Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

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The Doctor is In

I’ve known him all my life. And after my dad, he’s the “adult male” that I would turn to for car maintenance advice, a kind word, a belly laugh in the form of some hilarious anecdote that had  happened that week. Uncle Tracy has been a comfortable constant in my life no matter where the Army sent us throughout my childhood.

My cousin, Wendy, was my best friend/pen pal during all that back and forth moving overseas to Texas to Alabama and back overseas, etc. I felt grounded reading her letters and a sense of normalcy writing back to tell her all about my softball season, how much I hated Algebra II, and which boy I had a crush on that week. I always sent love to her parents and she always sent it back to mine. And for us, there was never any awkwardness. Even though she wasn’t a military BRAT like me, we would pick up right where we left off three years before. We’d run out to play on the zip line that Uncle Tracy had built using the tallest trees in the backyard or play basketball or throw pine cones at each other or at night, jump out from behind a fat bush on the side of the road to scare the crap out of teenage drivers who were speeding up the street and then take off running as they slammed on brakes and cussed at us out the open windows.

When I spent a week with them during the Summer Wendy had gotten her learner’s permit, Uncle Tracy earned a new nickname. We were in his pick-up truck. Wendy was driving. We were in the left only turn bay and she was having trouble with the 3-on-the-tree. Uncle Tracy was patiently bellowing directions from the passenger seat. I was the quiet moron in the middle; head turning left then right then left again as the conversation continued across me. After about 4 light changes from red to green and back to red, Wendy was beyond frustrated as the engine choked and died again. Uncle Tracy stated loudly, for the tenth time, “Wendy, you’ve got to put the damn thing in first gear!”

“It IS in first gear!” she shouted back, red-faced.

“Wendy, if this damn truck was in first gear, we’d already be in the driveway by now. Put it in first gear.”

She violently pulled the shift bar from where it was to neutral and then back to where it was. “It IS in first gear, Daddy!” The light turned green again. She let up off the clutch again. The truck jerked forward and died again. The car behind us started honking again as he was too close to go around us like the cars behind him. The light turned red again.

“Wendy, you’re in third gear. Put the truck in first gear!!”

“Daddy, it IS IN FIRST GEAR!” she shouted back.

Uncle Tracy actually yelled this time, “IF THIS TRUCK IS IN FIRST GEAR THEN I’M A GODDAMN BRAIN SURGEON!”

The dumbass in the middle, sensing the tension and trying to show solidarity with her cousin waved and said, “Hiiiiiiiii, Doctor Tracy!”

They were too pissed off at each other to laugh. She finally found first gear and we went home. When we got  back to their house, I figured I should make myself scarce and then I heard my aunt laughing in the kitchen. I went to get a glass of tea and she handed me a tall cup to take to “the good doctor.” She and Wendy howled with laughter.

I handed him his tea and he just looked at me. Then he laughed and said it was in third. I  told him that out of all the pipefitters in the world, he made a fine brain surgeon. He’s been Dr. Tracy ever since.

 

 

Did I Do Too Much for Them?

As mothers, we second guess ourselves and the choices we make all of the time. Since these children don’t come with owner’s manuals or anything remotely close to that, we sort of “wing it” and combine our gut instincts with the way that we were brought up and what we admired from parental examples we admired from TV and movies, and that long list of stuff we swore we’d “NEVER do when I have kids of my own!” And for the most part, that tends to work really well for most of us. We do the best with what we have and what we know and we try to do what is best for our kids and hope and pray that that is enough.

I used the great ways that my mom had to interact with us when we were little. She was awesome at distraction tactics when we would fight. There were four of us and sometimes it would get pretty loud. I remember many times that she would just come in the room while we were fighting and just sit down on the floor. She’d pull all of our building blocks and Matchbox cars, Fisher-Price people and Weebles out of the box and start making entire towns right there in the middle of the rug. She’d completely ignore us while doing this. Soon we were sort of staring at all the fun she was having and no longer interested in who broke what, or whose turn it was to whatever. We’d watch and eventually sit down and ask if we could play with her. She always said, “Yes.” And we’d join in and start having fun, too. Then she’d slowly work her way out of the game and leave the room and we were none the wiser, yet peaceful.

