We moved out of that big blue house on Mechanics Valley Road to a drab cramped officer’s quarters at the Bainbridge Naval Training Station. I don’t think we lived there very long because I really have to rack my brains to think of anything half memorable there. I’ll tell you a little bit about the base. It was like a college campus. There were many schools there; for Marines (NAPSters), Waves (Women Available for Volunteer Emergency Services), Navy Training Centers, where my dad was the Superintendent of Schools, and a Naval Academy Prep School at the top of the hill in the Tome section. Élite military students prepped there before assignment to the Officer’s Naval Academy in Annapolis.
The base was at the top of a hill and you had to come and go through a guarded gate. Inside the fenced in facility was a maze of roads, large training buildings, dormitories and officer’s housing that surrounded a sprawling treed mall on a rolling landscape. It included a football stadium, tennis courts, a lacrosse field, a huge amphitheater and three churches. On the far side of the base was a fence above a steep cliff that overlooked the Susquehanna and the tiny town of Port Deposit below. Sailors, Jarheads (Marines) and Waves were constantly on the move marching back and forth in their whites, khakis and blues between the schools, mess halls and the enlisted club, Fiddler’s Green. We ignored them for the most part and were kept segregated in our quarter of the base. Being fenced in restricted us from the free roaming we enjoyed in North East but we made the best of it. A little league baseball field was a block away but I never got to play in because it was winter. We took the bus to and from school and Blackie would meet us at the bus stop everyday.
We had a big snowstorm that year and woke to find out school was closed and there was a foot of snow on the ground with more on the way. As had been the tradition at the base, just about the all the kids assembled into a collective force at the park area. Like worker ants we prepped the hillsides, taking turns pulling kid-laden snow saucers that flattened down the snow and others stomped and packed the snow and smoothed out embankments along the tight curves. After a couple hours the serpentine sled path snaked to the bottom on the park and shot out into an open area.
The sledding was fantastic. It was fast and dangerous. Most of us had the dependable runner sleds called the “Flexible Flyer,” they were steerable and you could slow them down by dragging your feet along the curves. We’d start off in a sprint and flopped down on them to get a faster start. The brave or reckless kids had snow discs, or flying saucers. They were metal discs with hand straps and always an adventure to ride. It was only luck if you made it all the way down on one of them. Usually, you’d end up riding sideways or backwards, totally out of control and end up shooting off the path and face down in the snow. It was a blast. We returned home frozen, wind-chaffed and wobbly-legged and would thaw out with a hot cocoa.
Another transfer came around and we packed up for a trip back to California. With my parents and five siblings, suitcases and bags, our station wagon was packed tight as sardines in a tin. There was no room for Blackie.
“There’s no way we’re taking that dog!” my dad announced.
We never expected that, it was too cruel. That dog was like a brother to me, I saved its life for Christ’s sake! He ignored our shocked and desperate pleas and pulled out of the driveway, all of us crying. Blackie stood in front of our house wagging his tail, expecting we’d be back later. That was really heart breaking!
Months later, in California, I saw a kid who had lived in Bainbridge at the same time we had. He told me Blackie was still roaming the base looking for us. I was glad, incredibly glad, to hear that and wondered if there was a kind soul who fed him or he survived on rabbits or overturned trashcans to survive. Better yet, maybe he escaped the guards and fences and re-joined his wolf pack in the deep wild woods of North East.