Happy Military Brats Day!

I’m working on the final proofreading of the Museum of the American Military Family’s book, E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure (Gender, Religion, rAce, Identity, Culture, and Ethnicity in the Military/Family.) As one of two Writers-in-Residence for the museum, I have been heavily involved with this book since January of 2021. You can learn more about the museum here.

I just got my grubby hands on the proof. Oh my. I am so proud to be a part of this project. The book is chock full of essays (11 of them are mine), photos, and quotes from survey responses that gave the book structure. The survey respondents ranged from age 9 to 92. There is even a statistical analysis and report from two anthropologists. We did it proud!

The first essay I wrote was on Identity. I also made it into a digital story which you can watch now.

The walk down Memory Lane that I took while writing my essays was by far the best time I had while experiencing the Long COVID symptom of extreme fatigue. I tired very easily and slept a lot. I had dream after dream of my deceased father, my childhood, and my experiences of the GRAICES.

That walk and a promise I made to myself finally spurred me on to begin writing a memoir based on my experiences as a brat during the Vietnam War. The memoir is a labor of love and tears. I’m referring to it as a collage–it will hold traditional memoir fare, but also short stories and poetry I have written, excerpts from my father’s letters home during his four tours as well as parts from his memoir, Expendables: Vietnam Memoir. There may even be a recipe or two.

My identity is all kinds of wrapped around my experience as a military brat. In one of my essays, I ponder how it was that the first 14 years of my life so marked me that all these years later (I’m 62), I still think of myself as a military brat.

E Pluribus Unum: GRAICE Under Pressure will be printed soon and available for purchase.

I have eight more months left in my term as Writer-in-Residence and we are already underway with the next project. I hope it proves to be as much fun as this one. I would happily serve another two-year term, but I don’t think it works like that.

Falling Through the Ice

Photo by Bryan Rodriguez on Unsplash

Dropping out of college and moving to Wisconsin to follow my family seemed like a splendid plan. I was attending university in West Virginia and floundering—oh if I’d only majored in English as my secret heart wanted, but no. I chose pre-med. I wasn’t just floundering; I was lost and drowning.

I grew up in California, Hawaii, and the southern part of the east coast. When I was 14, we moved to West Virginia, where there was regular snow and winter. I liked it. It was such a change to have 4-seasons. 

My dad began his second career and transferred to Milwaukee. I had been a military brat, and home had never been a place–it was a group of people. My floundering became frantic when my folks left. 

I moved. 

I didn’t understand about Wisconsin winters. I thought winter was winter–a sort of uniform experience.

Oh my.

I moved in October. There was already snow on the ground. Deep snow. Cold snow. It was the winter of 78-79. Some of you may remember the gawdawful spectacle that Ma Nature put on. Snow to the rafters, subzero, blizzard after blizzard.

If I could have gotten my car unstuck from the snowdrift it was then parked in, I would have left.

Folks in Wisconsin remarked that it was a rather brutal winter, but it didn’t stop anything. Events weren’t canceled. The Super Bowl parties continued during a blizzard. I was astonished at how much clothing I had to wear to be merely miserable instead of dying of hypothermia. And that was indoors.

What really astonished me, though, was ice fishing. 

I thought those people insane. Wisconsin has many lakes, and we lived on Pewaukee Lake–about 40 minutes west of Milwaukee. I would be on my way to work and see those people out on the lake in the early morning. Little shacks. Big coats and fishing rods and nets.

I can’t imagine a love of fishing and/or a love of fresh fish enough to sit on a frozen lake in windy subzero temperatures. And I love a good fish fry. But, um, no.

Just no. 

Folks would snowmobile on the lake. And even take their cars out there. 

I had once fallen through the ice–in northern Michigan. I was a stupid little girl who had grown up on beaches. I didn’t understand that it took a while for ice to get thick enough.

I was communing with nature–a 12-year-old hippie wannabe. Lost in the romantic thoughts of a precocious preteen, I walked onto the ice and heard that sound that I now associate with pure terror. 

I plunged into the lake. 

My floundering became frantic.

My God.

There are no words for that kind of cold. Just. No. Words.

I was alone but fortunate. It wasn’t deep, and I was able to wade out. My coat dripping and my body one gigantic shiver.

I ran as fast as I could through the snow to my aunt and uncle’s house. I was the only person there. I had been left alone at my request. 

Peeling off my clothes until I was naked, I stood over the heating vent in the bathroom. I couldn’t get warm. 

I tried to turn the thermostat up. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I hadn’t grown up with thermostats. The furnace finally came to life and blasted me with warm air. I found a blanket. And dry clothes. 

Using still frozen fingers, I made hot chocolate. 

I eventually warmed, but it seemed like eons passed before I could move my hands without pain.

That experience scarred me.

I couldn’t drive past those ice fishing people without worrying about them. Some of them were so far out, and Pewaukee Lake was deep.

So very deep.

And there they sat with their little shacks. Little holes cut in the ice. Big coats. Coats that could drag them down under the ice if it cracked. Courting death. And I didn’t understand why they did it.

I still don’t.

I remember the cold of that lake in Michigan.

This has been a long winter. The last two years have just been surreal. I feel like I fell through the ice of life. I’m out now. Warm and dry. Wary, but also optimistic. 

COVID Day 416: Somewhat Normal Life

I woke at 3:30 a.m. Excited? Not really. Perhaps a bit anxious.

I’m returning to the office today. Of my own free will. Working at home is not really working well for me. I have been completely discombobulated. So on this dreary and rainy morning, I shall adorn myself in clothes, jewelry and heels to go to my office and restore something of a normal work schedule.

Since I am street legal which is to say that I’ve had both vaccines plus the two week period to insure immunity, I should be okay. I am, though, a bit anxious and having second thoughts.

Working from here didn’t work for me, but oh how I loved the commute and dress code. The earlier workday with the commensurate earlier quitting time. The late afternoon naps. But the lack of boundaries has me deeply unsettled. I’ve said it before: my need for routine and normalcy surprises me, but it is very much a need.

I just wish it weren’t raining. I had plans to pack up the computer and printer, the office files and roledex: the accoutrements of working from home. But I’m not about to slog that stuff around in the rain. So that will have to wait until the forecast is less wet.