I also decided that I liked the way that she kept open lines of communication with us. I employed this, too, with my own kids. But I allowed more expression (like limited cussing when they were at that stage where nothing else would seemingly help them “get it out.”) I never lied to them.  (Okay, I did have them convinced for years that I knew the Minister of Birthdays and Aging and that if they did something really horrible that I could call and have that year’s birthday postponed for another. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds when your kids are younger and are certain that they haven’t earned that year older until they’ve actually blown out their candles on their cake. Truth be told, I did NOT tell them the whole candles thing. That was their own understanding. I just didn’t contradict it until the oldest was about 12 and had figured it out on his own. DON’T JUDGE!)

I would watch some of my in-laws and neighbors and friends who would tell their kids things like, “stop crying and I’ll buy you sweets” or “don’t be scared. The needle won’t hurt at all.” To adults, these seem like little lies to assuage fears and calm kids. But for kids, they are actually HUGE lies that, once told and are proven to be untrue, take away from our credibility and teach our kids not to trust us. I never told my kids untruths about our ability or inability to afford something that they wanted. I would tell them, “No. That is something that is not in our budget” if they were asking for their own mobile phone or wanting to go to the amusement park or join a sports club.

I did not/will not give my kids an allowance. I hated this rule growing up but my dad had it and I’m actually quite grateful for it now. He always said, “I buy you every-damn-thing you need. If there is something you want, come talk to me about it and we’ll decide if it’s something we can do.” So when I wanted a Mickey Mouse watch at 5 years old like my neighbor had, Dad said no. He said it was ridiculous that Michael Murphy had a watch at 5 when the “big dummy can’t tell time.” (I was born in the late 60’s and digital watches were still about 10+ years away.) So, of course, I was heartbroken. But Dad told me that if I learned how to tell time that he would buy me a watch. I accepted his challenge. I learned how to tell time in one week. (And oh, yes, I rubbed that in Michael Murphy’s face big time.) And Dad bought me my first watch at the PX  (Post Exchange for you non-military types.) It was dark blue Timex with silver numbers and hands and had a dark blue band. It was a ladies watch…for grown ups. It was so fancy. He taught me how to wind it and take care not to get it wet. I had that watch for 11 years before it finally broke. I’d earned the right to wear it. And Dad promised it and fulfilled that promise. Trust was built over something little.

When my kids wanted pocket money, I made them work for it. They always had to help around the house and I didn’t pay for that. But if they wanted something extra, I made them work a little extra. My sister-in-law thought I was mean and horrible for making Ismail make all of the beds in the house (a total of 5) after their naps one day and I only paid him 25 piasters. She thought that that was a lot of work for a 6 yr old and that he deserved more than just 5 piasters per bed. I asked what she thought was fair wages. She said 1 pound. I told her she was nuts. I explained that her own sister worked 12 hour days, 6 days a week in a factory making purses and backpacks and she only brought home 250 pounds per month. That averages out to about 1.15 pounds per hour. “He needs to learn that life in Egypt is hard and that people work hard for very little money. Then he will appreciate what he has and will take care of it and learn to work hard himself.” That was ten or twelve years ago. Now she tells me that she wishes that she had done like I did as her kids think that it’s their right to demand large amounts of money to go shopping, buy fast food and go to the movies whenever they like.

