• Archives

  • Categories

Coming Home

After informing our local Peace Corps trainer that we were opting out of the program, we packed up while he called Addis. The drive back from Debre Birhan seemed longer than the trip to the town had been. For one thing, the Peace Corps driver was pretty upset with us, and for another we felt guilty. When we got back to Addis Ababa, our friends still in the area came to our hotel to see us before we left, and we had unpleasant interviews with the Peace Corps Ethiopia staff. A couple of people privately admitted that they understood our reasons for leaving, but I imagine somewhere I have a “permanent record” entry that says we were unsatisfactory.

The truth was our training was inadequate, and our mission was flawed. I wish we’d had more training in what to expect as far as the desperate level of poverty and less history. The flawed mission issue was addressed by the Peace Corps not long after our program ended, because more than half of our training program left before the two year period was up. They changed the focus of the entire Peace Corps from teaching to community development. The trainee joke was that it was a government-subsidized program for liberal arts graduates who didn’t know what to do with their lives.

Everyone in our program who left had, like us, seen the absolute folly of teaching people in a third world country how to speak English – especially given that there were next to no jobs for English-speaking people in the country. We would have been teaching people so they could go to Haille Selasie University…and then move to India where there were jobs for them.

The people involved in community development actually made a difference in the everyday lives of the Ethiopian people. One guy in our training program was hired by the Ethiopian government after his two year term was up. He organized street boys into a small startup company that did tie-dying. Their products were shipped to several countries, providing income and a future to people who had neither.

Our flight left Addis Ababa and flew north to Cairo. This was just over a year after the ’67 war between Israel and Egypt, and as we came into Cairo the pilot made the strangest maneuver I’d ever seen. We could see the airport out the left side of the plane, but we were not turning toward it. Suddenly he banked sharply to the left, and the plane actually bounced from one wheel to another as we landed. Whew. We found out in the airport that there were military installations they were not allowed to let outsiders see. I bought an Egyptian hanging in the airport gift shop, and it’s hanging on my wall today.

The next leg of our journey took us to Rome where we had a short layover. When we were called to our plane, we were stopped because there was a fee to leave Italy. We didn’t have any Italian money, and the guard didn’t speak English, so we had a problem. Finally, when they gave the last call for boarding, Bill threw all of the bills we had at the guy – some Ethiopian money, some dollars, and some Egyptian currency. While he was trying to organize and count it, we ran for the plane. I thought we might get pulled off the plane, but he must have had pity on us.

From Rome, we flew to Madrid where we spent the night at the King Philip V Hotel – I think that was the name. Once we got back from dinner in the hotel, Bill called to verify our flight 
information for the following day only to discover that the Peace Corps had only booked us to Madrid. We had to set up our reservations for the rest of the way home ourselves. And we were running out of money. We booked from Madrid to Lisbon, then Lisbon to New York. That was all the money we had. And neither of our sets of parents knew that we had left Ethiopia, because we didn’t have any way to contact them. At the Madrid airport, we sent a Bill’s parents a telegram telling them we were coming home and to let my parents know. And we told them we’d call from New York. I always felt that the Peace Corps shorted us on purpose because we left the program early. They had told us we were booked to New York, but that wasn’t the truth.

When we got to Lisbon, we were waiting for the flight to New York when we heard a commotion off to our right. It was obvious that “someone” was coming, someone important. I saw a stunningly beautiful woman surrounded by photographers – this was before we called them paparazzi – next to a frumpy little man in a madras sports jacket. They sat down, and people swarmed all around them. When the crowd backed off – after everyone had taken their photographs – I went over with my camera and got a photo of Bing Crosby and his wife Katherine. After I took the picture, he looked at me with mild disgust. I didn’t blame him. I felt like the ugliest of Americans. But I got the photo.

Upon arrival in New York, we called Bill’s parents and had them wire us enough money to fly to Richmond where his aunt and uncle would meet us. We were completely broke and didn’t even have money to tip a guy to help with our bags. This was before luggage carts were available. I remember we apologized profusely, and he smiled and said it was okay.

By the time we arrived in Richmond, we were beyond exhausted. Two days before we’d been in Ethiopia. We slept for twelve hours, but Bill had to re-enroll at UNC. I stayed with Bill’s aunt, uncle and two kids while he went to Chapel Hill. Three days later, he came back, re-enrolled in his graduate history program and with a car, a 1966 Chevy Malibu, maroon with black interior. He’d also found us a small apartment in Carrboro, the town next to Chapel Hill.

(c) jgschenck 2023


We left Addis Ababa on a cold, rainy morning. Our bags were loaded into the car, along with those of two other volunteer trainees and a Peace Corps staff member who drove us north to Debre Birhan. The road was nothing but a layer of tar laid on top of dirt so it was a rough ride. Although Debre Birhan was only 80 miles away, it took a couple of hours to get there. 

As we left the city, we saw more and more people coming in for the festival of Buhe. It was common to see women carrying huge loads of firewood while the men carried nothing. Along the way, we passed several small groups of huts, all round with thatched roofs. The houses were small and appeared to be made of pieces of wood and branches covered by mud and leaves. None of them were near the road, but across fields of waist-high grass. About an hour into the drive, we passed a funeral leaving a group of huts. We could tell it was a child’s funeral, because the box holding the body was no more than 3′ long. There were about ten people in the small procession which was soon out of sight as we continued up the road. 

Next we came upon a group of shepherd boys headed home after a night with the herds. There were both goat and cattle herds grazing in the area, and these were a mix of both. They each carried woven straw tents that were round with a wedge opening so they could be folded flat to carry. The shepherds carried a stick which they used to prop the tents up. Their tents not only protected them from the rain, but also the cold, and were an important part of their work equipment.

In 1968, Debre Birhan had one main road, the highway to and from Addis Ababa, and all other roads were dirt. When I look at images of the town 54 years later, it seems like a totally different place. Now there are multiple paved roads roads, large buildings, impressive houses, a hospital, and a university. When we were there, a lone Egyptian doctor provided all of the medical care that was to be had. Electricity had been installed in 1955, but its use was limited. At the time we were there, the population was between 25,000-34,000 which made it an important town. Now it boasts a population of more than 85,000.

The homes had a ditch running in front of them which served as a drainage system. The most surprising thing for me was that at night, the people brought their livestock into their homes. These were not the larger herds that the boys guarded, just the family animals – a cow, a few sheep, and numerous dogs. 

