On re-acceptance to the college, after a lot of begging and crying on the phone, I packed up my bags and Dad flew me back in his twin engine Comanche (right). That was his main plane and it was nothing but a hot rod with wings. This plane was just about as famous as the B-26 Marauder for killing people. The Marauder motto was, "One a day in Tampa Bay," because so many went down there as they kept readjusting the wing span. They called the plane a "flying prostitute" because it had "no visible means of support." The twin Comanche was really a rocket with front and back seats and a crusing speed of 220 mph. If you weren't a great pilot you needed to stay out of this plane if you wanted to live to an old age.
Dad loved to fly into Souther Field, the small airport near my college, because it was where Charles Lindbergh flew his first solo flight in 1923. He was recounting that story for me once again when, on the downwind leg, the wheels wouldn't go down. He tried to manually get the wheels down, but that didn't work, either. He was in a conversation with the tower about the problem, and a couple of guys on the ground with binoculars were studying the bottom of the plane from that angle to see if they could figure out what might be the problem.
We weren't cruising at 220 mph but we were still flying fast, about 150 mph, and making wide circles around the airport and low fly-bys so the guys on the ground could see it better. There was talk about circling until the fuel was used up while Dad kept trying to lower the wheels any way that he could, and they were discussing which landing strip to use to belly the plane in. I was getting more and more worried. I didn't want to interrupt him but finally I said, "Dad, how bad will it be to belly the plane in?" He said, "Real damn bad! It'll tear up the bottom of the plane and cost me a fortune to fix it."
Round and round we went burning up fuel. His plan was to belly the plane in on the last drop of fuel, and my plan was to try to remain calm and not be a nuisance. That was tough, so towards the end I couldn't help but ask him if we were going to be ok. He looked at me in surprise, as though there was nothing to worry about, and he said reassuringly, "Of course we are, honey. We'll be just fine. After all, they're not shooting at us." That was his bottom line while flying a plane. If they weren't shooting at us then he really didn't have a problem.
He rarely talked about the war, and he refused to go see the movie "Catch-22," even though it was about pilots like him. The catch was, if you could stay alive flying the Marauder then you could never go home because they needed the pilots, so you flew it until you died or until the war was over, whichever came first. That explains his 61 bombing missions.
The Army Air Force didn't mention that in their glam recruiting poster. (right) With the bombardier in the nose, it looks like an ad for a first-person shooter and obviously had that pre-video game appeal. (WWII Army Air Force B-26 Marauder recuiting poster)
The first versions of the Marauder had to be landed at 150 mph, especially with an engine out, or it would stall and crash. This is what killed so many pilots and crew; pilots just couldn't handle landing a bomber at that airspeed. When they slowed down, they died. Dad told us one time about flying the bomber back to base at a low altitude and with an engine on fire over Switzerland. His crew was begging him to land the plane in Switzerland because the country was supposed to be neutral, but he told them he would rather not bet his life on their politics. He said he would rather bet his life on his ability to get the plane home, and he got it home on one engine but just barely. He crash landed it when it was out of fuel and no longer on fire. It was a very rough landing and he tore off a wing.
For a time in 1942, pilots in training believed that the B-26 could not be flown on one engine. This was disproved by a number of experienced pilots, including Jimmy Doolittle. (and my Dad). (Wikipedia)
His only regret in the war was that he didn't die in it. One morning during the war he woke up with a raging stomach virus and couldn't go out with his squadron. He flew wing tip. That's where they put the real good pilots, i.e., the pilots who had been there the longest because they hadn't died yet, because they held the formation together. While he stayed home sick, his whole squadron went down and he was convinced his entire life that if he had been there flying wing tip, he could have saved them. He wouldn't be talked out of that, either. He felt guilty that they died and he didn't. My mother wanted to take a trip to Europe when I was in high school, but he refused to go, saying "I've been there. I'm not going back." We would tease him and say, "Dad, they built it back since you blew it up," but he didn't think that was funny like we did.
He won a lot of war medals and was awarded the French Croix de guerre (left), even though he wasn't French. This medal honored people who fought with the Allies against the Axis forces. It was given to those who fought on the Western Front, or in the Mediterranean Theatre, or in the African Campaigns. He fought in all three of those. In Africa, he chased Rommel around bombing his tanks and troops. As the war was winding down and the US had a big surplus of this bomber and only a handful of men still alive who could fly it, they sold the surplus to France and sent the pilots to teach the French how to fly the plane. For his campaigns, his 61 bombing missions and teaching them how to fly that plane, they awarded him the Croix de guerre.
The French took the B-26 Marauders and bombed Vietnam with them, which must have been really easy considering there was no flak to dodge, and they started the Vietnam War. That's the legacy of war, and no wonder he didn't want to talk about it. Nobody knew better than he did how the Vietnam War got started, and he was just glad his oldest son was actually a daughter so she didn't have to go fight in it. As we circled the airport for the final time, we were out of fuel and making the final approach. I was mentally bracing for impact when, just at the last minute, he gave the wheels one more try. For some reason, divine intervention no doubt, the wheels came down.