I instilled a good work ethic in them. BUT there are other things that I didn’t do right. I still haven’t let them do the other stuff. I handled their confrontations, argued with store owners who wronged them, all the typical advocating for my kids. But they didn’t learn how to do those things on their own. None of them knows how to fill out a job application on their own, their own medical history, how to drive. And I’m not preventing them from doing any of that or still doing it all for them. They’ve sort of just fallen into the habit of asking me to do it and I do it. I fear that I’ve not encouraged them enough to try stuff on their own. I’m afraid to push them out of the nest to test their wings. I know that failure is part of learning and that I have to be a good enough parent to allow them to fail. But it sucks when your job all these years has been to catch them when they fall.

My best friend and I cried together over this earlier this week. She and I have a mess of kids and our oldest are about the same age. She told me that her daughter called from her university on the other side of the state wanting her to put on her “momager” hat and call the school and handle some situation for her. My friend started to do that but then caught herself.

We women are able to have entire lengthy arguments and weigh outcomes of choices all in our minds in split seconds. Men don’t realize this, I think. But we are able to go through every option available, predict results and decide the best course of action to take all within about 3 eye blinks. We’re bionic like that.

So my friend told her daughter, “You know what? This is something you can handle. You need to call and tell them that you don’t want to change dorms again and give your reasons why. I believe in you. You can do this.” Her daughter was pouty but accepted my friend’s advice. Of course, she cried her eyes out after hanging up because she felt she was a “bad mom” for telling her NO. But this is how we have to do it. And it’s hard. And it sucks. But it’s the being there to pick up the pieces if they fall and break during their test flights outside our nests that make us good moms. And while both of us know this intellectually, it doesn’t make it any less heavy on our hearts when our kids want us to do something and we force them to do it themselves.

Have I done too much? Maybe. But we do what we can the best way we know how and trust that we’ve done it right. Excuse me. I’m going to go cry now.

 

 

 

Our Summer Vacation to Athens

So, this week has been a major ass-kicker for me…mostly in a good way. Sunday we took advantage of the fact that my son and daughter both quit their summer jobs and that my husband finally replaced the compressor in the van giving us air-conditioning. YAY. So we finally got on the road about 2 pm and headed off to Athens. (That’s Athens, Texas, y’all.)
Of course, due to the late start and having to deal with a major autistic meltdown with a pit stop at Dairy Queen to calm nerves all around, we managed to get to this po-dunk town after everything that we wanted to see had closed. So we headed back to the main drag and pulled into the East Texas Arboretum and did a little hiking in 104 degree heat. It was an impressive patch of woods with lots of lovely gardens and fountains and a one-room school house and a bat house. We spent a whopping hour there before piling back into the van and driving home. I think the highlights for me were the photos of my kids and husband playing “slow-mo Ninja” in the gazebo and the fact that I didn’t have to cook. (We bought pizza that night.) My husband was excited about the fact that I had enough fuel points to only have to pay 86 cents per gallon when we filled up the van.

We’ve traveled quite a bit all over the US, Europe, Middle East and North Africa. But since moving to the US and making our home in Texas, we’ve decided to spend some time seeing all of the major European cities within Texas state lines. We have now gone to Paris, Dublin, and Athens. Not bad for day trips, huh?

Fam in Athens

We’re Having a Party Today

party hat Pictures, Images and Photos I have decided to throw a party today…just for my kids. I believe that they deserve it.  I know you think I’m nuts, right?  “All the complaining about them driving you insane as to how bored they are, even on their way home from the beach! Your kids don’t deserve a party!” Au contraire, mon frere.

You see, most of you civilian types don’t know what I’m talking about.  My military brat friends are probably laughing their butts off right now. Because they know that the above-pictured party hat will NOT be donned by my children. That’s right, fellow BRATs.  I’m throwing my kids a G.I. Party.  They don’t know what it is yet either. But you can bet, they won’t be wearing headgear of any kind. (Don’t worry, civilian people. I’ll  provide a glossary for all these italicized terms at the end of this post.) But I will. THIS will be my party hat:
Oh, yeah.


