Getting out of high school was an opportunity for change, the bullfight scene was another, and then there was roller skating. One night there was a new girl at the rink. She was a strong skater in a skating skirt with very good fast moves. I was bold and asked her to skate all night long. We were pretty good together. I figured by her body development that she was older than me.
“How old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
“Do you have a car here?”
“Can I give you a ride home?”
She liked my convertible. The top was down. It was June. The night was warm, but she sat close. She directed me to her house. We parked and then we kissed. I was hooked. Then I found out she was 14 years old. Then I found out her father was an Army Super Master Sergeant and very strict and verbal.
Toni was young but she had been around, literally around the world. She had lived in Japan and Germany and had traveled Europe and had done things that were beyond my experience.
I asked her to go to Church with me, the litmus test for being compatible with the rest of my life. She had to go with her folks to the Baptist Church. Fine, I’ll go with you; now how about going with me? Our courtship blazed through the summer and it was nearing the time for her to go to school. I taught her everything I could about the Mormon Church. She liked it and was impressed with my knowledge of religion.
Toni was a strong willed girl with a strong willed father. Their clashes had been violent in the past and her mother was unstable. Toni wanted me and she wanted out. I wanted her and it was my first experience with someone who really wanted me and needed me. She would be 15 in September. In Texas that is old enough to be married with parent’s consent. In New Mexico you could get married at 15 with no parental consent.
We couldn’t keep our hands off of each other and we were very close to doing something we would regret so we made our move. “Chuck, I respect you very much and would hope for your blessings for our marriage. I am asking your permission so we don’t have to go to New Mexico.”
He smiled. He liked my style. We became good friends and Toni and I were married on the 16th of September. I baptized Toni into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the 24th of September.
We took a honeymoon to Cloudcroft, New Mexico and stayed overnight in an unheated cabin at the top of the hill. Toni’s period started that day. We walked in the snow for about five minutes and then stayed wrapped in blankets together for the rest of the time. My dad had taken me aside and in his shy way offered me a few condoms with the suggestion that we might want to hold off having children for a while and to make sure I don’t rush her, she needs time to get ready. I found out you could wash the condoms and powder them with talc and use them about six times before you couldn’t roll them anymore. I would save them in a mason jar and dry and roll them every few days. It was a way to keep track. We didn’t pass up many opportunities. It was our favorite thing to do.
We got a little tiny apartment in a residential mansion, with the bathroom across the hall. We ate chili beans and hominy until we learned how to cook other things. I was closer to work and didn’t have to chase around town so much.
Even though it was crowded in the apartment I had time to work on my Correspondence Television Repair course. Part of the course was to build a television set. Every time I completed a section of the manual they would send me a bag of parts to install. One day they would send me a picture tube and I would have a television set but no furniture around it. It was a little bit of an eyesore throughout construction and use.
I had a gift. In the Mormon faith, the man holds the priesthood and is entitled to the blessings of heaven for his family if he is faithful to his covenants. My gift was prophesy. It became a problem for Toni on several occasions. One day I woke up and started to work. That day I saw in my mind my beautiful convertible smashed in the front end. I instructed Toni not to drive the car under any circumstances. That day she rear-ended a Buick across town. She had trouble accepting a husband’s authority just as she had problems with her father. The repairs were quite costly and rather than have the front end chrome replaced, I only replaced the bumper and had the front scoop filled in and smoothed over. And I painted it robin’s egg blue. There would be two other very similar incidents in the future.
One Sunday at Church, a stranger came looking for me and said he was my cousin from Tucson. He was from some branch of the family I hadn’t met yet. He was looking for people with electronics education, did I know anybody? “No, but I know a little. How much do you have to know?”
“Let me give you a test and we’ll see.”
I did very well on the test and he made me an offer that more than doubled my current salary at the newspaper. I was in my fifth year of my six year apprenticeship. One more year and I could work anywhere in the country on a moments notice at a very handsome wage. I would have been a journeyman in every sense of the word, for printers loved to travel and seniority means next to nothing in the trade. I could have walked into any town and worked the first day.
It was a tough decision. I had seen electronic automation change the nature of newspaper publishing. I knew that in a few years the skills of hot metal composition would be phased out and new techniques would be taken over by non-union labor. I was studying my future and it seemed to have a dead end further down the track. I looked at the people I worked with and thought, “There I am for the next 30 years.” I was not excited.
The new job would consist of six weeks of intensive electronics training and then a job of flight line mechanic for Douglas Aircraft installing and testing the electronic systems before the planes were turned over to the Air Force. Planes were assembled in Long Beach with enough controls to fly by the seat of the pants to Tucson where the plane could be finished and flight tested in a climate that had more sunshine for daily test flights.
I would also have the joy of seeing El Paso in my rear view mirror.
