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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Part III: JoJo and Kittycat

Chapter 23

Just about the first thing we did as soon as we were done with registering for classes and getting our books was to walk over to Ed and Sue’s house. They would at least appreciate the stories we had to tell, and we wouldn’t have to be shy about some of the places we’d climbed and the risks we had taken.

We had a ton of pictures that we’d taken here and there, and this time we didn’t have to sort through them to cut out nude shots or really hairy climbs. It took some time to get through them all and pass along some of the better stories, although we didn’t get very detailed about our non-climbing activities with Pat and Dick.

Eventually we got around to other business. “I noticed that you didn’t have us down for Climbing III,” I commented. “That was a little bit of a surprise.”

“We don’t have a Climbing III,” Ed told us. “Everybody from the first year of the climbing class has completed their physical education requirements so it was a little harder to justify. In fact, it was a little hard to justify last year, but I made it work. That doesn’t mean you’re not welcome to drop by the class, inspire some people, and help out with the instruction.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it very much,” Cat replied. “It looks like I’m going to have a schedule conflict.”

“You will be welcome if you can show up,” he replied. “I realize that you have to concentrate on your major requirements, so if you can’t make it I’ll understand. We’re still going to do some climbing club activities on Saturday, but like last year we’ll wait to see how many of the new kids are willing to stick it out before we invite them along. I realize the climbing is going to seem pretty tame after a whole summer in places like Jackson Hole and Yosemite, but you will still be welcome.”

“It’ll help keep us in practice, and it’s fun to hang out with friends,” I shrugged. “But you’re right. We’re both carrying pretty heavy loads this year, and they’re going to be classes that we really have to study for.”

“That happens but it’s the way it works around this place, and around most colleges for that matter. But I’ll tell you what, I’m very proud of the way that the two of you grabbed hold of a physical education requirement you didn’t want to take and made it a major part of your lives. The two of you have made all the trouble on my part worthwhile.”

After that evening we started to settle a little uncomfortably back into life at Venable College. It wasn’t easy becoming good little girls again after being climbing bums all summer; it was even harder than it had been after spending our summer in Europe the year before.

The following Saturday several of us from the club piled into cars and rode over to the place with the natural cliff, just for the sake of going somewhere besides our usual haunts of the quarry and the rail bridge. Ed was right; it seemed pretty tame after some of the vertical scenery out west, and I don’t think Cat’s and my hearts were really in it. We had grown beyond that kind of thing.

It was good to see some of our old friends, though. Andy hadn’t been part of the club most of the previous year, and he was nowhere to be seen, but Kirk and Mark were there, along with Brad and most of the kids who had come aboard the previous year. I think Cat and I did more story telling about places like El Cap and the Wind Rivers than we did actually climbing.

Mark was still a friend, and we had things to talk about. While he and Cat had more or less broken up the previous spring, there really hadn’t been much to break up in the first place and there was no animosity. It turned out that Mark had indeed found a girl down at Cedar Point, and to hear him talk, it sounded like it was getting serious. We wished him the best of luck, at least partly because Cat had already moved on.

Over the next couple of weeks we managed to get back into our normal student patterns. Things went smoothly, although I had a real idiot of a professor in one of my education classes. Education is a field that tends to collect idiots anyway, so this was no surprise. I had to struggle to give the woman what she wanted, rather than how I knew things worked in the real world, so that made the class something of a trial.

From time to time that fall we wondered what had happened with our applications for the junior year abroad program at Université de Lancy-Paquis. We had sent in new applications only a few days after we had been turned down for the class that started that fall, but we had heard nothing and had more or less decided that they’d wound up in a trash can in Geneva. We only talked about it occasionally, but it would be something of a disappointment if it didn’t come through.

I don’t want to say that I was depending on it academically, but if it came through it would help to fill out my history major nicely, and would more than satisfy the requirements for me to have a major in French as well. By taking education classes and jumping through some other hoops, I would be qualified to be a secondary teacher in either of those fields, which would at least open the door to a job for me. What’s more, it was one that would allow me to continue to be a climbing bum in the summer.

But going on the junior year abroad program wasn’t absolutely necessary for me. If I had to finish out my college career at Venable next year, the only real change for me would be that French would be a minor, rather than a major, and my history major would satisfy only the minimum requirements. Neither would be any great loss. Honestly, our interest in the program at Université de Lancy-Paquis revolved more around European travel and climbing than it did on what we would study.

