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.

 

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

Now That I Can Breathe Without Tears

This was my post on Facebook the day following the tragic and brutal assassination of five police officers just 20 miles east of me in Dallas. I thought I would share it here and then expand:

“I spent the better part of last night with my ear glued to the radio. I feel like a giant rock is on my chest, I am so heartbroken that this happened here. And I am bracing myself to hear what weak attempt to link this cowardly and brutal assassination of our police officers to either the “open carry” side or the “stricter gun restrictions” side of the argument.
Our police force is NOT a means to anyone’s political end. These were good people who were hunted by a sniper’s rifle while they protected peaceful demonstrators who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights to express their solidarity with people of the other communities who lost young black men in violent deaths at the hands of a few bad cops.
That said, I also firmly believe that every one of those black men who were killed by police officers throughout this country were also good men whose lives were taken out of the fear, prejudice, bad judgment, overzealousness, incompetence, or power-drunken arrogance of a select group of police officers. Just as black criminals do not represent the entire black population, those bad cops do not represent law enforcement as a whole.
My heart hurts today and I just do not want to deal with Trump or Clinton or anyone else’s politically motivated soundbites to further their own campaigns on the backs of Blue or Black coffins.
‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬
‪#‎BackTheBlue‬
‪#‎UnitedWeStand‬

I am still “in the feels” about all of this. I have been since Trayvon Martin was shot four years ago. I’ve watched from the sidelines and spoken my peace in support of my fellow citizens from within the African-American community. I cannot ever understand how they must feel, having to worry every time their young men step outside the safety of their own homes.

I can only imagine that it is similar to how I feel every September 11th; how I go about my day with my butt cheeks clenched and acid burning a hole in my stomach as I wait for all my children and my husband to return home at the end of that day. How every time there is a shooting, hostage situation, or explosion within our borders the first thing that pops into my mind is, “Dear God. Please don’t let it be a Muslim that is committing this terrible act.” Only this anxiety for my black friends is one that they must endure in the backs of their minds EVERY day and not just annually or during some heinous event.

I want to cry out for them and I want to hug them and I want to scream. I want to be the one who organizes some sort of training program to run through all of the law enforcement academies from coast to coast and make sure that our police officers can learn to see our human sides and not affiliate skin color with criminal capability that crosses all racial lines. How do we turn off that hate? Is there an app for THAT?

I am the person who sees the good in others. I am excited that at my children’s high school on the lower socio-economic side of town, there is a police academy training program where the local community college and police academy choose from our predominately minority population to eventually protect and serve our community. This is affecting positive change in our city. I want this for all the cities. I want to see communities working together to improve the economy; opening and supporting small businesses within the poorer neighborhoods so that money is put back into the community and helping to cut unemployment rates, increase local spending, create pride.

I am not Pollyanna. I know that these things will not solve prejudicial views of all or fear due to racial misunderstandings by law enforcement agents. I know that there is no magic wand to “fix it” in the short term. But I know that what I would like to see happen would definitely contribute to a long-term fix of what’s broke in our country. I will continue to push for education opportunities within my own community. I will continue to teach my own kids empathy, fairness, and to stand on the side of right. I know that the genuinely good people of the United States will continue to do the same. And we can support our brothers and sisters of all skin colors, backgrounds, religions, cultures, and still support our law enforcement officials. I’m going to keep doing my part.

Egypt Update: 22 FEB Tuesday

Well, life for OUR family was more of the same ole, same ole…..BUT the Chief of the Military Council finally came on the air and made a really long-winded statement in which he said that he accepted the resignation of the Cabinet. He’s not stepping down. The military has no desire to extend the military rule, etc. and blah blah blah the presidential elections will be completed by July….2012. Yeah. So, people not happy. Whatever.

I can kinda see his point on one hand. I mean, you don’t just hand over the country prior to elections and just hope for the best. There is no government here other than the military council. Things seemed to have calmed down a bit in Cairo the last time I checked the news stations a couple of hours ago. My eyes started to get that donut glaze over them and I was hearing Charlie Brown’s teachers voice “Wah, wah, wah, wah….wah, wah…”
so I changed the station and let the kids watch Rush Hour while I did the dishes.

