I was a Navy Seal.
On September 6, 1980, I may have also been a Top Gun Fighter Pilot, a U-Boat Commander, or a NASA Astronaut. In fact, it is entirely possible I may have been all four. Although I had just begun my senior year at Navy, I had a full arsenal of cover stories with which to mesmerize the ladies. This was also the date of my first excursion to Hood College. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what happened that night; the night I met Leigh Anne Moomaw.
Sources reported that a Hawaiian theme party was planned for that evening at Hood. Nestled in the rolling hills of Frederick, Maryland, the predominantly female Liberal Arts campus is strategically located only ‘about one six-pack away’ from the Naval Academy. Upon arrival, I took note that all the Hood girls were attractive! Under deep cover, wearing flip-flops, an Aloha shirt, and a Panama hat, I fit in. Inexplicably, I found myself sitting on a wall near the keg. Bobbing my head to the then contemporary and timeless sounds of Queen, Boston and Springsteen, I coolly surveyed the landscape.
There was nothing particularly graceful about her entrance into my life. Running by my strategic position, she grabbed the hat off of my head, and kept on moving.
“Hey! That’s my Grandfather’s!” I yelled.
“Yeah, yeah!” she said with a mild tone of insolence.
“You owe me a dance!” I shouted as my hat, and the girl, disappeared around the corner of the building.
As a general rule, I like girls who have had too much to drink. I tend to be funnier, better looking, and more charming. I seem to be luckier as well. As fate would have it, Leigh was drinking. It would be a little while before the hat returned. But it did, with the girl. We hit it off immediately. I thought she was a nice girl.
Yep, our romance started the old-fashioned way; drinking and talking story. There may have been some canoodling.
Running to catch a ride back to Annapolis, with hat in hand, I uttered that fateful, sober(ish) declaration; “I’ll call you. I promise!”
Many believed it would never last. The prior weekend, Leigh, in a blood pact with her roommate, had sworn off Naval Academy Midshipmen forever. Her plan was to enjoy her senior year, finish her degree in Early Childhood Education, and get a teaching job in Baltimore.
My lack of second date experience didn’t excite the odds makers as well. Up to that point, just about everything I knew about relationships – I learned from Jimmy Buffett! (Blame it on the 70’s!)
Our second date would be a couple of weeks later. It was a Navy football game. Our plan was to meet in the morning at Dahlgren Hall – the epicenter of all happenings social at the Naval Academy. Leigh ran into a buddy of mine, Bill McGuinness.
“Hey Billy!” she said.
“Hey-hey! Leigh! How are you? What are you doing here?”
“Well,” she started sheepishly, “I’m here to meet Pat McBride.” Leaning toward him she whispers, “I hope I remember what he looks like!”
I am certain Bill’s head almost exploded. On one hand, he had always thought Leigh was a nice girl; on the other hand,” Pat McBride?”
Although trained not to give a comrades position away, Bill ultimately broke down and pointed me out as I walked into Dahlgren. As I approached the smiling freckle-faced cutie in a Kelly Green sun-dress, my heart pounded through my chest, everything was in slow motion. I struggled with what exactly I should say.
Leigh, on the other hand, had a completely different take on her first sober sighting.
“What the $&-@ is he wearing?!” It wouldn’t be long before those Earth Shoes were pulled from the rotation.
The weekends-only romance picked up steam. Within two months, we had announced a marriage was in the works. The news took many by surprise, and nearly all took it with a grain of salt.
Classmate Phil Hedrick commented wistfully, “I thought she was a nice girl…”
Dan Pedersen’s father, upon learning of Leigh’s desire to be a pre-school teacher, quipped, “I guess he’ll be a lifetime case study then, won’t he?”
We married on May 30, 1981. In the thirty years we’ve been wed (all blissful and glorious as I recall), together we have had 23 jobs, 12 cars, 9 addresses, 8 surgeries, 2 children, and one belly button ring. The fateful Panama hat sitting in my office reminds me of that one night I played Navy Seal. Today, the only conversation we have about hats is her nagging me to wear one when I’m golfing.
I still think she’s a nice girl.