I was in another world, far removed from the intense training of Fort Bragg and Camp MacKall, North Carolina. I stared out the window of the Helio Courier, a light Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) utility aircraft. The all-aluminum airframe features a welded 15G steel-tube center section fuselage, with shoulder harnesses to protect the occupants in an emergency. This aircraft was designed to maintain control at speeds as low as 27 miles per hour.
The view below was inundated with long brown rivers slithering like snakes through the thick green jungle canopy that resembled an enormous Broccoli patch. The pilot, Danny Rose, was my dad’s friend and colleague and like my dad, he lacked hair on most all of his scalp. When out of the plane, he stood about 5’ 10 and though not considered to be overweight, he was stout.
Our destination was a tiny enclave of sporadic houses making up a missionary base known as Limoncocha. The dozen or so homes at the edge of a lemon-shaped lake were deep in the amazon jungle of Ecuador. It surrounded a grassy runway, long enough for a McDonald Douglas DC-3 to easily land and take off.
Many thoughts went through my mind as I looked out across the thick, vegetated and mostly uninhabited land. Those however, were interrupted by our descent onto the base airstrip, plenty long enough for the single-engine craft.
The plane taxied to a stop in front of the open-bay hangar that stood next to a wooden shack that served as the passenger terminal. Once the engine stopped, Danny gave me the thumbs up and I unbuckled my seatbelt and shoulder harness, opened the door and stepped out into the thick air. The humidity was worse than I remembered, far worse than it was at Fort Benning, Georgia during Airborne school when the temperature stood at 100 degrees for nearly two straight weeks. Sweat poured down my cheeks before I could exert any motion. My designer shades slid down my nose.
My father came out to greet me from the hangar. He was the primary factor in my decision in joining the Army 15 months earlier. I had not seen him since then, when together we talked to the recruiters from all branches of service. He and my mother were in Venice, Florida for the Holidays and to celebrate my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. They traveled back to Ecuador about a day before I went back to the Army recruiter and asked about joining the Special Forces.
My mother arrived to the hangar on her Honda 100 with our dog, Smokey, tagging along behind. Even he was excited to see me, expressed by his knack for bowling people to the ground. I held my ground however, prepared for his manner of greeting. I traveled lightly so I grabbed my bag and took over the bike and headed home. I was in a hurry to make a change of clothes.
After braking to a stop at the front of the house, I bounded up the steps into the open, screened, wooden frame built about three feet off the ground. With the sweltering heat attacking me, I wasted little time shedding my traveling threads and donning a pair of cut-off jeans and sleeveless T-shirt. With no air conditioning available, that would have to do.
While in the back bedroom changing, I heard my mother talking to someone from the kitchen. “Yeah, he’s here,” I heard her yell.
I was finished changing so I headed to the front area of the house to see who was behind the other female voice I was hearing. When I emerged from the back bedroom, I saw this pretty young lady. There she stood in the doorway, looking at me with those mesmeric eyes. She was indeed “a green-eyed lady, lovely lady!”
“Hi!” She greeted me with a radiant smile.
“Hello,” I answered back, trying to hide my gawking towards such a good-looking woman.
“How was your trip?”
“It wasn’t too bad; a bit lengthy.” She certainly is attractive, I thought.
“You remember Trena, don’t you?” my mother asked.
I remembered meeting her briefly once before at a restaurant, “The Oyster Bar” in St. Petersburg, Florida. That was when several people from Ecuador were stateside during the Holidays, including the time my parents were in Florida. I also remembered that we probably had not spoken more than a dozen words to each other the whole night. Although I would steal a glance in her direction whenever I thought her attention was somewhere else and I could get away with it, I don’t believe she was the least bit interested in me.
Why would she have been? I had just dropped out of my first attempt of college and my hair was shoulder length. Trena, on the other hand, already had her Master’s Degree.
“Yes, at that restaurant in Florida, I believe.”
“Yep, I remember,” she said. Well, good seeing you again. I just got off work and need to go change but I’ll be back.”
Okay,” is all I could manage to say.
Trena had just finished teaching the missionary kids at the base school. “She comes over now and then so we’ll probably see her shortly,” my mother mentioned.
I was glad to hear that. Sure enough, maybe 30 minutes later, she was back. This time, she was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts that revealed her nicely bronzed legs. I was impressed, to say the least. Trena sat down and began what seemed to be a routine chat with my mother. It may have been my imagination, but she seemed more interested in looking at me this time around. My appearance had certainly changed. I just completed Army Basic training, airborne school, and Phase I of the Special Forces (SF) training. My hair was much shorter and my frame more muscular.
I chimed in on the conversation occasionally, mainly trying not to let it appear too obvious that I was watching her with admiration. Trena was tall and slim, at least five foot, eight inches, and her dark brown hair was shoulder length. But it was the glow of her effervescent smile and the sparkling green emerald eyes that captured my undivided attention. I was in trouble. Although I was definitely attracted to her, I needed to hide those feelings, at least for the time being. I certainly didn’t want to say or do anything that might chase her away.
Trena definitely was not one of the SF camp groupies that hung around at the barracks, nor was she one of the girls that frequented the clubs. In fact, she was considered by many to be an overachiever, blowing first through High School in three years followed by a mere three more to complete her BA. Her master’s degree was completed shortly after that, while she was teaching in Clearwater at the age of 22!
The granddaughter of a Nansemond Indian Chief of the Powhatan Empire, Trena attacked everything with grit and determination. She was not only driven but dedicated. How else could one explain the presence of a young, beautiful woman doing mission work in the middle of the Amazon jungle?
Trena’s sharp cheekbones curved smoothly into a lovely face framed by dark brown hair. Those exquisite, oval, emerald green eyes seemed to sparkle with intelligence, delight, and just a touch of mischief. I was definitely enamored by her striking features.
If I ever stood a chance with this appealing young lady I would need to develop a strategic plan to earn her affections. I needed a plan that would include developing a deep friendship, if that was possible in three weeks, and one that would avoid any “chest-pounding,” self-bravado and machismo.
Since our conversations began with simple small talk surrounding common interests, my strategy was starting off in the right direction. I intended on not telling her anything about my training unless she asked. I figured that my mother already took care of all that anyway. Our mutual friendship continued along this path for 10 days but I was okay with it because I simply enjoyed being around her.