Non-fiction day


The death of Queen Elizabeth hit me hard. I cried. Not wild, crazy boo-hooing, just a steady feeling of loss. The queen’s death reminded me of my mother’s death ten years ago. Losing the Queen just took me back to my own grief.

Since I was young, I’ve kept up through the decades on happenings concerning the Queen and her family. Despite that awareness, I’m not flying a Union Jack, my Facebook feed isn’t a constant stream of shared royal drama, and I haven’t crocheted a small, wooly Queen as a topper for a post in front of my house. I’m my kind of English — a young child’s version, frozen in time — but only inside my house. Outside, I suppose I’m just a boring-looking bland person, who “isn’t from around here.”

As an American, though, why do I have any concern about the head of state of another country? Is this the same thrill of vicariously living life through beauty and fortune as (I think) happens with celebrities or with Diana Spencer? For me, I don’t think so because my first memories are of England. That’s where I lived as a young child, and not too far from the Queen and her family (along with so many other Londoners). 

The London suburb house that formed my concept of Home.

My dad was stationed with the post-World War II American forces in England, but me being a (most junior) member of an overseas military force wasn’t my experience of my life. For me, the place I lived imprinted itself on me as “home:” rain, birds singing, the smell of roses in our back garden, the shoosh of tires on wet pavement. 

In addition to rain, birds, and tires (or should I type “tyres?”), there was the Queen. Although, People Who Say They Know About These Things tell me I was too young to remember the rain, birds, and tires/tyres, that opinion doesn’t stop me from doing so. The perfume of roses takes me back, every time.

Even though I lived in London during the end of his reign, I remember nothing about King George VI (Queen Elizabeth’s father). The Queen was different. For me, she wasn’t a passing event, but rather a continuing reality. The iconography of the British monarchy — such as the Queen’s Guards in their red coats — helped to cement into my universe the permanence and prominence of The Queen & Fam. Until a couple weeks ago, no matter where, no matter when, Queen Elizabeth reigned.

Me with an English friend on an outing to Windsor Castle.

As a young child I was aware of queens. In the days before Elizabeth II’s coronation, I probably heard the word “queen” repeated on the radio. “Coronation” wouldn’t have stuck in my mind, but “queen” would because I knew about queens from my nursery rhymes. Queens made tarts, had pussycats frighten little mice under their chairs, and sat in parlors eating bread and honey. Queens of some sort were part of my everyday life, unlike, say, presidents, of whom I knew nothing.

Time passed leading up to the coronation and my parents rented a television set to watch the occasion along with millions of others. I was probably in the living room to witness the history, but I don’t think the pomp and ceremony would have held my interest. Our souvenir coronation book, though, that was a different story. That interest lasted forever — I still have the book — and I treated it like one of my favorite picture books. For years, that book told me about The Queen. 

Coronation souvenir book, with faded cover from where the long-gone dust jacket was torn.

Later, when I was in the U.S. as “an American,” you’d think I’d feel at home. Evolution, though, failed to include a setting in my head for “your imprinted home imprinted is a foreign country.” It was the U.S. that seemed foreign. My imprinting told me that home was the place with soft rain, and birds, and roses, and tires/tyres. Home was not a place with violent thunderstorms that turned the sky green while dropping hail that turned the green grass white, and of shocking wintry static electricity. 

First move that I remember very distinctly. The lavatory door — on heavy springs to keep the door shut in heavy seas — slammed on my thumb. I have a memory of what “sick bay” looks like.

Of course, I became used to the new home with its storms, hail, and bright blue skies. You just do. Later, I became used to an island home with pink beaches. By high school, the homes didn’t need to be adapted to as much — they were just going to change.

“Home” was kept in books — photo albums and storybooks — on PBS which I watched with my parents, and, of course, in the souvenir coronation book. Still, once we left “home,” I never again lived there. I always lived somewhere else, and, of course, some-when else.  Even though I carried with me my image of “home,” like everyone else, England moved on through the years. If I’d visited my old house, the England I found there wouldn’t have been the one I left. Still, the Queen went with me (via the news) no matter where I was, so I did keep up with her in real time.