I took a photo of these two teenage boys who ran up to us when we arrived and proceeded to scare the beejeezus out of me by using whips on me. I didn’t realize it was part of the Buhe festival where boys use whips on females, but the whips didn’t hurt. Their object was to wrap the whip around the woman and have it pop at the end. They didn’t hurt me, but certainly scared me. I thought it was something the Peace Corps could have warned us about. As soon as one whip was off me, another boy would come up and try his whip. In retrospect, it is funny, but it wasn’t funny then. I didn’t understand what they were doing, but like the boys in the photo, they were all laughing and smiling. I didn’t feel threatened. Just very confused by what was going on. I later discovered that the festival was to celebrate the end of the rainy season. Boys sing outside homes – sort of like our caroling – in exchange for bread. They sang, but we didn’t have any bread to give them. They appreciated our trying to be part of the festival and were not offended by our not giving them bread.

The people in the town were very interested in Bill and me, because they knew we were newly-married. The women particularly wanted to talk with me. They pulled me into their homes and showed me how they cooked – huge iron pots over fire in their homes. As you can see from the photo, the houses were one story and each had a single doorway. Despite the chilly weather, most of the doors were open. I assume it had to do with the amount of smoke inside since most of the houses did not have chimneys.

We walked around the town that day, settled into our room in a Peace Corps owned small house. In my nervousness, I tried to take Bill’s hand a couple of times, but he reminded me that we’d been told to show no physical affection in public. 

One reason we couldn’t give the boys bread was that we ate all of our meals in a compound owned by the Peace Corps. They had encountered some issues with people breaking into the facility and stealing food, so the compound was surrounded by a high stone wall with broken bottles embedded in cement along the top. There was a metal gate to get in and that was always guarded by the man shown in the photo. He never smiled and never spoke. We dubbed him Silent Sam.

One of our first responsibilities was to learn how to teach English to the young people. We didn’t have any children in the classes, as we had in our training in St. Croix. I don’t recall having any females in the classes either. 

By this time, we were both struggling with our “jobs” as defined by the Peace Corps. When we worked with former PC volunteers in the St. Croix training facility, we learned a lot the Peace Corps didn’t tell us and probably did not want us to know. At the time, Ethiopia was involved in a civil war with Eritrea, a large eastern province that is now a separate country. While there were warnings about our getting involved in local politics, the returned volunteers who taught us told us that it was impossible to not to get involved if you were truly there for the people. One fellow admitted he had been reprimanded more than once for his involvement with the Eritreans. Remember, this was the group that had threatened to blow up our airplane in New York.

Unfortunately, there was no way the Peace Corps could adequately prepare us for the crushing poverty in the country. The average yearly income was the equivalent of $50 US. In Debre Birhan, we were told we would have to hire someone to wash, cook and clean for us, as well as to guard our possessions and house. We would pay each of these people 50 cents each month. When we protested that, even with the small salary the Peace Corps gave us, we could afford more, the local PC administrator told us paying more would upset the local economy. 

It was easy to look around Debre Birhan and see what the people needed – some kind of industry, not learning English. We were in the Amhara province, so that was one language/dialect the kids didn’t have to learn. But if we were sent to a different town, as we would be after training, those kids would have a longer list of dialects they would have to overcome to learn English. Each night we talked to each other about a growing sense of futility and waste of time, ours and theirs. Could we really commit to spending two years teaching people to speak English when they needed so much more?

Our training time was running out. We had had seven weeks in St. Croix and would have five weeks in Ethiopian. At the end of the five weeks in-country, we were expected to take the Peace Corps pledge and become official volunteers. After that, if we left, we had to pay our own way home, about $1500 or over $12,000 in today’s money. With one week left, we made the decision to leave the Peace Corps.

The thing that propelled us into applying had been Bill’s draft status, 1A, during the Vietnam War. The war was still going on, but we believed that his balance issues might give him a 4F status. If not, we would consider moving to Canada. With those considerations in hand, we went to the Peace Corp administrator and told him of our decision. It would be an understatement to say he was upset, but the next day, he loaded us and our luggage back in the car for the trip back to Addis. Our neighbors were sad to see us go, but Peace Corps people had been coming and going from their town for a while.

(c) 2023 jgschenck

Addis Ababa

The first morning we woke up in Addis Ababa, we looked out over the city from the balcony. There was a wide four lane highway outside the Wabe Shebele Hotel where we stayed, but half a block past the hotel it narrowed to a two lane road. And that was where the lean-to shacks began. A thick haze of smoke hung over the city from the many fires used for heating. In preparation for Buhe, which takes place later in August, large numbers of people were coming into the capitol with donkeys laden with firewood. The contrast between our luxury hotel and the four-lane highway with the small shacks and donkeys was striking.

When we came down the elevator to the lobby, we were struck by the photos of the famine in Biafra posted around one of the conference rooms. The Organization of African States, headquartered in Addis Ababa, was holding meetings on the Nigerian civil war that was causing the famine. Some representatives were in western style suits, while others were in colorful African robes. 

The initial meeting with the Peace Corps took place in an old school building. They explained that we were entering into the second phase of our training.. We had seven weeks in St. Croix and would have five more weeks in country. After that, we would take the Peace Corps oath of service – and after the five weeks if we chose not to continue, we would be responsible for the cost of our plane fare home. The one-way fare was $1500, or in today’s money $14,558. There were also some cultural warnings – women and men did not hold hands in public. Men held hands with each other, but not men and women.

The trainers went over some basic information about health – this is when they told us not to drink any water while we were in the city because the Italian army had installed sewer pipes on top of the water pipes in the system. And they pipes leaked into the water pipes. 

We joined several of our friends from training for supper at a restaurant in the city. We all declined table water and ordered Coca Colas. We went back to their hotel to talk. The rooms were small and all of them shared a bathroom on the hall, men and women. When we got back to the hotel, we picked up several sodas to use for brushing our teeth. 

The big question in every volunteer’s mind was where would we all be deployed. Ethiopia is a large country, about 16 times larger than TX with 143 towns with a total population of 27 million, so there were a lot of options. Wherever we would be stationed, we would need warmer clothes. The fancy clothes Bill’s mother insisted we would need were pretty inadequate to what we would need. For me, there would be no slacks of any kind, no jeans, just skirts or dresses – and no knees showing. It was 1968. Some of skirts would not pass muster, so we had to go shopping.

When one went shopping in Addis, one went to the Mercato, a huge outdoor marketplace, filled with mostly black market goods. Bill found a jacket, but I couldn’t find anything. Well, I found a couple of things I liked, but with a limited vocabulary I didn’t have any luck with the haggling that was part of shopping. I finally gave up. The guy chased me, but I didn’t understand what he was he saying. The stalls were colorful, crowded, and active. Vendors were surprised when we paid their asking prices. We bought several white horsehair fly swishers and a couple of the paintings that depicted the visit by the Queen of Sheba, who Ethiopian tradition claims as its own, to Judea’s King Solomon. The paintings are unique, presented in an series of blocks, almost like cartoons.

While we were in the marketplace, something astonishing happened. We heard a lot of crowd noise around us and then silence. A large car drove through the main street of the market and we heard the sound of thousands of people falling to the ground as His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selasie’s car drove by. Yes, the Conquering Lion of Judah. In his presence, one was supposed to touch your head to the ground, and that’s what everyone was doing. Everyone. Except us. 

