Learning that we were stuck in Texas was the good news. The bad news came a little later. We would have to remain in San Antonio for two weeks unless we had civilian shot records — which I didn’t. That meant that I would miss the start of my six-month course for Air Traffic Controllers. I already knew that I would have to take the first flight out of San Antonio Sunday morning in order to make it to Biloxi in time, but now there was no chance that I’d make it. I was told that I had to report on day one or wait six months for the start of the new class. I was devastated, and that’s an understatement.
The next day we all just hung out and wallowed in self-pity. What else was there to do? No one really knew what to do with us. After all, we were all supposed to be moving on to parts unknown by now. Instead, we were stuck. The next morning, we joined the guys in our flight. We went to breakfast, and nobody messed with us. The drill instructors sat at their table and harassed everybody except us. We still did what we always did — got our meals, drank two glasses of water before eating, and then we were free to get up and get juice to complement our meals. After breakfast, we got into formation and returned to the day room in the boys’ dormitory to hear what would most likely be more bad news.
Actually, our drill instructor didn’t have any news. All he said was what we had already heard. You’re stuck here for two weeks unless you have your civilian shot records to show that you were immunized for mumps. That’s the only thing that will get you out of Dodge. I couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge. Although I didn’t get to see much of this town, I had already grown tired of it. Mostly, I was just tired of waiting. So, we formed up and headed back to our dorm for the night. Somewhere in there we went to lunch and dinner. Everything just sort of melded.
When we got back to our dorm a few minutes later, we all just sat around until someone found some playing cards in her luggage. Another girl took out a small photo album, and we all marveled at how different she looked with makeup and civvies. Then we all went through our luggage in search of some sort of memento that might bring us some joy. I found a small photo album that I had packed. I was into brooches at that stage in my life, and in every pic, I was wearing a different brooch. The girls all giggled at my wacky collection and ribbed me for a few minutes until lights out.
As we all started putting our keepsakes away, I neatly folded a few things that I had tried on earlier and tossed the photo album on top. Just as I was about to close my tiny suitcase for the night, I noticed something that I hadn’t packed. It looked like a letter. Perhaps it was for one of the other girls or a good-bye letter from one of them since I was supposed to be gone already. I picked it up, opened it, and read it using my flashlight as a reading lamp. It was from my mother. Before I read her note again, I recalled having a disagreement with her before I left. It was a silly fight over what I needed to take and what I should leave at home. I had grown tired of being told what to do, and I decided in that moment that I would never return home.
I picked up the letter, the shortest message I’d ever read — composed of just eight words. “I thought you might need this. Your Mother.” And there it was — my ticket to freedom. Inside the envelope was my civilian shot record — the thing I told her I wouldn’t need. She packed it anyway, and I’m so glad she did.