#11 (El Paso)

Cecil’s next assignment was to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Neither one of us had any idea where El Paso was, and when we asked we were told it was way down on the southern tip of Texas and was hot and humid. Not quite. Instead it was on the western tip of Texas and was high and dry. Meanwhile, Cecil had wrecked the huge Buick he was driving and we were left with my little red Tempest convertible, which did get us out to ElPaso and then essentially died as we pulled into the last motel parking space.

We checked into post housing with its lovely green linoleum floors. When the wind blew, which it almost always did, the dirt would just blow under the kitchen window — which was closed. I was just enamored with the tumbleweeds blowing around, so I caught one and sprayed it gold and hung it over the dining room table. We soon discovered that all sorts of little things (some even alive little things) were entangled in the tumbleweed which would gradually be released as we all (of course we had to have company!) sat down for dinner.

After spending a couple of months with the green linoleum floors, I needed to get out and about, so I got a job as a sales clerk in the sportswear department at the Popular Department Store at Bassett Center. The fun part was getting to dress the mannequins. It was standard procedure to give every new employee an intelligence test when they’re first hired. The test was actually not that hard but I was sort of surprised when the woman sitting next to me asked me “How do they expect us to know these things?”

After a while, they asked me to take another test. Well, it ended up the store was installing a brand new computer system and they needed people to start working on the computer. I guess I passed the second test because I was transferred to work downtown. The new computer was an NCR and the programming language was called NEAT. I was sent to a two-week training course at the NCR headquarters in Dayton, Ohio. I just loved the new language. It was like working a big moving puzzle. The commands were 6 characters long, the first three characters specified the command and the second three characters specified the memory location for where the data was located. What made it so interesting is that you could go back in as the program was running and change the first three characters and do something entirely different to the data in that location if you wanted.

The computer and the computing offices were up on the seventh floor behind the Accounts Receivable department and way behind the Executive Offices. Mr. Herbert Schwartz was the “patron saint” of the computer and would come by sometimes and just stand outside the computer and watch it run. There was a lot more action to see in the computer room than there is now. The card readers would be flashing, and the tapes would need to replaced and mounted, and the whistles and alarms would sound.

I went in one Sunday to run a program and I forgot to close the hatch on the card reader. There were quite a few really exciting moments as the cards started flying all over the room! I was so glad Mr. Schwartz wasn’t looking in at the time.

We were in El Paso for about six months when Cecil received his orders to report to Viet Nam. My parents were still in New Jersey, so I decided to go back to work at Exxon, except this time I asked to be transferred to Exxon Math and Systems to work with computers. This is where I was first introduced to programming in Fortran. I was first assigned to work with (or more accurately, for) who was such an expert in Fortran that he wrote out his Fortran statements with an ink pen. I was still making copious use of erasers.

As we were leaving Fort Bliss, our little dog darted down the street in all the confusion was hit by a car and killed. I was just beside myself in not only losing my husband to go to war, but the dog was gone too. Not an auspicious send-off.  So Cecil and I went to the El Paso ASPSA Shelter and found a little black poodle that we name Peso.  He was the only poodle I had ever seen with a long tail and he would smile when you talked to him. How could you resist?

Peso and I took up residence in an apartment in Parsippany while Cecil went off to war. He was gone for a long and lonely year.

The apartment was the first place I had ever decorated on my own, which led to some interesting results. The beautiful green rug that I had bought for the bedroom was so thin and kept curling up, tripping me all the time. The only solution was to nail the rug to the floor. That worked.

More continuing saga to come . . .

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