When I arrived in Germany for my three-year tour of duty, I did not realize their electric system was 220 instead of 110. All I had to shave with was an electric razor Mother gave me for high school graduation. When I noticed the wall socket had holes instead of slits, I asked a soldier nearby who had also newly arrived what the deal was. He said, “I guess you will need an adapter.” So, I went to the base store and bought an adapter. When I plugged in, there was a pop and a lot of black smoke. The razor never worked again. Later I learned that what I needed was not an adapter but a transformer.
Another difficulty was that my squadron did not have a mail room yet when I arrived, so they had “mail call.” It was quite a while before I got mail and I was homesick. Well, the day arrived for mail call and one of the first people the sergeant called out was a Rufus. Because he thought the place name on the return address was funny, he called out, “Rufus got one from Smackover, Arkansas.” There were a few snickers, but mostly people wanted Sarge to get on with mail call. I got a pretty good handful of mail that day and edged over to Rufus. I said, “Hey, Rufus, I am from El Dorado.” We shook hands and became really good friends for the duration.
Both of us missed state-side stuff you could not get over there, delicacies such as our favorite sodas and peanut wheels. Rufus went back to the states a year before my tour of duty was over and in the mail shortly after he got home came a box from him with two sodas and a half-dozen peanut wheels. He also visited my parents and my sister in El Dorado and sent me photographs of him in my living room. He was a good friend, but, of course, I lost touch with him.
When I got out of the service, I worked at various jobs and eventually went to college and graduate school and landed a teaching job at the college in Magnolia. Rufus showed up at my office one day. His daughter was enrolled there. We had quite a reunion. He had been hurt on the flight line and was on disability, so he had a lot of free time. We saw quite a bit of each other at ball games and such. Eventually, I moved on to other universities and lost touch again. When my sister died years later, Rufus showed up at the visitation. We had a great time reminiscing about our experiences in Europe. We both observed how southerners seem to seek each other out and stick together.
I learned a lot from Rufus about friendship, altruism and little deeds of kindness that mean so much, especially far from home. He made me want to be the kind of friend he was. Every time I see an electric razor, I smell electrical smoldering. Every time I pass through Smackover, I think of a gift from home: Rufus, a true friend.