Libby and Art Harris decided to get married, and she broke up with Mike. He was disappointed, but he knew about Art and wasn't surprised. Libby enjoyed going to places with Mike that Art wouldn't take her, but she felt her future was with Art...and her "clock was ticking".
So Libby planned her wedding, and Mike went on with his life. He was back at work at the Merchandise Mart, where thousands of people worked and visited. A chance meeting of a girl who worked at The Toni Company, two floors below, led to some dating. She was younger than Mike, but she had really beautiful hair (for which she got wonderful care and treatment in their experimental lab there).
Mike dated her for some time, and the Christmas holidays approached. He wanted to give her a nice present, so he ordered an expensive silk scarf from Neiman Marcus and had it sent to her home. Some time later, she asked if he knew anything about a package she had received from "Neiman Marcus", but she had mispronounced the name, indicating she didn't know what the store was...
This concerned Mike, because he then understood she was from a different background than his (it was petty of him, but actually fortuitous). They continued to date some through the Holidays (and she didn't seem to be impressed with the scarf), and Mike felt this wasn't going very far.
Mike was feeling the heat of the Draft: he was of prime age, and the Vietnam conflict was escalating into a war. He opted to join the Illinois Air National Guard, which had a unit based at O'Hare Field, close to where he lived in Evanston. He was assigned to become an Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Specialist and given a date to fly to Texas for Basic Training and Tech School. He was flown to Texas in February, 1961, right around his birthday, on an Air Force cargo plane without seats: just hammock netting along the sides of the plane.
Basic Training was a rough experience for Mike and most others...it was meant to be. It was 8 weeks of physically demanding and demeaning drills and exercises. Mike figured out that an important (unspoken) lesson to be learned was "teamwork", because nothing gets done in the U.S. military by individuals - a key thing to learn in any situation.
While he was experiencing Air Force Basic Training in Texas that Libby's wedding plans abruptly halted, right after the invitations had been mailed. Her life was upended, and she started considering options. She remembered her dates with Mike, but didn't know how to contact him. Then she recalled that special evening at his parents' home...and she remembered the address!
Libby bought a simple greeting card that said, "Hi, what have you been doing lately?" and sent it to him at his parents' address. This bold move would be most significant!
Mike received the card, forwarded by his parents, halfway into his 8 week Basic Training stint. He was at Lackland AFB, in San Antonio, and his unit had reached the point in their training where they were "rewarded" with a day trip into San Antonio. There was one requirement, however: they had to attend a showing of The Longest Day, the classic mega-movie about the Normandy Invasion that was currently playing all over the country. Mike had already seen the film (twice) in Chicago, and since he didn't drink alcohol (a guaranteed part of trip) he had no desire to go. The real reason, however, was that he had just received this card and very much wanted to reply. Also, his relationship and correspondence with "The Girl from Toni" weren't going anywhere. He was getting lonely.
So he asked his sergeant if he could stay on the base - a most unusual request. He was told he could do so...only if he would clean and wax the entire 2 story barracks they lived in. That was okay with him; the others got on buses, and Mike knew he'd be alone until late that night. First, he went out to the nearby vending machine (the unit had not been yet allowed to access them), got a couple of Cokes, his first in 4 weeks. He then started waxing and polishing the barracks. This project was obviously designed as "busy work" to keep him out of sight and trouble. He completed the task and sat down to respond to Libby's card, producing a 2500 word letter that went into (excessive) detail, but also showed Libby he was interested.
Libby was pleasantly surprised, and she wrote back a small letter explaining herself. This started a barrage of letters between them that lasted the rest of his Basic Training and the 6 months of Tech School also in Texas): Libby was writing nice letters, and Mike penned detail about his experiences in Texas. The benefit to Mike's morale can't be overstated, as his time in Texas was otherwise boring and unpleasant. When he got back to Chicago, that world was much different from what he left 8 months earlier, and their relationship was reborn... [more]