A Love Story: A man, his wife and his girlfriend

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By Bennett Horne

This is a Valentine’s Day love story about a man, his wife and his girlfriend.

The man is Doug Pippin, 75, who lives in White Rock with Phyllis, 74, his wife of 56 years. Phyllis is, in fact, the one who introduced Doug to his girlfriend when he turned 70, six years ago.

The “girlfriend” is actually a bright yellow 1931 Ford Model A, five-window coupe he received as a surprise gift from his wife.

“We call it ‘his girlfriend’ because that ‘girlfriend’ is costing him money (in repairs),” Phyllis laughed.

Doug’s love affair with that kind of vehicle started when he was in high school in Española. Another young man had a 1932 Ford Model A, five-window coupe and Doug offered to buy it. They made a “handshake agreement,” and soon after Doug towed the car to his house and was making payments to the young man at a rate of $8 a month, money he collected while working at a full-service gas station for 50 cents an hour.

“I was going to hot rod that car,” Doug grinned.

In the meantime, Doug found his real love the day in 1960 when Phyllis rode into the gas station where he worked.

“That’s how I met her,” Doug said, “working at the gas station.”

“You didn’t meet me,” Phyllis interjected. “You saw me, but you did not meet me yet.”

When asked if it was love at first sight, Phyllis replied, “Maybe for him. I wasn’t paying attention.”

Truth be told, Phyllis was sitting in the passenger seat of a car being driven by another young man.

Doug claims that while Phyllis may not have noticed him, she sure was keeping him at the windshield for a long time.

“She kept pointing at the windshield and saying, ‘Clean that. Clean that. Clean that,’” he said.

“I did not. You’re a liar,” she blushed.

It was game on at that point.

“I just knew (she was the one),” said Doug. “I said, ‘Here’s this good-looking (strawberry) blonde from Los Alamos floating around.’ And at that time if you could get a girl from Los Alamos that was a prize.”

He continued, “I chased her for the rest of the summer and I won.”

That September they entered their junior year together at McCurdy Mission School in Santa Cruz. By November they were going steady.

“He started asking me out and by my birthday in November I was already going steady with him,” she said.

The next July Doug entered the Air Force and left for training in San Antonio.

Unfortunately, while he was gone one of his loves left him.

“I went off to the service and forgot about the car,” he said. “The guy came back to my house and said, ‘Hey, Doug hasn’t paid for the car.’ My dad said, ‘Well he’s gone. He’s in the service.’ So they towed it away.”

Making the sting of lost love more intense was the fact Doug had only one $8 payment remaining before the vehicle was completely paid off.

“I lost it for eight dollars,” he said, his voice trailing off. “That’s about an $18,000 car today.”

After Doug returned home from training in September to find the car hadn’t waited on him, his life took a turn for the better when he and his real love were married on Dec. 30, 1961.

In January they left for Austin, Texas, where Doug was to be stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base.

“It was a 16-hour drive,” he recalled. “We had a little two-door ’51 Ford and the back window kept falling down all the way to Austin. All our worldly possessions were in that car. We had an ironing board propped up against the window to try to keep it from falling down.”

Once in Austin they rented a three-room house for $58 a month right under the base’s flight path and lived there for Doug’s full four-year assignment.

Phyllis supplemented their income by working as a dental assistant and the couple scraped together loose change and turned in bottles to have enough money to go to a movie.

“And we were happy as ducks,” Doug said. “We didn’t know any different.”

When Doug had completed his assignment the couple returned to Española where he started working for the Zia Company and she went to work for a dentist.

Not wanting his Air Force training to go to waste, Doug joined the Seabees reserves. But he and Phyllis would again find themselves separated by miles when he was deployed to Vietnam from 1968-69.

Even though the deployment provided inconveniences on both ends, Doug and Phyllis were able to find some positives in their respective situations.

“Well, I had a place to stay and three meals,” said Doug.

Phyllis said, “The lucky thing was we had a trailer and my mom and dad had a doublewide on the property next to me.

That was the perfect setup for me because whatever happened I had help right next door.”

The two were able to communicate through letters, but that was still a very slow process.

“I might get five letters in one bundle, then might not hear anything for a time,” Doug said.

“I wrote every day,” said Phyllis. “And I think my mom and his mom wrote to him at least once a week.”

Doug said the problem on his end was that “we had no place to drop off our mail,” adding, “The helicopters had to come in and grab the mail and take it out, so I was only able to write maybe once a week.”

“You had to be patient,” said Phyllis.