There is a name for my experience of “being from” somewhere other than the home of your parents or your country: “third culture kids.” A lot of explanation is wrapped up in the description, not all of which matches what I feel, but never mind. My job for me isn’t to match someone else’s evaluation of my experience.

And so, all these years later, I find myself as an American in the U.S. mourning a woman whose subject I never was.  In my heart, though, she’s there, with the rain, the birds, the tyres, and the roses. Long remember the Queen.

E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure

For the release of the title, E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure from The Museum of the American Military Family, director Circe Olson Woessner talked about the book with my co-writer-in-residence, Connie Kinsey and me.

(yeah, I keep sharing the cover photo — credit the non-profit ad budget of $0.00 <smiley face> )

Launch day has arrived for E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure, another anthology produced by the Museum of the American Military Family.

E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure joins two other books from the Museum. One, Schooling With Uncle Sam, is a first-person memoir collection of DoD schooling with the overseas American military. The other, On Freedom’s Frontier, gathered first-person recollections of American military service on the tank-defended, and land-mine-infested border between West and East Germany–the Iron Curtain. All three books were shepherded by Circe Olson Woessner, the Museum’s executive director.

To quote from the Museum’s press release,

“The motto, E Pluribus Unum, means ‘out of many, one.’ The museum’s latest project E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure — gives title and substance to a newly-released multi-faceted study exploring if the many do indeed become one,” Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, Executive Director of the Museum of the American Military Family (MAMF) explains. “E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE under Pressure curates, in one volume, stories from hundreds of military-connected individuals based on their service experience seen through the lenses of GRAICE (Gender; Religion; rAce; Identity; Culture; and Ethnicity.).”

In writing E Pluribus Unum, none of us writers knew how the others approached the writing prompts or how they explained the way military life affected their experiences of the GRAICEs. Each of us expanded on our experiences.

My essays are:

  • Supply Train
  • Boxes
  • Tl;dr: One Hundred Years of War
  • Translating Mil-speak to Civilianese
  • The Military: It’s Another World
  • Army of One
  • Gender: Brains, Brawn, or Both?
  • No Atheists in Foxholes v. Keep Your God Out Of My Foxhole
  • Race, in One Person’s Military Experience
  • Who Are Military People?
  • E Pluribus Unum.

A group of similar essays were written by my co-writer-in-residence, Connie Kinsey, a Marine Corps brat. Scattered between the essays are the book’s illustrations, conceived and produced by “the son of a world traveling family,” Brandon Palma who founded 8thDayCreate.

To polish the book, Amy Hines Woody, an anthropologist and an Air Force retiree, wrote the introduction. Anthropological PhD candidates, K.T. Hanson and Chelsea E. Hunter, put under a sociological microscope raw survey data collected online by the Museum from self-selected respondents. They added fifty pages of survey analysis to the over two hundred pages of first-person experiences. The anonymity of the surveys provided the analysts with much candid information.

Despite pride shown by many of the contributors, E Pluribus Unum is not a hoo-rah rubber-stamp of military life. Likewise, the book is not an invective-laden tirade. It is an authentic look by people with something to say about their lives, either in uniform or close to uniformed personnel.

For those with an interest in what takes place behind the installation fence, I hope you enjoy the book.

I’ve been silent here a while, but <she says, brightly> I have an excuse! I contributed to a book.

For the past year and a half I’ve been writing essays for an examination of gender, race, identity, culture, and ethnicity in the military family for a publication by the Museum of the American Military Family. The museum is near Albuquerque, New Mexico, but we writers are scattered across the country.

The book, E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure, is an examination of gender, religion, race, identity, culture, and ethnicity in the military family.

The project, led by Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, founder and director of the Museum, is in the final stages and should be released in July of this year. I’m happy to have been a writer in residence as a part of the project.

E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure

My publisher recently asked what I’d like readers to know about me from my writing. The question was a new slant on my writing’s purpose. I suppose the chief “about me” revelations would be repeated cups of tea, and a succession of cat companions.

Otherwise, anything the reader learns about me from a piece is a byproduct not the focus. The purpose of my essays and stories is either the illumination of the topic, or finding a reader’s connection to it. During brainstorming, one question is what can my writing generate within the reader that gives that reader a tingle.

