ANDREA Y MOTLEY CRABTREE
FIRST FEMALE U S ARMY DEEP SEA DIVER
As a child, my formal education of colleges came from a pennant covered trash can in the corner of my room. I was very much acttracted to the Michigan State insignia. Well into my senior year of high school, no one had asked counseled or even spoke of my plans for college. My brother had already gone away to college the year before and my sister, the year before that. Both were honor students. I hated school, and everyone knew it. What would have given anyone any idication of my desire to attend college? I never brought a book home from school, and I certainly did not study one. I was not about to be humiliated or ridiculed by asking, Hey! How about me? I want to go.
It was not an easy task, but somehow I did manage to graduate four hundred and sixty-second out of seven hundred with a seventy-one average. (This was accomplished only by spending most of the summer in summer school.) Needless to say, college scouts were not breaking down my door. With diploma in hand, I suddenly realized I had no plans for my future. I do not think I had ever even taken two minutes to think about life after high school.
At some point, I learned that in-state tuition was less expensive than that of out of state students. In an instant, it all became clear to me. I would go to Michigan, I would get a job, work for a year, gain state residency and earn enough money to pay my way through college. This was a simple enough plan or so I thought. It never occurred to me that I did not know anyone in Michigan I had never even met anyone from Michigan. I had not taken the ACT or SAT, I had not even applied for admission. I had no place to stay no job lined up and no more than sixteen dollars in my pocket. None of this concerned me.
I packed my backpack, put on my Herman survivors (a name brand of rugged hiking boots), my Michigan State ball cap and my dad’s old army jacket. I bought a map and hit the highway.
I do not know how to explain it but, in 1976 I was very naive, fearless, or just clueless. And I had not yet met death. I had not known anyone who had been raped, savagely baten or kidnapped. One day in 1969 my mother picked us up from school and told us that her father had passed away. I had not never met him or talked to him on the phone, I had not even seen a picture of him. So I had not yet personally known anyone who had died. I don’t even remember Mr. Weston. Just his body in his casket in the living room. In my mind only other people, people I did not know had bad things happen to them, and I had no reason to believe I would not live to a ripe old age and die of natural causes in my sleep. I did not think twice about getting on the highway, sticking my thumb out and hitching a ride with someone. However, I did come up with a set of rules to hitch by. I would not get into a car with more than two people uneless I gelt good about it, I would not get high, and I would not hitch at night.
I got some great rides. I define a great ride by the distance traveled, the attitude or personality of the driver and the comfort of the ride. I would ask to be let out at travel stops such as Stuckey’s. Then I would look in the parking lot for cars with tags of the states in the direction I was going. Hoping, of course, for the grand prize of tags, Michigan. Once I found a car, I would wait for the driver to show up, and then I would size them up. If the car was full or I did not feel confortable with the occupants, I would look for another car until I got a ride. My plan seemed perfect, I was able to pick with whom I wanted to ride. Some of the same people who gave me rides would hae surly passed me by had I been stnanding on the side of the highway, but when confronted face to face what could they say? They were not going my way. It did not always work out this perfectly. I always found a ride at the food stops but at times I had to get out on the side of the highway, because my ride was taking an exit or going in a direction other than what I needed to go in.
I wish I had had the presence of mind to keep a journal. I met some good people on my trek. Some would ask me if I had enough money, if I were in trouble or if I had eaten. Some would drive miles out of their way just so they could let me out in a good location to get to the next ride. I never willingly accepted money or did anything to inconvenience my driver. More than once, I later found that money or food had been slipped into my backpack. Three rides stand out in my mind. The first one is of an older gentleman who was driving a silver Mercedes. He was an illustrator or a writer he showed me hand sketches of horses, ponies and Indians. He picked me up at a food stop, where he had bought a chicken basket, which he offered to share with me. I thanked him for the offer, but declined. He put it away and did not eat it. I rode with him for four or five hours. I felt very comfortable with him and was sorry when the ride ended. Not that I was asked, but the thought of going with him crossed my mind more than once and I envisioned a life I had only dreamed of. Later I found a ten dollar bill and the chicken basket in my backpack. Another ride was with a man and a woman driving a car with Ohio license plates I was standing by their car at a food stop waiting to see who it belonged to. When they walked up to the car I told them I was trying to get to Michigan and asked for a ride. They half-assed looked at each other without saying a word and then one of them said get in. They were acting kinda strange, but I did not sense any fear I think they were angry witht each other and figured they would not have to argue as long as I was in the car. I rode with them for what seemed like forever, probably four or so hours. They never said one word to each other, or me the whole trip. The last person I remember was the big rig truck driver who took me into Michigan. He told me he was not suppose to pick up hitchhikers but that he did because it was getting dark and he did not want to leave me standing on the highway. I remember that he was very nice and that he went out of his way to let me out where he did. We arrived about thirty miles outide of Langsing, Michigan at about two o’clock in the morning. (Michigan State College is in Lansing, Michigan) I was riding with the trucker I spoke of earlier. I was so excited to be in the state of Michigan and so very thankful to him for the ride that when I put my pack on (standing in the passanger doorway) I gave him a last wave saying, Thank you, goodby. As I did, the weight of my pack pulled me backward and out of the truck I must have fallen down at least ten feet. The driver jumped up an looked out of the passenger side door. I was just lying there like a turtle flipped over on its shell. Fortunately, my pack broke the fall and I was not injured.
