Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Meet Mr. Bateman


If you read my other blog, With Me For Thirty Days, I apologize for the replay, but today was too good of a day not to share with the people who I know read My Ginger Riott.

Yesterday was my last full day on active duty in the Air Force.  I have made sure to not have an affiliation with the Air Force in my blog until now, not because I am ashamed in any way of my service but because my first few stories with Agent 5 had some real dorks, and I didn’t want to portray the rest of the Air Force in their light. 

Anyway, yesterday was my last full day at work, and this morning was my final out-processing appointment before I hung up my hat...and my uniform, forever.  My day started out with a huge feeling of disbelief.  I paid attention to the small details of lacing up my boots.  Today I wore green sued combat boots.  Eight years ago I laced up black leather combat boots that I shined with a little bit of water, boot polish and enough elbow grease to put WD40 out of business. 

 


My whole morning felt surreal knowing that it would be my last day.  That was, until my career was put in perspective.  Don’t get me wrong, I have done some truly amazing things with even more amazing people, but today I met a real hero, then I gave him some cupcakes.

 


At my final out appointment I was sitting at the desk of the woman who was going through my paperwork, making sure everything was ready to go.

Lady:  You seem to be missing your ID card paperwork.  Can you take this form down to the ID card office and have them fill it out and sign it?  Then bring it back up here.

I walked downstairs and signed in.  The person who was signed-in in front of me had been waiting for an hour and a half.  This was not going to be a quick process.  I sat down in a chair two chairs down from a chaplain.  About twenty minutes later, an older gentlemen sat down in a chair across from us.  I later found out this man’s name was Mr. Bateman, and he would mean a lot to me. 

Mr. Bateman said, "Well kids, what’s on TV here?"

I looked up from my iPhone game and the chaplain answered him.

The chaplain said, "I don’t know.  It’s some movie about an opera."

Mr. Bateman said, “Ahh, I miss operas.  People don’t appreciate them like they used to.  There is so much heart in operas.”

I went back to playing my game while these two started a conversation.  Mr. Bateman talked about the house he still owns back in Illinois, and how he wants to move back there soon, because he hasn’t lived there in 60 years.  The chaplain told him he’d be more than happy to take it off his hands if it was close enough to Chicago.  He was creepy.

Luckily, the chaplain was the man who was signed in above me, and it was his turn to go back. 

Mr. Bateman said, “Is your name Lott, or is that an I?”

He was looking at my name tape on my uniform.

I said, “It’s an I.  It’s Iott.”

Mr. Bateman said, “ Oh, I’ve been alive for a long time, and I've never seen that name.  Where does that name come from?”

I said, “I believe it’s French Canadian.”

It’s funny how “old” people are willing to start a conversation with anyone over anything.  For all of our progression our generation is making, we seem to forget that there’s other people around us.

We started talking about our home towns, our families, and our kids.  My kids being five and one, and his kids being in their 40s and 50s.  He was in the Navy from 1953 to 1983. He had completed thirty years of service, three years before I was even born.  He told me about being a helicopter pilot in the Korean Conflict.

Mr. Bateman said, “Well I spent most of my time in North Korea.  They didn’t like us much, but that’s alright.  Those guys kept punching (ejecting) out of their planes, so we’d stroll over and give ‘em a lift back south.  So many of those guys kept asking for a lift that I volunteered to stay over there for two tours and give them a hand.  After that they asked me where I wanted to go, so I said EAST!” 

So they transferred him to a naval base in Spain.  When he got there, that base was closing down so they were going to transfer him again.

Mr. Bateman said, “They asked me if I wanted to move to Iceland.  I said, ‘Where’s that?’ they said, ‘I don’t know, but it sounds cold’.”

He did two tours there, later moved back to Europe, then northern Africa, and back to Europe, working decades as a helicopter pilot. 

He told me he now works at the golf course on base, and if I’m ever there to stop by and he would buy me a cup of coffee.  He leaned in and said, “I get it for free”, with a wink.

The ID card office called me back so I stood up, shook his hand and walked to the back to get my paperwork signed. 

Later today I came home, hung up my uniform for the last time, ate some lunch, packed up a dozen cupcakes that I baked yesterday and went back to base.

I am doing a 30 day challenge with cupcakes where every day for thirty days I’m sharing cupcakes with people for my blog With Me For Thirty Days.  So I decided if I was going to give anyone cupcakes today, it was going to be Mr. Bateman.

I drove over to the golf course and walked in to the pro shop.  It’s weird how vulnerable you feel carrying a tray of cupcakes to a total stranger in foreign territory.  I walked up to the counter and asked the girl if she knew where Mr. Bateman was and if I could speak to him for a moment. 

She said, “I’m sorry.  Mr. Bateman was furloughed months ago and no longer works here.”

My heart sank. 

Mr. Bateman seemed like all of his marbles were still in the jar, but he is in his 80s.  Maybe he meant to say he used to work at the golf course. 

I said, “Are you sure?  Could you please call back over to the maintenance barn?  That’s where he said he works.”

The lady behind the counter said, “I don’t think he’s here, but I can call over I guess.”

She reluctantly picked up the phone and called over.  She was wrong.  He had been furloughed, but he had come back to work this week.  He was out in the maintenance barn. 

“Where is the barn?” I asked.

“It’s down the hill, behind the golf carts by Hole 18.”

I practically floated down the hill towards the barn.  Knowing that he hadn’t been let go and that he was still here, and he wasn’t losing his marbles gave me a sense of hope that just pushed all that vulnerability out of the way.  I met him in the office attached to the barn.

I walked in, now wearing jeans and a hoodie, not in uniform.

“Mr. Bateman, do you remember me from this morning?”

He said, “Well hello, Chelsea.  What a nice surprise.”

I said, “I brought you some cupcakes!”

He said, “What are these for?”

I said, “Well I write this blog.”  I stopped there thinking of how I was going to describe a blog to someone who was born before there were computers, much less the internet.

“A blog is a...”

He interrupted me and said, “I know what a blog is.  How old do you think I am?”  This is why he is my new hero, among other things.

We talked for a little bit, he kissed me on the temple and gave me a hug.  He told me to stop by again and we would get that cup of coffee.  He also told me to stop by his hometown in Illinois if I am ever in the area. 

 


We took a picture together and he said, “Now you better hang up this picture in your barn in Michigan.”  I promised I would.  As I was walking out he said, “Hey.”  I turned around.  “Thanks a million, kid.”

No.  Thank you, Mr. Bateman.