“I know that.”
“I did that!”
“Omigosh. That’s what I remember, too.”

Of course, such reader identification only happens among those who have shared those types of experiences. For readers who haven’t undergone similar events, my hope is to pique interest.

“Well, that’s another way to look at it.”
“Really? I’ve never even heard anything like that.”
“Who knew?”

There’s always the risk of the “You’re nuts!” reaction, but that’s just the price of going for the big bucks.

Much writing is meant to be informative, educational, or enlightening — all of which are pretty much in the same vein: revealing something to the reader. In this piece, the main revelation is that I write from a need to write. “Chatty Cathy syndrome,” according to my dad. Talking, writing, photographing: they’re all communication.

In school, midway through the last century, my early writing was composed of notes to a junior high friend. They were much like this—short essays. That hasn’t changed. At the time, my writing topics were then-current junior high concerns, usually composed during a teacher’s lecture. My inner voice drowned out anything the teacher had to say. Today, my chatter on Facebook takes the place of my earlier note-passing. Before Facebook, I’d gone through desktop publishing, Yahoo groups discussions, blogging, and a hot second on MySpace. I haven’t branched out to Patreon or Substack because they seem to require a lot of adult focus and dedication. Unfortunately, a part of me is still in junior high. Perhaps, for entertainment value, I should share more cat pictures.

Minka-doo loves me when she’s feeling snackish.

April 30th is the conclusion of the Month of the Military Child and the day is designated as National Military Brats Day.

1958 — My brother in his mix & match uniform. Apparently, the Air Force BX stocked only junior Army uniforms. That discrepancy notwithstanding, Mom applied the appropriate Air Force insignia to my brother’s Christmas present as we kids didn’t worry about the fine points of proper uniform wear.

To all the military brats, then, now, and in the future, happy Military Brats Day.

Hmmmm, looks as if the back-end WordPress format has changed again. I suppose I’m happy that I’m only learning a new format arrangement and am not going through the adjustments during the change from an agrarian society to an urban one, but not every time I seem to log on?

I’m not quite “back” yet to regular blogging, but I sense progress. Not that it matters, but I’ve been trying for the past week to blog from my iPad. Unfortunately (for me), the iPad is a geriatric version that will no longer update past version 12.something.something. I believe 14.something.something is the present version.

Because of iPadish geriatritude, I wasn’t able to gain access to this blog until I fired up the PC. The PC is even antiqueier than the iPad, but, miraculously, it still works, for which I honor the cyber gods and all their little cyber-minions. <burns an old floppy disk as a sacrifice> Maybe Santa will be kind to me at Christmas and surprise me with a new portable device? One can only hope.

“Life” marches on, but I wish it would stop stepping on my toes. In between grandchild-minding and virus-dodging (I had a just-before-we-knew-about-it brush with The Smell-Stealing Help-I’m-drowning Virus and don’t want to repeat that experience — get your shots!), I’ve been working on essays for the Museum of American Military Families (MAMF), located in Tijeras, New Mexico

This coming winter, MAMF will be publishing a book looking at the concept of E Pluribus Unum as it plays out among the personnel affiliated with the American armed services. The topic I’m working on at the moment is “code.” The military services have so many ways that codes affect the lives of servicemembers, DoD civilians, contractors and their families, from actual codes to everyday language. I take a look at the everyday language given that the actual codes are, like, secret ‘n’ stuff. Shhhh.

1978 — Walking our cat near the East German border.

Regarding codes, this photo of me and Pippin Baby (no one put Pippin Baby in a corner; he traveled) reminds me of the radio transmissions of in-the-clear spoken numbers that we used to occasionally pick up on the car radio while driving around Cold War Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. The transmissions had a kind of Twilight Zone feel to them as Someone, Somewhere, with a very flat voice was doing nothing but reading numbers into the void of the radio wave frequencies: “Two. Seven. Five. Nine. Three. One. One. One. Six. …” They went on and on. Boring, yet fascinating.

If you still listen to the radio and ever come across someone on an obscure frequency reading numbers (apparently the practice isn’t completely obsolete), you’ll know what you’re listening to: Code.

