FATE (With a Push from Mama)
Fate (With a Push from Mama)
By Mary Lee
In 1971, I attended Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mama drove me to class. I was 19 years old, but had zero interest in getting my driver’s license because I was directionally impaired and terrified of being lost. An impossible combination when it comes to driving.
Every morning, we drove past a military service-recruiting center. There were large posters on the sidewalk, out in front of the building that advertised a great life in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. Mama often mentioned the posters as we rode by. I paid no attention to them.
After my first class, I had an hour break before my next class, so Mama picked me up and we went to a Greek restaurant about a block from the college. We had Cokes and an eclairs … our absolute favorite snack. Five days a week, Mama encouraged me to serve in the military each time we drove by the recruitment office.
Early on, I was positive I could never be in a military. I was five feet and five inches tall and weighed only 97 pounds. I was sure they would not want such a scrawny person. Even if they did, I was positive I could not leave home and my family. Mama was a persistent woman. What’s more, she knew it was my only way “out of the nest” to pursue a career. She made her mind up that she would make it happen. I didn’t stand a chance.
Mama convinced me that I should look into the possibility of military service. Weeks before graduation, I went to the recruiting center. At 19, I only looked 15 so when I talked with the Army Recruiter, he wrongly assumed that I was a high school student. He told me, “Go home eat some bananas, put some meat on your bones, and come back in a couple of years.”
Furious, I stomped down the hall to the Navy Recruiter’s office, plopped in a chair, stared at the recruiter, and asked the all time stupid question, “Do you have to be able to swim to be in the Navy?”
Patiently, he said, “Yes, but we will teach you.”
I replied, “No Thank You” backing out his door.
Knowing I could not possibly be a Marine, I decided this is not going to work. I scurried through the hallways like a rat in a maze trying to get out of the building. Crying so hard, I nearly collided with a fatherly looking man in an Air Force uniform. He was drinking a cup of coffee and eating donuts. Between bites, he asked, “What’s wrong little girl?”
I cried out in frustration. “I am not a little girl! I am 19 years old, soon to be college graduate. I tried to join the Army, but I am not old enough or fat enough. I tried to join the Navy, but I am too afraid of water to learn to swim. I am not tough enough to be a Marine, so what is left?”
Laughing, compassionately, he said, “Come with me. I think the Air Force is where you will be best appreciated.”