The military base was twenty miles from town, surrounded by desert on one side and mountains on the other. We lived in a small twelve-unit trailer park. The park was tucked in between a house and several outbuildings. Ours was an 8.5X35 foot trailer located at the end of the second row.
Even though quite small, the size was not a problem for us as we were recently married and had not yet acquired much in the way of belongings. On each side of us, other young couples were housed in trailers and also in the military service. We had a lot in common with them.
It was finally spring, and little shoots of grass and wildflowers were beginning to emerge through the sandy brown soil. However, we still had occasional spring storms that went through the area. Sometimes, I felt like the trailer would lift off the ground between the thunder, lightning, and rain.
When I was alone at home on the swing shifts, it was scary. We could not afford a phone. Our electricity would sometimes go out. I would just crawl in bed, pull the comforter that my Grandmother sent us as a wedding gift over my head and, pray.
As military wives, we quickly got to know one another and would share meals, gossip, and keep each other company when our husbands were at work. No one had a lot of cash and making the rent was the single most important bill for all of us.
Sometimes we were short of food. Gas money was a priority. There was no extra money for movies. But then we were very young, in love and heck, what did that matter when you had each other for entertainment?
One morning I woke up with an upset stomach but got busy and prepared coffee for my husband, who was on a day shift. I just ignored my discomfort, thinking it would go away, and after all, I could go back to bed after he left. This is just what I did, too, as the pain would not subside.
In fact, I was pretty miserable all day. I tried several things, but nothing seemed to help. Holding my stomach, I went to the trailer next door to see if they had any Alka-seltzer, Pepto Bismol or, maybe an antacid.
Knocking on a screen door looking up at the sky, I thought how odd as the sky appeared tan in color, and it was morning. It should look nice and blue. Back at our trailer, I closed all the windows and drew all the curtains just in case a storm was headed our way.
Fixing tea and toast, swallowing a swig of Pepto Bismol, and still hurting, I went back to bed. I slept off and on all day long when I could. When my husband got home, I told him that I should see a doctor.
He was surprised as now he explained we were about to be in the middle of a dust storm. He was not sure about our safely driving the twenty miles back to the base. We finally decided it would be better now rather than later.
Quickly wrapping a blanket around my body and tucking in against him, we headed out. As he drove, I looked up at his determined face and knew he was worried. I was, too, but also knew I needed to be checked out. This seemed more than just a simple stomach ache.
At first, the road was fairly clear of traffic. While although it was becoming a brownout, you could still see the centerline of the highway. However, soon that centerline began to look strangely wavy.
We each strained to see the side of the roadway. The dust was slamming against our windows. It sounded like little needles hitting the sides of our car. The wind blew us sideways, and he struggled to stay on the road.
We both wondered if the car would suddenly stop because of the sand filtering into the engine area. It was a very slow, scary drive to the base. Gratefully we finally arrived.
They took me right in, and after seeing the doctor and doing some x-rays, they decided to admit me to the hospital for observation. I was given something to relax, and not long after getting settled into bed, I fell asleep. I am not sure what happened to my husband. I hoped he found a place to snooze and did not try to drive back to town that night.
I woke up early to a loudspeaker system saying good morning, giving all of us a little inspirational message. As I laid there listening, I wondered now what? My pain was still there but manageable.
I looked around, the bed next to me was occupied, but curtains were drawn around a patient. All was quiet in our room for now. Soon our breakfast trays arrived.
A nurse came in and straightened our bedding and sheets, propped us up, and pulled the curtains back, leaving us to meet each other and have breakfast.
The lady next to me smiled and said hello. She said her name was Mrs. Allen. I told her my name, and we quietly ate breakfast together. I guessed that she was older than my mom and maybe not as old as my gramma.
She had a calming way about her. Soon she was gently asking me questions.
Where was I from, how long had I been away from home, what did my husband do, did he plan to make the military a career? In the meantime, I timidly asked her where she was from and what did her husband do?
I thought we had a nice time getting to know each other as roommates. Soon I was sleepy and so turned over and fell into a deep slumber.
A phone was ringing somewhere. It took me a minute before I realized where I was and where the phone was that kept ringing. It was Mrs. Allen’s phone. I sat up. Looking over to her empty bed, I saw why she was not answering the phone. She was gone.
At about that time, a nurse came in, bringing me some medication. She said the doctor would be in soon to check on me and to just relax and rest.
Thirty minutes later, Mrs. Allen appeared in a wheelchair, smiling and waving a good-morning salute to me. I smiled, acknowledging her salute. She wanted to know if I would be calling my mother for the holiday.
“No,” I said. “Unfortunately, we cannot afford a long-distance call right now.”
She turned to me. “But you must call her. She needs to know that you’re here and that we are taking good care of you.”
I smiled and didn’t know what to say. What did she mean by “we”? I turned over, facing away from her as I was embarrassed and actually somewhat confused but not wanting to appear ignorant.
The doctor came in and told me that if I continued to feel even better tomorrow, I could go home. What a relief to know that I was being looked after and that I was not alone.
I couldn’t wait to tell my husband, who was now at work, so that would have to wait. You were not allowed to call where your husband worked unless it was a dire emergency.
Feeling sure that he would check on me later, I just snuggled down into my covers. I hoped the day would go quickly so that we could go home in the morning.
In the meantime, Mrs. Allen turned to me and said, “Let’s talk about you calling your mother.”
I didn’t know what to say except that I just could not do that as we didn’t have the money to call. She smiled and cheerily informed me that was not a problem.
She said, “Honey, you dial, and I’ll pay.”
I sat up straight and looked at her. In shock, I asked, “Are you sure?”
Of course, her hand indicated with a wave in the air.
“How?” I said, “We’re in the hospital.”
She said, laughing in a friendly way, “I’ll just tell them to put the call on my bill.”
Calling my mother was a complete surprise to me and for her too. She was delighted to hear from me. I told mom that it was an Easter Surprise from a very kind woman named Mrs. Allen, who told me that someday I could pay it forward.
While feeling so much better, driving back to town the next day, I shared with my husband about Mrs. Allen and her gift of a phone call for me to talk to my mother.
I told him that I felt really worried about the expense. He looked over at me and asked, “Do you know who this Mrs. Allen is?”
“No,” I said. He chuckled and told me that Mrs. Allen was Colonel Allen’s wife and that the Colonel was in charge of our base.
He said, “Yes, I guess she could afford a call.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sharon Smith was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest (USA); owned a healthcare uniform business for many years. She also lived in Japan and presently resides in Michigan. She blogs about her experiences and shared observations touching on culture, lifestyle, and the people around her.