We had no idea what was going on at first. And then we saw him…seeing us standing there. Before we could react, he was gone. People stood up and looked at us, stunned. In broken Amharic, we tried to explain that we were ignorant Americans who were, well, slow and meant no disrespect. I doubt any other volunteer in our program ever saw the emperor. Or had the emperor see her or him. It was a matter of seconds, but I still remember the feeling of awe when I realized who we were seeing. 

I remember standing on our balcony in the morning and watching Addis Ababa come to life. The streets filled with men – where were the women? – walking around holding hands with their friends. There were “street boys” everywhere, shining shoes and running errands, trying to eke out a living. The smoke haze continued to hang over the city. 

Peace Corps training continued every day. We learned that the average income for an Ethiopian was $50/year. They had to learn several dialects and languages – a village dialect, a tribal dialect, a provincial language, and Amharic – the official language of the country, as it was Haile Selasie’s home province dialect. Those of us in the teaching program were to teach children English on top of those dialects and languages. A little off-the-record research with Peace Corps staff members told us that the only place English was actually used was when students reached Haile Selasie University. And what kind of jobs did HSU graduates get? The majority of them went to India, because there were no jobs for their skills in Ethiopia. 

On our way back to our hotel on August 20, we heard that the USSR had invaded Czechoslavakia. Everyone was shocked, especially the delegates at the OAS conference on Biafra. They gathered in our hotel lobby, speaking in their native tongues and gesturing. Volunteers gathered in our hotel room, because we had a television. The station only broadcast, in English, from 6pm-8pm, but other than a few English newspapers, it was all we had. It was a strange feeling to be out of the US when an international crisis occurs.

We took taxis to the Peace Corps training building every day. The cars were not taxis as we thought of them, since they took passengers until they were filled. After the invasion, we saw Russian stores vandalized and looted along the streets. One day, Bill was in the front seat of a taxi and I was in the back, next to the window. Suddenly a man in rags came up to the window and began beating on the window next to me. His hands were wrapped in stained cloth, several fingers missing along with part of his nose. The driver stopped the car and got out. He began beating the man, as we yelled at him to stop. When he got back in the car, he told us the man was a leper and had never seen a white woman before. He said he had to keep them away from his taxi, because he was bad for business. 

After a week and a half in Addis, we were given our assignment. We would be stationed in Debra Birhan while we finished our training. So our next adventure was about to begin.

(c) 2023 jgschenck

The Peace Corps Flight to Ethiopia

Having survived the FBI search of our luggage and the, fortunately, non-existent bomb on our plane, our Peace Corps flight took off for Ethiopia around 8pm that August evening, 1968. We had a couple of free drinks, and then we circulated around the airplane, a huge Trans World plane that seated 250. Since our group in St. Croix numbered only 50, there were a lot of people we didn’t know.

Unfortunately, I’d listened to my mother-in-law and dressed to the nines. She was used to being a tourist in the more upper class type of traveling. My husband Bill wore a suit and I was wearing my going-away outfit from when we were married. Everyone else was wearing casual clothes. I had on heels for goodness sake!

We slept a bit – and then we landed at Shannon, Ireland’s airport around 6am. We deplaned and walked around the airport to stretch our cramped legs. Then someone saw a bar and we crowded in. We were all young (except for two older volunteers) and thought ourselves invincible. I let someone talk me into having a Guinness. On an empty stomach. At 6am. I haven’t been able to drink Guinness since then. I bought some Tums and grabbed a sandwich, and we got back on the plane.

Our next stop was Athens. We arrived around 4pm and headed into the city. I remember how close the Athens airport was to the water. As we came in, people in boats waved to the plane. It was an airport that made you lean forward to see if there really was land coming up … soon. Why didn’t we continue the flight? Well, the airport in Addis Ababa didn’t have lights for night flights. Plus, the runway was kind of short and our plane large for that time which was an issue with crosswinds they were experiencing in Addis. So it was decided that we would all be put up in hotels in Athens. 

We immediately grabbed a taxi to the Acropolis where we found many of our fellow volunteers. In 1968, you could still go inside the Parthenon. The sun was setting, and I got a lot of beautiful shots looking out over the city. As darkness began to fall, we all left to return to the hotel for dinner on the Peace Corps. Our room was very comfortable, but not swanky. The bathroom featured a bidet, my first encounter with one. Exhausted, we fell into bed and slept soundly until we were awakened around midnight by a telephone call from Peace Corps staff saying the wind had shifted in Addis Ababa, and our flight would leave within the hour. A mad scramble ensued, dressing quickly and repacking toiletries. When we got to the lobby, we were met with scores of other sleepy, bed-haired folks. 

We settled into the plane as the flight resumed, everyone trying to get back to sleep. When we woke in the morning, we were over the Mediterranean and I could see Cyprus below. Then the pilot made an announcement that was…disturbing. It was 1968, a year after the 1967 war between Egypt and Israel, and the US had supported Israel. Our flight was caught up in the political backwash. Egypt had refused our plane the right to fly over their country. That was unsettling enough, but we suddenly had Egyptian fighter planes on both sides of us. The pilot said there were diplomatic meetings and calls going on back in the US, but there was talk that the jets were going to force us to land in Egypt. The Jewish kids were running up and down the aisles discussing their options, one of which was to flush their passports. The stewardesses tried to keep everyone calm, and the pilot kept everyone updated on what was happening in Washington, DC.

The word finally came that an agreement had been reached, and the plane was allowed to fly over Egypt, then over Sudan to Ethiopia. We were all glued to the windows, everyone straining to see the first views of our new country. We’d left New York in the heat of August, but it was the rainy season in Ethiopia and its altitude made it very chilly. We broke through the clouds and saw the greenest land I’d ever seen. 

Our plane landed at the Addis Ababa airport – probably named after Haile Selassie, as most major buildings were. The Peace Corps had warned us that the Ethiopian customs staff was known for appropriating anything they found of interest. Unfortunately, what caught their eyes was my new mandolin that my husband had given me for our six month anniversary. They just took it. I became the Ugly American everyone had heard of. My Amharic, the national language of the country, was pretty limited, but I did know the word for thief. And I used it. Peace Corps officials were not happy with me, and basically told me to let it go. I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Everyone was waiting on the bus for us, but I wouldn’t leave without my mandolin, It had a full belly back like the kind played in medieval times. Made of beautiful wood. I’d learned how to play several ballads. I couldn’t just let them take it from me.

So, the airport emptied as the Peace Corps took everyone else into the city. Every time a custom guy walked by me I called him a thief. Eventually, they gave me the mandolin. The Peace Corps sent us a taxi to take into the city, but all of the hotel rooms had been taken in the lower cost hotels they generally used. Instead, they put us up in the brand new Wabe Shebelle Hotel. It pre-dated the Hilton Hotel, but it was the swankiest place in town.