I had been kicked out of school for skipping class and playing bridge, and while bridge in the student center was a great game and I was dedicated to it, that by itself wasn't enough to cause me to rack up the F's. Admittedly, the F's had been sneaking in and piling up over several semeters but not enough to get me expelled. But then it accelerated one day when a tall, handsome red-headed guy in dusty blue jeans and cowboy boots showed up out of nowhere and sat down to play. What a tall, dusty hunk! The first thing he said to me gave me a thrill! "Hold your hand back, sweetie, I can see your cards." That's because I was already leaning over in his direction without realizing it. Next thing he's playing footsy with me under the table, tapping me on my shoe with the tip of those boots. I'm sure I couldn't think to play.
Every afternoon he would come in dusty like that and play, and wow, was he good! He told us he had been playing in a game at the Georgia State University student center in Atlanta and I thought, "Oh, yea! Real bridge!" So instead of going to class, I hung out in the student center and just hoped he would show up and play with me. He showed me some bids and he flirted with me like crazy across the table and I flat out fell in love with him. A bridge boyfriend who's a real good partner, how wonderful! There was no way in the world I was going to go to class and miss out on this.
My boyfriend David put up a fight, of course. He could tell I had drifted away from him when he came to see me, but he had joined the Army and they shaved his head and he had no chance at all against the bridge playing guy with the thick red hair. David went home and told my parents that they needed to get me out of that school as soon as possible, that I was headed straight down the road to ruin, and was he ever right. My mother told me years later that she sat quietly and listened to him detail for her all the ways her daughter was going bad.
But there was nothing could be done about it, I was in love with someone else, a bridge player and a good one. It was a sweet, intoxicating bundle of bridge, boyfriend and bidding. He showed me some play of the hand tricks and some defensive false cards and I thought I was in heaven, the way he would smile at me and show me the carding and explain it so carefully and then ask me if I understood. Oh, I understood alright. I understood I wanted to get him out of those jeans and his underwear, as well. And the whole time this was going on, the 13 F's were piling up.
We started dating and he took me to school dances. When he dressed up he went from sexy to awesome. He liked to slow dance but I wasn't very good at it since it involved following. So he told me to just stand on his feet and he danced me around the room. We would go to the drive in and watch movies and make out and talk about how beautiful is the moon. He would say he didn't want to go back to school, he wanted to stay with me.
It turns out he had been kicked out of GSU for playing bridge all day in the student center and not going to class. We fell in bridge love and were inseparable. He took me shopping and bought me some cowgirl boots that matched his. I hated wearing them but I acted like I loved them. He talked about how his father wanted to be president and I said, "President of what?" And he said, "The country, of course." And I thought, well does his family have insanity in it or something? I worried that if we got married our kids might be nuts like his father. One day he said it was time to introduce me to his family, that he wanted them to get to know me. So off we went to Plains, Georgia where he lived.
His whole family was there, they were expecting me. His grandmother, his brothers, his little baby sister, his mother and his father. How nice they were to me. I thought I could fit in with them, they were so pleasant. We had a friendly lunch and walked all around the house. His father grew peanuts and that's why Jack had dust on his jeans all the time, from working in the peanut farm as a punishment for getting kicked out of college. We went into his father's study and talked with him and what a pleasant man he was. We were having the nicest conversation when Jack's mother called to him to come help her with something, which left me alone in the room with his father.
Jack was reluctant to leave but he had to, and the minute he left and closed the door behind him, his father turned to me and said, "Girlie, I don't know who you are, I don't know who your parents are but I can tell you this. You will never marry my son." The way he said it, I believed it and I had the feeling I wasn't the first girlie he had chased off. He seemed experienced.
That was how I met (President) Jimmy Carter, although at the time he was not yet Governor of Georgia, having been defeated once. So when the dean of the college booted me out, I wasn't that upset about it because by that time, I was ready to put some distance between me and them. I guess I didn't love Jack as much as I thought I did. To spite his father for chasing me off he joined the Navy. His father as Governor of Georgia (my father flew him all over Georgia to help him campaign) got him out soon after his election. Jack married the daughter of the Democratic Chairwoman of Georgia (now divorced), and he stopped playing bridge which was a loss to the game. And that pretty much finished me as a bridge player. I spent the next several years taking those 13 F's off my transcript and finishing graduate school and teaching high school English for a couple of years.
DEDICATED TO BILLY
After I moved to Atlanta and got the job in the law firm. I began playing bridge at night in the local duplicate game. Right next door was a 2 cent game (2 cents a point Chicago), and this great game helped me find my way back into bridge.
