I know I’m not the only USMA ’69 classmate to meet the love of his life at a West Point mixer, but you will never be able to convince me that my West Point love story is not a special one. So, as an introduction to my tale, let me begin with a little bit of poetry I once wrote which sums up our first few moments in a nutshell. (To be sung to the tune of “Hallelujah” – by Cohen not Handel).
I saw a girl with a radiant mane,
So I walked up to her and asked her name,
And she looked at me and said, “What’s it to ya?”
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.
It was Saturday, February 15, 1969, and there was a Valentine’s Mixer scheduled that evening at Cullum Hall that I had no intention of attending.
Instead, I had every intention of spending the evening shooting pool in the pool room above the office of the Cadet Hostess. I had not really gone out with any girls for a long while after having had my heart broken many months earlier. But I was playing pool with a friend of mine who was in the band that was playing the mixer that night, and he convinced me to come help him set up. So I did.
Most of the early part of the evening is a fog, but one thing I do remember very clearly is seeing a pretty redhead sitting at the opposite end of my table with no one paying any attention to her, and with her paying no attention to anyone else.
So in due course I got up and walked around to the other end and said, “Hi, what’s your name?” Without skipping a beat she looked up and rather curtly said, “Guess!” I took that to mean that she wasn’t interested, so I said something like “Alright, I can take a hint.” But as I started to turn away she told me she was just kidding and that I could sit down. I eventually found out her name was Avril, and that she had reluctantly come up from New Jersey with her sister and a friend. The three of them were basically “Renegade Drags!” This is a term that has probably gone out of style; but back then it was term used to refer to girls who came to mixers without invitations from the Cadet Hostess’ Office. Basically they were party crashers. It happened all the time.
Besides Avril, I also met her sister and her best friend and I learned that Avril was a music major at Montclair State College. And she learned that I would soon be taking possession of my sort of blue-green 1968 Triumph TR-250 convertible.
Because I had not been around girls for a while, and because of our sort of shaky start, I was not real sure where things stood with us. So, at one point when she started to go to the ladies room, I suggested she leave her purse.
She asked why and I said that if she left her purse I knew she would be coming back. In the end she didn’t leave her purse, but she did come back! I don’t remember much else about the evening except that we spent the whole rest of the dance together and that we had a good time. However, when the time came to walk her back to her car and say good-bye, we completely forgot to exchange contact details. But by God’s grace that wasn’t the end of the story.
Having broken the ice and gotten back into the world of women, I decided to look for a date for the following weekend, but I didn’t have Avril’s contact info. So I pulled out my notebook and started calling girls that I had once-upon-a-time gone out with. However, they were all girls that I had not had any contact with for over a year, and for some reason not one of them was interested in picking up where we had left off. So I decided to try to figure out how I could get in touch with Avril, which meant that I had to call the good, old-fashioned telephone information operator.
Everything got off to a good start as I began to explain to the operator that I was a West Point Cadet and that I had met a girl at a dance and I didn’t have her phone number and could she please help me try to locate her? She very pleasantly agreed to give it a try. I told her that I knew that the girl lived in Rutherford, New Jersey, and that her father’s name began with an “A”. But then she asked me what Avril’s last name was … and when I said, “Smith”, the operator rather loudly said, “Do you know how many Smiths there are in the Bergen County phone book?” So I gently reminded her that she lived in Rutherford and that her father had an odd name that began with an “A”, so could she please just read down through the “A’s” and maybe I would recognize it. When she got to “Alden” I said that was an odd name, so if she would give me that number I would hope for the best and not bother her again. And the rest is as they say … history.
I called the number and Avril answered the phone and she came up the following weekend. We continued to date from then on all the way through graduation and on into the summer when we had the chance. Later that year we were even able to watch Army beat Navy 27-0 on Thanksgiving weekend at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. I distinctly remember some rather happy soul behind us yelling in his glorious New York City area accent, “First it was the Jets, then it was the Mets, and now it’s the Cadets!” The Jets had won the Super Bowl in January, and the Mets had won the World Series in October, so it was a great year for NY City sports fans.
In a previous “Days Forward” story, I mentioned that I was originally scheduled to go to Vietnam, and that a friend I met in Infantry Officer Basic had orders for Germany. We each decided we wanted to swap our orders, so we asked our CO for permission and he agreed to put in the request. Looking back on it all now God must have been pulling some strings for us even back then. To get my orders changed from Vietnam to Germany all I had to do was ask. It was as simple as that, and more importantly, it meant that I could ask Avril to marry me without having to wait until I got back from Vietnam.
One funny memory involving our engagement happened right before I left for Germany in December of 1969. When I was growing up my mom would often show me her diamond ring and tell me the story of how my grandfather had won it in a poker game. She said that the original men’s ring had been given to my father as the first-born son, and that someday it would be mine as their first-born son. She had never had an engagement ring, so my dad had the ring downsized and made into a woman’s ring for her with the understanding that it would someday be mine. We would occasionally talk about how maybe I could someday use the rather large stone for my eventual bride’s engagement ring … whoever that might be. That bride turned out to be Avril, so in late 1969 I asked my mom for the stone which she reluctantly gave me, and I had it put into a miniature class ring to give to her on our engagement night a week before Christmas. Instead, the next day, right after she arrived back from dropping me off at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey for my flight to Germany, her engagement ring arrived directly from the jeweler by US mail. Not all stories work out as perfectly as we might imagine they should.
I arrived in Berlin to begin my service with the Berlin Brigade right before Christmas of 1969. Then in June of 1970 I flew back to the US for our wedding at West Point. Because we were having a small wedding, Avril decided to use the Post Chapel rather than the Cadet Chapel.
We had a beautiful wedding on a beautiful sunny day with our lovely wedding pictures being taken out at Trophy Point with lots of tourists watching in the background. A couple of days later I returned to Germany with my new bride to begin our life together in Berlin.
We’ve now been together forty-seven years, and we are looking forward to two big anniversaries in the not too distant future. The 50th anniversary of the day we met will be Friday, February 15, 2019, and our 50th wedding anniversary will be Saturday, June 13, 2020. God has been truly good to us right from the start!