Grandma Sam: “Victory! A Hole in One and A Perfect Apple Pie!”
June 1969. Few first meetings have terrified me more than the one I was about to have with my future mother-in-law, Adria Berniece Howatt – wife of Colonel William J. Howatt, recently retired from an illustrious career in the US Marine Corps and my husband’s father. Colonel Howatt had fought in three critical battles in the Pacific. Then he was posted to Viet Nam. During my stint as an international airline stewardess, I’d flown into military bases around the world and dined in officer’s clubs from Guam to Frankfurt. Shaking hands with this accomplished man didn’t frighten me nearly as much as meeting the woman who was my complete opposite.
Adria excelled at golf and had a showcase full of trophies in the family dining room. I played tennis in the lady’s “B” league and won one trophy (by default) stored in the linen closet.
Adria was elected to prestigious offices like the President of the Officer’s Wives Club. I was the rebel wife who started the Anti-Wives Club at Upper Heyford Air Force base where I lured my tennis friends from the bridge table to Stratford-Upon-Avon for a Shakespeare play or dark, cold cathedrals where we rubbed brass tombstones.
Adria was almost always elected as President of the Ladies Golf Club. I was the (WTO) Winter Tennis Organizer who set up matches in the drafty Upper Heyford gym when it was too cold to play outside.
Adria’s family dinners included a starter, two entrees, a salad, vegetables, sourdough rolls, and a freshly baked dessert. My family dinners featured one entrée, a salad, broccoli or carrots, and vanilla ice cream.
Bill and Adria Howatt enjoyed two cocktails, crackers, and cheese before dinner. Jim and Jane’s before-dinner ceremony was less a ritual than a recovery from a crazy day. Jim had a Manhattan. I had a glass of red or white wine or whatever was uncorked and housed in the pantry.
On day one I could feel Adria size me up: blonde, flashy ex-stewardess, big welcome-abord smile with a short resume and a shorter skirt. This is the woman my brilliant physician son is planning to introduce to our accomplished family: A judge. A doctor. An architect. A counselor.
I sized her up too: It’s obvious by her cold stare I don’t measure up. She’s keeping her distance. Asking me questions about the colors I want in my house. I don’t even have a house!
The Colonel’s wife and the ex-stewardess got to know and care about each other in ways I never could have imagined. I learned the woman with the showcase filled with trophies, accolades from golf, and officer’s wife’s clubs who could whip up a five-course dinner in the time it took me to cook a meatloaf dinner, was terrified of what I wanted (and got) – a college education. I encouraged her to pursue an art degree when I saw her paintings. You can do it, Adria! You’ve got the talent! You’ve got the time! You’re smart! What are you waiting for?
Adria never challenged her rock-solid belief she didn’t have what it took to get a college degree when I know could have gotten one or three degrees: In art. In management. In athletics.
But maybe we got something better. We became friends – talking while we hung laundry. Cooking dinners together. And golfing. I learned why she was a leader of women. She cared.