WHAT IF Fortuna is More Than Just a Clever Name for a Cat?

As I’ve written before, the naming of our dogs and cats is a very important family ritual (and will be the focus of an upcoming blog).  One of my personal favorite names that we have not yet used for a cat is “Fortuna” – do I need to point out that most cats are “for tuna”?  Even though my topic today has nothing to do with naming pets, it has a lot to do with Fortuna.

Fortuna wheel1

The Roman goddess Fortuna and her wheel

It turns out that Fortuna, supposedly the daughter of Jupiter, was a Roman goddess who controlled fortune and capriciousness in human affairs.  If she were posting pictures of herself on Instagram she would be near a Rota Fortunae (wheel of fortune), signifying that our fate in life is determined as much by the spin of the wheel as by our own doings.  I must admit that Fortuna’s mythical wheel of fortune often seems to make a lot of sense to me.

Fortuna1

A Fortuna selfie for Instagram?

I was sharing my thoughts on this with our son Travis and he pointed out that Ignatius Reilly, that wonderfully quirky character from A Confederacy of Dunces, referred to Fortuna throughout the novel, something I had forgotten.  Curious, I did a search of the novel on my Kindle –  her name appears 31 times.  Even if you are not a Fortuna fan, I would highly recommend Confederacy – it is a one-of-a-kind classic.

Ignatius2

Ignatius mentioned Fortuna 31 times

I am prattling on about some obscure goddess named Fortuna because that’s what immediately popped into my head when Ann suggested a What If theme for today’s blog. The interventions of this mischievous goddess into our day-to-day lives leaves no option but to contemplate “what if.”   To illustrate, I want to to share one particularly significant what if moment for Ann and me.  It has to do with an army captain, whom I never met, the the military draft, and maybe a flu bug. 

1A notification

The sword of Damocles?

Here’s some context.  It was near the end of 1966 and I was a fledgling school teacher at Chino High.   Ann and I had just got engaged.  Shortly after our engagement I learned that I had been reclassified by the Selective Service System as 1A and was no longer guaranteed a deferment for teaching.  A 1A classification at that time was a sure ticket to being drafted with the near certainty of ending up in Vietnam.  I could see only one alternative to the mandatory draft –  join a reserve unit. 

So, I looked into the air national guard, the naval reserve, and even the coast guard reserve.  Nothing panned out until I learned of some openings in an army intelligence reserve unit based in Los Angeles.  I drove to LA to speak with the unit’s head sergeant. 

army intelligence

Some consider this to be an oxymoron; I considered it to be a way around the draft.

During the interview he asked if I knew any foreign languages.  Suppressing the urge to tell him that I was pretty good at Pig Latin,  I told him I had couple of semesters of junior college Spanish under my belt.  He said that’s great and asked me to put on some headphones and translate into English as much of a recording as I could.  I didn’t understand a thing I heard, jotting down some random notes about what I guessed was being said.  He glanced at my results and said that was close enough for government work (it wasn’t very comforting to learn that’s all it took to get into army intelligence).

fort Ord on the beach

Fort Ord was considered one of the most attractive locations of any U.S. Army post because of its proximity to the beach and California weather. I was already packing my suntan lotion and trunks.

The most exciting part was that as soon as I was sworn in I would be sent for training at the army’s Military Language Center located at Fort Ord on the Monterey peninsula.   All I needed to do was fill out some forms, pass a physical, and appear at the reserve unit’s monthly meeting in three days to be sworn in.  I completed the forms and passed the physical that day.  Then I rushed back to tell Ann the good news, not realizing that Fortuna’s fateful wheel would soon intercede.

The day prior to the reserve unit meeting the sergeant called to inform me that the commanding officer had come down with the flu and wouldn’t be able to swear me at the upcoming monthly meeting.  I would have to wait until the next meeting.

One week later I became one of the more than 300,000 American men that year to open an envelope with this statement inside: “Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction in the Armed Forces of the United States.”  This meant that I was immediately ineligible for any other kind of military service.  My completed forms and passed physical were for naught.  I was had. 

I can’t tell you how many times I have wondered “what if” about this.  What if that captain had not caught the flu that weekend and swore me into the reserves prior to getting my draft notice?  Would I have been able to continue teaching at Chino High?  Would I have still gone to grad school?  Would I have avoided Vietnam?  Would Ann and I have had children earlier?  Would we ever have met folks like the Davis family (see Ann’s blog)?  Would I have learned a language more useful than Pig Latin?

Anns Fortuna

It was no coincidence that a few years ago Ann chose this Fortuna image for her email profile picture.

Of course that is just one of many what if moments that have influenced the direction and substance of our lives. Even though we had dreaded the thought of my being drafted, the army’s disruption of the first couple of years of our married life strengthened our relationship and opened opportunities we hadn’t imagined. Perhaps the best way to think about Fortuna is to realize that when the Rota Fortunae deals us a not-so-desirable outcome it provides a potential opportunity to confront the hardship and become stronger for the effort.  

Here’s to good fortuna for all in 2019!

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: 1969 | Big Little Meals

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