Richard chose the same seat at the table as the previous week, this time not flanked by mother and sister. The colonel’s office unavailable, his secretary vague about the reason—some urgent meeting or some remodeling project—an obvious spur-of-the-moment fabrication. Strangely, he felt comforted. With home life, social encounters, and job prospects on the decline, he needed a reminder of military camaraderie to raise his spirits. If he hadn’t been denied reenlistment, he could be serving in a building such as this. But, if another war should break out…
Lt. Col. Renford interrupted Richard’s WWIII followed by a female wearing an Army uniform. “Richard, I’d like you to meet Lieutenant Jansen.”
Richard stood at attention but redirected his salute to shake the woman’s outstretched hand. “Hi. Just call me Nancy.”
“Nancy,” she stressed and gestured for Richard to sit, taking the chair to his left. “I wouldn’t even be in uniform if I had known Ted wanted me to meet you.”
Lt. Col. Renford camouflaged a grimace with an exaggerated smile and remained standing. “I asked Lieutenant Jansen to attend our session because she has some suggestions that might be helpful.” He glanced at the female officer. “Go ahead…Nancy…and I’ll rejoin in a few minutes.” He walked out leaving the door open.
“Are you and—Ted—always this informal, or just with the crazies who come here to get their heads screwed back on proper?”
“A good question. I did time in the field, European theater, and had my fill of pulling rank. Being a WAC officer in the combat zone, I felt the need for protocol. Here I prefer just being a woman and a psychologist. As for that other part of your question, I am honored to work with soldiers who were crazy enough to jump out of airplanes.”
Nancy could have told him to fly out of this third story window and he would have obliged.
“What I gathered from Dr. Renford’s notes, you are experiencing some very common post combat traumas; nightmares, restlessness, and occasional anxiety attacks. First off, I want to assure you this is quite common. Also, you feel rejection from having your reenlistment denied.”
Elbow on the table, she raised an open hand. “How am I doing so far?”
“You left out an angry mother and a sister who no longer respects her brother.”
“No, what I left out—what we’re going to work on—is your perception that you don’t quite fit in like you did before the war.”
“Things weren’t that rosy back then either. I joined the Army to escape problems.”
“That, too, is quite common. The difference being, back then you were just a teenager, but you’ve since become an adult. You now have tools to work with that are not usually available to young people. Some call this common sense.”
Lt. Col. Renford entered followed by an aid carrying a tray of teapot, cups, and containers with sugar and cream.
He said, “Your mother is an English lady who taught you to drink tea rather than coffee. I’ll need your approval of the Army’s brewing skills before we invite her and Rita back.”
The aid left, and Renford filled the three cups. “That Kenai grass you described doesn’t grow in Minnesota, but it’s too cold outside to sit on the lawn anyhow.”
Nancy asked, “You take sugar and cream?” Ignoring Richard’s indecisive nod and with the grace of his mother at half her age, she dipped a small mound of sugar into his tea and blended some cream with a single hand motion. “I often wondered why coffee became the drink of the military.” She repeated the process with her cup and lifted it to her lips. When she set it down, Richard’s gaze locked onto the red smudge on its rim.
Renford interrupted Richard’s stare. “Have you told Richard your, shall we say, suggestion?”
“No, we were just getting acquainted. But now might be the proper time.” She faced Richard. “I understand you like to dance.”
Richard rode the streetcar back from his session at Fort Snelling, his on-and-off-again car parked in back of Trumel’s Automotive, the voucher for dance lessons from Nancy and, he chuckled, Ted, in his coat pocket. He stepped off the streetcar at 354 Selby Avenue and paused in front of Arthur Murray Dance Studio and savored the wisp of a memory.
Eight years earlier, he’d recently returned home ending two years of court mandated country living at the Munson family farm, his second placement in Wisconsin. The first one nearly got him sent to Redwing, Minnesota’s version of Boy’s Town.
Instead of enrolling at Harding Junior High School as he had promised his mother that morning, he and the older sister of Rita’s best friend spent the afternoon peddling magazine subscriptions.
A cluster of adults lingered in front of the newly franchised Arthur Murray Dance Studio. He and Patsy swayed to the music piped out to the sidewalk. Two thirteen-year-old kids dancing, obviously a studio promotion, attracted attention. At just the right moment, they handed out magazine subscriptions, suggesting those endorsed by Arthur Murray himself. They had their best sales that day.
Two years later—he had just returned from sheep herding in Montana—Patsy told him about Glen Miller coming to St. Paul. They hopped onto the back of a University Avenue Streetcar and jumped off at Midway in front of the Prom Ballroom celebrating its grand opening. Only sixteen at the time, they were turned away at the door. No matter, they had but thirty cents between them. The remainder of the evening they sat on overturned trash cans near the ballroom’s back door listening to Glen Miller’s band.
Whatever happened to Patsy since the war? He hadn’t thought to ask Rita.
Richard studied the Army’s voucher, unbelieving his good fortune. He briefly envisioned swirling Lt. Nancy around the dance floor, but thought better of it. Maybe Patsy would take dance lessons with him. If she couldn’t afford Arthur Murray, he’d teach her the steps at Frankie and Johnnies. He could stop there on his way home and ask if she still lived in the area.
That evening Richard left the bar in time for dinner, and sat with his mother ‘til midnight listening to Big Band Sounds broadcast from Prom on the Midway. Tomorrow he’d sign up for dance lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Studio, compliments of the U.S. Army. He would have to find another dance partner; Patsy had married and left town.