9. HONEYMOON & TEARS
I splurged some of my new officer's pay on some smart Brooks Brothers duds and, after getting boot camp out of my system and starting to act a little crazy, Nancy fell in love with me again. Not that it was automatic. "That fucking hair!" she shrieked. "When can you let it grow out so I can at least see something more than stubble?" Because of my language, she had fallen into "good" Marine Corps talk in a very short time. She can still dish it out.
My mother, who'd always been a sucker for uniforms, hugged me until I thought I couldn't breathe and tried to make me swear I'd wear nothing else until I was out of the Corps. She especially fell for the uniforms I had bought from an ex-Marine officer, including dress whites and a sexy great coat which was broad-shouldered, wasp-waisted and fell to my ankles.
My father could hardly speak when he saw me. Pauline smiled -- I think for the first time I'd known her. How could my father have expected this trim, erect, lean, pulsating-with-hidden power "killing machine?" He surprised me by asking about Nancy -- she had been too afraid to come -- and when did we plan on getting married? I told him October 3rd in Christ's Church on Quaker Hill.
He muttered that I should consider New York City -- Saint Thomas or Bartholomew’s -- because of the many folks he planned to contact (who would send expensive wedding presents, he observed). They mightn't show up or send gifts if they had to drive to the sticks of Pawling. I told him in my newly developed cool officer's tone of voice that the plans had been made and that he and Pauline could attend or not as they pleased. From that moment on I never took any more guff from my father or Pauline.
"And who might this be?"
"His name is Thomas J. Watson. He’s big at IBM." My father instantly said he and Pauline would come to Pawling.
Because I had to report for Officers’ Candidate School in Quantico so soon there was little time to plan a wedding. Papa Elliott, who as editor and publisher of Business Week magazine knew how to get things done in record time and had amazing contacts, organized everything except for deciding where Nancy would buy her wedding gown (Bonwit Teller, on my sister’s employee discount). He arranged the rest, from a crackerjack news photographer to do the wedding pictures, to Day-Dean, the top catering firm in the city (Bob Day had once worked for Elliott’s father), to getting out invitations (to insure those great presents arrived) to, besides the Thomas Watsons of IBM fame, interesting friends and luminaries like Governor Dewy, Lowell Thomas and the Edward Murrows.
Because time was so short, the wedding party was spare: just Donsy for me and for Nancy, my sister, Petie, Jorie Hoag, the friend with whom Nancy had traveled to Europe and Cecie Lankler. I telegraphed John Wintersteen to be an usher, but never got a reply, as he never received my wire.
Two nights before October 3rd we had a "bachelor's" dinner -- attended, unconventionally, by Nancy and her bridesmaids -- at an Italian restaurant in Poughkeepsie. During one of the many toasts, Donsy made reference to the rings and patted his side pocket and looked stricken. He'd left them in New York City and had to drive with a monstrous hangover in the morning to fetch them. The marriage license also went missing -- back then you had to show it to the minister. The next day a woman drove to Quaker Hill and handed Elliott an envelope, which contained the license she’d found on the sidewalk near the restaurant.
October 3rd was a perfect, crisp fall day with the leaves just becoming fiery red and orange. Christ's Church on Quaker Hill was jammed and the ceremony went smoothly. I felt weak in the knees when I saw my gorgeous bride come down the aisle.
When she got to the "for richer and poorer" vow, Nancy suddenly giggled loudly. As she explained later, she'd been living in a fog ever since returning from Europe and only at that moment had woken up and realized what was happening to her and her life. The giggles were, she assured me, of pure delight.
The reception at the rustic Barn at the Quaker Hill golf club was joyous. Thomas Watson was one of the first through the receiving line and he pressed a hundred dollar bill into my hand and whispered, "Spend this for something frivolous."
We danced, cut the cake, toasted each other and everyone in the place and dashed away in our new Chevrolet to New York City. We stayed at the Westbury Hotel and were shocked to learn that our room had twin beds. I soon fixed that by finding two web belts -- number 4792 -- in my duffel and lashed the beds together. But first, that night we caroused and drank until near dawn with my sister and her fiancé, Buddy Durand.
Our honeymoon lasted the six hours it took to drive from New York City to Fredericksburg, Virginia. I remember sticking my arm out of the window almost the whole way and tapping my new wedding ring on the roof of the car in a drum beat of love.
We were both apprehensive about the life we were going to lead in the Corps and with ourselves. Nancy was taken aback to see some of the other wives, who had never been to college, joking about the "government dole" as they picked up their unemployment checks. Her Republican background hadn't prepared her for that and then she’d never had a fulltime job. Luckily, once we moved into our top half of the rented house out in the country, she hooked up with Susie Dwight, a fellow Vassar grad -- her husband, Don, had been a class ahead of me at Princeton.
The drill, although not the grueling routine of boot camp, was demanding. Nancy had to get me going at 5:00 a.m. and I didn't get back until well after six in the evening. The regimen was so exhausting that for days I literally never saw my wife during daylight. I'd come home Saturday at 4:30, have a double Old Fashioned, eat dinner and go to bed. I'd sleep all through the day and night of Sunday and get up at five in the morning Monday morning to start over.