Somewhere along the line, I got tired. Perhaps it was the fact that I realized I’ll be 44 this year, AHEM! (29 for the 15th time.) Perhaps it’s just the heat and humidity is getting to me.  The fact that we all shower 3 and 4 times a day, thus overfeeding the laundry monster towels and sweaty clothes requiring me to slay it repeatedly on a daily basis, has pushed me to the edge of my usually forced patience brink.  But now we’ll add in the constant whining, bickering, insult-throwing, sassing, and fist-fights to the already fully packed list of tattles, complaining, and arguing and you’ve got a one word adjective that describes the situation I am in to a T:   Disrespect. 


I have noticed that lately I must call out the same name at least 5 times before I hear a half-assed “Ma’am?” in response. I know that if my face was on t.v. they’d hear me loud and clear. (And probably turn the thing off.)  When I ask someone to complete his or her dishes so that I can get dinner started, I either wait three or four hours for them to begin, or I get pissed off and ask God for patience while I wash them myself.  I get elated that I finally killed the laundry-dragon and burned its nest down and smashed its eggs only to walk into the boys’ room and find its twin sister laying more eggs at the end of my son’s bed in the back corner of the bedroom…..even though I told him THREE TIMES to get all of his dirty clothes into the hamper NOW so that I can complete the laundry.

These are normal issues that happen all the time, I guess. But we’ve also been dealing with an enormously abnormal amount of tattling, whining, teasing, slapping, farting on, fist-fighting and swear words. I am at a loss for words as to how much of it.  Maybe not.  Words seldom leave me. I guess to be more accurate, I’ll say that I’m too humiliated to admit to the world how bad it’s gotten. It’s enough that my neighbors can hear the noise of bodies crashing against furniture and four letter words flying through the open windows (only because it’s too hot to breathe with the windows closed.)  I’m very grateful that most of their insults and swearing are done in English because none of my neighbors speaks English.  Although they all probably know the bad words. (Thanks, Hollywood.)

I’ve put them on restriction.  I’ve spanked (get over it, those of you who don’t believe in corporal punishment. I’m betting you don’t have 5 kids separated by a year between them each and live in a foreign country and raising them alone. And if you have, oh well. Bygones!) I’ve taken away their meager allowances and computer privileges and television. I’ve encouraged. I’ve rewarded good behavior. I’ve talked with them. I’ve explained. I’ve done everything that everyone under the sun from Dr. Spock to Dr. Laura have suggested. (I still don’t know who Dr. Who is, so haven’t tried him yet.) So now, I’m going back to my own grassroots, sans the “beat the hell out of ’em” policy.  I am returning to the Army. 


Each GI will be issued a scrub brush.  Sassier GIs will be issued a toothbrush.  KP duty will entail scrubbing of tiles on the walls and floors.  All dishes will be cleaned. Stove top will be scrubbed.  Counters will sparkle and all duties will be completed prior to mess at 1800 hrs


Latrine duty will entail scrubbing of all tiles on the walls and floors, sink, toilet, shower and removal of all clutter, including empty shampoo receptacles that had previously been labeled as saved for refilling with water to fire upon passersby under the balcony.  Latrine will sparkle and all duties will be completed prior to mess at 1800 hrs. 


Day room police will entail removal of all dust particles from furnishings and appliances.  Windows will be cleaned and once floor area is completely mopped, all furnishings will be returned to their appropriate locations.  Any non-regulation day room items will be returned to their proper locations or will be removed by drill sergeant during white glove inspection.  Day room will be left in a clean, neat and outstanding condition prior to mess at 1800 hrs.


Any underbreath remarks, backtalk, complaints will result in disciplinary PT  following mess at 1800 hrs.  


DISMISSED.


*As suggested by my BRAT friends, I will not lie on the couch and eat bonbons throughout the party.  But I will definitely be reminiscing and once they fall asleep exhausted tonight, I’m going to email my dad and thank him again for being the hardass that he was.  If he hadn’t been, I wouldn’t be nearly as respectful a person as I am today.

Now, I’m going to “get this party started.”


