Yolanda Adele and her husband Vic were high school sweethearts in the early 1960’s. The threat of the Vietnam War was ever-present as they shared their last evening together before he left for boot camp with the Marines. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.
By Yolanda Adele
Vic’s coat was black and made of a heavy cotton blend. It smelled of Old Spice Cologne. He wore that coat the day before he had to leave for Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Boot Camp, where he was to train before shipping out to an undisclosed location. It was an ordinary spring day in 1962. Vic was just nineteen years old. The war with Vietnam was escalating and so were my fears of ever seeing him alive again.
Vic walked the twelve miles from his parents’ house to my house in Huntington Park to say goodbye to my family and me. My mother hugged him and gave him a blessing. She was holding back tears. Perhaps, she was remembering when my father said goodbye to her before he left for the Army Air Corps (as it was called then) to go overseas during World War II.
My father shook Vic’s hand and wished him good luck. Then dad asked Vic if he’d like to borrow his car to take me for a drive. Though there were ominous clouds in the sky, Vic opted to go for a walk instead, and declined his thoughtful offer.
As we walked in silence down Pacific Boulevard for several blocks, I buried my head in the folds of his coat sleeve. So many emotions stirred up in me that it was difficult to sort them out. Though I had just turned seventeen, I knew that I loved Vic and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Sure we didn’t have money, a home, a car, or even the right to vote yet, but none of that mattered as long as we could be together.
Suddenly there was a violent clap of thunder; the skies opened up and sheets of water poured over us. We ran in and out of store doorways for shelter, huddling close, giggling, and stealing kisses.
I never felt the cold in spite of the fact I was wore a thin, cotton dress and sandals. Vic put his woolen black coat around my shoulders insisting that he was not cold. We were carefree and laughing loudly. The hard rain washed over us like a benediction.
Eventually the time drew near for him to leave for the base. I began to cry, tasting the salt of my tears mixed with that of the rain. Tearfully Vic stood in front of me and held up my chin.
“We’ll get married on my first leave from boot camp, O.K.?” I nodded enthusiastically.
“Promise me that you’ll come back,” I begged. We kissed hard even as the rain soaked us. We held on to each other tightly in defiance of all the storms we would have to weather.
As we walked back to my parents’ house in the relentless rain, it became difficult for me to keep up with Vic’s gait. His pace became almost a sprint to get us to shelter. I lagged a little behind, all the while gripping his sopping wet coat sleeve.
At the house Vic took off his coat, and my mother hung it on a hanger and placed it in the shower to drip dry. My dad drove him to his parents’ home.
Days later when Vic’s coat finally dried, I noticed that one of the sleeves was at least four to six inches longer than the other - a reminder of how tightly I tried to hold on to him on the day he left. His coat retained the faint fragrance of Old Spice.
I wore that coat many times in the fifteen months he was overseas as I worried, wondered, and waited for him to return. That coat brought me comfort when I wrapped its uneven sleeves around my shoulders while writing to him and reading his letters. During that uncertain time, we continued pledging our love for each other. No other article of clothing has warmed my heart more than Vic’s coat.
Over four decades later I was reminded of that day in the rain. Vic and I were celebrating our May birthdays in the Napa Valley, and we had just finished dining at Misto’s, a posh Italian restaurant not far from our hotel. We decided to take a walk down the main boulevard to look in the storefront windows.
It started to rain, and soon we were caught in a heavy downpour. We found ourselves in a store doorway seeking temporary shelter from the drenching rain. As we turned to look at each other, we burst out laughing loudly and unabashedly, knowing that we were each experiencing deja vu at the same time.
Vic put his coat around my shoulders before stealing a kiss. We then ran out in to the rain, hand in hand, soaking up the magic of an ordinary day like the two teenagers we once were.
Foot note: On July 2. 2012 we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.