It wasn’t until the middle of November with Thanksgiving break coming up, that we finally heard about our applications. Cat had stopped off at the mailboxes to pick up mail for the both of us, and she came into the room just bubbling with excitement. “We got letters from the school in Geneva,” she reported. “Both of us!”

“So did we get in or what?”

“I don’t know. I’m almost afraid to open mine.”

“We’re not going to find out unless we do.”

I think we both held our breaths as we ripped open the letters. A year or more in Europe, with plenty of travel and climbing hung on them. It was a relief to read the line, “Vous avez été acceptée pour le programme étudiante étrangère a la Université de Lancy-Paquis commencer le 8 Septembre 1969, which translated meant, “You have been accepted for the visiting foreign student program at Université de Lancy-Paquis commencing September 8, 1969.”

“I’m in!” I cried.

“I am too,” Cat exulted.

We hugged each other and danced around the room. We had been working toward this, admittedly not very hard, for over a year, and we’d made it!

It was several minutes before I sat down on my bed and read the letter over again. There was much more there, all in French of course, about registration and payment and other such things. The first payment was due not later than January 1, 1969.

That one made me stop and look at the opening of the letter again. “Hey, wait a minute,” I said. “Look at that letter again. They have us starting in September of 1969, not next fall.”

Cat looked at her letter again. “Hell, you’re right,” she said, deflating quickly. “If we don’t do anything different we’ll be graduating in the spring of 1969. I wonder how that happened?”

“It must be some mistake,” I shook my head. “I’d even think it was a typo or something, but it says 1969 in a couple different places in my letter.”

She took a look at hers, and said after a moment. “Mine too. Crap. Well, I guess that screws that up.”

“Well, maybe not,” I shrugged. “Is there any reason we couldn’t do the program anyway, whether we’ve graduated or not?”

“Not that I know of, at least on the surface. But I’d be a little reluctant to go to my father for money again after we’ve graduated. He’s been pretty good about coughing up cash for us to go have fun, but I know there has to be a limit someplace. It wouldn’t be surprising if that limit comes when we wear the caps and gowns. There’s no way I could pay for it on my own.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, letting the disappointment wash over me. “I know Mrs. Wheaton said that my scholarship would cover the program, but I don’t know how that would work after I graduate.”

“Maybe we could take the course toward a graduate degree. I know they pay teachers more if they have a master’s.”

“That’s if they’ll hire someone with a master’s in the first place. Oh, well, I suppose I could start on one but not finish it until I get tenure someplace.” For some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, I was not happy with the idea of being tied down as tightly as tenure would put me.

I couldn’t get in to see Mrs. Wheaton in the financial aid office until the next afternoon. I laid the whole problem out in front of her. “I don’t know for sure, but I suspect you got it right. I’ll have to go back and check the terms of the scholarship, but I’m pretty sure it says that it applies to undergraduate studies only.”

“How about taking it as a graduate level course?”

“I don’t know about that,” she shook her head. “We don’t offer graduate level courses here, so I don’t know much about grants or funding for them. You’d have to go to some college that does offer graduate degrees in your field and get their opinion. They probably wouldn’t be able to give you anything solid unless you’re registered in their program, anyway.”

The whole idea of going to Switzerland for the so-called “junior year abroad” was beginning to look like smoke that was rapidly blowing away. “It’s a darn shame we didn’t get in on this earlier,” I told Mrs. Wheaton.

“Yes, it is,” she said. “I can’t tell you for sure how it works, but I suspect I know what happened. This program seems to be set up so that if you apply in your first semester as a freshman it will come through for your junior year. If you’d applied then you’d have been on the right track.”

“You could be right,” I agreed. “It makes sense when you put it that way. The heck of it is that I wouldn’t have thought of it when I was a freshman, and at that time I didn’t have enough language skills in French to even consider it. Even with three years of French and some time in Europe, I can’t help but believe that my language skills won’t quite be up to the job.”

“You’re probably right,” she shook her head. “In some respects this seems to be an attractive program, but when that happens it always helps to take a look to see if there might be a snake or two hiding in the grass. I think you’ve found one.”

