wire?"
Katabang said, "After the allies liberated the Jaluit Atoll from the Japanese occupational forces, Robert Reimers and his sons stripped all the brass and copper from all of the bombed out Japanese facilities, shipped it to Hawaii, and sold it there. He was an enterprising fellow and seized the opportunity. The money he got for the scrap was his startup capital for the Robert Reimers Enterprise operation."
Tim said, "Grandmother offered land upon which we can build tourist cottages and the women gave me a welcome to the islands party."
Katabang said, "It is a very special honor to be given the welcome to the islands party, few foreigners ever receive such an honor and especially not within a week of arrival. The welcome to the islands party is only given after the local old women and men have observed the appearance, manners and life style of the foreigner and most importantly, how he or she treats the local people. Then after many weeks, months or even years, if the foreigner passes all of the tests and all of the women agree, the foreigner is welcomed into the local society with the welcome to the islands party." This made Tim figure he was in like Flynn.
“Ring, ring, ring!” The phone on Tim’s desk rang loudly. The ringing brought Tim back to the present so violently that he almost fell out of his chair. It was even more violent than the “out of body” experiences he had had on Kwajalein beside the salt-water swimming pool while listening to the waves crashing on the beach and meditating during his noontime lunch breaks. He'd been deeper into his reminiscing than usual. He glanced at his wristwatch. His seemingly long mental reminiscing had lasted less than five minutes. Tim answered the phone. It was the RMO’s secretary announcing the regular Directorate Chief’s staff meeting held after he returned from the staff meeting with the Installation Commander.
As he got up and put his suit coat on and shrugged it into place he thought what boring inane things are you going to bring up today RMO?
Tim walked alone down the long and empty linoleum tiled hallway to the Directorate Chief's office. His footsteps echoed eerily. As he passed the individual offices of his accounting technicians he glanced in and smiled and they returned his smile as they looked up from their work. When Tim got to his bosses office, he saw that the other division chiefs were
already there. The Directorate Chief, the RMO welcomed everyone and said “Although Major Command Headquarters have repeatedly said up to this morning that there wouldn't be an early out retirement offer at Dugway Proving Ground after the January offer, the Installation Commander just received a message first thing this morning announcing a new early retirement offer for civilians and each Directorate Chief at Dugway Proving Grounds would be notifying his eligible persons today.” He added that the Civilian Personnel Office had already screened the personnel records for eligible personnel. Umm. That meant that command knew in advance but had kept the information secret. That was typical of them.
Tim said "Well RMO, who is eligible for this current early retirement offer?" The RMO said, "In the RMO Directorate only you, Richard, Andrew, and Stephen in your Finance Office are eligible. This latest offer, unlike the previous early out offer, has a cash incentive with it. The cash incentive isn't as much money as you would get if you continued working to normal retirement age but it could be a significant sum. The cash incentive amount is based on your grade, salary, and years of service. The Civilian Personnel Office and I will figure out the amount of the cash incentive for each person and will provide the information directly to each eligible individual this afternoon. We have to have your decisions within two days. After that, the offer expires. You can all go back to your offices now."
Tim walked slowly back to his office. He wasn’t smiling. He didn’t know whether to be elated, sad, or mad. He felt like he’d just been given a nice brand new galvanized milk bucket and when he looked inside, he could see a big hole in the bottom. He reached his office and called in his three eligible employees and dutifully gave them the news. They were both surprised and delighted. Dick, the oldest fellow told Tim that he wasn’t sure he could take the offer. He hadn’t worked for the Army for very long. He’d previously worked for a construction firm putting up power lines near Delta, Utah in the winter time and had barely survived the cold and the hard physical work on that job and had been very grateful for the job in the warm
finance office. He said he also worked as a sales clerk in Wal-Mart in Salt Lake City on Friday and Saturdays during the summer and fall but that he couldn’t rely on that job for regular income and was afraid the retirement pay plus the incentive and his part time pay would not provide enough money to live on since his full time pay barely covered his meager living expenses. They then went back to their offices to think about the offer. Tim also began to think more about the offer. Well, an offer, the offer, was finally on the table. What a surprise. His first thought was that this was his bus ticket out of the current box of unsolvable problems. It, however, wasn’t the solution he’d been hoping for. But, it certainly was an escape for him.