GLOSSARY (for you civilian types)


G.I. Party – Army term meaning a massive cleaning session, usually carried out by an entire platoon.

Platoon – A subdivision of a company of soldiers, usually forming a tactical unit that is commanded by a lieutenant and divided into several sections; A movie about Vietnam that starred Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen…but that’s not relevant to this blog post.


Headgear – Regulation hat issued by the military as part of the regulation military uniform; to be worn outdoors only


KP duty – Kitchen police; usually involves scrubbing pots, pans, dishes, walls, floors, peeling potatoes and cooking.


Mess at 1800hrs – Mess means meal; Mess hall or chow hall would be a military dining room. 1800 hrs means 6 o’clock in the evening.


Latrine duty – Cleaning of the latrine


Latrine –  Bathroom; WC; facilities; toilet


Day Room – The living room/den area where soldiers are allowed to “hang out” in the barracks; usually furnished with couches, chairs, tables, television, sometimes  pool table and ping pong table or fussball table and soda machines or snack machines. 


Non-Regulation Day Room items – Personal items that do not belong in the Day Room, this includes but is not limited to clothing, shoes, backpacks, scarves, books, pens, rocks picked up along the beach, the charger for your mobile phone that you always claim you cannot find, and toenail clippers.


Outstanding – Overused Army adjective that reflects good quality; antonyms for outstanding would be unsatisfactory, sub-par, and shitty.











Homesick

My heart is heavy…like someone placed a wheelbarrow full of bricks on my chest after making me to lie down in the soil on my back. Unwanted tears are streaming down my face and my breath is shallow.  I don’t have a real reason to cry.  Nobody died and I’m not physically hurt.  I feel like an idiot as the salty tracks reach my mouth and my nose clogs up and I realize we don’t have any tissue in the house.  I called just to hear their voices; just to wish them a happy anniversary and to tell them I miss them; how much I wish I could be there.  He couldn’t handle my teary voice and gave the phone back to her.  I hope I didn’t make him melancholy, too.  I just need them both to know that this girl inside me, this girl of long roots, who has lived every place and who is still from no place in particular, that when she gets homesick— it’s their home she’s missing.

Not Enough Hours in the Day…and Now I Know Why

It wasn’t until today that I ever thought of myself as an overachiever. Maybe on some levels, I’ve known.  But I don’t think I’ve ever caught a glimpse of how others see me. I’m a Facebooker. (Yeah, who isn’t?) I’ve blogged before about how great this social network is because as a military brat, it is extremely difficult to keep in touch with friends from childhood when sometimes you can’t remember what year you lived where.  Anyway, so I have subscribed to several military brat-related pages and caught up with some old friends and made some new ones.

One particular page is full of “regulars” who post daily what they’ve done and what they’re planning to eat and other stuff that usually ends up with all of us nearly “chatting” via bulletin board-type posts.  Today I actually typed up my little laundry list of stuff I did today before 1130 hrs (that’s 11:30 a.m. for you civilian types) and I think I managed to exhaust at least 3 people who typed that they were off to take a nap due to my activity.

Honestly, while I am my own biggest fan and LOVE to toot my own horn, I wasn’t bragging.  In my own opinion, I managed to waste the day away with ONLY the stuff I got done, while ignoring the ginormous “to-do” list looming over my head.  I took a nap from being so damn tired. I don’t get much sleep at night. As much as I blame my kids (who are TOTALLY at fault for about half of my exhaustion), ultimately it’s my own damn fault.  If I wasn’t such a control freak who pushes herself to complete every single thing on her never-ending list of stuff to do, I WOULD get more sleep at night, I would probably be healthier and I would have less stress in my life.  Of course, if I did that, then I wouldn’t be the neurotic, selectively-OCD crazed nut-job that my family and friends have come to know and love.

