The brisk coolness of October 1965 seemed to be an early indicator of what fall had in store for Connecticut that year, but only time would tell what this morning had in store for Ronnie. Today was the day Ronnie was to begin her first day of work for Selective Service, and she had no idea what to expect from this government job. She had applied for several other similar positions but based on the proximity to her home this was the best choice to begin her adventure in government employment. She had not met anyone in this office yet, as her interview had been with an Army Colonel, Col. Martinson, and he had been her only connection with this job, until now. She drew a deep breath and opened the door to Local Board 16.
Upon entering the office, she walked into a room that was like stepping back in history. She was immediately greeted by a slender young woman holding a stack of green folders. She looked to be about the same age as Ronnie and looked over to her with a warm contagious smile. She had Auburn hair, and it was piled on top of her head in a knot, which did not hide the fact that she was very attractive. She was considerably shorter than her, giving Ronnie the impression that this could not possibly be the person she was to report to; she was too young.
“Good morning, how may I help you?”
“Good morning, I am Ronnie, and I have been directed by Col. Martinson to report to Suzanne to begin my new job here.
“Yes, I am Suzanne and I am the office manager. I’ve been expecting you.”
Ronnie extended her hand, and without being obvious, scanned this new office at the same time with a third eye. The room reminded her of a library with the smell of old books and the pungent aroma of wood floors and desks that had been around for a long time. Anyone could see that this building had been built before the turn of the twentieth century. There were three oversize desks that served their purpose for many years. On each desk was a big gray Underwood typewriter off to the side on a lift out shelf. On the back wall directly behind two of the desks, were two ceiling to floor windows, with metal bars that ran across the width of each of them, to prevent anyone from falling out and down the three stories to a bus stop directly below the windows. The entire room was surrounded with eight draw metal file cabinets in an Army green color.
Neither the smells nor the antiquity of the office discouraged Ronnie that morning. She was far too anxious about beginning this job. and only on reflection did any of that even enter her thought process.
Sitting off to the side toward the back of the office was an office worker typing away and completely ignoring Ronnie’s entrance until Sue interrupted her train of thought to introduce the two girls. Sue introduced Ronnie to Sharon and thus the first day had officially begun for her. These three girls made up the entire staff of Board 16.
It did not take long for Ronnie to understand how someone as young as Sue could be the office manager. Sue knew her job well, and she also had a complete understanding of government policy concerning The Selective Service System. She was an excellent teacher and a very capable office manager. She went about teaching Ronnie the ins and outs of her job with a complete absence of ego. She was as genuine as a person could be in Ronnie’s eyes. Ronnie found her easy to talk to and not the least bit intimidating as her boss. Ronnie felt as though she had found a home.
With the Viet Nam war in full swing, this office was a hub of activity most of the time. The duties of the office were diversified and many and often left the staff feeling a little overwhelmed. There were monthly lists of men to be assembled for both inductions as well as physical examination scheduling. Form had to be completed for each man who was being assessed in time for this event. These men had to be directed to New Haven for determination of their acceptability to class 1A that would make them available for active duty. The three girls alternated each month in accompanying the men to the train station to see them off for induction or for physicals and provide them with a “ditty
bag," that held shaving gear, toothbrush and paste, and plastic Rosary Beads. The local Jewish Synagogue had a representative at each of these departures to give each recruit a gift. It was a small book of prayers and bible quotes. The same man came every month to deliver these gifts and the girls delighted in discussion of his appearance that was disheveled and the poor man’s breath when they returned to the office. It became standard office fodder.
The girls were responsible for the assembling of the monthly board meeting. The purpose of these meetings was a review of all requests made by boys looking for various deferments. The board consisted of six members who were businessmen with a Lawyer as Head of the Board. All members were held in high regard to their positions in the community. They would make all the final decisions on whether or not an individual qualified for whatever class he was looking for. The biggest request at that time was for Student deferments, and Conscientious Objector deferments. Many times the board had the final say on the sincerity of an individual’s beliefs. These meetings were interesting to say the least. Sue and Ronnie would take the minutes and notes of the reviews then transform them into permanent records in the files of each applicant.
Ronnie and Sue worked well together those early months. Each was aware of their job, but never crossing an unmarked line of demarcation with regard to boss and employee. They probably could have been friends on the outside but each was fearful of moving their job relationship into a friendship. Sue found Ronnie to be a hard worker and quick study for all the red tape that came with the job. Ronnie had a great deal of respect for Sue ‘s authority and her ability to run a smooth office. Ronnie never felt intimidated under Sue’s tutelage. Both of these young women shared a good work ethic and recognized each other’s strengths.
