In a Facebook group, I had an interesting experience. One of the group members shared a vintage photograph of the Ellsworth Air Force Base commissary checkout lines on payday. Military paydays were once a month in the late 1950s and lots of families were down to beans by the end of the month, the “too much month at the end of the money” syndrome.  Commissary check-out lines were long because nearly everymom showed up for groceries. I was intrigued by the picture because my family lived at Ellsworth then.

I first looked closely at the picture to see if Mom was in the commissary photo. Since the commissary was where she shopped there was a better-than-zero possibility that Mom would have been shopping (she wasn’t). I didn’t find Mom, but my eye caught some handwriting on the photo and this handwriting looked like Dad’s. Wow. [insert big smiley face]

24 Dad's handwriting on EAFB photo detail

Handwriting on the shared Ellsworth commissary photo. That “E.A.F.B.” is iconic dad-handwriting.

Given that Dad was in charge of the photo lab at the time, and given that he did take photos for the base newspaper (my brother and I posed for a picture about the children’s books in the base library), there was a better-than-good chance of Dad having processed the photo.

In the Facebook group, I was pleased to see one of Dad’s work photos. At home, we have his pictures of the family and our travels. We have slides, prints, and a few home movies. I know the quality of Dad’s pictures, but I’d had no idea what sort of pictures he took on duty other than ID card pictures, photocopying documents (with a camera, which was how it was done before Xerox copying machines), aerial photos, and that one picture of me and my brother pretending to read books in the library. How else he spent his time behind a camera, I had no idea.

1955 10 Oct 16 the Putt-putt a

4×5-negative image of Dad on “the Putt-putt” (his scooter). He would note on the negative edges the camera settings. In my photo collection, I have many examples of Dad’s handwriting.

So, out of the blue, on Facebook, I had the happiness of seeing my Dad’s handwriting on a photo completely new to me. Family-wise, it’s like discovering an unknown Rembrandt.

Our first snowstorm of the year was in November. Our weather forecasters have <cough> promised snow for next Monday. With luck, the snow already here will have diminished. The snow was pretty at Christmas, but it is wearing out its welcome. We see no snowmen. Children are not outside making forts. I see no one sledding.

I needed a vacation. So, I virtually went to Nairobi courtesy, as always, of Google Maps and Street View. Why Nairobi? Not sure, but no snow may have been a draw.

Haile Selassie Roundabout, Nairobi, Kenya

What did I do on my vacation? First off, I merely ‘parachuted’ into the city from my satellite view and landed where I landed. It wasn’t the best part of town. What I learned from not-the-best-part-of-town is that tire sales are big in Nairobi, well, “tyres.” That British influence. As I virtually drove down the street where I landed, I saw billboards for tires and auto parts. Along a rundown street, most of the shops in the three- and four-story buildings advertised the “tyres.” Auto parts, too. And driving lessons. I presumed Nairobi didn’t have much mass transit.

I was wrong. Popping up out of one part of town and into another (in big cities, driving takes forever whether you’re in a real vehicle or a virtual vehicle) I landed in an area in which buses stopped the Googlemobile from proceeding. Or maybe that’s my interpretation. In any case, as we approached a clot of buses, large and small, my forward-arrow no longer worked. I went back up, not quite into the stratosphere.

Coming back down, I looked for the city center. Found it — nice place. Not a single “tyre” sign near the Nairobi Hilton. I tooled around for a while, but nice parts of town seem to look much the same around the world: high rises, shops, boulevards, high-end cars. I went out of town.

Oh. My. Gosh. The Ngong Hills! How did I not remember that the Ngong Hills are so close to the city? (for those not in the know, read Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen, or watch the movie of the same name with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford). “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” The cinematography for the movie is breathtaking, especially in a movie theater. Oh, to have had IMAX at the time. That would have been marvelous. I’ll probably have to make do with watching the VHS tape. I’ll get out the Ouija board and conjure up Thomas Edison to watch it with me.

Time has marched on since the envisioning of Blixen’s story on film, and now the Ngong Hills have wind turbines and a massive solar energy farm. Kikuyu is now a Nairobi suburb with its own massive plant nursery Magana Flowers. Other relatively local sights are the Nairobi National Park , the Maasai Lodge, and the Karen Blixen Museum.  SafariNow, the company hosting the three previously-linked sites, has almost as many billboards and signs in Nairobi as do the tyre-sellers.

