Pulling rank like only a grandma can

Fog and southern women. Both can make “surrender” a perfectly palatable term.

Our recent siege of foggy weather reminded me of an incident that occurred in 1968. It involved my late, maternal grandmother, Cora Wells — a charter member of that segment of womankind supremely capable of turning the knees of men, no mater their station in life, to jelly.

Back then, I was a lowly plebe (freshman) who’d been home on Christmas leave. On the day I was due to return to school, the New Orleans airport was completely fogged in. My departure was thus delayed for more than 24 hours.

The college I attended had a rather descriptive term for students who were late returning from leave. It was called being “absent without leave” or AWOL. The results of such an absence were copious quantities of demerits and the opportunity — spread out over several weekends — to walk back and forth over a fixed path, in full uniform with rifle on shoulder, for several hours at a time.

I remember coming through the main gate approximately 27 hours late. I wasn’t the only individual late that year, but I was the last to return. Everyone else who’d been late had already been placed on report. This number included many upperclassmen, two of whom happened to be in my company.

When I reached my room, I found a note “requesting” my presence in front of our Company Officer — a dour individual, at best. Upon entering his office, I found him with hands steepled in front of his forehead, studying a memo on his desk.

When he looked up, he sighed and asked, “I’d just like to know how a lowly plebe can get the office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CEO of the Navy) to call the Commandant of Midshipmen to advise him that one Midshipman Simoneaux will be late returning to post through no fault of his own and should not be placed on report.”

I’d already learned that, as a plebe, I only had four responses available to me. These were: “Yes, sir;” “No, sir;” No excuse, sir;” and, “I’ll find out, sir.” None seemed to fit and, not knowing what he was talking about, I just stood there.

“Well, however you did it, it worked. Seems as if you won’t be placed on report or get any demerits for being AWOL. Lucky you.” A very subdued “Yes, sir” was about all that I could manage.

Then he said, “By the way, why don’t you go and let Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones (not their actual names) know what’s happened.”

Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were both excitable and very unpleasant upperclassmen, especially in their dealings with plebes.

“Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones sir?”

“Yes. They were only about 30 minutes late and were given 50 demerits each plus a couple of weekends of extra duty. I’m sure they’ll be delighted to hear of your good fortune. No use holding back, is there?”

On meeting with Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, the good news that I wasn’t on report was almost instantaneously replaced by the even better news that they, in a spirit of communal celebration, were going to put me on an intensive physical exercise routine over the next few weeks. This program, they informed me, was guaranteed to ensure my continued progress and ultimate success as a plebe, even if it killed me.

As I found out many years later, my grandmother had gotten on the phone to her cousin (Lyndon Johnson’s college friend and, back then, an official in his administration) and explained the fog situation at the airport. This led to a call to our congressman which led to a call to the Navy which led to a call to the Commandant which led to my summons to our company officer which led to the approximate 49,789 pushups that I performed for Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones over the following few weeks.

Looking back on it all, it’s still remarkable to recall the power that one very poor, southern woman held in her hands.

No wonder the Russians finally gave up. One could only imagine the outcome if two such women ever got together.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to: larrysim@comcast.net

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