I didn’t know anything about The United States Naval Academy when I met Bookie Boland – Class of ’73 – in the summer of ’75. But fresh out of college myself, I assumed I knew everything I would ever really need to know anyway. Granted I was a little bit nervous when I was first introduced to his parents, as word was already out that something serious was going on between us. That evening went quite well, and I went on my merry way thinking this was going to be a piece of cake. Then I was invited to meet him in Jacksonville for a weekend to watch the Army-Navy game at a friend’s house where the guys from his company were congregating to watch the game together.
I did not know what a “company” was – but I listened enough to figure out these must have been the guys he roomed with at college. I had had roommates in college, too, so I thought I was on familiar ground.
Never in my life have I been so looked over as I was on that weekend. The guys looked me over. The guys’ wives looked me over. The guys’ sisters who were present looked me over. They asked me a lot of questions. So, Susan, where did you meet the Book? Where did you grow up? Are you seeing anybody else right now? Are you a nurse? You are not a nurse! Gee, the Book always dates nurses. Hmmm. They probed. They searched. They glanced knowingly at each other to my replies. The message came through loud and clear – no one was going to mess with the Book. They made my future mother-in-law look like a lamb in the woods.
As it turned out Navy beat Army that year. At the end of the game everyone ran out of the house, across the street, and jumped in the neighbor’s pool. About an hour later, I was in the bathroom drying my hair when the Book came in, leaned against the sink, and asked me to marry him. At the time, silly me thought it might be something to do with me that weekend that brought the question on. I now am quite sure if Army had won, he would have put asking the big question off until Christmas.
He talked about an academy miniature for an engagement ring, but I boo-hooed that idea. Being a recent college graduate and extremely proud of my independence, I explained I did not need a ring from his college. I had my own college ring, thank you very much. He took this rather well, and gave me the traditional solitaire.
Soon after we were married we arrived to our first squadron and the duty two deployments in three years. Then, we had our first baby, and moved to England five months later. He deployed several times while we were overseas, returning home to yet more deployments and another baby. I learned what being a navy wife is really about. I also learned that his company was a lot more than college roommates. I had come to know them over the years and I knew in my heart that they were always just a phone call away. If anything went really wrong, with Bookie, me, or the kids, I could count on those people. They alway kept tabs on each other and each others’ loved ones. The bond that was locked between the guys in his company is simply amazing.
During one of those early deployments, I remember reading James Webb’s A Sense of Honor, and I began to understand not only the Naval Academy but also my husband’s deep sense of ownership, pride, and attachment to those hallowed grounds. Although I feel no such attachment for my college campus, I can feel the magic of it all as I walk by his side on the grounds of the Naval Academy. I also know that the true test is not on those grounds but out at sea and on those lonely dark nights of deployments. We both have known far too many of those nights.
A couple of months before our fifteenth wedding anniversary, Bookie brought up the subject of a miniature again. I told him that he could give me whatever he wanted; he was going to be home for this anniversary, and that was enough for me. When I opened the little velveteen box, there was a miniature set with an amethyst, which is my birthstone. I remember thinking how beautiful it was. I slipped it on my finger, and then I asked “Why this, Bookie?” The Book is not a man of many words. His answer was direct and to the point. “You earned it.”
I am older and wiser than I was 35 years ago when we married. I have a lot to learn yet – but I have learned this much so far. His response to my querry of why is for sure the greatest compliment my husband has ever or will ever give me.