Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The Houses that Built Me
Growing up in a military family we didn't have one particular house that we could call home. We lived in a series of rental houses and government quarters (apartments) until I moved out on my own at the tender age of 19.
There was the two-bedroom house on a country road in Tennessee that had a leaky roof. The landlord farmed the acreage next door and gave us free vegetables. We had a beagle, "Pee-Wee" and a German Shepherd, "Lady". The school bus picked us up at the end of the long driveway. My mother watched "General Hospital" on the black and white television , and we went shopping once a month, because the military only paid you monthly.
When my father went to Vietnam we lived in another two-bedroom house near my grandparents in middle Tennessee. I was ten, and my mother had just given birth to my baby sister. She had five children to take care of and a husband at war. I helped wrap the Christmas presents that year, after picking out my own gifts.
My father came home safely from the war. A taxi dropped him off, surprising us all.
The next house was in Oklahoma. I was eleven and we were studying Oklahoma history in school. I loved the musty odor of the history books and loved the Indian culture that we learned about. I had never seen prairie dogs before, nor buffalo that roamed on the nearby refuge. The house had a crawl space that we would hide in during tornado warnings. It was scary.
When we moved back to Germany we were assigned a four-bedroom apartment on the third floor of government housing. Each stairwell had eight families. At suppertime we could smell what other families were having for dinner and hear footsteps running up and down the stairs with children coming in from the playground. We walked to school, and walked home for lunch, and then back again. We spent the next four years there and we saw many families come and go. I remember in particular one cute Hispanic boy who had played one of the children on "The Flying Nun." His parents drove a fancy car and had a car phone, something unheard of in 1970, so we were in awe of his celebrity status. His name was Ruben.
We moved back to Alabama for the second time when I started high school. The one thing that I remember about the rental house was how it withstood the tornado of 1974. Our family took shelter in a small hallway when we heard the storm pass over, sounding just like a train. When it was over our neighborhood looked like a war zone, with trees and power lines down and several homes damaged or completely destroyed. We were fortunate.
When my husband retired from the Army we wanted our two daughters to grow up in one place. I wanted them to have roots and close relationships with their relatives. They would have their own childhood memories, of course, and not experience the itinerant childhoods of their parents. But there were times that I would get itchy feet and wish that I could move again. My children would say, "Mom, you were so lucky to see so many things and visit all these places." And I was. The houses that built me gave me so much more than four walls.