Addis Ababa was the headquarters of the Organization of African States (OAS), and at the time we were there they were holding conferences on the civil war in Nigeria and the resultant famine in Biafra. All of those delegates were staying in the Wabe Shebelle.

We visited friends staying in other hotels, and they were sharing bathrooms on the hall. Our hotel room featured twin beds covered in velour covers, a private bath, a balcony, and a television. Of course, the television only worked from 6pm-8pm when the station broadcast. Our delay at the airport landed us in the nicest hotel in the entire country.

(c) jgschenck 2022

Peace Corps Training – Deselection and New York

While in training in St. Croix for the Peace Corps for seven weeks, we had gotten one of the shots required by the World Health Organization – you name it, we got it – every week. Personally, I think the rabies shot hurt the most, even more than the yellow fever one. Like most of those working for the Peace Corps at our camp, the camp nurse had served as a volunteer, and then continued working for the Peace Corp on her return. One of my group leaders was famous for having gotten so sick in Ethiopia they’d had to fly her home for two months. All she’d done is absent-mindedly chew on a blade of grass.

Peace Corps training in 1968 was broken into two parts. As was the case with having in-country language teachers, this was relatively new. Previously, all training was done in the US. Our program, Ethiopia X, had seven weeks in a US site and five weeks in an Ethiopian site. That meant the Peace Corps had to decide if you were a fit for the program or not in seven weeks, instead of twelve. The decisions were made by a group and I think this was the breakout – the two individual group leaders (we were broken up into groups of six), the site administrator, program coordinator, and the two weird gurus I discussed in the last post (the ones who had us pretend we were being different animals, yeah, them).

Our site was divided into agriculture/community development (CD) and teaching, which was our sub-program. The breakout for the 60 trainees was approximately 25% CD and 75% teaching. Our days were very different. While we were practicing teaching English to Cruzan children, the CD group was going into the little towns and learning how to help local people solve problems.

It should come as no surprise that the teaching group was full of newly graduated liberals. My husband wasn’t the only ones trying to avoid the draft. It should also not come as a surprise to learn that there was dissatisfaction in the teaching group, where there was none in the CD group. Our sub-group challenged the Peace Corps more and complained loudest. All the acts of petty hijinks (the VW on the dining hall roof) were carried out by guys in the teaching program.

As a result, it wasn’t surprising that the three people selected for ‘you’re-not-going’ deselection were from the teaching group. Two agreed that the experience was not for them. I was the third. And I did not agree with the decision. I was pretty upset, because they encouraged my husband to go anyway!

I went to the Program Coordinator and talked to him. Apparently our snide remarks during “be an animal” time had been duly noted. I couldn’t believe that was the reason. I suggested he do a poll of trainees to find out what their opinions were regarding that exercise. He talked with my two sub-group leaders, and they agreed that the trainees resented spending time of that when they felt unprepared to go in-country. When he learned that, he changed his decision. There were several levels of appeal, he told me, so this was kind of an intuitive decision. If the other two had wanted to stay, they probably could have. So I was un-deselected.

While some trainees flew to their homes for three days, we’d already said goodbye to our families, so we went to New York. They put us up in a nice hotel in Manhattan, very comfortable and exciting. Once we were settled, the first thing we did was try to get tickets to see “Hair.” Even if we’d used all the money the Peace Corps had given us, we couldn’t have afforded one scalper’s ticket. Instead, we got tickets to see Janis Paige in “Auntie Mame.” We did what any tourist did – we went to the Guggenheim, New York Public Library (maybe not everyone would do that), the Algonquin Hotel, visited old bookshops, walked through Central Park, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ate in our hotel (so we could charge it to the Peace Corps).

The night before we were to leave out of Kennedy we decided to splurge. We went to dinner at Mama Leone’s, an experience Bill said I had to have. It was everything he said and more. However, when we got back to the hotel there were firetrucks everywhere, and all of the hotel visitors and staff milled around on the street. We waited for two hours, and then were allowed to go back inside.

The next day, we had to be at JFK at noon. Some trainees were accompanied by their parents to see them off, but most were there alone, as we were. I had made the mistake, along with Bill, of listening to his mother. We were dressed up. I had on my going-away suit from my wedding in Jan. Bill was wearing a sports jacket and tie. Everyone else was dressed much more casually.

We all had our gigantic suitcases crammed to the brim. My mother-in-law had given me specific instructions on how to pack.

When we got into the terminal building for our chartered plane, we were shocked to see groups of men going through all of the luggage. There was no explanation. They were literally the men in black, every one of them dressed in government garb – white shirt, black tie, black suit, black socks, black shoes.

We got on the plane, and once the doors were shut, someone made an announcement. At that time, a part of Ethiopia, Etritrea, was fighting for its independence. The Etritrean Liberation Front had called in a bomb threat for our plane. It was a large plane, holding about 150 of us. The announcement said, very clearly, that the FBI had not been able to conduct a complete search of the plane, but they did not believe the threat was credible.

Anyone who wished to leave could do so. They could then de-select or pay their own way to Addis Ababa. For those who stayed, they would give us free drinks all the way to Ethiopia. Three people got off, and the FBI took them through a different door from the terminal we’d been in to insure they could not talk to the parents. Those of us who stayed were immediately served drinks, another coming as soon as we reached altitude. Most of us chugged that first drink, not really wanting to think too much.

We took off a little after 8pm.

(c) jgschenck 2020

More Peace Corps Training

Every morning we got up at 6am, if we wanted a shower. A brisk morning breeze was always blowing. The latrine & showers for women – as well as men, I guess, although I never visited their establishment – were in a long hut with window slots under the eaves, so the breeze always got you when you were wet. St. Croix had a water shortage so the water in the shower, always cold – there was no hot water – was only on while you held the handle on. When you let go, the water turned off. It made for very brisk, and short, showers.

We had rotating teams that did the cleaning. My primary job, when my team’s turn came, was making sure that there was sufficient lye spread in each toilet hole. No running water for toilets.

Our first two weeks were basically cultural education. We had numerous lessons about the geography (the Rift Valley and Blue Nile being the most important aspects), religion (Coptic Christianity), cultural no-no’s (only men held hands or showed affection), and government (Haile Selassie, Emperor and Ruling Lion of Judah). His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, “Might of the Trinity”), King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Elect of God, was so revered that when he showed up, everyone fell to the ground, touching their heads to the ground. We were warned.

St. Croix is a mountainous island, surrounded by the beautiful waters of the Caribbean. A lot of the trainees tried snorkeling, but every single one came back bandaged after touching sea urchins. One guy couldn’t walk for a week. Bill and I decided we were clumsy enough to avoid snorkeling. We did hike all over the area near the camp. I loved going up the nearest mountain around 4pm to watch the daily rain come across the sea and then the island. It was a brief shower and the view made getting wet worthwhile.