Just two days earlier the RMO had told him that his job position had just been abolished in a reorganization to save manpower, that the replacement job for him was at a lower grade but with save pay, that the installation was still subject to closure with the employees being transferred back East or to the deep South and that there would be no additional early retirement programs. What was a lie and what was fact?
Tim's saw his choices as two, either accept and go, or stay and suffer the consequences of five more years. Many of his employees came in singly or in groups of two or three smiling and congratulating him on his luck. They were said they were envious that he was getting out of there while they were stuck. They wished him well. They knew of his plans to return to the Marshall Islands and fully supported him on those plans. They said there was talk that this early retirement offer was the last offer that would be made and that the folks at Dugway were fortunate in getting offers because most of the Army commands had not even been given offers. Tim had already done his duty to his country. He knew it was time to do what he wanted. He'd served the military in a civilian capacity for twenty-eight years. He'd been an auditor for thirteen years, a resource management officer for five years, a chief of accounting policy and systems for five years, a program analyst for two years, and a finance officer for three years. He'd worked in the US states of California, Washington, Oregon,
Montana, Alaska, North Carolina, Alabama, and Utah and overseas in West Germany, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. He had believed the Army advertisement come work with us and see the world. He had done that and, somewhere along the way he had lost his sense of a home place. Although he felt comfortable in many places he no longer had a home, anywhere.
He got on the phone and started calling and conferring with his many contemporaries in the Test and Evaluation Command and other agencies. He told them of the offer he’d received and of his tentative retirement plans to go back to live in the Marshall Islands. All of them were envious of his opportunity to retire. They told him that because of his unique situation he should take the money offered as an incentive, accept the early retirement offer and run. They added that even if they got such a nice offer, they would not be able to take advantage of it because their current financial burdens would continue at least to the point of their retirement and in some cases beyond. Those fellows had children in high school and/or in college, they had upsized their houses one or more times and had huge mortgage payments to make, they drove quite new cars on which they were making large monthly payments with high interest rates and they had also accumulated considerable amounts of credit card debt at 19-24 % per annum interest rate on the unpaid balance. Oh, that great and wonderful American economy. There are plenty of nice things advertised for us to buy to make us feel good, have better toys than our contemporaries, look better, be healthier, be more relaxed all available with consumer credit with the credit cards that are pushed on us all the time. Most of these fellows had either never worked overseas or had only worked overseas briefly for one tour. You see, overseas consumer credit is not readily available and for most of Tim’s assignments it wasn’t available to him at all. The benefit of that was that Tim had had to live on a cash basis for most of his life. And, he also preferred living on a cash basis as he had been taught by his father who’d lost everything in the great depression. It is bad losing things because you cannot make payments but the resulting loss of face with other people who know of it and the impact on your credit
rating is terrible. So, at the time of the early retirement offer with a cash bonus, Tim had no outstanding consumer credit, his 1984 Chevrolet Caprice, an 8 year old 2nd hand car was fully paid for, all of his furniture and fixtures and clothing was also fully paid for and he had no liabilities requiring regular monthly payments from his paycheck other than alimony. He did a computation of his expected living expenses in the Marshall Islands and determined that even if he did nothing but just live there, he could still live there well with his reduced retirement income even considering the reduced alimony he had to pay to his second wife. He did not, however, even suspect that he’d have difficulties in the Marshall Islands and if anyone had dared to mention that, he would have scoffed at the person.
