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.

The Evening Purse as Memoir

the evening purse

The Evening Purse as Memoir

My father was overseas a lot in the 60s and 70s and spent a lot of R&R time in Hong Kong. Daddy’s time in Hong Kong always resulted in packages arriving at the house. In one, there was an evening purse for my mother. My small self was left breathless by the beauty of pearls, crystals, and sequins sewn onto thick satin made of silk. It was years before I understood that one doesn’t carry an evening purse to the grocery store, but that breathless small self that used be me was bumfuzzled that Mama didn’t carry that purse everywhere.

The purse came out for special occasions – chiefly the Marine Corps Birthday Ball (which coincidentally occurs about this time every year). Like all truly inspired accessories, it’s a classic. In all the years of its use, it was never out of style.

prom045

Yes, I know. . .but let's see your prom photo before you laught at mine. At least there isn't a hoop.

When I got older, I was occasionally allowed to borrow it. I carried it to my prom. I carried it to some black tie events. I didn’t use it for my wedding, and for the life of me I can’t remember why. It would have complemented my heavily beaded dress beautifully.

And speaking of beaded dresses, one of Daddy’s Hong Kong trips resulted in a little black dress for Mama that was anything but simple. It consisted of a black, fitted silk sheath with a 3/4 length beaded tunic. It made my little girl heart yearn to grow enough to borrow that dress. By the time I was old enough to borrow it, the sheath had died or been lost or something. I had possession of the tunic but nothing to wear under it. For years, it was impossible to find anything that would work under that dress. I did finally cobble something together and have worn it a few times.

The dress is heavy. I can’t imagine wearing a full-length beaded dress after running around in this one a few times – beauty queens have my grudging respect on that score.

such delicate workBy the time I could wear the dress, I realized that both the dress and the purse had probably been made by some child who went nearly blind from the work involved and likely wasn’t paid more than a few cents for their effort. I dithered for awhile and finally decided that it was better to honor that child’s labor by using and caring for the dress than to hide it in a closet. It’s fitting that dress is heavy – luxury born of slave labor is a heavy burden.

While the dress hangs in my closet and I occasionally skitter past it, pausing to ponder when and where I might wear it again, the purse simply faded from my memory. Mama tells me now that it succumbed to old age and she doesn’t even know where it is – likely it’s tucked away somewhere.

beads and crystals

Beads and crystals and sequins, oh my!

What she and I also didn’t know was that Daddy bought an identical purse for his mother. A few weeks ago, after Emma’s funeral, I was given the purse. By the look of it, she used it more than a time or two. I’ve been imagining the where and why that she had cause to carry a heavily beaded, white satin silk evening purse. I like the images that crowd my head during such imaginings. It changes, subtly, every thing I thought I knew about her.

ravages of time

Memory stains.

I was honored to be given the purse. The next time I wear the dress, I’ll carry the purse – in honor of the grandmother I didn’t know as well as I thought I did and in honor of the children who spent hours beading. A purse that began as a souvenir ends up an unwritten memoir. A definite design spins an enigma. And a simple purchase made 40 years ago still reverberates. There’s a Great Truth buried in there, but I don’t want to disturb the beading to pick it out.