Our group was divide into those who would be teaching (the majority) and those who would be involved in agriculture. We practiced teaching lessons to local Cruzan kids who basically thought we were hysterical. It was good for us, at least.

The third week, 12 Ethiopians came to help us learn the language. From 8am – 8pm at night, we were only allowed to speak Amharic, the language of the Amhara province (Haile Selassie’s province). We had no idea what the Ethiopians were saying and so we gathered every night trying to figure out gender words, tense words (I came to love the “ed” we put on the end of many words to indicate past tense!). There were no textbooks, no flash cards. Nothing. We just listened and tried to figure it out.

One day, as we sat in our little A-frame teaching room (open on all sides), I noticed two LARGE steers had broken away from the agriculture group and were coming right for us, rolling their long horns left and right. I was the only one who happened to see them and I tried to warn the Ethiopian teacher. But he shushed me, because I was speaking English. Obviously, I didn’t know the word for cattle – I had just mastered hello – so I pantomimed the cattle coming at us. He looked up, and motioned for us all to scatter.

The language instructors made us a traditional Ethiopian dinner one night, followed by traditional dancing. It was a great experience. Ethiopians show respect by offering food from their own plates which made for even more fun. Even if you didn’t like the food or want more of what was being offered, you had to eat it.

The next morning, we discovered that a group of the guys celebrated by moving all of the administrator’s office belongings to the thatched roof of the cafeteria. Oh, and his Volkswagen. I’m not sure how they did any of that without being discovered, but I think it took longer to get it all down than it did to get it up there. Peace Corps trainees 2, Peace Corps staff 0.

The Peace Corps had never had in-country language instructors before. The local Cruzan population was very excited to meet “real Africans.” Unfortunately, it turned out that the Ethiopians considered the Cruzans to be of a lower class than them, because Ethiopians had never been slaves. They referred to the Cruzans as the “n” word which caused serious problems with the local populace. After that, the instructors were kept away from interactions with the Cruzans. Sad and unexpected to see that kind of racism.

One of the language instructors, only one, was a young woman, about 18 yrs old. Of course, one of the volunteers hit on her – and she liked it. It caused another brouhaha, because she was the daughter of an Ethiopian general in Haile Selassie’s army. The Peace Corps broke them up, but he did try to re-connect with her once we got to Ethiopia. It didn’t go well for him, and he was sent home.

We had seven weeks of training in St. Croix, and then five weeks in Ethiopia. After four weeks, we were given our accumulated $1.50/day pay, and Bill and I went to Christiansted for the weekend. To celebrate our 6 month anniversary, Bill bought me a beautiful mandolin in a hard case. I was thrilled. We stayed in a nice little hotel with a bar by the water. I was so happy to see flush toilets and have a hot shower that I almost missed supper in the bar.

Because the training camp was so isolated, drinking was a main off-duty occupation for staff and volunteers alike. The refrigerator in the “lounge” was always stocked with beer, but it was all Heineken, which I have never cared for. However, 4′ from our door was a lime tree…and a fifth of Bacardi Rum was $1.50. Mixed with Coke, which was also in the refrigerator, it was a fine drink for an evening.

The nice man we met while hitchhiking into town to do our laundry had offered to show us the “real” St. Croix. We brought our two friends Angela and Hank, and we somehow crammed into his little two seater sports car. First he took us to a place called The Plantation, which was mostly for white people. Since our host was Cruzan, he got a few looks. I had their signature drink, best Planter’s Punch on the Island, they said. It was good. But not great.

Then he said, now I’ll show you the real St. Croix. We went to a small, dark building where the cars were a lot less fancy than those we saw at The Plantation, but the music coming out the doors was very inviting. When we got inside, it was extremely loud and very crowded, all with Cruzans. The four of us were the only white faces in the place, but while we got looks, everyone was very nice. They couldn’t hear us, however.

When the waitress asked us what we wanted, Virginia asked for a chicken sandwich. I asked for a sloe gin fizz. I’d had one and liked it. However, what we got was not what we expected. Virginia got a chicken drumstick between two pieces of bread…and I got what I though was a glass of water. It was straight gin. The steel band was rocking and we were laughing ourselves silly. Our host told me I’d better drink up or I’d offend the waitress, who was watching us. Virginia ate her “sandwich” and I drank some of the gin. The rest I “knocked over” – and refused a refill.

By the time we got back to the Peace Corps Training camp, we were all pretty loaded. It was about 1/4 mile from the road to the camp so we walked. That was the first time we were out at night, so the bats were unexpected. Nothing will sober you up faster than being swooped by bats. A lot of bats. Now I know they wouldn’t hurt us, but that was my first experience with the critters.

The next weekend, while in Christiansted doing our laundry, we stopped in a small stand and I had another planter’s punch, but this one wasn’t watered down for tourists. It was a valuable lesson. Even with our drinking exploits, we were remarkably sober compared to our fellow trainees.

Given some of the bizarre things we did the last couple of weeks, the liquor helped. They had new age guru types come in to have us do odd things. Lying in the grass, along with 50 of our closest friends, we tried to pantomime being born. We were all laughing ourselves silly, but the Peace Corps was not amused. Another exercise was to fall into a group of people and trust they’d catch you. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t.

What we didn’t know was that “people” were watching us and grading every single reaction, every word, every look. Reckoning day was a-coming.

(c) jgschenck 2022

Peace Corps Training – The Lay of the Land: Summer 1968

We had three days of orientation in Philadelphia with the rest of our Ethiopia X group in June 1968. At the end, however, some of us were sent to one training site – can’t remember where – but we were sent to St. Croix, Virgin Islands. We flew to Miami, then to Puerto Rico. Our final trip was in a tiny plane. It held all 50 of us, but if you stood in the middle aisle and spread out your arms, you touched both sides of the plane. Oh, and we flew in the middle of a terrible storm.

At one point, the plane was rising and falling so much that someone asked where the stewardess was. She locked herself in the bathroom, and when everyone stopped yelling, we could hear her praying. Not an auspicious start!

We landed in Christiansted, one of two towns on St. Croix, and on the bus ride to the old camp that was the Peace Corp training site we were told that the Peace Corps wanted us to be self-sufficient. No one would be told where the cabins were or assigned to a specific cabin. It was night and raining very hard, so I found us a great place to stay. We got inside and were settling in when someone came and told Bill and me that that was a staff cabin and we couldn’t stay there. By this time, the good cabins were taken so we were escorted to the last married persons’ cabin. It was the size of a regular cabin, but had pieces of plywood dividing it into two sections as there was another couple on the other side. The problem was the plywood didn’t go all the way to the top. It stopped about 8” shy of the ceiling so there was basically no privacy at all.