Over his career years Tim had been lucky in having a few good mentors who'd instilled in him the need for contingency plans for job survival, continuity of income, and retirement. They'd told him, "You never know what will happen and when. Be prepared." Thanks to them, he was better prepared than most. The option to stay with a down grade, save pay, different work, and a possibility of having to move East or South if the installation closed had problems. The downgrade and change to a lower level of work was a blow to pride. That he could tolerate since there was no change to his pay. But, since Neilani was often mistaken by white Americans as a Negro and was treated poorly, even the possibility of having to more back East or to the South was not acceptable. Living on a military base had posed no overt race/color problems because the military didn't allow discrimination. And living on the economy in the western states also didn't pose much of a problem because most westerners tended to ignore skin color while easterners or southerners tended to identify and segregate on skin color. Tim couldn't understand those people. They believed it was okay to have a sweet chocolate mistress or lover but not to have one as a wife. They were just like the hypocrites of his hometown. Therefore, he felt he now really had no choice and had to accept the early retirement offer. He recognized and accepted that he’d actually made his choice when he’d
married Elisa from Pohnpei and subsequently married Neilani and that anything that happened now was the direct play out of the decision to marry an island girl.
After he walked home from work that afternoon, he told Neilani, "I've been offered early retirement. I’ve talked to you about that possibility before. The opportunity is here now. If I say yes, we leave in three weeks and go back to the Marshall Islands. I think that's best and I want to accept the offer. Otherwise, we'll have to wait another five years and during that time we might have to move back east or down South and I've told you before about the problems living in those places." She wasn't happy about leaving the USA so soon and said so. She'd just gotten her driver’s license and wanted to stay, drive, and enjoy the good life. She reluctantly accepted the fact that Tim had to take the offer. So convinced was Tim that he really had no choice in the matter and had to take the early retirement offer and also so desirous was he to retire and to get on with his personal adventure dream of building tourist cottages in Jaluit atoll that he did not confer with another Tony, the recently retired Civilian Personnel Officer. He vaguely knew that he could have gone on priority placement because of the abolishment of his job and that he could have specified what geographical areas and installations/commands he was willing to accept employment with and could have stayed on the payroll at Dugway until he got the new assignment. But, he was tired. He was so tired and fed up that he just wanted out. He did not want to have to start all over again at a new location. He was tired of doing that too. He already had more than 24 permanent changes of station moves. So, on Wednesday afternoon, the second and final day of the offer, Tim signed the early retirement agreement. The skies were still gray above the snow covered frozen ground at Dugway, but that no longer bothered Tim. He knew the trials and tribulations of working for the Army would soon be over. In three weeks he would be off the rolls and formally retired and a week after that, he and Neilani would be on their way back to the Marshall Islands.
He told Neilani to call her father and tell him that they would be back in the Marshall Islands sometime in May this year. She did and said he and his wife were very happy about that and gave Neilani her uncle Betry’s phone number and street address in Honolulu, Hawaii so they could contact him and stay with him on their way out.
Tim thought he was well prepared for this next adventure and he was, comparatively speaking, but not as well prepared as he perhaps should have been. He’d purchased 2 Coleman one KW gas generators on sale, many axes hammers shovels rakes with extra handles, street lamp base bolts, a large assortment of large nails (you might call the 8 inch large nails spikes) and had an extensive list of building materials and tools to buy in Berkley, California to ship since he knew those items were very dear in the Marshall Islands and he could buy and ship them for less than purchase price in Majuro. He’d been busy looking, finding, buying and storing in his large storage closet on the back side of his government quarters on Knight Street in the Dugway housing area. He hadn’t known when he would get to go and do that project but had started getting ready. He had known that in the worst instance, he would have had to wait five more years. Well, that waiting period had suddenly been reduced to 3 weeks. He still almost couldn’t believe it was happening. It was so much like a nice dream and he was afraid he’d wake up and find out that he still had to work at Dugway and that there was no early out retirement offer available to him. Just because we want something doesn’t mean we’ll get it and the greater the prize, the more incredulous we are when we get it. That is just human nature.
To buy the book as either paperback or as e-book go to http://lulu.com/tjmcgoldrick7 my storefront. This is a 2nd edition with pictures and lots of nice editing.
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