Alexandria is a mess. Not where we live….but across the city mainly in Samouha district (where my cardiologist is.) The police vans were firing huge tear gas cans into the crowds in a downward angle from the mount on the roof of the vans. People are being shot in the head and eyes with rubber covered bullets. It’s been pretty bad according to the reports. Camera-wise in Alex, they seemingly only have one street covered (Al-Jazeera International.) They announced on State TV that a curfew is in effect and no one can be on the streets after 6 pm but you know how much anyone is respecting the police right now. It’s 11:34 pm and I just got home from grocery shopping. My husband and one of my son’s went to the gym to work out. S.S.D.D.

Ultimately, you can’t go from a dictatorship to a democracy in a relatively short amount of time. It requires a lot of building and change and trust. At present, the supreme high court has announced that the announcement by the military last week that they will not be overseen by civilian leadership and that the military funds are not going to be accounted for by civilians, etc is either constitutional or unconstitutional. I don’t know. You have a neighbor who doesn’t have television but does have 4 kids under the age of 10 stop by to catch up on the news and the whole house goes nuts and you end up missing a word here and there. I’ll let you know when I play catch up. Also, elections are still scheduled for 28 November. We shall see. I’m tired and need to go make a late supper for my weight-lifters before they get home. Peace out.

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.

My Heritage

When one crosses an Alabama-born, Army-brat girl of Irish Catholic redneck-lineage with an Egyptian Muslim raised in Greece, what does one get?

My family.

And now that I’ve converted to Islam, I think some people think I’m going through an identity crisis. I’ve been accused of turning my back on my heritage by several people. Mostly, they’re family members. Nothing could be further from the truth. I embrace my Irish heritage, my Catholic heritage, my Alabama and redneck heritage and my Army brat heritage. However, I do not cling to them with a G.I. Joe kung fu death grip. I take what I value as most important in all of them and use them as I need them, as the person I’ve become…so far.

I mean, really. Aren’t we all still developing as people the longer we live? Do we really just stop somewhere along the line in our personal growth and just not anymore? I haven’t. Personal growth isn’t height or shoe size. It’s a work in progress. At least, mine is.

I love my Irish heritage. I love my reddish hair and freckles. I love that I’m a 4th generation American on my Mom’s side. I love the width of my face and that I’m not usually offended when people drop the f-bomb. I love The Cranberries. I love that I’ve inherited the ability to look at a really bad situation and make a joke about it and carry on with life. I stopped drinking years ago. No reason to carry THAT particular gene around, right?

I was brought up Catholic. I was pretty involved in the church, sang in the folk choir, did readings at mass, taught Vacation Bible School and CCD, went on youth retreats and hung out with the CYO. I’ve since left the church for a myriad of reasons…all of them personal and none of them having to do with being “brainwashed” or “influenced” by my husband, any of his family, my friends, or living in Egypt. I still live by the same life standards by which I was raised. I treat others the way I want them to treat me. I try to turn the other cheek and think innocently of others, believing none of what I hear and half of what I see. As to the dogma of the Catholic church, I no longer embrace that at all. But having grown up in it and believing in it
for the better part of 34 years, I do still defend it when others, Muslim or Protestant or otherwise, speak
untruths about the beliefs of Catholics.

While Alabama and redneck do not necessarily walk hand in hand,  they happen to in my case. And I love
that I learned to parallel park in my Aunt Virginia’s Chevrolet Suburban and that my cousin, Wendy, and I used to drive to the state store in Mississippi in her 1949 purple Mercury with white wall tires so big that the car looked like a giant jelly bean on wheels. I love that I am one of the few girls in the world who knows what a universal joint is and how important it is when you’re trying to find a drive shaft that will fit on a 45 year old car. I love Mardi Gras in Mobile, the Fishing Rodeo on Dauphin Island, and water-skiing on Tea Lake. I love frito-pie at the ball games and the smell of pine needles and the sound of crickets and how it’s common knowledge that an Avon lady’s phone number is imperative in the summer months because how else can you keep the mosquitoes away without Skin-So-Soft bath oil and not smell like bug spray?