Our food was brought in by plane from spares at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It wasn’t top notch food. Things tasted on the edge of being over ripened or out of date. Instead of plates, we did what soldiers did – we ate off of stainless steel trays with divider and silverware attached on a chain at the corner. When we finished eating, we took them to the cleaning room where excess was scraped into bins for recycling. The trays and silverware we washed in large buckets with soap & water after reattaching the silverware to the chain, then rinsed in another large bucket with clear water. It wouldn’t be considered sanitary these days, because there was no changing of the water between every five, ten or more people. Your tray had a number on it, and it was stored on its side in a slotted wooden case so you always knew where yours was.

Our cabin was between a cabin of young men (about five of them) and the open lounge where music was played – loudly – and the refrigerator with beer was stocked. The men’s cabin was about 10′ from ours. Cabins were made out of plywood, but had no sides. Canvas was held up by poles. Again, no privacy. We pushed our two metal bunk beds together and arranged the mosquito netting to allow us to be together underneath one giant net. I appreciated the netting since we had a couple of families of chameleons or little lizards living in our rafters. Outside our door, about 6′ away, was a hen house, complete with rooster. He woke up every morning at 5am. EVERY morning. And he crowed. EVERY morning. I hated that rooster, but not as much as the guys in the next cabin.

One day, no rooster crowing at 5am. During the night, three of the guys grabbed the rooster and took him down to another pen, one that was unoccupied. The Peace Corps tried to bring him back to the original pen with a good deal of consternation toward all of us in that litltle quad. The next day, the rooster was in the new pen. After that, the PC decided it was easier to leave the rooster where he was and they added some hens to keep him company. Peace Corps Volunteers 1 – Peace Corps Staff 0.

The first week we divided into groups, breaking up the four married couples so we were in different groups for evaluation. We were also given our Ethiopian names. Bill’s was Hagos (which means joy), and mine was Alemash (she prospered). Each had two leaders, one male, one female, both of whom had been volunteers in Ethiopia previously.

We made friends pretty quickly with other volunteers, except for the couple on the other side of our cabin. Too much information. We worked six days a week, earning $1.50/day (this was 1968) which they gave us so we had some pocket money. There was also an account they put money in so that whenever we left the PC we would have a small nest egg.

The camp was about five miles from Fredericksted (these were previously Danish colonies) to the right and eight miles from Christiansted to the left. Fredericksted was pretty small in those days. I don’t think there was a laundry we could use in Fredericksted, because every Sunday we’d drag our laundry in big duffle bags to Christiansted.

There were no buses and the taxis could only be hailed by hand. On the main road between the two towns. You stood by the road, held your hand out, palm down, and wiggled it from side to side. Trust me – if you stuck out your thumb, no one stopped.

On one of our rides, a nice guy in a little red convertible stopped to pick up us. We tied the clean laundry on the back of his sports car. We chatted during the ride, and he decided to give the Peace Corps visitors a tour of island hot spots. We made a date to meet him at the end of our road the next Saturday night, along with our friends Virginia and Hank. It was a memorable night!

(c)jgschenck 2022

Spring 1968

We were married on Jan. 26, 1968. Four days previously the Battle of Khe San began in Vietnam. Three days before, North Korea captured the US spy ship Pueblo and its 83 man crew. Five days after we married, the Viet Cong began the Tet Offensive. On Feb. 11, a border war broke out between Jordan and Israel and in Memphis a sanitation strike that began. On March 16, the My Lai massacre took place in Vietnam.

Then I experienced my first March Madness. I was at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where basketball was king. Dean Smith was coach, and it was a magical time. Charlie Scott, the first African American player at the college, was unbelievable, along with the great Larry Miller. And then there was Rusty Clark, a giant at 6’10”. The team made it to the Final Four defeated by then Lew Alcindor’s UCLA team coached by the legendary John Wooden.

The games to the Final Four were memorable. I went to my first party with my husband, a bunch of history grad students. I thought they were the most pompous people I’d ever met – well, I was young. At any rate, I saw people leaving the “big” party and sneaking down to a back bedroom, so I followed. With joy, I had found my people. They were watching the Tar Heels on television. I didn’t have to answer a single question about Napoleon!

On the home front, I was learning to cook. Looking back, I feel sorry for my ex husband. I remember one Sunday morning he went out for a run, and I said I’d have breakfast ready when he got back. The poor guy came in tired and sweating – and I had made chocolate chip pancakes! It must have sat in his stomach like a rock. We both loved getting the mail every day, so we swapped off every day. It was before emails, so people wrote and getting a hand written letter was an exciting event. And then we’d fight over who read Time magazine first every week.

Our apartment was on the front of the complex with one brick side next to the grass. I used to take my tennis racket out and play against the wall. Other days, we’d ride over to UNC and volley on the courts there. .Every day at lunch, we met at the courtyard by Old South. Our budget was tight, so our lunches were cream cheese & olive sandwich (him) and yogurt cup (me). People watching was our favorite sport – the SDS held rallies there, also SSOC. Draft cards were burned. There was a two-week symposium that was incredible. The first week was called The Soul of the South and featured speakers and demonstrations from stock car racing (before NASCAR made everything fancy). The second week was called The Mind of the South. The speakers were brilliant Southern writers like Tom Wicker of the NY Times and James Dickey.

I was a big Robert Kennedy fan, while Bill favored Eugene McCarthy. Our 1965 Dodge Dart had a Kennedy bumper sticker on the passenger side and a McCarthy one on the driver’s side. Our friends teased us that we had a mixed marriage.

Bill had a student deferment for the draft, but it ended in January, the semester after he graduated from college. So he was 1A. He hadn’t been called, but it hung over us every day. We talked about going to Canada, but he thought it would cause too many problems with his conservative parents. Both of our sets of parents were avid supporters of the war.

On February 1, the sanitation workers in Memphis began a strike after workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death by a malfunctioning garbage truck. It quickly became a civil rights event and became part of the Movement.

We decided to apply for the Peace Corps since that would keep him out of Vietnam. We went to a campus meeting, took the material, and applied. On March 31, Bill was listening to President Johnson speak to the nation. I said I didn’t want to hear any more of his lies about Vietnam. I was upstairs when Bill began shouting “He’s not going to run! Johnson’s not going to run again!” We were naive enough to believe the war would soon be over and the troops coming home.

Then, April 4th. We were excited, because we had met in Titusville, near Cape Kennedy. We’d often drive to Indian River to watch early rocket launches, so when NASA launched Apollo 6 that day, we were looking forward to seeing the news that night. We were listening to the radio late that afternoon when we heard that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. Everything froze. How could it be true? We turned on the television and were glued to it. At the time, we were living in Durham, NC. When demonstrations and looting broke out in the downtown area, the governor declared martial law and called for a curfew. The next night we stood outside our apartment and watched Army trucks driving by in the darkness. We didn’t dare turn on lights, because we weren’t supposed to be outside. A week later, we celebrated the signing of the Civil Rights Act on April 11, but thought it might be too late.

