An insecure 14 year old far from home

It was 1968, Clark Air Base, Angeles City, Philippines. Dad had been transferred from Misawa, Japan – not what any of us wanted.

I loved Misawa. It was beautiful, welcoming, rural and safe. I had good friends there, rode my bicycle everywhere, loved my school, and there were four seasons which I had never before experienced. I turned thirteen there, and had my first crush. Needless to say my life was wonderful and my memories, to this day, are warm. I cried when we left.

Clark Air Base: Hot, humid, very green, and frightening. Because there were a group of us who left Japan for Clark I had a few friends already. One, Victor Watson, was my safety when my dad was TDY (temporary duty) to Phan Rang, Vietnam.

We lived off base in Josefa Subdivision. Just off the main gate was the street to our house. We were at the end of the road, with a creek and railroad running behind our house. Behind those were cinderblock houses holding mutliple generations of Filipeno families. One thing we learned quickly was nothing was safe from thieves. There was a family living in our subdivision brought over from the US a teal VW bug. This vehicle was stolen from the carport and the gate was still locked with a chain and padlock! Yeah it was scary. To keep people out of our place the block wall was topped with barbed wire and broken glass set in concrete. Also large thorny agave and bouganvilla lined the inside. Deterrents that most of the others in this neighborhood had, still one never knew how effective would be. Mom and I took turns sleeping by our Christmas tree to keep our gifts safe.

A local “security” guy was paid monthly to guard the houses. Security and guarding are used loosely. My dad wasn’t sure for whom he worked. When dad was getting ready for hs first TDY he found this guy and told him “My wife is from Texas, she is tough lady and she has a gun. So if someone tries to come into our house she will shoot them.” He later said to us, “If your mother calls out ‘get my gun’ don’t say ‘what gun?'”

Early one morning my dad was outside and heard crying from the housing behind our house. He motioned a man over and asked what happened. He ascertained a child had died overnight, so dad went into our house, pulled out a pot of beans from our fridge and gave it to them, saying he was so sorry.

We had good friends in the Singletary family. Their daughter, Lynette, was my BFF. They were transferred back to the US before us and they gave us their dog “Snoopy,” a white Spitz. This was the meanest dog I have ever encountered. He would attack us – mom would use a broom to shoo him away so we could go in and out the door. My sister, Mary, has scars from that dog. Easter 1968 dad was gone, and mom said we were going on base to have dinner and see the movie The Sound of Music. When we got home, Snoopy was growling from the corner of the carport which was covered in softball sized rocks. He did his job and mom gave him a reward of a package of hotdogs.

We were never robbed.

We were at Clark during the 1968 Tet offensive. It was part of my PTSD. I’ll explain.

Clark Hospital was the place the injured from Vietnam were sent. The buses carrying these wounded humans came from the flight line. The curtains would be open and often the soldiers would wave, leaning up to look at all the Americans. Other buses from the flight line, with closed curtains, bypassed the hospital and drove to the morgue – a morgue which at one point was so full that the coffins waiting for transport were stacked outside. Yes, in the moment I typed those words my mind is vivid with memory of the stacks of silver boxes. My heart was frightened for my most beloved father who was in this place where killing was happening. I was never happy or secure when he was gone.

My mother, along with some other women from our church would go to the hospital to visit the wounded, write letters for them, and bring homemade treats. Because I was old enough to go with her she took me on her visits. There were soldiers there who were only five years older than me. Until you have sat in a room where a very young voice is crying for his mother, another has no arms, another has a face pulled together with stainless steel and buttons, or whose burned body smells of napalm, you cannot imagine what my naive, young mind worked to file in a dark corner of conciousness. I spent years never being able to enter a hospital without being nauseous at the smell. No one else could smell what I smelled. Suffice to say it took years to know what it was. It was the napalm burns. It smells, bad. No more of that now.

I have a thing for umbrellas. I love them. I have more than I need in southern Arizona. This is because of Clark. I carried a cute little pink umbrella my dad bought me in Japan everywhere I went. It was to protect myself from the Filipeno men I passed who would try to grab me and touch me when I was walking to the main gate, or a friend’s house. Unless Victor was with me my little umbrella was security. Victor was a very sweet and kind guy, who was protective of my tiny self if I needed him. It wasn’t a great place to be for me.

There is so much more to tell but my heart is done with the feelings these memories surface. So maybe another time.

Cheers!

-N

 

 

 

Lessons in graceful aging

My mother has always been outgoing, fun loving, and outspoken. She is a deep down Texas girl , and an over the top Arizona Wildcats fan. In fact this woman is a true sports fan. Depending on the season her TV will be showing football, basketball, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, volleyball; she knows and loves most sports.

She raised three daughters, while married to a career military man, moving from state to state, per the orders of the US Air Force. She adapted, was fearless, instilled love and family values, and made sure dad was able to do the things he needed to in his job.

She spent months on her own caring for myself and my sister Lisa while my dad was stationed in Germany. She had been very sick during her pregnancy, and after delivery had gall bladder surgery (a big deal in 1956) so they felt she should stay behind (she hated that she missed it.)

She managed, sometimes barely, during his constant TDY to Phan Rhang, Vietnam while being stationed in the Philippines at Clark Air Base. Looking back I’m not sure I would have done as well living in a foreign country alone while my husband was gone for two or three months at a time to a war zone.

Once we girls were older she always had a part time job. Whether it was working in the pro-shop at the base golf course in Misawa, Japan or as a teacher’s aide at Homer Davis School in Tucson, Arizona. She worked in the athletic department of the University of Arizona for decades, meeting countless people who would remember her whenever they saw her. There were times she was distracted with responsibilities outside of the home, and I was amazed at her energy and will to get things done.