Everybody thought I was crazy to quit and leave the printing trade and leave El Paso. Before I knew it, I was packed and on my way to Tucson. I was re-inventing myself once more.
Things seemed to work out pretty well. I was introduced to another distant cousin who owned an eight unit apartment on the north side of Tucson, close to the Rillito Racetrack, and about three miles from my grandmother’s ancestral home. That would be Binghamton, where the family had a dairy. My cousin, Richard Harris, made me manager of the apartment; which reduced my rent. Being Mormon has the advantage of having an instant community wherever you go. Just show up, accept a calling, and it’s like you’ve been there all your life.
The school was great. I had a chance finally to discuss the technology I had been learning privately. My comfort level with technology was greatly enhanced. Within six weeks we were out on the flight lines climbing in and out of RB-66 Reconnaissance Bombers, putting things together. My job was to test and inspect the spy cameras, and clean them. We worked at night to avoid the combined heat of the engines and Arizona weather.
Then, one day, bad news. I learned something about government contracts. Contracts are renewed periodically and sometimes they go to other companies or divisions. The hiring of all the employees was speculative and we were all out of a job. We got the word on Friday night and I had about 36 hours to worry about it.
Sunday morning, my Elders Quorum president, Richard Smith, asked me if I got cut. He told me to show up at his office at 7 AM on Monday. He was the personnel manager for Hughes Aircraft. They were building Falcon missiles for the Air Force on the property next to the Douglas plant. He told me to show up at the manufacturing plant the next day and pick up a temporary badge at the gate. “Wear a white shirt and tie at all times even though other technicians at your grade level may be dressing down.”
I couldn’t believe it! I got two increases in pay in two months and I had transitioned from blue collar to white collar almost overnight. I saw two other guys from my Douglas class but they were dressed like mechanics. Each of us were assigned to a different department and my supervisor began to break me in on the job and gave me some books to read. I was immediately made a quality control inspector and had authority to shut down production in my area if I suspected problems in the assembly procedure. This was pretty heady stuff for a 20-year-old kid with no degree. Good things were happening and I was moved around until I had learned a great deal about guided missiles.
Howard Hughes was one of the very interesting people I learned a great deal about but never met face to face. If you were an employee, you learned to love the man. If you only read the papers about him you would have thought him a most peculiar kook. He loved flying and designed many planes. The first plane he designed and built was copied by the Japanese and used at Pearl Harbor. It was the Zero. It was cheap and fast, made fast by a new type of flush rivet that made the plane more aerodynamic. Hughes almost always tested his own planes and set speed records with many of them.
He also made movies and created Jane Russell as a sex symbol, even designing her cantilevered bra. When early viewers saw the film, The Outlaw, they were aghast and said it was awful. He then invited ministers and other keepers of the virtue and quoted them in advertisements. He let the film sit in the can for three years. When he released it to the public, it was the film that couldn’t be made. It was an instant hit and outsold Gone With the Wind, even in Georgia.
In later years he would challenge the mob and clean up Las Vegas. The strip would not be what it is today without the influence of Howard Hughes. He virtually eliminated prostitution in the big casinos and improved employee working conditions.
He had been seriously injured in a plane crash and as a result of his burns developed many health issues for which he hired body guards or ‘handlers’. Being secretive about many of his dealings, he needed people he could absolutely trust. He asked J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI chief, how to find trustworthy men. Hoover told him about his own Mormon Elders. I later met one of these Elders that worked for Hughes while remodeling a Church building in North Hollywood. He wouldn’t tell me what he did, but I found out he was Jeanne Peters personal bodyguard after her amicable divorce from Hughes. In addition to her generous annual support from Hughes, she asked for one of his special men. The man she picked had a wife and several teenage daughters. Both he and Jeanne Peters kept their mouth shut and would not talk about Hughes at all.
One day all the Hughes employees received a one sheet letter from Hughes printed on both sides. In the letter he outlined the proceedings of a major policy speech by Mao Tse Tung, that’s the way they spelled it then. In the speech, Mao set out the world plan for communism in five year increments. Five year plans were the way they kept score. It talked about moving to Africa and which countries were to be converted down to South Africa; which was about as right wing as Adolph Hitler at the time. It talked about guerilla warfare in South and Central America ending up about 50 years out with the whole world getting grossed out with the materialism of the United States. I kept that letter for about 15 years until I lost it in a move. It was so right on, it was scary.
Back at home I had another prophetic episode and I told Toni that driving the car was no problem today, just don’t take the dog with you. We had a little Pomeranian that was hyperactive. After work, as I turned into the driveway I noticed a Saguaro cactus with a chunk gouged out. Sure enough, the right front fender and headlight of the convertible had been wiped out. She took the dog and it jumped across her lap in the turn and she couldn’t straighten out in time. Toni didn’t trust my advice.