Friday, July 18, 2008

1975 - 1985

I find it interesting how our lives can be so affected by the experiences we go through, whether on a small or large scale. Good or bad, years long or minutes short, a happy OR traumatic part of our lives can stay with us and change how we think or how we remember, or even how we want to live.

I bring this up because I am really starting to see the importance I place on how I was raised for the first ten years of my life. My Dad is a retired Lt. Col of the Army, and I am always proud to proclaim myself a Military Brat. I feel strongly that much of who I am today is because of this. But the reality is that this time in my life accounts for only a third of what I've lived through so far. And as the years go by, I'll only get further and further from the life I once knew. However, I think there's a lot to be said for the military lifestyle that factors in.

First of all, there's all the moving.

As an adult, I'm surrounded mostly by people who grew up in one house for most of their lives. That concept was foreign to me until I was ten, at which time we retired, and settled down in the Bay Area of California. Before that, I lived in five different homes in two countries, and attended three different schools. I don't know if I ever complained back then, but my memory of it all is that I loved it. Sure, you missed your friends that you left behind, but you were bound to make new ones. Many of our homes were on military bases, so you were surrounded by people who were all in the same boat. Everyone's dad or mom wore fatigues or uniforms to work, and we all became like family to one another. There's a common bond with these people, kids and adults alike, that I've never experienced anywhere else.

Along with moving comes the task of meeting new people, which meant that I needed to build up my social skills and not be too shy to meet new people. The best advice my mom ever gave me in this area was to say, "Ask them questions to get someone talking. People can always talk about themselves, and before you know it you're having a conversation." I've never forgotten how well that worked the very next day with the quiet girl I rode the bus with. To this day, I think I'm easy to talk to and get along with, and I'm grateful to the life that made that skill a necessity.

Next, there's life on a base.

Can you say "sheltered?" Because we were! Most bases have a post with guards at the entry, and typically they're armed, so you're not looking at a lot of weirdos, vagrants or psychos walking around your neighborhood. I spent those years feeling safe on my street, no matter what the time of day. The parents didn't spend a lot of time outside watching us play, like we do with our kids today, because they didn't have to. I spent hours and hours riding bikes, roller skating, playing house and even "Star Wars" without a care in the world. I'm so grateful for that. Sure, we had "Stranger Danger" talks at school, but we didn't have much concern for it yet.

And then retirement.

You might have noticed that earlier I mentioned "we retired." Of course I realize that it was my father that actually did the retiring from the Army, but the truth is, it felt like we all were. At the time, it seems my father was requested at the Pentagon, and our next move would have been to Virginia. After much discussion, my parents decided it was time to settle down near family, and so we retired to do just that. I remember his retirement ceremony -- I've never had my cheeks pinched so much in all my life. But I also recall feeling proud that everyone attending was there to honor my Dad. I didn't realize that day how much I would miss seeing him in uniform.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, we were dropped into civilian life. For me this meant public school. None of the kids were outright friendly, and to make things worse, I dressed like a dork. They were all in jeans and tee shirts, while I was wearing my purple cords, a blouse and a sweater vest. No, we weren't hip at the bases, apparently. One girl was terribly mean to me, and when I'd finally get mad, she'd tell me, "Don't have a cow!" I had NO IDEA what that meant. It took some adjusting, but over time I figured out the new rules. And my Mom was wonderful enough to take me clothes shopping for - you guessed it - jeans and tee shirts.

From that point forward, I was lucky we settled into one house and one town for my entire Jr. High and High school years. I graduated with kids I'd known for over six years, and for that I'm really grateful. That doesn't mean that every few years my parents, brother and I didn't all look at each other and wonder, "When are we moving?"

1 comment:

Ali said...

Great post! I lived on an Air Force Base the first 4 years of marriage and I whole heartedly agree about the sense of community and safety. I would take the dogs out for walks at 10 pm and think nothing of it.

Btw, did your mom make your dress? I think I had one in the same pattern!