I dared not enlist another ride. In front of me was some sort of a restaurant. I had packed single-serving cereal boxes in my pack. I went into the restaurant, and ordered a glass of milk, and asked for a spoon. I guess the occupants of the restaurant saw me as somewhat of an oddity. No one said a word, but I felt something in the air. Surely, some of them had seen me fall out of the truck. I ate my cereal, paid for my meal and left.
Once outside I wondered, what next? I was exhausted and in need of sleep. I went to the side of the restaurant and decided that it was the best place for me to stay for the night. I thought anywhere other than New York was the country. In my mind country people lived by a code of honor. Certainly, no one would bother me here. I rolled out my sleeping bag, crawled inside, and went to sleep with a can of mace in my hand, just in case. I awoke to the sun up and the sound of a trashcan banging against the side of a dumpster. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. I was aware of the man who was working around the restaurant, but not concerned by him. I finally realized the worker was intentionally making noise to get my attention. I got up. The man came over to me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was hitchhiking to Lansing. He asked me if I had come by the prison. When I asked him where it was, he said it was about five miles down the road. He then told me that he was on a work release program from the prison. My mouth dropped open in disbelief. I packed up my things and caught the first ride out, heading toward Lansing.
By total chance, I arrived at Michigan State on registration day. However, this had no effect on my situation. As I wandered alone through the campus, I watched students being dropped off by their families. They were looking for and moving into their dorm rooms, and I tried to imagine the day when I too would belong. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon, so I stopped dreaming and came back to reality.
I had to get my priorities in order. I needed to find a place to stay and more importantly, a means of supporting myself. I asked for directions to the main section of town, It was not far from campus. Michigan Avenue ran past the campus and was the hub of the college. There I found a line of fast-food restaurants, starting with McDonald’s. I decided to begin looking for work at McDonald’s and follow the line until I found employment.
I entered the restaurant, asked for the manager, and I asked if they were hiring. Instead of answering my question, he asked me if I knew how to play basketball ! I was not interested in small talk, and I was somewhat disturbed by his questioning of my athletic abilities. I responded with something like I know how to play, but are you hiring? He looked at me and said, ‘You look like you can play. I was getting very agitated, so I told him I had played varsity basketball in high school, but I was not really a fan of the game. He explained that McDonald’s had a team that played other McDonald’s in the area, but only employees were allowed to play. He said they had a game that night and if I would agree to play for them, I was hired. The only condition was that I had to start work in two hours to be eligible to play, I was flabbergasted, But I accepted immediately. The manager game me a uniform and I was o my way. We played that night and won. This win was in no way due to my spedcial knowldge of the game I did not even play.
As I left the restaurant, smiling from ear to ear a young man was walking toward me. Our eyes caught and we spoke. He said, you sure are in a good mood. I explained that I had just gotten into town, had found a job and now I was on my way to find a place to live. Amazingly, he said he lived in a house not far from there with four roommates. His name was Michael. He asked me to come over to meet the others, So I did. All his roommates, except one, were students at Michigan State. The one not in school was a school bus driver and had had personality conflicts with the others. So they were evicting him. He was leaving the next day. His name was Roy. What a weirdo he was. He looked like a poster child for pedophiles and perverts. This guy was fat, greasy and sweaty with zits all over his face.
My so-called room was in the attic complete with A-frame rafters that prevented me from wakling anywhere except straight down the peak of the roof. There was no insulation, and no heat except for the electric blanket willed to the room by perevious occupants. However, the price was right at fortydollars a month, so I rented it.
The guys were great. They were like the big brothers I always wanted but never had. First there was Gerry: he was the head of the household, and probably the most responsible of us all. He was the one who had acuired the house and whose name was on the lease. Gerry had his head up his ass and thought he was better than the rest of us. He had his own room and bath on the second floor. Gerry never had much to do or say to the rest of us unless it was to ask us to clean up or pay our rent.
