I didn’t meet Harold Lee Maxson (called Tub) until he was close to the end of his years at West Point. Tub and I would have been married 50 years this year. I was headed for an entirely different life before I met Tub. I was studying Fashion Merchandising in New York City and fully intended to have a buying career that I hoped one day would take me on wonderful buying adventures – my ultimate goal: time in Paris. Little did I know that before any of that came to pass, I would meet my soul mate and the adventures that I would eventually go on would be far superior to anything I could have ever imagined.
My father and all of his brothers served in the military during World War II and there was always a reverence for the military in our family that I came to respect as I grew up, but I never thought that other than our family history I would have any direct connection to the Army.
I met Tub by default at the Army/Navy Game in 1968. I was not supposed to be his date. I have to say the minute he walked into the room I was smitten. I came from a large Irish family, so I recognized his as a handsome Celtic face and he had the most engaging smile. After a bit, we started dating. As a result, in June of 1969, I was there with him to celebrate “June Week” and his graduation.
That is most likely where our story begins. Tub drove me back home to New Jersey after graduation in his shiny new AMX.
He had planned to stay a few days at my parents’ house. The time turned into most of the summer. My family was beginning to wonder if this was becoming serious. I knew it wasn’t, He would be going to Alaska with a stop at Fort Benning. He had dreams of getting a motorcycle and an English Bull dog and seeing the world. His future was set. Although I was hoping for Paris, I had been offered a job in the buyer training program at Best and Company, a department store on 5th Avenue in New York. I thought i was going to accept it.
One evening in July, Tub and I decided to go to a drive-in.
I loved movies and since I didn’t have a car, drive-ins were a special treat. Somewhere in the course of the evening Tub asked me to marry him. The problem…I was not expecting it and I missed it entirely. For days after he was annoyed with me, but I had no idea what I had done. Finally, he said, “You could have said something.” I had no idea what he was talking about and after some convincing, he realized that. Lucky for me he asked again and instead of taking the job I took a leap of faith.
We decided to get married in February but with orders changing and leave availability we decided on an earlier date in November. We were married on a three-day pass and by Monday, Tub was back in the field at Fort Benning. I really missed my large family, but it was not long before I realized I had become part of another family not related by blood but by purpose and friendship. The military that I had grown up respecting was now part of my life. Our next assignment would be Alaska and some of the friends we knew in Georgia would be joining us there.
We left Georgia for our drive across country, to the state of Washington, in late winter; there we would fly to Alaska. After stops in New Jersey and Michigan to visit our families we began our trek West.
I had never been further west than the Dakotas and Tub had always wanted to go to Alaska. We were so excited to be making this trip. Had Willie Nelson already written the song “On the Road Again” it might have been our theme song. “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the
road again…” The changing terrain was beautiful sometimes blanketed with snow. The small towns, the big cities, the open land, it was a joy to see. Gosh, what is that? I’m excited. On a practical side, we were traveling with some cash, traveler’s checks, and a gas credit card.
In those days, credit cards were not readily available and we didn’t qualify. We were also traveling with two dogs. Tub gave me a Miniature Schnauzer as a wedding present and we acquired Cinnamon Cinder the 11th, a Miniature Dachshund, while in Georgia. Since we were practical and poor, we decided to travel with an electric fry pan and a cooler. How much simpler life would have been if smart phones had been invented and we could have found a list of hotels that accepted pets and credit cards to pay for dinners out, but it would not have been nearly as much fun. So, each night Tub put the dogs in his coat, and I carried the fry pan and the food. This was our nightly version of covert ops and we hoped we would not be discovered. The next morning, we were “On the road again”.
When I think of arriving in the state of Washington, I think of a mountain pass covered in snow with beautiful large birds that may have been pheasants and thinking that I wished I could capture that moment. I don’t remember where Tub had to check in, maybe Ft. Lewis; the logistics of the second leg of our journey were in his purview not mine. I became more engaged in the process when his paperwork stated that since Alaska, at that time, was considered an overseas assignment, his dependent had to be given the required injections for said assignment. I remember getting shots in both arms and shortly after I was sick. I was so sick that I could not leave the hotel room to get to a medical facility – that lasted for three days. We were quickly running out of money. I’m sure Tub was frantic, but he had to get our dogs and car shipped and rearrange our flights until I could travel again.