2 cents seems only twice as much as penny poker but actually it adds up fast. You can win or lose anywhere from a few dollars to nearly $50 per hand, possibly even more. It could be costly if the game has a couple of bona fide card sharks in it and this one did. Billy Barrett was a man in his mid-sixties who chain smoked cigarettes through a long black holder and sat at the table with his back to the wall, surrounded by kibitzers. He won a national bridge championship, the Reisinger Board-A-Match, in 1930 playing on a team with Ely Culbertson.
The other shark was Lou Bluhm (left), a man in his thirties who won it in 1972. Lou was a smooth, unemotional bridge buddha who projected the idea that he always knew just exactly what you had in your hand. Two Reisinger winners 40 years apart in the same money game! I got into that game right away to play with them (well, after kibitzing for a couple of months). I was one of the few woman in the game, and those men could be aggressive and intimidating but I was good at catching the snake and throwing it back :)
I remember the first time I cut Lou for a partner, I was so excited. I sat down opposite him with a big smile on my face. He looked at me, stood up and left the table! I was crushed, I said "Oh my God, he doesn't want to play with me!" Billy smiled and took a big drag on his cigarette and said, "Oh, don't take it personally, sweetie. The gin game just started. I'll play with you." He was an all-time great player and deception was his game.
Psychics were more or less invented by a couple of young bridge players named Johnny Rau and William Barrett in 1929. They are reported to have made a sensation at the nationals that year with their "psychic" bidding. Barrett and Rau became a top partnership for a few years in the early 1930's before they quit bridge to earn a living more conventionally. (Andrew Gumperz)
Playing with Billy I always had to open in 3rd position, I was not allowed to pass. I didn't know it at the time but he was a grand master of 3rd seat openers at money bridge. At first I objected to this kind of bidding, "But Billy, what if I don't have anything?" He replied, "All the more reason to bid!" He told me, "Now, when it goes 'pass,' 'pass,' to me, I'm going to do the same, I'm going to bid, so I don't want you to go leaping and jumping in the auction." :)))
Every good bridge player has a little larceny somewhere in his soul. This makes a stolen contract much sweeter than one that is earned legitimately. (Dorothy Truscott, Winning Declarer Play)
Billy had enough larceny to make up for what his partners lacked, and he didn't just psych the bidding. Some of his best psychs were in declarer play. If he had a choice between making a contract straight up or on the sly, he would make it on the sly. I loved playing in that game so much that I was thrilled just to be the dummy and to watch Billy conceive of ways to steal tricks from Lou. He taught me to bid game in no trump whenever it had even the smallest chance to make because, he said, "You never know how many no trumps you can make."
From Lou I learned a bid I still enjoy making. I call it the Lou Bluhm double, and I learned it by his applying it to me so often. If Lou thought you could make your contract by playing the trumps right, he would double to ensure you played them wrong. Problem was, he maintained an absolute poker face so that you couldn't tell until it was too late if he was doubling because he had the trumps or because he didn't have them.
Billy encouraged me, telling me I had the potential to be a fine bridge player and that I should keep playing no matter what. I believed him, trickster that he was, and took all that he taught me and added to it, becoming a student of the game. I started reading bridge books the way other people read novels.
MONEY BRIDGE PRO
Several years after playing with Billy in Atlanta I moved to Miami to play bridge, where I ran games in one money bridge club and was a house player in another. They gave me a game to develop and backed me to play in it. Some of the world's best bridge players were in the game, including Michael Seamon, a bridge prodigy, and Bobby Levin, a world champion, Joel Harwood, a local great player, and occasionally Alan Sontag and other fine players. Sometimes I played set matches with Joel as my partner (left, Joel kibitzing Lenny at backgammon). Players also booked me to play partnership 2 cent bridge. They paid me a fee, covered what I lost, and I kept what I won. Sweet deal!
Taking a break in Miami from playing bridge, 1983 (photo by Jodi)
The Professional Bridge Association, now disbanded, booked games for me as a pro player and I travelled to regionals and nationals to play bridge professionally with partners they prearranged for me. They sent my paychecks to my astonished parents, who had hired math tutors for me in grammar school and who deposited the checks for me with their fingers crossed. I moved to Houston for a short time, on the way to a nationals, to play in Bobby Nail's money game. He made me house player, and we played together and also with Chris Compton.
These are all legendary players, some of them now world champions, and the bridge was great. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost, it didn't matter, I loved it. I played aggressively and fearlessly because I had the best backer - my father, who I knew would toss me a parachute if I needed it. He only had to do that once when I lost $1,200 to Bobby Levin in a couple of days. Bad cards :) With all that going for me I thought bridge would always be the center of my life. I never imagined an ancient puzzle would come along and pull me into in its spirals, into its secret bridge.
I believe each one of us is the pictograph of our life, and no matter how well you plan, how much you figure things out, life has a read on you and has you figured out as well. When you go in a direction - when you live your life with purpose - you are bound to intersect something that's there just for you. So, look out for what happens next! It's sure to catch you by surprise. And whatever happens next, it was meant to be. (At the Jax Bridge Club, Halloween, 2012, photo by John Brady)
The pictograph of my life!