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Meeting Kim Birmingham, 1980 - 1981

I met Kim at Church.

At the time, I wasn't looking to meet anyone.  I was broken.  I had left the Army after my four year commitment, having accomplished what I said that I would, but my future life fell quickly apart. I had just gone through the breakup of my marriage and divorce.  I didn't care about anything.  I returned to my old reckless ways of driving too fast, in a fast car, with no insurance, and expired tags.  Because my divorce left me destitute, I had moved back in with mom and dad.  I had just been passed over for a job at work for a kid right out of college, who didn't know shit, but had the right Engineering degree.  I didn't fit in with my co-workers except for Stan the Vietnam vet.  I missed the Army and was considering going back in.

Church was my safe place.  I was surrounded by old friends and military and pro-military types.  Though everything we studied told me I was a failure as a man, husband, father, and leader, I continued to attend for the friends who supported me and loved me no matter what.  Two couples were my strongest help, Sylvia and Bill Dennis, and Boyce and Debra Smith.  They pulled me through the dark days.  Boyce and Debra refused to let me be alone and I practically lived at their house until it was time to go to sleep.

At Church, we sat in the back.  This was not like your average church with pews, we sat at tables taking notes; this was the Classroom of Christianity.  I always sat with Boyce , Jim Cadden and Steve Tawbush...and when Ed Lacey was home, he joined us.

One morning, as we all gathered, before Ron started teaching, a beautiful girl walked in and began mingling down front.  She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen.  I was instantly intrested.

I leaned over to Boyce and asked, "Who is THAT?!"

"Who"

"That gorgeous girl up front."

"Kim Dennis." 

Now, I remembered Kim Dennis from before I left for the Army, cute, thirteen-years-old, daughter of Sylvia and Bill Dennis.

"No.  That Girl up there talking to Bill Denn.....That's Kim Dennis?!!Wow, she grew up."

"John, she's only eighteen."  I was twenty-seven.  Boyce was the first, but not the last to point out the problem.

The nine years difference did not matter to me.  I had to talk to this girl.

At halftime break, I went looking and found her sitting behind the wheel her dad's gigantic black Cadillac. I did what ever Paratrooper does when he wants to interest a girl, I insulted her. "I bet you think you're big stuff driving that car, don't you?"  I don't think I impressed her at all.

The next weekend, she was back...looking even more beautiful.  She and I ran into each other in the hall, She was almost as tall as I am in her heels.  She was carrying a bunch of flowers.  I insulted her again.  "Who would buy YOU flowers?"

"Everyone, because I'm everyone's Sweetheart," was her quick witted reply.

 "I expect you must be correct."

That worked.  We stood in the hall and had a good conversation.  It was fun and light and by the time class started, I was completely captivated.  BUT, I decided, or tried to convince myself, that we could only be friends because of the age difference.  My friends constantly reminded me of it as well.  I felt the disapproval in the eyes watching us at church.

Yeah, that lasted about a week.

I invited her over to Boyce's for movie night.  We were watching Lawrence of Arabia, which I billed as a Very Romantic Movie. By that I meant romance of the desert, the romance of a good story.  She asked me after if the romance was between one of the characters and his camel or something, because she didn't see a girl in the whole movie.

The movie worked too. From that day on, we spent every day together.  She became my reason for getting myself together.  She brought fun back in my life.  I was in love and everyone knew it.  I decided to go back in the army, but not without consulting her.  Once I did, she moved to Raleigh to be close.  I gave her my car so she could pick my up on Friday so we could spend the weekend, every weekend I had off, together.

I proposed, but not until I talked to Bill.  Our talk was amazing.  He did not question but gave sound advice.  Not once did he indicate that the match was wrong....in any way.  Others were not convinced. My buddies held an intervention.  They asked me to come over to Boyce's place where they circled around me and questioned my intentions, my sanity, and my future. Our pastor, Bill's best friend, refused to do the ceremony.  He had this long list of issues that his religion said we shouldn't be together--divorce, a child by the first marriage, the age difference, her age, the Army...

I stood my ground.  We stood Our ground.

We got married in the Division Main Chapel on Ft. Bragg on 6 December 1981, about a year and a half after we met.  My battalion chaplain performed the service wearing a shiny brown leisure suit and a big wooden cross, instead of his uniform.  Brett Niles and Mitch Pigg attended. The Reception was Kim, Brett, and me at Godfather's for Pizza.  For a honeymoon, we went to her mom and dad's in Birmingham for her furniture to put in our very bare apartment. 

We started our life together at Cambridge Arms Apartments on Yadkin Road with her bedroom furniture, a broken recliner, and a borrowed TV set.  Before long, she knew the UPS man and the postman by name as she ordered the things we needed.  Budget, hell, we're getting this NOW was her standard mindset. 

I knew I was the luckiest guy in the world and so did my Army buddies.  They all adored Kim, none more than First Sergeant Ford, who suggested I take her home when he saw her dancing with me at a company party, meaning exactly what you might think he meant. 

She was a great Army wife and pretty much ran things when we were gone, especially when I was a platoon sergeant and first sergeant.  Things ran smoothly on the home front because Kim didn't put up with drama and nonsense.  She knew how to operate without me from the first year we were married, I was gone almost half of that year, the Year of the 82nd, 1982.  She gave my Jonathon nine months and two days after the wedding, then I left again.  She gave me Elise when I was assigned to Turkey and traveled fro Birmingham to Izmir, with a three year old and a baby, just to spend the summer with me.

She has followed me all over the world and across the country with never a complaint and kept me laughing and happy all the way. She never held missed birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays against me or the Army.

Just to set the record straight, a lot of my stories about her are either not true or highly embellished:

  • No, we did not start dating when she was thirteen.

  • No, she did not dance drunk on the table at Red Lobster in front of the Division or any other Commander.  She may have had one daiquiri too many, but no one knew it but me.

  • Yes, she did trip me in front of my whole platoon at a Scout picnic.  Yes, I fell on my face.

  • No, my car did not jump to 110mph when I switched on Cruise Control after she took it to Baby Doe's one night.  I think it was 60.  Could have been 70.

  • No, it was not her fault that the transmission fell out of my brand new 81 Camaro.  I was the one who hit the shift and knocked it into neutral.  Her reaction is totally understandable.  My Fault!

I cannot imagine my life without her and it is hard for me to remember a time before her.  I see my years before Kim as preparation for life with her. 

 And, still, I was not ready.  I had no idea how good it could be.  She and I say, "Oh!  This is what it's supposed to be like!"