I’m getting a little better. I quit wiping off the stove and now delegate that responsibility to whichever little smart-mouth gets in trouble during the day.  One step at a time…

Hopelessness

She was a freshman when I was a senior. I knew who she was. I said hi to her when I saw her in the hallways at school. Her brothers and I were all friends. They lived on the court behind ours. Years go by and I read on the internet that she and her young daughter had died. I sent my condolences to the family. I didn’t know how and something inside me kept me from asking about the circumstances. Today I read an article online that detailed the incident and I felt sick to my stomach. She was shot by police after refusing to put down a knife that she was using to repeatedly stab her four year old daughter. Now at first, I thought, “Oh my God! How could she?” but then I read on. She had been suffering from emotional and financial distress, probably not in that order. She’d lost her job and hadn’t been able to afford to pay her rent for 5 months or more. The water had been shut off for failure to pay the bill. Apparently the state had been threatening to take her children. No one knows what they will do in such a situation. I mean, it’s easy to say, “I know I would never” but how do you know? I would HOPE that I would never feel such hopelessness and fear as to take the lives of my children. I have to hope that my belief that God controls all would get me through.

I have been in some seriously dire situations financially. I lost a house to foreclosure. I had wages garnished for 6 weeks once (not just some…the entire 6 weeks of pay…$zero income.) And were it not for WIC and the kindness of friends and our ability to eat canned beans and bread, we may not have made it. And it was hard, but we did it. A lot of you know that we returned to Texas from Egypt last year to make a go of it there. After four months, I packed the kids back up and came back to Egypt. We just couldn’t do it. We applied for food stamps and I was training to go back to work as an interpreter. My husband was working and applying all over the city for more work. But no one was hiring (except illegals) and we didn’t have enough money to pay rent. When we finally decided that I was going to move with the children back to Egypt, my mom and sister and various extended relatives all had their opinions and emotions over the issue. But you see, none of those who were angry had been in a desperate place or lost a  home or had stared the inability to feed their kids in the face before. And we listened and tried to explain but they didn’t “get it.” And we left anyway, with a lot of hurt and angry people in our wake. Some blamed me. Most blamed my husband and assumed that he “sent me away.” (Anyone who truly knows me, KNOWS that I am rarely forced to do anything against my will.) Whatever their opinions we had to do what was right for us and our situation. No regrets.

I look at the situation of my former school mate and I wonder what she would have done if she’d had the option we did. If she was able to take “the out” that we were, would she be alive today. God knows. I do know that through my grief for her surviving child and brothers that I again see a lesson reiterated. Judge not that you be not judged. We cannot judge her actions. God knows her heart and the desperate place that she was in. I pray God forgive her her sins and grant her His mercy. 

A Sad Day

Death is part of life. It is inevitable. We take our first step toward it with our first breath immediately after we’re born. Nobody looks forward to it. Nobody escapes it. Some fear it. Some welcome it. Some just don’t think about it. Some wait for it.

One of my best friends from high school just lost her big brother to cancer this morning. He was 45 years old. He had flu-like symptoms a year ago and then about 6 months ago was diagnosed with cancer. He had several treatments and operations. But eventually, it was just his time to go. I never knew him well. What I did know of him, I always liked. He was smart and handsome and extremely funny. He and his sister were close; the kind of siblings who could look at one another and say, “Do you remember when I went to the…” and the other would say, “and then you pulled on the….” and crack up laughing at a mutual memory without ever actually saying what it was they were remembering. They had a lot of these moments.

When my father retired from the Army and moved the rest of our family from Maryland to Texas, my sister and I stayed behind. We had an apartment in Laurel about a mile from my friend’s house. My sister and I worked several jobs to pay bills while going to school part-time. We rarely saw each other. And when the apartment got too quiet and I missed the hullabaloo that only life in a large family can bring, I would go to visit them and listen as I ate spaghetti at the kitchen table while they joked and laughed and their mom raised hell about the youngest turning off the kitchen faucet and how the pipes would burst since it was snowing outside and my friend and I would crack up while her older brother was mimicking her behind her back. He always made us laugh.