What with everything, that seemed to put an end to that idea. Feeling rather dejected, I gathered up my things and headed over to Mahler Hall for my usual tri-weekly modeling job.

One of the good things about being a life model was that I could sit around and think without anyone bothering me. I mean, I just stood there or sat there, or sometimes lay there, unmoving, with nothing to do but think. While I spent my time in an easy nude pose, I went back over the whole thing, feeling frustrated that I was going to be missing out on the year’s classes in Switzerland – and all the travel and climbing that would go along with them. It was disappointing.

Finally, toward the end of the final session that day, I’d thought of a possible loophole – a pretty good one, in fact. It offered potential.

As soon as I got my clothes back on and looked like a proper and demure little Venable College co-ed, I hustled back over to the financial aid office and sat down with Mrs. Wheaton again. “I got a chance to look the scholarship over,” she reported. “And I was right. It only applies to undergraduates. Once you graduate, it’s over with.”

“Right,” I said. “But how about if I don’t graduate?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work that way. The way the policy works is that once you get all the requirements in, you graduate. I suppose you could take a light load next year and fall a little short of graduation, but that would mean at least an extra semester here.”

“That might work,” I agreed. “But what would happen if I just took a year off?”

“You mean, not come back next year at all?”

“Exactly. I could spend that year working or something.” In fact, I knew I would have to be working, since there was no way my life modeling pay could possibly be stretched to cover my expenses for the period, and I didn’t want to have to ask my parents for the money. That probably killed any idea of my heading back out west and being a climbing bum for a year, unless I could get a job in some place like Jackson Hole or Yosemite and climbed on my days off. Such jobs were hard to find since there were a lot of people looking for them, but as a girl I ought to have some advantages in at least a few of the job openings. “I could probably use the money when I go to Europe for this program,” I added.

She thought about it for a moment. “I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work,” she said finally. “The only warning I would have for you is that it might be easy for you to lose your way and not want to come back to college at all. It happens more often than you might think, even for people as far along in your schooling as you are.”

“I’ll think about it,” I promised. “It’s not like I have to make up my mind about it before school starts next fall.”

“That’s true,” she said. “You could spend the summer looking for a job, and if you don’t find one that suits you, you would still have the option of coming back here next fall. It would just mean you wouldn’t have your so-called ‘junior year abroad.’”

That put a completely different spin on things. At least there was the possibility of an answer where I could have my cake and eat it too.

I went back over to the dorm where Cat was busy with her books and reported the whole thing to her. “You know,” she said finally, “that has a possibility of working out for both of us. Like I said yesterday, I think my father would be just as happy if I got off his gravy train. He might be willing to pay part of the cost if I earned the other part of it. But Jo, the thing that concerns me is that I don’t know if we could earn enough money to make it worth the effort. Minimum wage is a dollar sixty an hour, so if we work forty-hour weeks that’s only a little over three grand. Well, four grand, if we were to work for the whole period. Once we take living expenses out of that, there’s not going to be a lot left over.”

“We could get a place together,” I pointed out. “That would save something.”

“Yes, but perhaps not a lot. On the other hand, we’ll be over twenty-one next spring and there wouldn’t be any housemother watching over us, so we could keep beer in the fridge and have a boyfriend over if we wanted to.”

“There is that,” I agreed. “And we wouldn’t have that damn bell calling us to chapel on Wednesday mornings, either.”

“I sure wouldn’t miss that. But look, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m beginning to think that I’d just as soon get out of this place and go on to whatever it is that comes next. I wouldn’t mind taking a year off to work, but I don’t want to have to spend that year bussing tables or busting suds in some diner either. If we can come up with something where we can earn some real money, then I think taking a year off would be a good idea, since it opens us up to that year in Europe we’ve been talking about. But taking a year off just to take a year off and not being able to go to Europe out of the deal, I think I’d just as soon come back here and get it over with.”

“Well, yeah,” I agreed. “I guess the only thing that means is that we need to start looking now for something that will be worth the effort.”

“Good luck on that,” she snorted. “I don’t know if there is anything out there that will fill the bill.”

“Me either, but that doesn’t have to keep us from looking.”

We left it at that, mostly because we had no choice but to do so. It was frustrating, but there it was.

