Mar 4, 2016

A Party in Key West...

The first ship I served on, the USS Hugh Purvis (DD-709), was assigned to Destroyer Development Group 2, a research and development organization.  As new ideas were introduced into the fleet, we were the testing platforms that investigated the practicality/usability/effectiveness of those new concepts.  We tested everything from new plumbing fixtures to experimental paint to new weapons systems.  In April, 1963, we were engaged in operational testing of the Mark 44 torpedo, a second generation light weight anti-submarine weapon that was designed to be ship launched or aircraft launched.  We were conducting our tests in the operating areas not far from Key West.  When we weren't operating, we moored at the old Key West submarine facility, a group of finger piers on the western side of the island.

One afternoon, while on shore leave, I took shelter from the afternoon sun in an establishment called "The Oldest Bar."  As I recall, it had a wooden boardwalk in front with a large canopy and a door that opened wide, revealing the large four-sided bar inside.  After my eyes got used to the darkness, I spied a very attractive lady sitting near the rear of the bar and decided to strike up a conversation.  It turned out that she was a Lufthansa stewardess home based in Miami who maintained a small apartment in Key West.  After a few drinks, she excused herself, saying that she had to leave to get ready for a party.  I don't recall how, but somehow I got myself invited to accompany her.  We went by her place where she changed clothes and then proceeded in her Jaguar to a white house at 1431 Duncan Street.  We went in to what turned out to be Tennessee Williams' Easter Party!
The house at 1431 Duncan Street

The house was packed.  I didn't know a soul.  And soon, my "date" was lost in the crowd and I was on my own.  I strayed into the kitchen and one detail I recall is that the kitchen walls were papered in antique slave sale broadsides that had been glued to the walls and then sealed with a clear varnish.  I chatted with the cooks and servers for a while (the food was abundant) and then sat on a Victorian-looking sofa and struck up a conversation with an older lady.  She introduced herself as a Mrs. Jameson, and she was associated with the Key West Citizen newspaper.  She also had a major interest in the vending machines and pinball machines in town.  And as we continued talking, there turned out to be a connection to some mutual friends, the Gardner family from Schenectady (Pink and Eleanor Gardner introduced my parents!).

Every summer, the Meads spent a week with the Gardner family at their summer home, "Fieldstone," in Newfane, Vermont.  There was a family who occupied a place on the other side of Smith Brook, whose name was Jameson.  We played with their son, whose nickname was "Wire" Jameson, since he was always tinkering with electrical gadgets.  The lady with whom I was speaking was Wire's mother!  Talk about a small world.  We continued to chat about events in Schenectady and Vermont, and somehow, got on the subject of home towns.  She mentioned that she was originally from Greenup, Kentucky.

To most people, Greenup, Kentucky wouldn't mean much.  However, the operations officer on my ship, Lieutenant Bill Leslie, hailed from Greenup.  He would head home in the springtime when the Little Sandy and the Ohio Rivers conspired to flood the first floor of his father's drug store.  The entire family would work together to move the inventory upstairs before the water got to it!  I had heard that story from Bill enough that I knew his dad's name, so I asked Mrs. Jameson if she had ever heard of Sam Leslie, who owned a drug store in Greenup.  Oh, my God!  She had gone to school with Sam.  She knew him well.  It was like old home week.

I don't recall if we ever managed to get Bill Leslie and Mrs. Jameson together for a hometown reunion.  I only remember being amazed at the three-way confluence of coincidences that occurred at that crazy party.  I don't believe I ever actually saw Mr. Williams, the host.  Nor did I appreciate that I was in the presence of someone who had earned two Pulitzer Prizes!  The place was so packed and noisy that it was very difficult to carry on a conversation.  I never saw the girl who brought me to the party again.  And not long after that, the ship headed back for Newport, our home base.

We would be back in Key West in the fall, but I never again really got into the social stratum of that evening.  In fact, that following November I watched John Kennedy's funeral on a TV at the Naval Air Station Officer's Club in Key West.  It was a mood far removed from the festivities of the Easter party...

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