Then there was Jon; I had never met anyone quite like Jon before. It took me almost a year to realize what most people seemed to know instantly: Jon was gay, not flaming or anything just gay. I liked Jon a lot and wanted to be more than friends, but Jon did not seem to be interested in me. When I finally found out he was gay I was somewhat relieved, because I realized that it wasn’t me he was rejecting, it was all women. This information only sparked my curiosity and set me on a quest to conquer him and cure him of his gayness. One night after a house party and a few drinks too many. I went into Jon’s room sat on his bed and we began to talk. That in itself was not unusual. However, this night was very different from any other. I had my mind intent on having Jon. Unfortunately nothing ever came of it, even though I all but begged him to have sex with me. The bottom line is Jon was a great guy and my best friend in Michigan.
I cannot say as much for his mother and father who were of German descent, and evidently, had no good use for blacks. They phoned Jon on a regular basis, and I often answered the telephone when they called. Jon had asked me not to tell them I was black. I found it very difficult and humorous to talk to his mother and father considering what I knew about them. His parents would ask me if I were doing well, or if I needed anything. They thanked me for being Jon’s friend, and they told me how much they looked forward to meetiong me at Jon’s graduation. I cannot count the times I wanted to tell them I was black. What would they do? Would they do take back all the niceties? Would they pull Jon out of the house, out of school or would they just drop dead? In any case, I never told them.
When they came to Michigan, Joh asked me to disappear. I had an enormous amount of fun teasing him. I told him I would not leave the house and that I would tell his parents we were engaged to be married. However, all I did was disappear.
Next, there was Roy (not the bus driver). Roy and Michael shared a room on the first floor. I never knew much about Roy except that he was incredibly good looking and was not home much. Michael was from Saginaw, Michigan, and according to him, the most you can do in Saginaw on a Friday night is grab cases of beer, let the air out of your tires and drive down the railroad tracks, hoping you do not run into a train. Mike told me he had never even seen a black person before coming to Lansing. Mike was a real nice guy.
I continued to work at McDonald’s and live with the guys. They were very protective of me, which included screening my dates. I went out with a graduate student a couple of times that worked for Proctor and Gamble. One night after a date, while sitting on the gront porch this guy looked me in the eye and said, I do not know if I would beat you or not.’ I said: What did you say? he said I do not know if I would hit you or not because you look like the type that might hit me back. I said I do not know what I would do, no one has ever threatened too or hit me before, but I’ll tell you what: get your black ass off my porch, and don’t ever come back here again. And you better hurry up before I call my roommates out to kick your ass. He never came back and with the exception of the previous incident, I can honestly say that at that point in time, I was truly happy.
Everything I touched seemed to turn to gold. Everything seemed to fall into place. Looking back now, I can remember getting depressed over the fact that I had such good luck. How so very young was? About three months later, I stumbled into a job at a Quality Dairy store (the equivalent of a 7-eleven). I can’t remember how I happened to get that job. I think I walked in to buy something and was asked if I wanted a job. I worked both jobs for about four months. Shortly after that I got a job at a bar around the corner from the house. It was a hangout for the Michigan State Hockey Team and their fans. Mac’s Bar and Grill I worked all three jobs for about two weeks then I quit working at McDonald’s. God knows they saved my life by hiring me. I do not know what I would have done had I not gotten that job when I needed it.
The manager of the Quality Dairy was Chuck. He was a sports fanatic. Chuck and I always worked the same shift. We spent hours taljking about anything and everything. The Dairy was not very busy at night and sometimes there would be hours between customers. Chuck would coach any team or sport that would have him. We worked out a deal so he could leave his shift for a couple of hours to go to the gym. When Chuck left I’d call Jon and he’d come to the Dairy as fast as he could and play what we called supermarket sweepstakes. Jon would go up and down the isles gathering up food as fast as he could. If a customer came in he would act as if he was still shopping. He never stayed longer than about eight minutes. I know it was wrong and there is no excuse for my actions, but at the time, we seemed to be able to justify it.
Chuck knew all the head coaches at Michigan State. One day the head coach for the women’s track team came into the dairy to see me. Chuck had told him of my divisional, sectional and state shot put and discus records. He offered me a walk-on track scholarship, gave me an application for enrollment, and told me to apply for admission. The address on the envelope was the Kellogg building, which just happened to be right across the street from the dairy, the envelope had a room number and a name on it. I filled out the information and decided to deliver it myself.
When I got to the office, the secretary was on the telephone, I could see a door behind her with the same name as the one on the envelope, the door was ajar, and I could see a lady sitting at a desk. When the secretary got off the telephone, I asked if I could speak to the the lady, I have since forgotten her name. She informed me that I could not see her without an appointment. I explained that I only wanted to ask her a question, but the secretary was a good watchdog. I quickly realized there was no way she was going to let me see her boss. I conceded the point and asked for an appointment. The current month was February, She offered me an appointment in the month of May. We went through a series of volleys that amounted to nothing in my favor. I left the buiding in a rage and reduced to tears. I have no idea what I was thinking about on the long walk home. I entered my home in a zombie-like state, picked up the phone and called the United States Army Recruiting Office.