Happy Veterans Day from an Army Brat

My Young Pop while stationed in Turkey

Yep, I was an Army Brat.

This means that my younger years were unlike anything most people experience.  When I look back on my childhood I sometimes feel like I missed out on some of those things that make up those typical early memories.  I don’t have a house that I grew up in. The one that had the tree house outside and those little hiding places you found under loose floorboards or vents. You know, the house with the kid your age that lived right next door.  The kid that became your life long friend and is about as close as any brother could have been.  The house that was a few blocks from the elementary school you walked to every day.  The house that was just down the road a bit from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. That house that your parents still live in and you visit and relive all those memories whenever there. Nope, I didn’t have that.

We grew up away from our extended family. We had 14 cousins that all lived in the same city that my parents were from in Central Illinois.  All of those kids grew up with each other and to this day are the best of friends.  But going back every couple of years to visit as a kid didn’t develop the strongest of bonds with the rest of the family.  Sure, when we were there we were the center of attention and we loved to head back and visit.  But, at least for me, it always felt like exactly what it was:  a visit.  It always felt great to visit the Grandparents but it was never the home that it was for the rest of the family.

And we moved around a lot.  Because of this, we made some good friends and then they moved away or we did.  And this was back before the internet and mobile communications made the world so much smaller so once they weren’t around they were gone for good.  With no Facebook, Twitter, Skype, texting, and emails there was really only one way to keep in touch and that was through writing letters.  You could use the phone, I guess, but this was back in the days when you would have had to take out a loan to pay for that long distance bill if you tried that.  I can honestly say that I don’t ever remember writing a single letter to a friend that was no longer around.  Looking back on it now, it was kind of shitty of me…but then again, I don’t remember ever receiving any letters either.  Once they were gone…they were just gone for good.

So, yeah, there were some crappy negative aspects of growing up an Army Brat.  Some of those probably left some emotional scars that affect my relationships with other people as an adult.  But you know what? I wouldn’t trade growing up on the move like that for anything because, as far as I’m concerned, the positive aspects rocked.   And here are just a few of the reasons why:

-Was born in a Castle.  Well, not really.  I was born in a town called Kassel in Germany.

-We traveled A LOT!!  This meant long car rides.  But they were long car rides to kick-ass destinations…sometimes while sitting amidst a bunch of cantaloupes (which is why, to this day I still can barely stomach the smell of them)

Check out that safe as shit car seat back in the 70s. 🙂

-Lived in a city that was completely surrounded by the Cold-War enemies, West Berlin.  I remember the bleakness that was the Berlin Wall.  But I also remember that this is where I was when Star Wars was released.  I don’t think any other book or movie was as big a part of my childhood or really my whole life.  It’s what, 35-36 years later and I am still obsessed with pretty much all things Star Wars.

-Went though Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin for day trips.  Was pretty crazy different on the other side of that wall.

-Went to a real Kris Kindel Market (and have one of the most embarrassing pictures on the planet to prove it…check out the clothes and my Pop’s porn ‘stache)

-Spent a night sitting next to my Pop in our van as we raced through East Germany to make it back to West Germany.

-We were racing time because I needed to catch a bus for a week long Outdoor Adventure Course at Hinterbrand Lodge.  This was a lodge down in the mountains in Bavaria that was once used as a mountain retreat for the Nazi Party.  It was a week away from school for my little group of friends just hanging out in the Alps.

-Lived in the home of Oktoberfest, Munich.

-Spent a few years in one of the most beautiful places on earth: Monterey, California.

-Lived right next door to these big buildings that had lots of cute furry animals that we could walk over and pet in Fort Detrick, Maryland.  Which when I was a kid was some really cool shit…but when I grew up and found out that these animals were all being used for testing all kinds of nasty stuff I am surprised that I don’t have the tumor the size of a fucking football sticking out of my neck right now.  Thanks Mom and Dad.

-Visited Disneyland and stood under the shadow of the iconic Disney Castle.

-Better than that, I visited the castle that the crappy fiberglass one at Disneyland was inspired by:  Neuschwanstein.

-And that wasn’t the only castle we visited while in Europe.  Visited them all up and down the Rhine.  And visiting castles as a young boy = FUCKING AWESOME!

-Had Thanksgiving Pizza in London.

-Had “Strawberries and Cream” in Paris.

-Shot a guy in Reno just to watch him die. (ok not really…but we did go to Circus Circus while passing through)

-Spent 4 years in a gorgeous little river valley town in Germany called Bad Kreuznach that I still miss from time to time.

-During my high school years in Germany, I got to play sports where away games meant overnight trips

-And I could hang out in bars when I was 15 too.  Was quite a culture shock when moving back to the states.

And those are just a few of the highlights.  While most of my extended family have spent their entire lives living within a 100 mile radius of where they were born I was able to travel the world and travel to sometimes live in places that I would never have been able to had my father not been a member of the Armed Forces.

Thanks Pop.

And thanks to all the Dads and Moms out there that are serving or have served their country.

Happy Veterans Day!

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Happy Veterans Day from an Army Brat

  1. Pops

    You are welcome Chris…. Great job of writing. Funny and I remember all of them but was not there for the strawberries and cream! Thanks Son, I am proud to be your Pops!