Hello, hello, hello. It’s been a while. Nothing earth-shattering from me; just a new blog post to keep the blog alive and make some use of last January’s renewal fee for the URL. Sometimes, life throws you a curve that takes the starch right out of you. Later on, though, you brave up, open WordPress to blog again, only to find that the whole blogging interface is redesigned. There goes some of that starch you’d regained. Where is everything? Cheers to me making more than one blog post before this time next year.

I’m sitting here, chilling while watching the Olympics (yay, Bermuda!). Other than being a sofa athlete, I’m getting back to writing. My current project is as a writer-in-residence with the Museum of American Military Families. I’m working on a series of essays for the Museum’s GRAICE Project. Along with the essays, I’m planning to improve my blogging habit, provided this interface doesn’t send me in search of chocolate too often. Me investing in a new Dummies book may be around the corner.

Fwiw, neither Covid nor physical dying were ever in play for me or anyone else in the family concerning my starchlessly curved hiatus. (Btw, go get your vaccination!) The blog post title is just a quotation from the souvenir t-shirt I have from a years-ago performance of Monte Python’s Spamalot.

If you’re reading this, thanks.

In honour of Bermuda’s gold medal, here’s a snap from the last time I was there: yellowfin tuna in the panoramic tank at the Bermuda Aquarium.

As Memorial Day approaches each year, on social media many of us see reminders about the servicemembers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It is well we remember those who gave their lives, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members, at the cemetery and memorial meant for national observances. These men and women in Arlington, though, are not the only citizens, and foreign nationals, whom we should not forget. Around the country, forty states have national cemeteries, as well as Puerto Rico.

Besides the cemeteries and memorials for servicemembers in the United States, other nations honor our fallen along with their own. Around the world, the American Battle Monuments Commission, established in the Coolidge administration with John J. Pershing as the first Chairman, “administers, operates and maintains 26 permanent American military cemeteries and 30 federal memorial, monuments and markers, which are located in 17 foreign countries, the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the British Dependency of Gibraltar …”

1998: Our visit to a WW1 military cemetery in the Somme region of France. The sheep are the lawn-mowers.

In the early 1970s while living in Germany near France, my husband and I and our toddler son visited Verdun, a devastatingly war-torn area during World War 1. We saw many reminders of the tragedy of war. Years later during a trip from Germany to England to visit friends who’d moved from Munich, Germany, my family visited the Cambridge American Cemetery. The chapel was sobering. A decade or so afterward, from our home in Belgium, we visited World War 1 cemeteries in the Somme region of France. Regardless of where American servicemembers are stationed, it seems there is no lack of memorials and military cemeteries. We have left our compatriots around the world.

On this Memorial Day, please spare a thought for the fallen American servicemembers who have given their all, but never made it home.

 

 

Military Spouse Appreciation Day

Last Friday was Spouse Appreciation Day in the Military.
This day comes in the middle of Military Appreciation Month.
It follows the Month of the Military Child.
November is Military Family Month.

As an Air Force Brat, and as the mother of Army Brats, I appreciate the Month of the Military Child.

As an Army veteran, I appreciate Military Appreciation Month.

As a member of a military family since before I drew breath and a continuing member who accumulated 50 address changes by the age of 50 when my husband retired from federal service (I counted), and as someone who still holds a valid military ID card, I appreciate Military Family Month.

As an espoused wife of a retired soldier whose time in grade is creeping up this year on our 50th anniversary, I wonder why, in a tradition of appreciation months, spouses get only a day. A day loomed over by Mother’s Day. As a Brat with 18 years in grade, I know I never pulled as much duty as my mom did.

I’m not trying to drum up another celebratory month (we’ve got enough of those), and yes, we honor other important groups only with a day (Veterans Day, Memorial Day). I probably wouldn’t have noticed the different label (Spouse Day? There’s a Spouse Day?) if I hadn’t been scouting for blog post topics and found a list of seasonal observations. In the greater scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. It’s not life or death. Within the context of family appreciation designations, though, could the ranking be more ‘dependably’ obvious?

 

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.

Christmases around the world that the Christmas Fairy (my mom) magicked up — in transit or not — no matter where we were.

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