Schizophrenogenic

Once again, this is mostly memoir. I’ve changed the names and rearranged a few things to protect the guilty. I realize upon re-reading it that I might come off as a person who dislikes women. Not at all. I really like women. It’s just that I’ve been burned a few times. Refer back to the Charlie Manson reference in Sharing Christmas.

In case you haven’t heard the term before, schizophrenogenic basically means ‘crazy making’. I think the title is apt for this memory.

Schizophrenogenic

            “If I live to be a thousand years old I’ll never understand women.” I heard my father say this time and again growing up. In my life I have found this to be so true. I know all the men are from Mars, women are from Venus crap, but we’re all the same species. We should be able to communicate. It’s like we speak the same language with different words. It would just be nice if I knew what the heck was going on in their heads.  

            A case in point – Miranda. Back when I was between wives I got a little lonely. My job consumed a large amount of my time and I wasn’t meeting women. I got depressed and looked at the Independent personals. It was a big thing at the time. After a few weeks I found one message that seemed relatively sane and it seemed we had some things in common. I left her a message and in short order she replied and we set up a date. On the day of the date she cancelled, complaining of a migraine. I have had migraines and understood. So, I figured she either was blowing me off or really sick. The fact that she offered to reschedule made me go with the latter. As the time for our rescheduled date approached she called and said she had found someone and couldn’t go out with me. Okay, I understand. But she said she had a friend who was looking and she had passed my number along to her. She hoped I didn’t mind. Actually, I did mind. I minded a whole lot. I wasn’t into being called up by some random woman. But since it was a done deal I just told her it was fine.  

            A day or so later the friend, Miranda, called. It seemed we had similar types of work; both in human services. We were both mid-thirties and single. Aside from also both being homo sapiens there didn’t seem to be many more commonalities. We decided to give it a try and made a date to see a movie. She recommended “The Piano”, a kind of artsy film. I’m not an artsy film kind of guy, but what the heck. Well, it was probably one of the worst films I have ever seen. I don’t mean “Plan 9 from Outer Space” or “Attack of the B Movie Bimbos” bad. Those movies are so bad, they’re good. This movie had good production values and decent acting. It was just an awful movie. Most of it was so dark you had trouble seeing what was going on. After the mean husband got killed everyone dressed in white and all the windows were open and you could actually see what was happening. Why not just hit me over the head with symbolism? We took a walk and talked about the movie. She wanted to see it as a deep artistic statement but eventually agreed that it was really a dreadful movie. Now we had something else in common.

            So, we continued seeing each other. I discovered that she liked dancing. Seeing as I’m an accomplished dancer, this was a real plus. We went to a number of dances. She was a fairly good swing dancer and could do some ballroom. That should have cinched it, but it didn’t. The whole thing was just missing that spark, that special chemistry when two compatible people find each other. I eventually invited her over to my apartment for dinner. I’m a good cook and she was impressed. She returned the favor and invited me over for dinner. As we ate she served wine. After the first glass she offered me more. I declined saying I had to drive. She countered that I could always stay the night. Whoa, whoa, whoa. When did we get here? Whether she was talking about hooking up or just sleeping on the sofa, I was in no way ready to be here. I gracefully declined by saying I didn’t usually drink more than one glass. It’s true. I’m a cheap drunk.

            During this time, I had been going to a local country western club and learning to two step. I was getting good at it and had developed a cadre of partners, or since it was a country-western club I guess that would be a posse. One Sunday night a new lady asked me to dance. This wasn’t exactly unusual. She said she had seen me tapping my foot in time to the music and took that as a good sign that I could dance. Or at least had rhythm. Her name was Lena and she did exceptionally well in the swing. We followed up with a two step. Also very good. I noted that I needed to remember to add her to my list of regular partners. As she was coming down the floor with another dancer I looked at her to be sure I memorized her face. As I was watching, her partner said something amusing. She smiled and her face just lit up. It nearly glowed like an old Renaissance painting. Very nice.

            Still unsure how to proceed with Miranda, I did what most men do. I procrastinated. I called her up one week and said I was going two stepping on Saturday night, did she want to go. I phrased it that way because that’s what I was planning to do, she could come or not. She replied that she didn’t care for country music. I just said that was unfortunate, maybe we could do something the next week. I would call her.