After the first of the year, the office was scheduled for additional training at the State Headquarters for Selective Service in Hartford Connecticut. It was to be a full day of classes and the opportunity to meet up with all the higher-ups in the Selective Service System. Sue was to attend the meeting along with one member of her staff. She chose Ronnie to be her companion in this office experience. It was something that Ronnie found herself very excited about, as she would meet the people who they worked directly under. Ronnie’s anxiety was the direct result of knowing that these people were all militaries with big titles and stripes on their sleeves. Sue did a good job of setting Ronnie’s mind at ease.
“Just remember, they are all life time military middle -aged men. Their only concern is that we keep this office running like a fine tuned clock. They have been very positive about our work here, and they think we are doing a great job. These guys really know their stuff Ron.”
Sue shared this information in the hopes of making her co-worker feel less anxious as the day of training approached.
On the morning of the meeting, Sue and Ronnie met at the office and walked over to the train station together under a cold, sunny winter sky. Their office was only two blocks from the train station but their steps were brisk to get out of the cold. Both women were in a state of excitement as they took their seats on the train. Their glee was due to the time away from the dreaded office but for Sue it was a particularly special day as she had never been on a train before. She had come from a little town in Maine and had just never had reason to take a train before that day. For Ronnie train rides were
Familiar, having come from New York riding a train was very common.
“Sue, what is Colonel Martinson really like? He seems a little friendly enough, but he is tough, isn’t he?”
“He really is a good guy, but you cannot be fooled by his demeanor. He carries a big stick where his employees are concerned. He simply expects to get an honest day’s work out of all of us. Just be yourself Ronnie and do not say too much, and you will be fine. He likes you and is looking just as forward to meet you, as you are to meet him. He can really be a hard ass, but I like him.”
Up until this trip, the two girls had never really had the opportunity to know much about each other’s personal life. They were far to busy in the office for chat, and it just was not part of their workday. Both of them were newly married so today would give them much to talk about. They discussed sisters in law, mothers in law and the fine art of getting along with all of them. Each girl had new apartments that they lived in with all the furnishings, and they were both on their own for the first time. All of this taken into consideration, there was no shortage of conversation.
They chatted on with ease for a while, and eventually drifted into the rough water of discussing babies. Each of them was of common mind regarding their fears and apprehension about having children. Sue talked about her large family, thirteen brothers and sisters in total. She knew what it was to try to survive in a family without a great deal of money to provide for the needs of a child. Ronnie came from a family of five children, and she too knew about doing without, and what difficulties her parents had to bring them to adulthood. This was a topic that came very easy for discussion.
“The big question is Sue, how do you know when the time is right to start a family? How do you know when you are both ready to make that adjustment? It is such a big step.”
“Dammed if I know Ronnie. I am not sure I ever want to try to find out. I may never have kids at all.”
“Oh my God Sue, I thought I was the only one who felt that way.”
With that statement, a friendship was forged. Neither of them expected what was taking place at that moment in time. They found a common thread to the start of a friendship that would carry them through many years to come.
On the return trip home, they talked as if they had been friends for years. There was a newfound comfort that had not existed before. When they got back to their jobs the next- day something had changed. A new dimension had been added to their job relationship and they both could tell it was just the beginning.
Both Ronnie and Sue were married to complicated men neither of which was easy to live with both of them being strong willed and each of them having an innate love of fishing. When the girls decided to bring these two men together socially it was with the greatest of success due to their similarities of interest and their sameness personalities. This worked out well for the girls. Now they could spend even more time together on weekends as long as there was good food and beer for the boys, they never complained.
It was easy for Ronnie to share her family with Sue because all of Sue’s family lived hundreds of miles away. There were parties, dinners, boating and fishing trips all of which were enhanced fact that they had one another to share the activities. At one of Sue’s dinner’s she had forgotten dessert so the three couples, Ron’s brother and his wife included, piled into Sue’s car and went out to buy My-T-Fine chocolate pudding and whip cream because that was what was wanted unanimously. They cooked it up and all sat around eating it hot out of the bowl with gobs of whipped cream and creating one more wonderful memory of a special time in the lives of these two women.
They shared their holidays as well with a wealth of joy. They got together to bake their cookies and share them with each other for Christmas. They scheduled their hair dressing appointments and shopped for gifts and outfits to wear on Christmas Eve. They spent Christmas Eve alternating between the two homes. Then Christmas day they all piled in on Ronnie’s mom’s house for a grant Italian meal and plenty of family fun.