  2. deanne wheat

    So proud of you Christopher. You grew up into a super special adult. And all those stories are why. Love you buddy. Aunt Deanne

  3. Pingback: Rheinhessen-Fachklinik Alzey – Amtsgericht Bad Kreuznach « VORSICHT FRISCH GEBOHNERT – Das offizielle Anti-Reichsdeppen-Forum ::: SCHWARZ WEISS ROT

  4. Anonymous

    Great Story, nice to see a person that appreciates his youth and the ability to see the world. Wish more children these days showed that type of appreciation.

  5. Wendy R

    Bad K: Part 1 Just a howdy from another army brat that grew up in Bad K and loved it. 45 years later I still miss the Bruckenhausen.

    Just a quick story about culture shock. You reminded me of something I haven’t thought of in ages. When we returned stateside, I had trouble adjusting. After years of grabbing my passport, riding my bike to the bahnhof, hopping the train to wherever and being back for dinner without my parents even asking where I had been, just “put your passport back where it belongs”-it was quite a shock to come back to America, without even sidewalks that were intact. We returned to a small town near Fort Knox, KY. The town library and movie theater was 3 miles from my new house. On a sunny summer day, I told my mother I was walking into town to check out the library. She wasn’t surprised, and waved me out the door. She had walked farther one way to the Commissary-PX to mail a letter and buy some milk with a 10 year old and a 3 year old walking beside her. A couple of hours later, I was escorted home by the police, who picked me up for walking into town. My parents were as confused by this as I was. Do you remember the Germans walking the “Omars” or grandmothers on Sundays? I was escorted home many times before my parents finally gave up and forbade me to try to walk into town anymore. I probably gained 10 pounds that summer, between the depression and giving up walking constantly. I was desperately homesick for Bad K. Then one day we went to the base PX and I REALLY got into trouble. I was shopping for school clothes while my parents were somewhere nearby. The main merchandise was in a huge warehouse sized room, with a dozen or so small specialty areas around the periphery, connected by archways. If you were opposite these arches you could see the merchandise inside the specialty store. I wasn’t paying attention to any of these, until I saw some bins of wine bottles and even from a distance I recognized the Bad K crest on a wine bottle in one of the bins. I was so homesick that I wanted to hold that bottle and look at the crest. I was already crying and just walked straight thru the arch to that bottle of wine and picked it up. At that moment it was like flying home. I must have held it for a minute or so when a man flew at me screaming and tried to yank the bottle out of my hand. I wouldn’t have given it up at that moment if he’d had a gun to my head. And I wasn’t really hearing him screaming at me to get out of the shop. I was reading and mouthing the German on the bottle “qualitatswein” and staring at the crest and a tiny picture of the Die Bruckenhausen on the label like it would transport me back to Bad K. I turned and started to walk under the arch. I wanted to show the bottle, a piece of home, to my parents. I knew they would buy it for me if they saw it, because they would understand that I needed that piece of home to make the adjustment. Just holding it made everything better. That made the man really flip out. I had never been to this PX before and it seemed like one place to me. If there had been a door instead of an arch I might have understood that he thought I was stealling the wine, Now there was quite a commotion, especially because I wouldn’t let go of the bottle, By the time the MPs arrived and starting asking me what a 14 year old thought she was doing in a liquour store, I was really crying, but I still wouldn’t let go of that bottle.

  6. Wendy R

    Bad K: Part 2 By that time my parents are looking for me and the commotion had caught their attention. My father arrives first and I start jibbering at him in German pointed to Die Bruckenhausen on the bottle. He understood immediately. Before he can say anything the shopkeeper starts wagging his finger in my face and my father steps between us and slams a $20 on the counter, staring the man down. He was obviously ex-military because his eyes immediately dropped to my fathers ribbons and his mouth snapped shut in mid-sentence.. Five purple hearts, two bronze and a silver star was too much for him to challenge. But the MPs blocked my father from taking me out of the store. Then it got really interesting because my mother joined the party. It took her a couple of minutes to catch up, but once she got the picture, she was the tornado in the room. I watched her back two MPs into a corner and start telling them what she thought of this crap. She was long out of uniform, but hadn’t forgot that even as a WAC she had once out-ranked them. And she wasn’t at all shy about telling them that she hadn’t spent the last four years five thousand miles from home teaching housewives and children to shoot M14s in the shadow of the Berlin wall being built so that boys in shiny shoes guarding underwear could brow beat her child, especially after that child had spent 7 of her 14 years in Germany. By her measure, I had been drafted into the ARMY and served my country longer than they had. She kept going for a long time. By the time she let them out of that corner THEY were crying. We had drawn a crowd of military&dependents and they were crying.

    We walked out with the wine to claps and cheers and salutes. That bottle sat on my dresser thru college.

    • Debby Cleghorn

      Your tale of BK and your return home brought me to tears. It was the best time of my life and gave me the memories I hold dear to this day. Oh, I did laugh too. Especially, your mom being the force to reckon with for the MPs. Thanks for the laughter and the tears.

  7. I lived in BK too! I’d love to take my kids there some day. Talk about not having a home or place you grew up in, but BK isn’t the only place I’ve lived where the school and housing have been torn down. I can’t even show them where I lived for a short span of time, but I tell them stuff similar to what you wrote about here.

  8. Helen Ancic

    I too lived in BK 68-71. It was the best of times. Everything I do and everywhere I go, is compared to the time there. It is an experience that I will never forget.

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