She spent years keeping things stable for us girls while dad worked shift work at ASARCO mines. When dad was seriously injured on the job and was disabled from the injury she diligently cared for his wounds, kept up the house, babysat her grandchildren, and continued to take part time employment. I could write a book, hmm.

Now she is a sprightly 86, and her age is becoming a factor in her lifestyle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After my dad passed away she lived with Chuck and I, and it worked well as long as she could drive. But age related macular degeneration left her vision impaired enough she couldn’t pass a vision test so no more driving. I’ll admit we were all thankful to the DMV for that one. With my husband and I both working full time she spent many days sitting in front of the TV, talking on the phone and waiting for one of us to come home. She was getting bored and felt very lonely. Local family members would come and take her out when they could, but their situation was the same -working full time. At one point my sister and I noticed symptoms of depression, and worried her health would start failing. After a heart to heart with her about it she consented to a search for a fun place to live.

She moved into a retirement community, not assisted living which she is quick to clarify, and has done very well for several years. She was busy with the activities they offered, she made lots of friends, she could share interests with other residents, and she seemed to blossom with youth. However, in the last year we have all noticed a slowing, frequent illness, less participation, and her own acknowledgement that she is weaker. She has started using a walker giving her a bit of independence, but she is having a painful problem with one of her knees, and a related problem with her hip.

It gives me pause.

I just talked to her about the Arizona Wildcats basketball team being the Sweet Sixteen, and she is so excited about it. She recalled her years working at the local games, and wants to talk to anyone about the game. She can hold her own with the best of them. She even worked a Super Bowl in Phoenix and was interviewed on local television about her participation. The Dallas Cowboys were playing in the game, and she was and is a Dallas fan.

So…we keep watching with envy, this woman who is pushing through life with pride, determination, and joy. Go mom!

Cheers!

-N

 

 

Old wheels

When my Air Force father was stationed in northern Japan at Misawa Air Base I absolutely loved it. It was 1966 and coming from Tucson, Arizona half way across the world to this distinctly different and unique corner of the globe was a shock and a thrill. I was unsure, enraptured and enamored with my surroundings.

It was cold in Misawa, with a snow accumulation of almost twelve feet and blizzards that blew in off the northern Pacific. It was the first time I had participated in any kind of winter fun like sledding. It was also the first time I had seen Christmas lights reflected on the snow. That is a picture I will never forget. Trudging through the snow to and from school, level both ways, was not so fun but an open field of pristine snow to play in couldn’t be beat.

It was hilly and green, with forests of trees that surrounded the base. In the summer we would go down to the bay to swim and picnic. I remember we had, what seemed to me, a huge hill we had to drive down to get to the water. We would find little glass globes which were the floats for the fishing nets the Japanese fishermen used. I remember we had a basket full of various sizes and colors of these treasures. I don’t know what happened to them once we left.

The base had those big navy blue Air Forces buses that would carry me to the base exchange, movie theater, commissary and other places I would want to go, but when my parents purchased a bicycle for me my freedom was complete. I could go wherever and whenever I wanted. It was a beautiful Japanese bike that rode like a dream. I would take off on it and only when I realized it was time to go home did I return to our apartment on base.

This bicycle was to be the cause of one of my most wonderful and scary adventures into the Japanese countryside.

When we first arrived our housing was off base, near the main gate. We lived in “B” battery and then moved to the “W” housing further away. B Battery was small, a bit run down and very close to the main gate. We lived there for a few months and then were transferred to the W housing. This was a much bigger house, with three bedrooms, a very American feel to it except it was freezing cold in the winter. After we moved on base the apartment we lived in was like a palace to us, warm, large and carpeted!

After a while I starting taking rides off base and into the town of Misawa. I always carried my military ID just in case. Misawa was so quaint and rural with beautiful little businesses where I could spend my allowance and be greeted by smiling Japanese shop owners who lived above their stores. I was never afraid to be on my own. Sometimes I would have a friend with me but usually I was on my own. I am still like that to this day.

One adventure would take me further than I had gone before and I became a bit lost. I was trying to find our old house in W housing but made a wrong turn somewhere and before I knew it I was in the Japanese countryside. I decided to turn around and retrace my path when the chain on my bike came off. Now understand the chain was completely covered in a housing that protected it so I couldn’t even get to it. Well being lost and walking my disabled bike down a narrow paved road somewhere in northern Japan was more than this seventh grader could handle.I started crying.

I know I hadn’t walked too far when I passed a very traditional Japanese home, thatched roof and all. There was a Japanese man standing in the yard watching me. To me he seemed old, but he was smiling at me and pointing to my bike and his house. I wasn’t sure what to think and I remember shaking my head “no” but he came out to the road, still smiling, and waved me over to his yard. At this point a beautiful older woman came out and just like the man was dressed in very traditional garb. She was smiling and took my hand to take me into her house. He took my bike away and I cried. She brought me inside and I am sorry to admit I don’t remember too much about it aside from the large fire place in the middle of the room. She had cookies and water for me, and I remember her showing me some pictures. I know I probably cried some more but she kept feeding me and smiling. They spoke no English and I spoke very little Japanese, enough to say please and thank you and greet someone. I don’t know exactly how long it took but in he came and waved at me to follow him. As I walked outside there stood my bicycle. He had fixed the chain and I was ready to go. I had some Yen and wanted to give it to him but he shook his head and waved me off.

I road back to the base and never told anyone what happened for years.

I still have that bike and plan to clean it up and start using it again. I’ve never had a bike I was as comfortable on as that one. Old wheels will feel new again and my warm memories of our time in Japan and those two beautiful people will come alive for me.

20151028_143843

-N