A week later we went on Thanksgiving break. As always, I was not real anxious to go home, although it had been a long time since I’d spent much time with my parents when I wasn’t rushing around to go do the next thing, and I had slowly come to realize that they deserved better treatment than that. My wanting to stay away from them had come largely from the fact that I didn’t want to give them more time to discover that I wasn’t the old Joanie. Staying away meant that they would have fewer chances to figure that out, but I wasn’t so sure it was all that big a factor anymore. After all, I had changed a great deal from the new Joanie they had known right after the accident, and the old Joanie could probably get lost in the shuffle. At least it would be easier to cover up any fluffs, so long as no one got too curious and started asking too many questions.

In many ways Thanksgiving at home was like normal, except for Joey being gone. He was now a “double-digit midget,” a soldier with less than a hundred days left in his enlistment, and would be leaving the country on January 29, which was not soon enough as far as he was concerned. What I knew as Joe but couldn’t tell the folks, of course, was that unless there was some discontinuity between the timelines he would just miss the Tet Offensive and would be in the air homeward bound when it broke out. I remembered feeling a great deal of relief when I found out about it after my plane landed in the States.

Joey had sent me three or four brief notes while he’d been in-country. There was no real news in them, nothing I as Joe didn’t remember, but he just wanted to keep in touch. Of course, I didn’t get any letters from my sister when I had been there as Joe, because I didn’t have a sister, but I was used to that discontinuity by now. Most of my news of Joey came second-hand through the folks, who kept all his letters, though they were still a little light on news.

I had some time to kill on Friday, as both Mom and Dad would be working, and Mom had suggested that I read through Joey’s letters just to get an idea of what he was going through. For the lack of anything better to do, I sat down in a living room chair and did just that.

With the exceptions of a few lines to the effect of “send my regards to Joanie,” they were pretty much the same as I remembered. He didn’t have much to say because there wasn’t much to say. When I was in Vietnam I was doing the same thing Joey was – driving a truck, mostly in the Saigon-Long Binh-Bien Hoa area. We picked things up at the docks in Saigon or at the airstrips at Tan Son Nhut or Bien Hoa, and took them to warehouses, or from one warehouse to another one. Once in a while there would be a convoy to a place like Can Tho, and those were actually sought after for the sake of doing something different. Although they had a reputation of being a little more dangerous, nothing worth recollection ever happened on the few times I was on one of those convoys.

It was a very dull job, although pretty much a safe one since until Tet came along the area was about as safe as it could be. Although there had been no way of proving it, I’m pretty sure I never heard a shot fired in my general direction and there was no reason to think that Joey had it any different.

So his letters were very much “more of the same,” but they rekindled memories that had been gone for many years. In one letter he mentioned that he’d made a visit to the Saigon USO, but didn’t say anything about what he’d done there.

I remembered the Saigon USO. It was on TuDo Street, which in addition to the USO was a collection of bars with bar girls who were very easy indeed. Some of them were even cute. But the USO was a little more friendly and homey to lonely GIs. There were even girls there, real, honest-to-god American girls! The girls were just there to be friendly, nothing dirty or anything, but you could talk with them, hang out with them. Sometimes they’d get involved with a board game or darts or something with the soldiers. Just seeing them, talking to them for a minute or two, was a physical reminder that there were better things in life than Vietnam, and that sooner or later I would be getting back to those things. Like a lot of guys, they gave me a little hope to hang onto, and that was something very valuable at that place and time.

With that memory stirred, I remembered one girl in particular. She was medium height and rather buxom in the chest, with curly red hair and sort of a squeaky voice, but the absolute example of the girl next door. I doubt if there was an American GI who met her who didn’t have a vision of sweeping her up in his arms and taking her home to mother. I know I did. What was her name? I had no idea; it was long in Joe’s past and I may never have known anyway.

Somewhere in that mixed bag of memories I came up with a discussion with another guy, who said that while the girls there were volunteers, they were paid pretty well. He’d heard from someone else that with all the antiwar sentiment back home the USO was hard-pressed to find girls for those jobs.

Hmmmm . . . on my initial impression, I sure did not want to go back to Vietnam. I had been there once, and that was enough for one lifetime. But I had another lifetime now, and knew from my own experience that Saigon was pretty safe. From that long-forgotten discussion, the money had been rumored to be pretty good. How good was that? I had no idea, but it was only the cost of a postage stamp to find out.

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To be continued . . .

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