It Started With A Bottle of Everclear or How I Almost Joined The Navy

I have found during this journey I am on with Mother, the importance of remembering. Every day she sits on the couch searching for memories of people faces and names. She will give me a name and ask, “Why am I thinking of that?” The only answer I know is the sum total of her memories created the person she is today. When I am alone at last in my bedroom at night, I recall memories as well. Some of when I was a child, playing with friends in the neighborhood. Some memories of when I was a young woman. Sometimes at night I also listen to Sirius radio 70s station on DishTV. The music of my time, provides me with a feeling of comfort. It takes me back to a time when life was simpler. In The Navy by the Village People came on. Every time I hear it I am reminded of the time in 1983, I almost joined the Navy. I was at Livingston University in Livingston, Alabama. There was a group of us girls who basically cut loose of life in our spare time. I usually was the ringleader of the trouble. I tend to have issues keeping my mouth closed sober so alcohol only lubricated and amplified the process. We were sitting around laughing and someone brought in a bottle of Everclear. Now if you have never experienced this particular liquour, I can only describe it as the devil’s teardrops. Another rule in life is do not drink anything that has a flammable label on it. But back to the Navy. After several rounds I was flying as high as the pines in our neighboring states of Georgia. I blurted out, I think I want to join the Navy. Becky said, “Your drunk go to sleep Arleen.” I said, “No, I think I want to join the Navy. Sail the sea, become a flight nurse.” Louisa said, “I know exactly where you can go to do that, come on!” It was highly irresponsible and incredibly reckless, but we all climbed in my Ford Fairmont and headed to the Naval Base Meridian. We pulled up to the gate. A very cute sailor with dark hair peeked in the window and asked if he could help us. He was trying very hard not to laugh, out loud. Louisa had been raised in Long Island. I can still hear her New York accent, “We got a girl here who wants to join the Navy?”. Now, it’s about 1 a.m. on Friday night. He didn’t have a lot going on so I can only imagine this was quite entertaining to him. We rolled the back window down and he leaned in, “Do you really want to join the Navy?” He had the cutest grin on his face. I have always had a weakness for sailors. “Yep, I want to be a flight nurse.” He nodded, “Okay, you’re going to have to go the recruiter’s office for that.” He handed me a pad and said, “here give me your number and I will have him call you.” Again, not the wisest move, but I wrote my name and number down. We turned the car around and headed back to Livingston. Louisa said, “All you got out of that is a date, Arleen.” The next morning, hungover I woke up the phone ringing, it was not cute sailor, it was an honest to God recruiter. They are very persuasive. I’ll hand it to them, they are very persuasive. Later that morning I was in the recruiter’s office with Louisa and Becky. Becky kept saying, “You have lost your mind.” I remember they love my test scores. I heard, “Yes, Miss Cornelius, we have a place for you in our Navy.” I was actually hopeful and wondering if I was still just a little bit drunk. I asked, “Now, I do not know how to swim.” He gave me a quick reply, “Don’t worry, we’ll teach you.” Louisa said, “oh hell, I know what that means, they are going to throw you in the deep end.” It was at this point I reevaluate the situation and made my exit. I often wonder if when Mother is searching for the words to go with the images in her head, if she is remembering things as fondly as I do. I would never believe in a thousand years Mother burnt both ends of the candle as recklessly as I did for a while, but I do think she cut up a little bit in Nursing school. When I ask her, she says we jitterbugged. I am glad for those sparks of memories that remind her of who she was in her youth. Recalling mine, bring home to me the importance of remembering. How remembering is such a beautiful thing. I gift that is so easily robbed from us by this horrid disease. I do not know if I will have this disease as well. I do not know if someday I am asking my daughter when I hear the phrase, “ In the Navy”, why is this so important to me? Well now she can remind me, “Well Momma, it started with a bottle of Everclear.”

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