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,