In mid April, we heard from the Peace Corps that we’d been accepted, not for Kenya which we’d requested, but for Ethiopia. Neither set of parents was very happy about it, but agreed it was a better option than Bill getting drafted or our moving to Canada. We began wrapping up our lives. I gave notice at the Psychometric Lab, and Bill put in for a leave of absence from the UNC History Department grad school. Our lease was up June 1, so that wouldn’t be a problem.

The Peace Corps began bombarding us with what we’d need. We bought two trunks, per the PC’s instructions, and got our passports. The Peace Corps required us to have our fingerprints on file at the FBI (I never asked why) so we went to the Chapel Hill Police Department and were fingerprinted. I assume we’re still on file. A lot of our clothes had to be stored, but I don’t remember where we stored them.

We went to Birmingham to spend a week with my parents. Of course, we argued with my parents about the Vietnam war – that’s what bright young liberals did. My folks were very opposed to Robert Kennedy’s campaign, but I was excited the night of the California primary. The next morning my mother knocked on my bedroom door and said, “You need to get up. Something terrible has happened. I answered sarcastically, “What? Did Kennedy win the primary?”

Well, RFK did win the primary, but then Sirhan Sirhan took all of those possibilities away when he emptied his gun into Kennedy. We were glued to the television like everyone else, waiting for news. People don’t remember that Andy Williams, an RFK friend and tennis partner, spoke to reporters outside the hospital and said words that gave us hope – “Bobby Kennedy will live to play tennis again.” Of course, that didn’t turn out to be true.

We took our broken hearts with us to visit Bill’s parents in Las Cruces, NM. I hadn’t spent much time with either of Bill’s parents, and I wasn’t prepared for how different they were from what I’d known all of my life. Where my family was effusive and affectionate, his family was reserved, even aloof. My parents never talked about money or the stock market, but Bill’s parents had a lot of money – compared to my family. It was an important part of their lives in a way I’d never experienced. Every evening before dinner, they had a cocktail hour. Okay. That was new, but I could handle that. I didn’t have a clue what kind of drink to ask for, so Bill’s dad suggested I try one of his – a Manhattan. To be honest, I’d never tasted anything so foul in my life…except buttermilk. Bill asked me something and as I was answering his parents both shushed me loudly. The stock market report was on the radio. Talking during the report was not to be done, a mistake I never made again.

They drove us to the Grand Canyon for a two day visit. I sat in the backseat of Bill’s mother’s Cadillac. It was huge. The “men” sat in the front. It didn’t take long to realize I had no idea how to talk to her. She wasn’t a friendly person. None of my efforts worked, and I was glad when we finally returned to their house in Las Cruces. I took his mother’s suggestion that I check my shoes for scorpions (I also made a mental note to myself acknowledging that I never wanted to live anywhere I had to check for scorpions!).

Bill’s dad worked at White Sands Missile Range on guidance systems, as he had at Cape Canaveral. One day while he was at work, Bill’s mother took us to Juarez, across the border from El Paso. The food was awesome, but the heat overwhelmed me. I ended up with heat exhaustion, which his mother took as a sign of weakness. She pooh-poohed my complaints until I literally staggered and nearly fell into Bill’s arms. That cut our trip short.

Bill’s mother unpacked my suitcase and repacked it the way she thought it should be. She also told me it was important to dress up when flying overseas. It wasn’t really good advice.

The night before we left for Philadelphia for three days of Peace Corps introductions and testing (eyes and teeth), I was a nervous wreck. Bill’s mother was unsympathetic, even a bit cruel. The more she criticized me, the more nervous I became. And I started throwing up. Over & over. Then my mother called to wish us goodbye. I was still throwing up when Bill’s mother came and stood over me and said, “Don’t you dare tell your mother I made you sick. Don’t tell her you’re throwing up.” Well, that helped tremendously.

The next morning we flew to Philadelphia.

My Eyes Were Opened

After our wedding, Bill and I drove to Atlanta where we spent Saturday night at the brand new Regency Hyatt. I’d never seen anything like that lobby. Bill showed me “goddamn corner” where people waked in, looked up at the glass elevators and said “Goddamn!” Me, too. We had dinner in the rotating restaurant atop the hotel. It was like something out of a dream.

Sunday we drove to Durham where Bill had rented an apartment in the same complex where he’d lived with two roommates before we married. Bob and Al lived two doors down from us. As a graduate student in History, Bill wasn’t working so his parents paid for the apartment and the furniture he had rented. It was a typical apartment – two stories – kitchen, living room, half bath on the first floor, full bath, a bedroom and a study for Bill on the 2nd floor. Very fancy for a couple of newlyweds.

The next day I went to the Personnel Office at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, eight miles away. I had a degree in Journalism, but all of the student wives had degrees. The best I could do was a secretarial job in the Psychometric Lab of the Psychology Dept. I had no idea what that was, but I could type.

It turned out that the Psychometric Lab was an extraordinary place filled with amazing people. Psychometric has changed a lot since the Jan. day in 1968 when I went to work there. Where the other support staff were pretty typical, the academics were very different from anyone I’d ever met. They measured the unknown, examining ESP and other elements of psychology that others ridiculed. When I was sent to the Psychology Dept for supplies, they often made fun of weirdos in the Psychometric Lab.

My time there was a revelation for this sheltered Southern girl from Alabama. Chapel Hill was the most liberal place I’d ever been, obviously. One of the Assoc Professors developed Fortran IV, a computer programming language. I sent 8” tapes all over the country to other colleges and universities who were expanding their technology. Another guy had a big poster in his office that read “Freedom Summer 64” – I knew exactly to what that referred. He had been in Mississippi in 1964 registering African American voters. Then there was the guy who was a huge science fiction buff. The walls of his office were filled with classic scifi novels. He lent me whatever I wanted to read, exposing me to Arthur Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Andre Norton, and many others. My eyes were opened to a world outside of the South and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The faculty sort of adopted me and became determined to open my eyes and my mind. They did. It changed me in ways I can’t even explain.

I didn’t realize how much I’d changed until one day in March. We had been married a little more than a month. Driving from Durham to Chapel Hill one morning, Bill asked me what I was making for dinner that night. I told him I hadn’t even thought about it, having read Ray Bradbury late into the previous night.

What do you mean you haven’t thought about it? He asked incredulously. That’s your job.

Oh. I looked at him and asked “What are you talking about?”

That’s a woman’s job, he answered.

“So, you want a traditional marriage?”

Of course, he said.

Well, I replied, so you’ll be quitting grad school today?

No, he said. Now he was confused.

