|Diver Dales Christmas Journey|
In 1970 I was stationed at
Guided Missile School, Dam Neck, Va. Having completed the Polaris
Electronics-‘A' school I was now in MK-84 Fire Control-‘C' school. The
holidays were rapidly approaching and I wanted to return home to Kansas.
Back then my ‘baby' was a 1968 Dodge Charger RT. Ah, now there was a car. 440 cubic inches of fire breathing, drop forged, bullet proof, glow-in-the-dark, and Detroit steel. My leather seated, golden steed, trimmed with bolt on horsepower goodies made me the envy of the Topeka 57th street drag racers. Yes, there in Kansas, in freezing snow my baby waited patiently for my return and rescue. As a nephew once put it, "Dale, I only read about the muscle car era, you lived it!"
I had thought I would fly home and bring my "baby" back when I returned. Only I had a small problem, no money. A combination of Virginia Beach horseplay, barracks poker and car payments had me down to about $40 until the next eagle's flight. But now like the grasshopper who had fiddled away the summer, I was wondering how would I ever get home? After an anxious week and with some guidance and reassurance by a sea-daddy now land locked as an instructor, I planned getting two military hops and hitchhiking the rest. It would take a couple of days, but I would be home. So on December 23rd, Seaman Dale L. Worley in dress blues with nothing other than $40, my black gym bag with shave kit and a couple of days socks and skivvies, set out on my adventure in a haze gray shuttle bus from Dam Neck to Oceana. I was barely 18 years of age, heading home and had the world by the tail.
About 1100 I boarded a C-130 military hop from NAS Oceana bound for NAS Willow Grove somewhere around Philadelphia. Upon arrival things suddenly took an unanticipated turn. The flight to the Naval Air Reserve Center in Chicago early on the 24th was canceled due to snow. I was afraid that everything was about to be canceled due to snow. I decided to put this matter in God's hands.
Undaunted and with the help of a sympathetic Airdale heading home to his family we developed plan B. We surmised that if I got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike my problems would be over. The turnpike (I-76) would turn into I-70 and I-70 goes right through Topeka, Kansas with the south Topeka exit 4.5 miles from my Moms front door. The Chief gave me a lift to I-276.
Here is where it gets amazing.
As I thanked him for the lift, the snow started falling. So there I am, by the side of the road in dress blues, hair high and tight, young, confidant and praying. Within 10 minutes I'm in a car heading west to the turnpike and the mountains of Pennsylvania. I went from exit to exit, car to truck, truck to car. Across the mountains in the dark and in falling snow, never once having to wait more than 5 minutes by the side of the road.
Maybe it was the sight of a young man in uniform during those turbulent years, maybe it was pity, and maybe it was the Christmas spirit shining down on me through other people's hearts. I don't know. All I know is that some wonderful people took me in, fed me, let me sleep and transported me toward home.
The snow never ended.
Mile after mile I thought of home. I met amazing folks. I listened to joyous stories and heartbreaking ones. Mile after mile I thought of home. I slept in a trucker's semi cab and on the floor of a van driven by hippies. I ate cookies destined for others and was given pocket money to get coffee at the next stop.
I stepped out onto the snow again at Lawrence, Kansas at about 2000 on the 24th. Lawrence is 20 miles from home. The snow fell, and I stood there with traffic thinning as people went to their homes for Christmas Eve. I stood there with my gloved thumb stretched skyward as car after car disappeared into the white. After about 20 minutes I was very cold and becoming discouraged.
This was to be a surprise. Mom didn't know I was coming. I had confessed on the phone to her of my transgressions and poverty and she was clearly saddened by it. My first Christmas away from home, I don't think she was ready for it. There was something else, too that I learned of later. Mom was ill, very ill.
The wind was bitter. I backed into it with my pea coat collar turned up. I thought I'd just walk into Lawrence and call Mom. I was heading for the exit ramp when a car pulled over and the door opened. Inside were 5 angels. College girls asking me if I needed a lift.
As we headed west they told me that they were returning from the airport in Kansas City where two of the girls had just arrived from college back east. I explained where I was going and had come from. They asked me if they could buy me something to eat in Topeka. I wanted to get home, but not wanting to offend my gracious new friends, accepted.
We pulled into Topeka and proceeded to the Pizza Hut, one of my high school haunts. In we went, a young sailor in dress blues, in Kansas, on Christmas Eve. escorted by 5 of the most gorgeous young women on the face of the earth. The place came to a standstill. I knew some of the kids in there that night. I swaggered over to their tables and said hi to them. The girls ordered pizza and pitchers of beer. We ate, talked and decided it was time to go.
The angels had decided to take me to Mom's. We pulled up just after 2200, they shined the headlights on the front door, and I thanked them, got out and walked over to the door. As I was about to knock, my Mother opened the door to see who was in the drive. She saw me and started to cry, I hugged her and started to cry. As I looked back over my shoulder the girls in the car were crying. They waved and left. I went inside and all was right with the world that Christmas Eve.
I discovered something on that journey.
My motivation for going
home was that car. But along the way I discovered that the real reason was
for love. I have learned over the years that the best reason for doing
anything is love. The reason those people stopped on the highway was love.
Merry Christmas to all my shipmates and have a very safe and Happy New Year!