And as close as my brother and I are, I think that she and her brother were closer. I rarely get to see my brother or talk to him. She spoke to her brother nearly every day. I am certain that she and her siblings and mother and his daughter are all devastated that he is gone. I am so grateful that they got to spend his last days together laughing and loving one another and saying their goodbyes. We, the friends, stand on the outer circle looking in to them; waiting patiently for them to need us for support. We await their need of hugs and tears and help in any form. Because that’s what we must do. We are there for them as an extension of their family. And now that their time of being strong for him and supporting him is done, they will definitely need us to be strong for them and support them.

God please bless this family with patience and strength during their time of mourning.

Hollywood’s Actually Got Me Thinking

Apple. Pictures, Images and Photos
As an Army brat, I attended 15 schools in 12 years. (16 schools if you include the night classes that I took at the local community college during my senior year in high school.) Most of the teachers that I had were pretty good but most never left any major impressions on me. Weirdly, I remember most of my teachers names from the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DODDS) that I attended. But the teachers that I had in the U.S. are a mere blur. With the exception of Sister Carita Ulm, my kindergarten teacher from Rosenburg, Texas, who taught me to read, and Sister Mary Katherine, my 2nd grade teacher, from El Paso, Texas, who I really only remember because she nearly clawed my arms off from the elbows down because I kicked some boy named Raul off of the top of the slide for looking up my skirt while I was in line in front of him.  I don’t know why I remember all of my DODDS teachers so much better than the civilian school teachers. I remember Mrs. Ball, 8th grade Social Studies teacher from Ozark, Alabama because she smelled like cigarettes and Dentyne gum. And Mr. Ken Korn, my 7th grade speech teacher from El Paso, Texas. I liked Mr. Korn because he was actually a good teacher and demanded our respect in his class. He also said that the word was not BECUZZZZZ but “beCAUSE…rhymes with JAWS.”  Oh, and Mr. Whitaker, from my 7th grade Talented and Gifted class in El Paso. Mr. Whitaker made an impression because he worked us do death mathematically and because we got to design cool bridges made mostly out of toothpicks which we then destroyed by hanging weights off of them. Mine, of course, was the first one to snap in half. Most of the other teachers in El Paso were known only as “Mees” and “Meester”, even by us anglo kids. I always wondered if any of them had surnames.

I remember the DODDS teachers most, I think, because they actually challenged us to think and to problem solve. Even the really crappy teachers still had an edge over most of the ones that I had in the civilian world. (With the exception of 3rd grade on Fort Bliss…if I had had an orangutan for a teacher in that class I couldn’t tell you, it was THAT memorable a school.) Anyway, what got me thinking about teachers vs. GREAT teachers was that movie from 1988, “Stand and Deliver” starring Edward James Olmos as a math teacher, Jaime Escalante, who decided to challenge the kids in his Garfield High School class to learn calculus and take the Advanced Placement exam. It was like a lot of the “based on a true story” movies showing how disadvantaged kids in East Los Angeles, when given a teacher who gives a damn and works to get and keep their attention while still earning their respect, can overcome all odds and get themselves on the right educational track. Other examples are “Freedom Writers” with Hillary Swank, “Race the Sun” with Halle Berry and James Belushi, and “Dangerous Minds” with Michelle Pfeiffer. All are loosely based on true stories. All seem to indicate only one teacher in an entire high school full of teachers gives a damn. Wow. Our public education system must REALLY suck.