            Saturday night I was at the nightclub and found a number of my friends to dance with. Lena also showed up. She decided to sit at a table with me. We both danced with a variety of people, but danced together a number of times also. I found I truly enjoyed dancing with her.

            About an hour after I got there, in walked Miranda on the arm of John, a guy I kind of knew, peripherally. And she was all dolled up. Hmm, I thought. That’s interesting. She proceeded to ignore me for the next couple of hours. Okay, I can deal with that. Then they left. What was that all about, I wondered.

            The next day, around noon, I got a call from Miranda. She demanded to know who was “that woman” I was “all over” last night. Okay, first, I wasn’t all over her. Second, who was with whom? She redirected any mention of John back to me and why I danced with “that woman” all night. I saw this was going nowhere so decided it was time to pull the plug. I told her I was sorry she felt that way and that I hoped we could always be friends. That did not go over well. At all. But as I hung up I felt a bit relieved. Problem solved, bullet dodged. But speaking of schizophrenogenic, what the hell was that all about?

            As kind of an odd coda, John and I became closer friends. He later told me she had called him and asked him to take her to the club. He had no idea why. By the time we were friends, he was steadily dating Betty. One night John and Betty and Lena (who I was dating by this time) and I were sitting together at a dance. In walked Miranda, alone. She came over, sat down at our table and proceeded to stare at us. Discretion always being the better part of valor, I decided it was time for Lena and I to dance. As I hit the floor I noticed John and Betty right behind us. After a couple of dances we skulked back to our table. Miranda had moved on.

            Miranda finally found Phil and they became serious. I would see them at dances and finally decided that us avoiding each other was just ridiculous. So I asked her to dance. We made nice with each other. Once the tension was gone, we found we got along. I married Lena and last I heard Miranda had married Phil. I’m happy for them. She found a good man, and they dated long enough for him to know what he was getting into. But looking back at that time of my life I still have one question: what the heck was going on?

A Love Story

            Growing up I frequently heard my parents speak of meeting when they were young but I never knew much else. I usually ignored what I considered “mushy stuff” when I was a kid. During the last few months of his life I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with my Dad. He told me about their meeting and courtship. It was always his favorite subject. Putting it together with what Mom told me and other sources I feel I have a good feeling for how it went. It was such a neat story I wanted to record it.

            As a sad sort of coda, after Dad died I found a bundle of letters that Mom wrote to him during the first few months of basic training. I don’t know why these letters survived and none others. At first, I didn’t know what to do with them. Should I read them? They were private correspondence. I finally decided that since they were both deceased, it was okay to read them. I’m glad I did. I got a picture of my parents that I never saw. They were starry-eyed kids, so much in love. They never lost their love, but it settled down with time. But the letters spoke of the bright kind of love between a man and woman just a few months married, both still thrilled with each other and cruelly torn apart. And there were some passages that made me blush. I even found a discussion of possible names for “junior” if there ever was one. I also found bits of family gossip that I never knew. It was definitely interesting reading.

            But now, the main event. The Courtship of Mary and Alton.

A Love Story

In late 1952, eighteen-year-old high school senior Mary Reid wanted to have a Christmas party. Problem was all the Saturday nights in December before Christmas were already scheduled. So, she decided to have the party after Christmas, on December 27. Her friends told her she was crazy to schedule a party then. So close to Christmas everyone would be doing family things. But Mary was stubborn. She stuck with her plan. Saturday evening came and a few friends stopped in. Then a few more showed up. Then more and more. Soon the house was filled with people. A friend told Mary he was so glad she decided to have a party because he was sick of family gatherings.

Later in the evening, Mary’s frenemy, Edith, showed up with her new boyfriend, 22-year-old Alton Bass. The six-foot tall, handsome blond-haired blue-eyed farm boy caught every girl’s eye. He was quite a catch. He said later that he felt an instant connection with the party hostess. Within a few days Alton had broken up with Edith and paid a call on Mary. She was thrilled to be asked out by such a handsome boy, with a car, and making Edith mad was a bonus. Soon Alton had a date with Mary every weekend. He also came by frequently in the evenings after his farm chores were done. He would play cards and board games with Mary’s brothers while she finished her schoolwork. Father Reid said no courting until that was done. Alton had no brothers but three of Mary’s five brothers lived at home. They readily adopted Alton and made him part of the family.