The girls only took lunch one day a week from work, never bothering to eat, just to shop and walk and talk and laugh the whole time. Woollworth’s was in the neighborhood so it became one of their favorite haunts. There was a strange, tall, thin man who walked through the store every day with a cartridge loaded down with big plastic bags and a US flag flying off of the tall antennae attached to the cart. He walked along with a big smile on his face all the time, but he was fearful of walking near people and would avoid getting too close to them. Ronnie and Sue figured this out and would drive this poor little man crazy by getting at both ends of the isle and moving toward him causing him to get all confused. They would laugh till they cried at this terrible little act of meanness. They both knew it was unkind, but when these two got together there was just no telling what set them in motion with being trouble makers. They could set each up one another with antics at any time. It was two senses of humor on the rise.
Down the hall from their office, there was a dentist’s office, and they would periodically get supplies left in front of their office. One day Sue came into the office with a sleeve of paper cups. She fully intended to pay for them but wanted to have some fun with Sharon, who was a bit of a prude. Ronnie loved the idea. Sharon was horrified at what she thought Sue had done. The mission was accomplished.
When there was a lull in office activity and everything was quiet, they brought in large temple oranges. Sue and Ronnie’s desks were directly in front of those two huge windows. The girls sat there with their feet up on the sill and spit the pits out the window. The street below was fairly quiet and when people walked by they got hit on the head by the pits. Passers by looked up but could not see where they were coming from or know that these two devils were sitting there making mischief.
With time this friendship only grew closer. There was not a crisis that one would go through without needing their friend to share it with.
After two years, Sue’s husband was transferred to Dayton Ohio on his job. Ronnie took over Sue’s job when she left. It was a temporary move, and Sue was coming back in a year. The girls remained in constant touch by phone. Sue returned the following year and worked in an adjoining town Board, and they picked up their friendship where they left off. Before long, Ronnie became pregnant. She carried her baby four months and miscarried. The pregnancy was over. Her husband called Sue to come and be with Ronnie on that awful day. She was the only person Ronnie wanted to see as she went through one of the worst times in her life. Sue sat with her friend for hours. She cried tears that would not end. The pain of loss was felt not by one, but by two women who shared everything. When the day winded down, and Sue was getting ready to leave Ronnie kept thanking her for being there in her time of need.
As Sue walked out the door, her last words to Ronnie were,
“I would not have done that for anyone else in this world, and I pray I never have to do it again.”
This was one more stroke of love and friendship that made these two women become the friends that they were.
Within the year, Sue’s husband was transferred again. This time they were headed to California and had no intention of returning. Both Ronnie and Sue went through hell with their good-byes and letting go of what they had. They promised each other that never would they ever lose touch. They had a friend, Clyde, who told them both that they had the cards stacked against them in maintaining their friendship across three thousand miles. He said it was noble that they wanted it but it just would not happen.
They laughed at him and at the possibility that anything could end this friendship. They were each aware that neither miles, nor years could destroy what they had cultivated over the years. So, Sue and her husband moved away.
Once Sue moved away the years seemed to melt away unbelievably fast. They both went through life without their dear friend across town. Each of them did eventually have one child. Sue had to wade through a very difficult divorce with all the muddy results. Phone calls were plentiful during this terrible time. There were relationship adjustments for each of them and once again only the phone, but they were still there for each other. Sue made several trips across the country over the following years. She found her way back for the marriage of her godchild, Ronnie’s daughter, Robin. Twenty-two years later she was there. Sue lost both of her parents eventually and the grief was shared with her friends again by phone. Ronnie’s brother Jim died, and it was if her life was over. Once again, Sue pulled her back into life kicking and creaming, but she got the job done. Ronnie survived and the friendship only grew stronger.
There were phone calls that went on for hours. They talked through every crisis and cried until emotions were quelled for each of them when needed. Time went on and before either of them realized it forty years had passed and in the process, a fabric was woven of invincibility for both. Had it not been for what each of them brought to this relationship, neither of them could have made life’s journey half of what it has become.
A morning in September evolved into one of the key dates in both of their lives. Neither of them dreamed just how important they would become to each other on that morning. A gift was there's’. It was a special package that they both treated with gratitude and respect. They continue to hold the dream that one day they will both sit on a beach as two little old ladies and laugh out loud about all their early experiences and probably shed a few more tears. Theirs’ was a companionship woven by a lifetime.
Never the end.