Well, that’s a traditional marriage, I said. The man works and the woman stays home and cleans and plans meals.

But, we agreed that for now my job is going to grad school, he said.

So I’m still supposed to maintain the wife’s traditional role, even though I WORK eight hours every day?

Well, yeah, he said. I think he was figuring out this wasn’t going to end as he thought it would.

I told him I’d sit home and plan his suppers and clean when he brought home the money. At that point, I was paying for our bills, except for rent & furniture, out of $4,176 gross pay. We had $20/week budgeted for food. We ate only the cheapest cuts of meat, including baloney. Lunch was a cream cheese and olive sandwich. One thing we did that I liked was that when we went shopping (Piggly Wiggly’s), we alternated getting a treat. I always spent my $1 treat on smoked oysters which I loved. Bill usually spent his $1 on a jar of green olives.

That conversation changed our whole approach to marriage. After that, if I cooked, Bill cleaned up. We shopped together, but I never did sit down and plan a week of meals. If a meat was on sale, we bought it. Bill started doing the laundry, and I’d do the ironing (this predates drip dry shirts). He even took over making spaghetti when we had company for dinner – usually Al or Bob.

I’ll bet Bill wondered what happened to his nice little Southern girl wife!

(c) JGSchenck 2022

The Wedding

I didn’t have the wedding dreams other girls had growing up. Given how little I cared about the details, I should have had a clue.

I was in my last semester at college, so my mother said she would take care of everything – education was highly valued in my house. Mother was trying to finish my wedding dress – my sister had worked on it during the summer, but never finished – but was also working full time. She became overwhelmed, so I said I would take care of it. We had chosen our college chapel for the wedding, set the date, and picked out bridesmaid dresses. But that was it.

I had the flowers, music, and caterer to go. I called the florist, let her make all of the suggestions, then said “make it green up at the front.” And she did. I have no idea what my flowers were or what my bridesmaids carried. They must have carried something, but the florist picked it out. A friend we knew was going to play the organ. I told Sarah to play whatever she wanted. All I cared about was having the wedding march played, then that thing when you leave, and I asked that she play “The Rosary” when my mother was being seated – we’d read the book, and Mother loved the music. It took me less than 15 min. to settle the music. For the caterer, I called my friend from high school Lynn and asked who did her cakes. I called her and said “make a wedding cake and a chocolate groom’s cake. I was done in 10 minutes.

There were a couple of things I did care about which caused arguments with Mother. When your dad is a preacher, he’s ALWAYS a preacher. I wanted Dad to give me away and to have my brother Lee marry me. Mother said it would kill my father, because he’d performed the ceremonies for my sister and brother. But I just wanted him to be my dad that day. She didn’t understand. I lost that one. Dad performed the ceremony, and Lee gave me away.

I did win the one over who would be my matron of honor. Mother wanted my sister Pat, but I wanted my sister in law Chip. My sister Pat and I had a very contentious relationship for many, many, many years. When I think of what she did – I’ll write about it another time – she was rarely if ever there for me. I could only count on her to make me nuts. My sister in law Chip was always there for me, and has been kind and loving to me throughout my life. I remember once she came up to do my hair when I had a date in high school. It was a rare occurrence, and I had no idea how to have a stylish “do.” Chip spent over an hour helping me to look good. I would not budge on the matron of honor thing. Chip was my matron of honor and Pat was a bridesmaid.

Four days before the wedding, I had finished my final exams, and could no longer avoid the wedding thing. I told my mother I didn’t think I could go through with it. She told me I was just having bride jitters. No, I said, I can’t do it. Mother took me in the living room and showed me all of the wedding gifts displayed. “These,” she said, “will all have to go back.” I caved.

The day of the wedding, my sister was so hyped up – how are you feeling? Where are you going to on your honeymoon? How do you feel about getting married? Are Mother and Dad bugging you? On and on and on she went. Finally, I fled to my sister in law’s parents’ house. They were always my hideout. I walked in the door and Mr. Mensing put a glass of bourbon in my hand. I tried to tell them how Pat was making me nuts when…Mrs. Mensing said, “Uh oh. Pat’s here.” OMG. She followed me. They put me in Chip’s room and wouldn’t let her bother me. She told them how Mother and Dad were driving HER crazy. I remember Mrs. Mensing told Pat “well, it’s not your day, Pat. Go back to your parents’ house.” I never loved her more!

Bill’s family consisted of his mother, father, aunt, grandmother, and best friend (the Best Man). I filled in a couple of groomsmen for him, choosing my buddy Joe, head of the Baptist Student Union, and Louis, my radical pastor. I loved Joe for giving me the best advice. In November, before our Jan. wedding, I went to Chapel Hill so we could “pick out an apartment.” We didn’t look for an apartment. Bill showed me around Chapel Hill and the apartment in Durham he shared with two roommates. We went to a movie, went out to eat at the Ratskeller (a tradition), and then fooled around. We never had sex. I was raised a certain way, and it would have caused more trouble than it was worth – I thought. Bill thought we should just push on through my reluctance. I had talked to Joe before I left and asked him what he thought. I told him Bill wanted to, but I had reservations. Joe told me that after sex the first time many women go “is that it? That’s what all the fuss was about?” So I told Bill it was not going to happen.

Our wedding was a speedy affair. It took about 15 min. to get married, 10 min for photos, maybe 20. Then we had a good Baptist reception in a room in the chapel. That took about another 30-45 min., because there was no sit down meal, no dancing – obviously. So within an hour, we were on our way to the Parliament House in downtown Birmingham. Bill friend Jim drove us in Bill’s car, was picked up by Bill’s parents, and went off to have a real celebration.

Bill had ordered a bottle of champagne for our room. We had a couple of glasses, then I went into the bathroom to don my negligee and peignoir (which I never wore again). It was all white, and I must say when I opened the door I felt like a sacrificial virgin. Bill and I were both virgins, a rarity at that time. And when the deed was done, all I could think of was what Joe told me – is that it? The earth didn’t move. I liked being close to Bill, but the rest of it didn’t really seem to have anything to do with me. It wasn’t that Bill was a bad lover. I was a bad lover. I wasn’t engaged by the whole thing. Just like the wedding. When I saw the photos of the wedding, I remarked that you could cut the smile on my face out of any photo and paste it on any other photo. I looked like I was in shock.

The next day, we drove by to say goodbye to Bill’s family and then went to my parents’ house. I was mortified. My father couldn’t even look me in the eye. I wasn’t his unspoiled daughter anymore. My mother cried, but being 21 (by three weeks) I was totally focused on me and getting on with my life. I had no idea how much I would miss my parents and our time together. I was so excited to get out of the Deep South and the painful memories of growing up in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. Now I hold those times we shared in my heart like diamonds and take them out now and then to see them sparkle.

(c) JGSchenck 2022