At Stuttgart American High School, which was located in Ludwigsburg, Germany just outside of Stuttgart, the opposite was true. For every average teacher I had in a 6-period day, I had 4 really good ones and one who stood out among the rest. My freshman year, my favorite teacher was Mr. Pike in Biology. He was corny and funny and smart and challenged us and made us laugh and think and expected 150% in all of his classes. My sophomore year, my favorite teacher was Dr. S.E. Lewis, Honors English. He was a little flighty and we could play some whopper practical jokes on him. But he challenged us with reading assignments and made us dig deep into Shakespeare and I swear I read more than 30 books that  year alone in his class. My junior year, I had two favorite teachers. Mrs. Bourland was my Honors English teacher and she was tough with her reading lists and composition assignments. She inspired my love of the American authrs like Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Poe. She was 10 times stricter about the term papers she assigned than Dr. Lewis was the year before. But she was compassionate toward me when I almost lost my mom to cancer that year. Mr. Mazzei was also a favorite that year. In his humanities class, I was introduced to art and architecture in history and it made all of those boring old history classes that I’d had for years make sense to me. I fell in love with the flying buttresses of Gothic architecture and did two term papers for him on two different cathedrals in the town I where I lived. My overseas education in DODDS schools really made me a deeply cultured person.

When we returned to the US, my dad was stationed at an airfield on Fort Meade, Maryland and my sister and I were enrolled in Meade Senior High School. This is actually a county school that happens to be on post. But I think we lucked out and ended up with some  pretty good teachers there, too. My absolute favorite teacher there was Ms. Patty Diaz (she married after I graduated but I don’t know her new last name.) She was my dance teacher and introduced us to contemporary/modern dance. It was a great release for me with all the stress I was going through at home. Ms. Diaz was laid back and creative and cool, but still demanded our attention and respect. As for academics, I had a few favorites. Mr. Bill Shepard was my speech teacher and he was also the faculty adviser for the school newspaper. When Mr. Shepard heard about my mom being terminal with cancer, he asked me to write an article about it for the school paper. I did, but anonymously. Being in high school is hard enough without everyone staring at you for the added reason of your mom dying in order to point and call you a freak. Then there was Mrs. Sharp, my Algebra II teacher who was very good at explaining the tougher points while still keeping a little sarcastic wit for those who were not paying attention. And then there was Mr. Pelham. I was in his Advanced Placement English class for seemingly 5 minutes before I got moved to a different class because my dad insisted that I drop Sociology and re-take Algebra II that I’d passed in Germany with a ‘C’. (Dad’s reasoning was that if I’d made a ‘C’ the first time around, that I could easily make a ‘B’ or even an ‘A’ the second time around. That’s how I met Mrs. Sharp. And as great a teacher as she was, I still made another ‘C’ in Algebra II. I think I just didn’t want to be there….I digress.)

Mr. Pelham seemed to be going through some changes in 1985. I didn’t know him before that class. So, I guess I’m the last to judge. But he seemed sort of disillusioned with American youth. In my first week in his class he said something that didn’t sit right with me. He said that “Americans have no culture at all.” Of course, most of the class took issue with this statement and began calling out various things that they thought made them “cultured.” Sadly, I began to see what he was talking about. Pretty much, most of the stuff that my classmates used as examples were things from Elvis Presley’s era until present…well, present-day 1985. I guess those of us who had gone to school overseas and visited places like the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, skied the Alps of Bavaria and Switzerland, visited  Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, and touched the walls of the shower rooms and smelled the stench of the crematorium still present at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany could be the exception to his rule. I still liked Elvis Presley and Jazz and hamburgers and pizza, though. So maybe Mr. Pelham was right and I was uncultured. Whatever. He made an impression on me. He was an excellent English teacher, even if I was only in his class a brief time. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t dropped his class. The nameless, faceless English teacher I ended up with now falls into the “blur pit” of other civilian world teachers that I had throughout my years in school.

But I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those teachers who have made a difference in the lives of their students. Teachers who challenge their students to think, to take that nearly but not absolutely impossible first step toward self-improvement, to go further than they thought possible, and to THINK for themselves….these are our true heroes. Thank you, Sister Carita, Mr. Korn, Mr. Whitaker, Mr. Pike, Dr. Lewis, Mrs. Bourland, Mr. Mazzei, Ms. Diaz, Mr. Shepard, and Mr. Pelham. You helped shape me.