Carton of Saltines, Frederick Remington painting, my office mate’s name plaque for his desk.
My office mate is a man named Max. We’ve shared our office for the last 10 years. It’s an unusual relationship because, back in the ’60’s, during the Cold War, when my dad was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base/Strategic Air Command Headquarters, writing wargames for Viet Nam, Max was stationed at the missile silos in South Dakota and flying B52’s for the Air Force. They knew each other.
I learned this soon after we moved into our own little office. I got a Fredrick Remington painting to hang on the wall. Another prof was throwing it out and since it reminds me of Montana, I kind of wanted it in my office. I asked Max if he liked it and he said yeah, it reminded him of South Dakota. Then I remembered that I’d always wanted to ask him if in his Air Force days he’d been stationed in Omaha. I asked. He turned his Air Force pilot hawk eyes on me and said, “Why?”
“I wondered if you knew my dad.”
“Who’s your dad?”
“Bill Kennedy? That glib tongued rascal was your father?” There’s probably not a better description of my dad than that. My father died in 1972, a very long time ago. I was thrilled and by what Max said; happy and amazed he’d known my father.
It has been incredible to sit in an office where once in a while my office mate turns around and says, “Your dad and I…” and launches into a story from a time I couldn’t know. Max is 10 years younger than my dad, a Captain at the time my dad made trips up to South Dakota to discuss strategy. Max also came to Omaha to be briefed by my dad and others, but there’s more; we followed each other throughout our lives. I lived in Colorado Springs, my dad at NORAD, when Max was teaching at the Air Force Academy. We’ve eaten in the same restaurants here and there, steak houses in South Omaha (Johnny’s) and the hamburger joints in Bellevue, Nebraska.
“Do you remember than hamburger joint in Bellevue? Stellas?” He asked one day and then said, “At one time, a group of us Air Force guys from Offutt lunched there. Bill Kennedy among us.”
We also like each other. We’ve both lost important and beloved family members long before we should have. We have great respect and affection for each other, want everything good for the other.
One day years ago we had lunch together kind of spontaneously here in our office. I only had 30 minutes before my class, so Max put a can of sardines in front of me and another in front of him; shook some saltines onto the napkin he’d laid on the breadboard of his desk as a tablecloth, gave me a bottle of Fiji water and we dug in. It was wonderful.
“This is a real picnic,” he said, smashing sardines onto his cracker.
I used to eat sardines with my dad, just this way, when I was a little girl and mom was gone at lunch time on a Saturday. “C’mon, Mak,” my dad would say, “let’s open up a can of sardines.”
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