Among the other things I learned while virtually visiting Nairobi, are:

  • English is spoken if all the billboards and shop signs I saw are anything to go by
  • traffic runs on the left hand side of the road
  • many, many people walk all around the city — no Fitbits needed here!
  • women commonly wear dresses
  • as happens around the world, poverty exists alongside wealth

And now, my vacation is at an end, and I get to sleep in my own bed.

 

Note: screenshot courtesy of Google Maps

Thus far, here on the edge of the American prairie, winter has been so wintery. Our snows began in November and this weekend, they continue.

This winter is reminding me of past winters although it has yet to reach the quality and quantity of the winter snows of 1980 in Munich, Germany. That year, the snow accumulated for months and it wasn’t until April that the main sidewalk through the Perlacher Forst housing area reappeared. The regular work of snowplows had created streetside mini-Alps mimicking the mountains in the distance. Children walked to school in the street because they were rarely equipped with crampons, ropes, and carabiners.

In this age of warmer winters, though, this winter feels old-fashioned. On the edge of the prairie where the latitude ‘enjoys’ the hot/cold changes along the boundary between Arctic chill from the north and puffs of steam from the Gulf of Mexico, this sustained cold is testing our resilience. We’re almost out of bread and milk at the store. [wink]

Luckily, for us photographers, the weather is picturesque. For that, I am grateful.

02 streetlight Brushstroke

Streetlight on a foggy winter night.

Again, instead of making resolutions, I’m re-reading Barbara Holland’s 1995 book, Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences.

Happy New Year!

Christmas Day 2018 is now in the memory books. The incense from last night’s midnight service has dissipated, the stockings and presents have been opened, and Christmas dinner is digesting. Everyone can sit back and take a breath, especially the mail delivery workers and Christian clergy.

For military kids, today’s celebration probably didn’t happen in the place where they were born. They’ve either moved from one house to another, from one state to another, or from one country to another.

Wherever they are, cheers to all the young military kids of today and a heartfelt hope that their parents are either with them, or are safe where they are.

Cheers also to those who grew up following their parents around the country and the world and for whom Santa didn’t arrive in a sleigh, but by camel, in a tank, riding in a half-track, being driven in a deuce and a half, flown in courtesy of the crew of a C-130, or landing on a Naval transport by helicopter.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and season’s greetings to everyone.

 

Christmas collage

A variety of Christmases. Top row: three places shown; five altogether. Two middle rows: three different homes in one place. Bottom row: four homes, not including my Army assignments.

 

Hurricane Michael scoured Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The base had survived severe weather in the past, but Michael destroyed the livability of the quarters (ca. 600) and many of the dorms. The storm out and out destroyed the flight line and severely damaged the BX, commissary, and the elementary school.

The good news is, the families and many personnel evacuated the base and the base listed no fatalities. The evacuation kept the personnel and families safe, but couldn’t have been a picnic.

Even evacuations that were picnics, were difficult for families. I have the memory of a mid-1950s Cold War practice evacuation at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota. Enough chatter went on among the adults that even though I was only five years old, the event imprinted in my mind the word “evacuation.”

Our evacuation was supposed to get us away from ground zero in case of an attack by the Russians on the local base, a Strategic Air Command base where the B-52 bombers were stationed. Or, maybe the evacuation practice was just to convince the families that an attack would be survivable (it wouldn’t have been).

In any case, the sirens went off and the moms packed up their cars with kids and picnic baskets and headed into the Black Hills. We stayed there most of the day, us kids running amok in the woods. We returned to the base probably during local rush hour. If it wasn’t Rapid City’s actual rush hour, the return of an entire base worth of families made it that way. The reason I think the evacuation wasn’t the success it was meant to be is because I don’t remember another one and we lived at Ellsworth for another anomalous six years (Air Force reorganization; Dad’s AFSC being downgraded; he was shuffled around for ages until things sort themselves out and we were transferred like normal people).

Other, later evacuations were more drills than actual practices. The residents of the entire community would be picked up by shuttle bus and delivered to a central point for ‘processing.’ The processing consisted of having our evacuation papers checked, showing a bored clerk our computer punch cards that we’d surrender one by one during our journey back to the US so our service member could be informed of our whereabouts, and filling out emergency pay transfers so that, at some point, we’d have some money wherever we wound up.

We were lucky during our evacuations — they were practices. We went out, we came back, all our household goods were where we left them, we slept in our own beds that night. The adults in our evacuation didn’t have to gather all their necessary papers, clothing, food, and portable valuables. For us, pets (if any) were probably left home for the day.