Especially when it came to a Christmas visit in Hawaii during that deployment.

“He went on R&R and was going to go to Hawaii,” said Phyllis. “I never talked to him on the phone all year because you didn’t have that as an option. So a ham operator gave me a call and said, ‘Your husband will be in Hawaii on this day, can you meet him there.’ I said yes.”

Doug said, “I just gave them the date and they asked if she could be there and she answered yes and that’s how I knew she would be there.”

Once in Hawaii, Phyllis’ patience was tested again while waiting with the other wives for the arrival of their husbands.

“When you went to Hawaii the wives were in the barracks and you didn’t know for sure when your husband would arrive,” she said. “So every group that came in you went out and lined up and waited to see if your husband happened to be in that group. I went out three times and the third time he was there.”

The short seven-day visit ended on Christmas Eve when Doug and the others boarded a plane to return to Vietnam.

“We were flying back and everybody was down in the dumps and the stewardess came back and said, ‘Well, due to a lack of interest Christmas is canceled,’” Doug recalled. “And since we had crossed the international dateline we had actually missed Christmas Day.”

When Doug returned from Vietnam he and Phyllis were visiting her uncle, who lived in White Rock, when they found the house they live in today.

“We came up one day for dinner, we went for a walk, saw this house for sale and we bought it,” Doug said. “That was in 1970.”

Doug and Phyllis almost had another geographic wedge put between them several years later when Doug’s Seabees unit got recalled for Desert Storm, but the recall was canceled in the nick of time.

“We’d already had my going-away party and I was on my way,” he said.

Even though many years had passed since Doug first crossed paths with the old Ford Model A, something inside him always brought him back to thoughts of that car.

“(My family) knew I never lost my love for that kind of car,” he said.

Then one day, out of the blue, a Ford Model A showed back up in Doug’s life.

“He came home one time and said that a guy had a car like that,” said Phyllis. “I think it was close to his birthday.”

Doug had actually seen the car about a year earlier parked at an auto repair shop in Los Alamos. The owner of the shop then sold the car to a man who lived close to the Pippins in White Rock.

Doug approached the man with a couple of offers, but they couldn’t agree on a price. That’s when Doug decided maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

“I thought that was it because there were a lot of people looking at it,” he said. “So I gave up on it.”

As his birthday approached, Phyllis asked Doug what he wanted as a present.

He made a list that had “hot rod” written two or three times and Phyllis knew what she had to do.

“For some reason just before his birthday I woke up one morning and said, ‘I think I should buy that car for Doug’s birthday,’” she said.

So she called the owner and made an offer that was less than the asking price. The offer was declined.

“So I hung up the phone and then I called him back and said, ‘Who do you bank with?’” she said. “And it was the same bank as mine, so I asked him to meet me there at the bank in half an hour with the title.”

The deal was done. Next came the matter of how to keep it a secret until Doug’s birthday on Cinco de Mayo.

“That night my daughter and her husband came and got the car and took it to their house in Los Alamos and hid it there with other cars around it and a Jeep cover over it,” said Phyllis. “We were worried that whole week that Doug would find it because he was always doing projects around there.”

The night of his birthday Phyllis and their daughter took Doug to eat at Cottonwood On The Greens. After the meal, Doug was given a gift-wrapped box that included the car keys. But since the keys were smaller than normal car keys, Doug thought he was getting a toolbox.

When he walked out to the parking lot he realized the gift was a little larger than a toolbox.

Waiting on him in the parking lot was a dear old friend he thought he would never see again. A 1931 Ford Model A five-window coupe.

“I never thought I’d ever have one,” he said.

As for the actual gift of the car, Doug said, “You don’t base your love on money, but I could tell that she liked me pretty well.”

Doug managed to drive the car home despite his state of shock, which carried over for a couple of days.

“The next day when I went to work I forgot to bring my lunch bucket, I forgot my wallet ... I was lucky I had my pants on,” he laughed. “It rocked my world for about two days.”

And what did the giver of the gift think?

“I knew it would thrill him to pieces and I knew he would love it beyond belief,” she said. “I knew that at that point and time I could actually do that where most of our life we never probably could have done that.

“I knew he would absolutely go bonkers, just not quite the bonkers he went.”

Doug did go bonkers, as a video on YouTube attests, but he’s OK with that because it’s an honest reaction to a gift of love from the true love of his life.

“She has been my stabling force since I was about 17,” Doug said.

And for Phyllis it was a gift of love to her true love.

“I like to make the people I love happy and give them what they need or want,” she said.

“You did,” said Doug. “You did.”