Mule hijacks honeymoon

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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By Bonnie Bartel Latino


Second Lt. Thomas J. Latino did not kiss me at our wedding because, he said, “The Priest never said, ‘You may kiss your bride.’” I had only been to one Catholic wedding, and I had been only 10. (Shout out to Ann and Bill Staff!) Our long nuptials felt like such a magical mystery tour that I didn’t even realize we had missed our bridal kiss moment until someone mentioned it later.

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In an earlier column I mentioned the Air Force’s need for pilots during the Vietnam War, especially in 1968. That need affected my wedding and that of many women destined to be military pilots’ wives. If squadron commanders calling in junior officers, who were in Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), to “encourage” them to postpone any romantic plans wasn’t deterrent enough, the commanders didn’t have to make it easy for the couples either. The policy of approving only emergency leave assured no student pilot could travel far to marry. They could also forget about a real honeymoon. Unless fiancées of student pilots lived nearby, future wives had to travel to military bases scattered across the United States, as I did, to seal the deal. To be fair, that surely weeded out some women who would never have adapted to the nomad camp-follower lifestyle.

The policy also meant wedding receptions were anemic versions of what the bride, and in some cases, what their mothers would have created in their hometowns. With Tommy’s help, Mama chose Reese AFB Officers Club.

My parents first made sure that they got me to Lubbock, Texas, as they did my sisters, Aimee Allen, and Betty Cochran. They also invited my Brazilian “sister.” Lucia, a darling exchange student, lived with us her senior year of high school. Later, she married her Escambia County High School sweetheart, Larry Troutman, who was now in the Air Force and stationed at Dyess AFB, Texas. He and Lucia lived in Abilene, Texas. As Daddy and I walked down the aisle, I was thrilled to see Lucia, Mama’s wonderful surprise.

A wall of windows through which streamed bright Texas sunshine welcomed us to our reception. Our first party as husband and wife was held in a medium-sized, cream-colored party room. We enjoyed finger foods and icy champagne. My bouquet of yellow roses and English Ivy doubled as the centerpiece atop a lace tablecloth over a large circular table. However, it was our three-layer frosted white cake, adorned with fondant yellow roses and green leaves that held place of honor. That afternoon I felt like Lt. Latino’s “Yellow Rose of Texas.”

I spent time with Mrs. Gundlach, and while I went to talk to Lucia and Larry, Mrs. Gundlach gave Tommy $100 worth of Southern Company stock. What a generous and thoughtful woman my husband’s octogenarian Boy Scout leader had proved to be. She traveled 900 miles, one-way, and presented us with a cherished gift.

When I told Mama that Tommy and I were going to change clothes, and we’d be back to officially leave, she had a conniption fit! Her hazel eyes flashed. “Bonnie, you know it wouldn’t look right so soon after the wedding for y’all to be alone to change clothes.” Laughing, Tommy grabbed his sister, asked her to be our chaperone, and off we went. We laughed all the way to the Visiting Officers Quarters, which my groom had reserved for his family that week.

Suffice it to say, we were soon wearing our “Going Away” civilian clothes and were back at the O’Club. Tommy made an announcement that we would soon leave. After hugging everybody, we said our goodbyes through a shower of rice pellets, and we sprinted outside to Tommy’s waiting green Chevy. My crazy Bartel sisters and Lucia had decorated the station wagon with white shoe polish. Finally, we really were ‘Just Married’!

My darling husband stopped to take pictures of a life-sized bronze mule in the aptly named town, Mule Shoe, Texas. What? Where was my formerly amorous college senior? “Latino!” I yelled with enthusiasm, “Pretty sure that silly old mule will still be here Sunday on our way back!”