I don’t know if it was the original flight plan, but we flew to Alaska in what I believe was a C-130; I remember a cargo net in the front of the plane that appeared to be holding luggage.
Someone said that they put regular seats in for the flight. I was new to this and at the time I didn’t know what irregular seats might have been. We would have been able to buy a box lunch but after the extended hotel stay, we had 30 cents between us. We didn’t know what would happen when we eventually arrived in Alaska with 30 cents in our pockets and no car but one chapter of our adventure had ended and the next was about to begin.
Fortunately for us, the heavens and the military realized that the exuberance of youth and 30 cents was not going to do it for us, and we had been assigned sponsors. They met the first three planes, and this was the last one they were going to meet before concluding that we were not coming. They were such a welcome sight. They took us to the post guest house at Fort Richardson and promised to take us the next day to see the sights and look for moose. I don’t remember the first few days there and I don’t remember their names because I was still decidedly unwell. I do remember the fleeting thought when I got off the plane: Oh! there is the tarmac and mud along with snow. I knew nothing about Alaska. I thought I was going to be landing on something akin to an iceberg. I had no idea what we were coming to since this was before the advent of the internet. The written word was not adequate to describe what we would find in Alaska. Our time there witnessed magnificent scenery, new directions, lessons learned for me about the military, a motorcycle, camping in the wilderness while six months pregnant, camping on a glacier (Tub) one of his oft told stories, babies born, joys, sorrows and news of friends tragically dying.
We grew up a lot there. I was 21 and Tub 22 when we left Georgia. The kids who drove across country young and bulletproof left Alaska as adults. We were a bit older and considerably more aware. We were also the parents of a wonderful baby girl.
In the 47 years that I was blessed to have with Tub, there were countless more adventures. He had several motorcycles and many trips on them through the USA, Canada and parts of Europe.
I eventually got as far as a layover in the Paris airport and for a brief time I was a buyer for a small store in PA. The cross-country trip and Alaska were really where my interest in art began and has remained. I discovered that art and life are all about capturing the moment.
I often think in terms of song lyrics, just lines from songs where the bits and pieces fit the situation. In writing this I keep thinking of a song by Ronnie Milsap, “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World”. With a few changes to reflect how I felt about my husband and our life together. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, wouldn’t trade one memory. You made my whole life worthwhile with your smile…I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Forever and always,
Janie Taylor says
Cyn, Our stories were very similar only we headed to Germany under similar circumstances. I married Mike Taylor, ’69, the day after graduation at the West Point chapel. While we had known each other since we met on vacation at age 15 and were engaged in ’67, we, too, grew up in Germany and had 44 years of marriage, two children and 4 grandchildren before I lost him to pancreatic cancer in 2013. I wouldn’t have changed a minute of our lives and WP will always be a big part of my heart and life. God bless.
Cindy Maxson says
Hi Janie, Thank you for your note. We do have a lot in common. We also had two children and four grandchildren. I’m sure in the early days none of us had an extra penny to spare but being poor did not make us any less happy. One thing I will always treasure about the military was that we were pretty much in the same boat. It made for better friendships than we ever had again in our lives. I went back and read your inspiring story. Mike’s thoughts on “joy” are something that we all need to hang onto. I am so sorry that you lost him. I’m sure you feel as I do about Tub, we were blessed to have ever had them in our lives. We lost Tub to an illness called FTD. A special on 60 Minutes highlighting the disease calling it “The Worst Disease You Have Never Heard Of” The blessing in it all, our oldest granddaughter, a triple major in neuroscience, is planning to get her doctorate and plans to one day do some research in this area. Perhaps, she will make an impact.
Thank you again for reaching out.
Denis Gulakowski says
Hi Cindy! This is Denis Gulakowski; I was one of Tub’s roommates at school and was there for your wedding. I so enjoyed your article about your first assignment with Tub. He and I pretty much lost touch with each other.after graduation, but I have fond memories of our time together at school. I do remember June week . And all its adventure… Hope things go well for you & family.
Cindy Maxson says
Hi Dennie, So nice to hear from you. I do remember you and JoAnne. Every time we dusted off the wedding pictures over the years, there were pictures of you and Bill looking sharp in your uniforms. If I remember correctly, you were also from New Jersey, a bit north of my hometown.