I love that I’m an Army brat and lived all over the United States and Germany. I love that I am adaptable to change and that I can speak four languages with a pretty good understanding of a fifth. I love that I don’t have “roots” down anywhere in particular because sometimes those roots can tie you down. I love that I continued with the travel bug my dad “infected” me with. I saw a huge chunk of Europe as a child and I enjoyed it with all my heart. Since I became an adult, I’ve continued seeing the world and added more of
Europe and parts of the Middle East and North Africa. I like that my children are all bilingual, even my
autistic daughter speaks Arabic and English. She’s teaching herself Greek and a little Japanese from subtitled DVDs. How cool is that? I love that I respect timetables and rules. I also love that I’m forgiving and can bend for situations where a particular due date was overtaken by events. I love that I went to a Department of Defense Dependents EURope (DODDSEUR) high school. I was exposed to world events as they happened,  politics, news, world history, historical sites like concentration camps, museums, and landmarks.
I love that we held our homecoming dance on a boat floating on the Neckar River and that we went to ski school in the Bavarian Alps. My father provided me with something so much more important than “roots.”
He gave me life experience, strict rules and a view of the world so broad that it somehow made the world an amazingly fantastic place to live. Living around the world has given me self-confidence, self-esteem, and an ability to not allow fear to prevent me from doing what I want. Being an Army brat, the words “I don’t know” were unacceptable. “I don’t know but I will find out,” was.

At current, I’m a redneck, Alabama-born, country-music lovin’, hip-hoppin’, hard-rockin’, Irish-American Muslim mother of five, living in Egypt. I can cook, sew, sing, write, home-school, slaughter and pluck a chicken just before cooking it for you and rebuild an alternator on a 1973 Chevrolet Camaro! I am amazing. And I owe it all to my heritage.

Reconnecting

Growing up an Army brat, I attended 15 schools in 12 years.
Filling out a security questionnaire for me was challenging and
probably a nightmare for the guy who had to do the back-
ground investigation on me. I wonder if he got overtime. He
damn sure deserved it.

We moved in the summer. We moved in the winter. We moved
all the time. By the time we finally picked of the little blue stickers
the movers had stuck on our furniture, it was time for another
moving company to come and put on some fresh ones. There
were a few times that they just stuck new ones on top of the
old ones.

I think the longest we ever lived in one place was the last place
we were stationed in Germany. It was a little town in Bavaria
called Schwaebisch Gmuend. Still we managed to move from
a very temporary inn just outside of town, to temporary 8 bed
room apartment on the 4th floor for one year, to a 3 bedroom
3rd floor apartment after one of my best friends, Anneliece, and
her family rotated back to the States. We stayed in that apart-
ment for a little over two years.

I made friends all over the world. We had summer vacations in
Italy where we camped and ate corned beef hash cooked on
a Coleman stove and then toured churches and cathedrals and
museums all day. We got to drive through the Swiss Alps and
my sister ordered goat’s milk at a restaurant in Switzerland just
like Heidi used to drink in the book. We went to Austria, the
Netherlands, England, Belgium, and France. We swam in the
Mediterranean and North Seas. But we didn’t know probably
half of our cousins and never understood what the word “home
town” actually meant.

Now that the world has become so much smaller, thanks to the
internet and social networks such as Facebook, I’ve reconnected
with friends I haven’t seen for nearly thirty years. And most of
the other military brats I was friends with still remember me and
the fun we used to have at various posts around the globe. Today
there was a post about paper grocery bags from the commissary
and all of the 1001 uses for them that had all of us in stitches.
It didn’t matter where we were stationed, Germany, England,
Spain, Italy, Ft. Knox, Kentucky….we ALL used those bags in
the same ways.

Reconnecting with other military brats has helped me in the last
few weeks. It helped me to remember how complete I am as a
person; how my “weirdness” is not unique to me but to all of us
military brats…thus giving me a sense of normalcy. Whatever
THAT is.

I’m proud that I’m a military brat. I’m proud that my dad served
for more than 20 years in the US Army. I’m proud that his
service allowed me to reap the benefits of world culture, a larger
sense of appreciation for others cultures, a respect for humans
as a whole, and a sincere and deep lack of understanding of the
word “prejudice.” Thanks, Dad. (And thanks, Facebook.)