Winter turned to spring and in June, Mary graduated from high school. She wasn’t ready to settle down and wanted to try life in a big city. She moved to the state capital, Raleigh, an hour away, found a job and boarding house and settled in. Alton was not happy about this. He was in love with petite blonde Mary. He continued seeing her. He would drive the hour to the city twice every weekend. He said he became very familiar with all the back roads. He ran off the road more than once while falling asleep at the wheel in the wee hours of the morning. He said his car only had two speeds – high and fly. He never got caught by the police, although he outran a patrol car one night.

This wasn’t working out. He was crazy about the girl so Alton asked Mary to marry him. She readily accepted. Since they had met in December they decided on a December wedding. They were married December 18, 1953 and settled down to farm life. They were in love and everything was idyllic. Then Uncle Sam called. Alton was notified in March, just three months wed, that he was needed for the peacekeeping in Korea. The country had been partitioned in the ceasefire just a month before Mary and Alton were married. No one knew if the peace would last.

Mary was frantic. Mother Mollie and father Lloyd Bass were also concerned for their son’s safety and the fact that he was their only son, and was their sole support as the one who worked the farm. The officials they spoke with assured them that Alton would be dismissed from service for “hardship” on his family. The paperwork was applied and the hearing came. A county official had to make the decision. This was a woman who for some reason did not like Mollie Bass. I have never heard my grandmother speak ill of another person except this woman. Mollie said “she dressed and acted like a man and was so ugly no man would have her.” The woman said Alton should not shirk his duty and refused to dismiss him. He entered the Army on May 18, 1954. Mary went to live with Alton’s family. She said in her letters that she cried herself to sleep every night.

Alton eventually was relieved of serving in the former combat area because he was the sole support of a farm family. By the fall, he was stationed in Japan. I have copies of some of the pictures he and Mary exchanged during the long separation. I have a picture of him lying beside a pool referring to himself as a “bathing beauty”. Another shows Mary in her Easter outfit with a note “The wind nearly took me away.”

Mary decided she did not like living on the Bass farm. She wanted to go to work. She moved back to Raleigh, got her old job back and moved into an apartment with a friend. I have a picture cut from the newspaper that shows her as the “girl flashing the big smile” as she is mailing drivers license renewal forms from the Department of Motor Vehicles in 1955.

In February 1956 Alton was told his enlistment was coming to an end. The Sergeant encouraged him to apply to Officer’s Training School and become career military. He said “I just want to go home and see my wife.”

The night before his ship left Japan Alton’s friends took him to a local tavern to celebrate. Some Navy men came in and as nearly always happened when Army and Navy mixed, a brawl broke out. Alton’s friends told him that if the MPs got him he’d be in the brig and miss his ship. They drug him to a back room and literally threw him out the window. He made his ship and spent 2 weeks sailing across the Pacific. I have pictures he took as they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge with all the soldiers waving their hats in the air and cheering. They had three days in San Francisco until air transport was available. Alton and two friends went to a café. Their waitress was blonde, pretty and flirty. She eventually became a bit suspicious of the three young men staring at her. When she cautiously approached their table one of Alton’s friends said, “Excuse us, ma’am, but you’re the first white woman we’ve seen in two years.” She smiled and turned on the charm. She got a big tip.

The soldiers’ air transport first landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was 20 degrees below zero and the men only had their tropical uniforms on as they had to hustle across the runway. Alton said the hangar seemed miles away.

Plane and bus and eventually in early March Alton stepped off the bus in Raleigh, NC. Mary was waiting and a mess with tears and makeup streaming down her face. She wrapped herself around him and said “Don’t you ever leave me again.” He promised and kept the promise for over 50 years. They went home and nine months later I was born.  

50th Anniversary

Mary Bass died in 2007. Alton mourned her every day until he passed away in 2016. His love for her was legendary in the community.