Memorial Day weekend was coming and DT “C” school was really starting to drag on us. Randy Finley, Al Mateer, Curt Morgese and I decided we needed to get away from the Navy, San Diego and the 32nd Street Naval Station. We borrowed some sleeping bags, piled into the back of Randy’s little yellow Datsun pickup truck, and drove up over the mountains heading east. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but we ended up camping in the Anzio-Borrego Desert. We slept out under the stars, ate around the campfire, had a blast hiking, and climbed rocks with some old rope one of us had brought along. All too soon though, it was time to head back.
The trip back to the barracks was along the same route we took before, but the twisting and turning through the winding mountain road had a real impact on me this time. I was rolling around in the back of the little pickup and I started to feel a little queasy. When Randy pulled over for gas, I decided to find something to settle my stomach. I had never experienced motion sickness and didn’t have any idea what to do about it, but I knew I had to do something. I went into the gas station and discovered it didn’t have much except some soda pop and for some unexplained reason, some half and half in the refrigerator. I thought I’d heard that milk could calm the stomach and I decided some might settle me down. I bought the half and half, thinking that the extra cream would coat my stomach and make it feel better, I downed a pint of it and got back into the pickup.
What the heck was I thinking? About an hour later, I was screaming for them to stop. My stomach felt like it was going to explode and it was all I could do to hold my gorge back. I had never thought before how butter or cottage cheese was made, but I think I discovered a recipe by being agitated back and forth in Finley’s truck. As soon as the truck made its emergency stop for me, I spewed gigantic chunks and curds of it out the back of Randy’s camper shell.
It was either because I was sick or it was getting late and dark, but Randy decided he was through driving for the day. We were still in the mountains near Julian, California when he pulled off on to a little dirt road and announced to us we were camping here. As soon as we got out of the truck, we noticed a small house just up the way. We went to see if anybody was there and found a little old man and woman in this cabin. We asked if we could spend the night on their property. The man saw our short haircuts and asked us if we were in the military. We said we were Navy Dental Techs from San Diego, and he told us he was proud to have us spend the night.
I might at this point explain that this was in the early 1970’s and there were still lots of people, particularly young people, who really disliked the military. Vietnam was still a big deal, and we were even discouraged from wearing our uniforms in public. Military men were called baby killers and we were generally viewed with distaste and mild contempt when people were tolerating us, to outright hatred when they were not. People being nice to us with no hidden agenda was refreshing, to say the least.
We went to sleep in the back of the camper shell, and the next morning, we were awakened by a knocking on the back hatch. Randy opened it and the old gentleman was outside. He invited us up to the house for breakfast. When we arrived, the lady had made a righteous breakfast for us, with eggs toast, juice, some bacon with plates, flatware and napkins, you know, the works. We sat and put on our best Sunday manners as the lady fussed over us and kept our plates loaded. Boy was it good to have some home cooking! Come to find out the old guy was a retired Gunny Sergeant…from WWI! He told us some sea stories about the good ol’ days of the Corps and showed us around his house and property, with included a small gold mine. At that time and place, I had never met a more hospitable couple. Before we left, the lady made sure she had all our home addresses.
We spent more time than we should have there. We were late getting into San Diego and stood quarters pretty tired the next day. About two weeks later, my Mom wrote and told me that the lady had written her and told her about our visit to their home. She said that we were all fine young men and would have been proud to have any of us as her sons. Some of the other guys said she had done the same for them too.
I have always remembered these people and their kindness to us. They didn’t have to be nice to us, but they were anyway. In a world that had abandoned gentility and good manners, they had provided us with a good example of what the world should be. They had been good to a bunch of young kids alone in a strange land in a random and chance meeting. I don’t know if they make people like those two anymore, but I have tried to return their kindness to others over the years and emulate their example. This story is a small tribute to some folks that didn’t have to be nice, but were nonetheless.