Tub was not wonderful at staying in touch. I think everyone was busy building their careers in the years after graduation. It is easy to lose touch. However, many of the smiles and the favorite stories stem from the days you all spent together at West Point. So nice of you to write.
Pete Grimm says
Beautiful memories, beautifully written. Thanks for posting this. It takes us all back to those magical times when our young and bulletproof selves turned into adults and parents.
Cindy Maxson says
Hi Pete Those were magical times. It is funny how in the blink of an eye, life comes full circle. Our two oldest grandchildren are now close to the ages Tub and I were when we started out. Many thanks for your kind words.
Ray Dupere says
Cindy, thanks for your story. Your meanderings for you and Tub were in Alaska and mine and my wife’s were in Europe. But somehow they all sound the same and they all sound wonderful as well. I trust that the Lord will watch over you now that you’re on your own with your wonderful fulfilling memories.
Cindy Maxson says
Thank you for your note. I understand from your article that you are a chaplain. I’m sure in your ministry you have been entrusted with many stories over the years. How nice it is that “The Days Forward”, has shared yours and other stories with all of us. I have enjoyed reading how everyone’s life has taken a different path but began the same and we are now at a point of reflecting and sharing. I do think the Lord has been active in my life especially in the past few years. I pray that he is active in all of our lives as we create new memories and give thanks for the blessings of the past. Many thanks.
Dee Lohr says
Cindy, somehow I missed this wonderful story the first time around! My husband graduated in ’71, and we married the day after graduation at the Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity. We were stationed in AK in 1978. Like you, we drove cross country. We left from Washington D.C. , stopping in Western N.Y. to see family, before heading across the country. We drove up the Alcan. That was quite an adventure. We had three small children at the time. Within a few days of arriving in Anchorage/Ft. Richardson, we had dinner at Peggy’s Cafe. That resulted in severe food poisoning for all of us. Welcome to Alaska! It got better after that crazy start. My husband and sons particularly enjoyed salmon fishing. We had so much of it, it was years before I could eat salmon again.
We lived in one of the brown and white eight-plexes on Beluga Ave. I have heard they have been razed.
Thank you for sharing your delightful memories!
Cindy Maxson says
It was so nice of you to write! It sounds like we had some similar experiences. I’m glad we did not share Peggy’s Cafe. That must have been awful having five of you sick at the same time.
On post housing was not available when we first arrived in Alaska. We lived in the Elmendorf Apartment complex for about five month until one of the brown and white units you described became available. We lived on Diea Street. We were told then that those units were scheduled to be demolished. One day we had walked a few units down to visit friends. The weather was windy and icy. On our return home we noticed someone’s window blowing down the street. It was ours. Luckily, it did not take too long to get it fixed.
I can appreciate your feeling about salmon. We lived on caribou and rabbit. Did you ever go to the Officer’s Club for the seafood buffet? I am allergic to seafood but Tub loved it. I remember the huge crab legs that he so enjoyed. Did you ever take the boys to Alaska Land for ice cream where they brought huge dishes of ice cream out on a sled?
I’m glad you had the experience of the Alcan. That was something we wanted to do on the way home. We had our car prepped with the front grill, larger radiator and new tires. We were traveling with our six month old daughter, Christie, and our dogs. About one hundred miles outside of Anchorage while going up the side of a mountain, the front wheel, drivers side, flew off the car. The tire dealer had a faulty impact wrench, knew it and was not able to contact us. The heavens were watching over us, because we slid into a scenic overpass. You may remember that guard rails were few and far between. There was a couple in a pick-up truck who happened to be there gazing at the view. They offered to drive us the hundred miles back. That night Christie came down with Whooping cough. Had we made it to the then unpaved road she may not have fared very well. We always considered the accident a blessing.
Christie will turn 50 on January 26th. She and her husband are planning a trip to Alaska as soon as it is safe to travel again. She has always been so proud that she was born there. I think it filtered down to her youngest daughter who, when in elementary school, told her class that her mom was born in Alaska and she speaks penguin. It made for an interesting parent- teacher conference that year. Thanks so much for contacting me. I would love to hear more of your experiences. Take care.