The work was serious leadership stuff. We learned advanced navigation -- with many night drills. We were instructed in how to handle heavy weapons like machine guns and mortars. They pounded tactics into us until we could figure out a way to neutralize the enemy in a flash, or so we naively thought. My favorite course was the use of grenades, explosives and detonating cord, which looked like clothesline but which when ignited by a blasting cap exploded instantly. We'd cut down trees by wrapping it around a foot-wide tree and blam, firewood!
Our spindly house, which had an outdoor staircase, was on a muddy hill some quarter of a mile from the road. It had a kitchen, living room and bedroom with a large double bed. I would tack canvases on the kitchen wall and paint, blithely painting parts of the wall along with the canvas. I was working on a picture of a pheasant I'd shot on Quaker Hill -- it was in full plumage and rotting away hanging on a string in the kitchen-studio. I was into my "Georges Rouault" style with inch-thick impasto and heavy broad black-as-coal lines and my works looked like exaggerated medieval stained glass windows.
We bought a dog, the first of four we’ve loved over the years. We'd gone to a local Sunday fair with enough spare cash to buy a bottle of whiskey. Nancy spotted an eight-week-old fuzzy, adorable Collie. The puppy cost the same as the booze. We didn't hesitate and the little creature, "Whiskey," became part of the family.
Despite the relentless grind of officers' training, there were moments of unique pleasure. Nancy and I would take long walks with the puppy through the thick woods behind the house. Once we came across a clearing made of cobblestones in the middle of which reared a thirty-foot-high stone monument decorated with bronze plaques commemorating the Confederate fallen in the battle for Fredericksburg. Clearly no one had been back there for decades. We were moved and Nancy foraged to make a wreath, which we laid at the base of the monolith.
The "Corpse" -- Nancy had taken to calling the Marine Corps that -- still offered some nutty moments, although nowhere nearly as many as at boot camp. One was a night exercise in which every officer in my squad had to take turns navigating. Every officer, including me, kept getting us more and more lost until our Captain, a decorated combat infantryman with eyes he boasted "that can eat up darkness," took over. In an hour of crunching through an impenetrable forest -- freezing our asses off -- he led us to the goal, the "field headquarters of the battalion." Only it was a car wash. He laughed as hard as we did.
Another time the entire Battalion went into hysterics during a speech by Major General Snedecker. During his pep talk on how to be real Marines, he started to use the word "loylity." "Loylity is the essence of the Corps."
A few sniggers passed through our college-educated ranks. That got him irked and he used "loylity" more and more which got him more sniggers, in fact, waves of them passed throughout the audience of some five hundred second Lieutenants. Snedecker, enraged, said something like, "You wise-assed college fucks better learn 'loylity' and you'd also better learn what's inscribed on every American coin, ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ which I translate for you dumb fucks, ‘In God We Trust’."
For the explosion of laughter following that, we had to double-time around the camp circle a dozen times until a sufficient number of us had faked vomiting.
The rumor went around that because of the General's wrath we'd all be sent immediately to Korea after the five-month session was over, but the Corps, sensitive to money issues, actually started, without us knowing it, to reduce our active service obligation from twenty-four to eighteen months. By this time I no longer thought of becoming a professional Marine because the peace negotiations were progressing satisfactorily and because Nancy was gradually brainwashing me into once more being the old laid-back "Artful Tommy." When we could get the rare chance we'd drive to D. C., stay with the Lanklers and hit the art exhibitions in D.C., paltry though they were back in the ‘50s. Mostly we hunkered down in our tiny house, surviving a cold, southern winter and hoping to get through to my graduation.
One morning at dawn our car got stuck in the snow and Nancy had to push me out so I could make it to formation to avoid a dreaded demerit. I made it out of Officers’ Training in the top ten in the class and was assigned to Amphibian Tractors. The base was located at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, California. I was pleased, although I had a yearning for tanks because of the snappy short jackets tankers wore. To us California sounded like heaven, especially since we found the Virginia winter vicious -- we had thought the "South" was going to be warmish.
The Bells had planned a vacation in February, which coincided with the end of the course, so we joined them in a lovely resort hotel on Florida's West coast, San Marco Island.
The first night we were there, after a delicious dinner with the family, mesmerized to hear Papa Elliott's wisdom again, we mixed a batch of martinis in a fruit jar, got into their rented car and drove to a secluded spot under the waving palm trees at a place called Royal Palm Hammock. Naked in the soft breeze, we were making passionate love in the back seat when a huge spotlight nailed us.
"License and registration!" a voice called out. "You kids should not be doing what you're doing, under age and all. Outta the vehicle! You’re under arrest."
I told the officer that I was a Marine Corps lieutenant and that the lady, a young kid for sure, was my wife. I happened to have in my wallet for sentimental reasons a copy of our wedding license. I found my trousers and gave it to him. I also slapped my neck tags in his palm showing I was an officer -- number 063093.
He huddled with his partner, came back and told me and a giggling Nancy, "We have concluded we have no jurisdiction over this act -- I mean -- oh, keep on doing what you’re doing Lieutenant and Missus Hoving. But you see, I thought you were the kids. . . . Shit, well, we're outta here."
We laughed all the way back to the motel.
At three in the morning Nancy experienced hideous cramps and we rushed her to the Tampa hospital where she had a miscarriage. I blamed myself for making love to her in the fifth month but she thought it was the struggle to push me out of the snow that had done it.
This is chapter 9 of Artful Tom, A Memoir, which is being posted in full in Artnet Magazine. For the complete book to date, click here.