The personnel and family members at Tyndall, as well as the surrounding civilian communities have no such comfort. Their entire lives are disrupted. They can’t even return to see what they can salvage. To make things more difficult for some of them, the pilots of the planes that were able to be relocated aren’t with their families. The ‘other parent’ in those families is now effectively a single parent. This probably also goes for the families of personnel who have returned to the base for emergency operations.

13 Tyndall AFB

Tyndall AFB, Florida — damage by Hurricane Michael. Photo: screenshot from DoD video on Facebook.

Life in a military family is always on an edge even if the moment is presently calm. You know you won’t be staying wherever you presently live. If you don’t move, then your friends do. You rarely, if ever, live near family. You know there’s always a possibility of the service member leaving at the drop of a phone call. Alerts are a way of life. Training accidents happen. Combat fatalities happen. Usually, though, the life has a rhythm. Hurricane Michael destroyed that rhythm for the families and personnel at Tyndall. My heart goes out to them, and to all their civilian neighbors.

One of the nearly universal emotions expressed by military brats is homesickness. Given our nomadic early lives, we have many homes for which we feel a longing. Yes, military brats aren’t the only kids who move and times change for everyone. I know of local Facebook groups whose topic is “remember when” with entries about landmarks and businesses that are long gone. Children of foreign service officers (the staff in embassies and consulates), missionary kids, and corporate kids all move, too, but my tribe are the military kids who were bounced around the country and the world like Bingo balls on a Friday night.

I think much of our longing is for “halcyon days,” those years before we realize that life is complicated and messy. These years can be from whichever decade we spent our childhood, the swinging ’40s, the rocking and rolling ’50s, the psychedelic ’60s, staying alive during the ’70s, doing our hair during the ’80s, kicking it through the ’90s in our Doc Martens, and doing whatever happened after Y2K. We remember sights, sounds, and smells that evoke the relative simplicity of childhood and the adventure of where we lived.

One problem for us is that so many of our former homes no longer exist. Yes, the places we lived are still on the map, but our homes, unsere Häuser, onze huizen, nos maisons, nuestros hogares, nossas casas, le nostre case, 私たちの家, ang aming mga tahanan, 우리 집, ko mākou mau hale, منازلنا, heimili okkar or evlerimiz, are gone. Installations are closed, host nations have demolished buildings, the places where we ate, bathed, slept, and woke up on Christmas morning are no more. One thing that we can sometimes carry with us is food.

 

Birthday pzza

Birthday pizza specifically from Freddie’s, near Gibbs Kaserne, Frankfurt, Germany. (he was happy; I just caught him in mid-chew)

 

Some of the most poignant memories are of local dishes, pantry items, and candies. I know that one memory from my early childhood in England is of Peek Freans cookies, either the custard creams or the similar cookie with the jelly dot on top. I think I must have had them frequently.

While I was still a kid, I had forgotten the cookies by the time my pre-teen years arrived. Then, the Air Force stationed my dad in Bermuda and I tasted one of the locally purchased Peek Freans custard creams. A taste revelation! I remembered the forgetting. The times in my elementary school years when I knew there was something I missed from when I was younger, but I couldn’t remember what came back to me. Then we left Bermuda. I lost them again.

Skip forward decades. This time, the exposure to local food wasn’t as a brat. Now I was the mom of brats. Our family spent most of our twenty years of life overseas in Germany. My youngest arrived at the age of four and left at fifteen. She spent her next two years in Belgium, so we weren’t that far from Germany and could return when the longing became too great. She arrived in the US calling both the heating and cooling system “air conditioning.” To her radiator-trained mind, both functions conditioned the air.

When we arrived in the States, I had cookbooks, but not (I thought) ingredients. Ingredients from different countries have their own flavors. It might be a surprise to some that bottled Mexican Coca Cola from the grocery store tastes like the Coca Cola we drank in German restaurants.

With the rise of the Internet and online shopping, I could soon buy German ingredients from my dealer-of-choice, GermanDeli.com. The loss, though, strikes again. The outlet is closing tomorrow and has ceased all online orders. The homesickness continues.

I have pictures of our homes. I have some foods (World Market). I have YouTube videos. Still, I miss my old homes. The sound of tires on rain-wet streets sounds like England. Cool summer nights are from South Dakota. The sound of waves is Bermuda. The smell of wine and beer (I was an adult by then) is Germany. The most delicious cheese and bread I’ve ever eaten is Belgium. I love my life, but I still miss my homes. If it weren’t for grandchildren, I’d be in the wind.