I went from being an Army brat to being a migratory teacher. Not migrant. Migratory. I taught in ten different schools during thirty years of teaching while I followed my husband from town to town.
In 1948, when I was twelve months old, my dad was sent to Japan to be part of the Occupation Forces. For the next two years, our family lived in Army housing. We moved back to the US when I was threeyears old, so I never saw the devastation caused by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Then we moved to Fort Sill near Lawton, Oklahoma, where we stayed for a few months before we went back to Japan. My twin and I completed first grade there in an Army school. By that time, the horrors of the atomic bomb had lessened in impact, and we were blessed by having five Japanese employees as maids and houseboys. The Army paid its servicemen extra for employing local workers in hopes that doing so would improve the Japanese economy. A sister was born in Yokohama, and the Japanese told Mother she did not love her baby because she would not carry her on her back in a sling.
When my twin and I were five, we headed back to the US. Back then, ships did not have stabilizers, and crossing the ocean meant lots of seasickness. Someone in the cafeteria would start throwing up, and we could watch the waves of people grabbing a barf bag and heading for the door. It was like the ripples when a stone is tossed into a pond. Before long, the room would be empty.
The Army would always send the servicemen on one ship and then send the families on another.
On one of the crossings, we were put in a cabin along with a married service wife who had no children. She didn’t like being in the room with us. She liked it even less when I threw up in her open suitcase. She did, however, get her wish to be moved to a different room.
The ship’s personnel cautioned us to always lock our doors because of the violence of some of the storms. Mother regretted failing to follow that directive the time she was getting our older sister Nancy out of the tub. The ship lurched, and Nancy fell down on her wet bottom, scooted across the floor, hit the bathroom door with her feet, and ended up in the middle of the hall with a serviceman looking down at her, a shocked expression on his face. Nancy ran back in tears. Mother always locked the doors after that.
My father was a photographer for the Army, among other assignments, and we still have many cherished photographs and slides of our time there. One of the maids, Cheharu, had her marriage ceremony at our house. Her family wore traditional Japanese kimonos, and the pictures show how beautiful the garments were.
Cheharu’s husband crept up behind a bird and caught it in his hands. We wanted to put it in a cage, but he said it was meant to be free. I remember watching as the bird took flight. At the time, I regretted his decision. Now I understand.
My twin and I attended first grade in an Army school in Yokohama. I remember part of our school song mentioned that we could see Mount Fujiyama from our classroom windows. In the morning we would use paint pots and brushes to write Japanese characters. In the afternoon we would use Big Chief tablets and fat pencils to print in English.
During this second tour of duty in Japan, another sister was born. We then moved to San Antonio, where our father was stationed at Fort Sam Houston. At that time, the Broadway and Hildebrand intersection was on the edge of town. Beyond that was pasture.
In 1950 another sister was born, and our family consisted of five sisters.
The Army then sent us to Fort Richardson, Alaska. On Saturday mornings we would huddle around the radio in the basement and listen to “Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” a children’s radio hour. I can still sing the theme song.
During the winter, we would roller skate in the basement. Where we lived, the sun did not come up for three days in mid-winter. I’m surprised Mother kept her sanity.
Once, a Russian plane flew too close to American air space, and the Army told families they were going to be evacuated to the mountains by bus. Each family member was issued a forty-pound box of K-rations with instructions to be ready to board the bus by a certain hour. At that time, there were seven children in the family, and the twin boys were in diapers. Still, they had their own boxes. I can’t even imagine how relieved Mother must have been when the evacuation was called off.
When the Army wanted to transfer Dad from Alaska to Hawaii, Mother put her foot down. No more would she travel “cattle class,” as she called it, especially with the twin boys still in diapers. We were going home to Texas and the family farm.
The Army would fly us to Seattle, and then we would drive to Texas—all nine of us. Dad went down to buy a car, but since it was winter all the cars were under several inches of snow. He bought the car based on the pictures the car lot salesmen took before the snow started falling. If you dug the car out yourself, you got $100 off the price. In today’s dollars, that would be more like a thousand.
Once in Seattle, we set out in a car without air conditioning to drive to Texas. At one point, the hood latch stopped working and the hood would fly up without warning. Then the car started overheating at will. Dad would take the coffee can and head off in search of water.
I asked Mom, “How can he find water?” It was inconceivable to me that anyone could.
“Don’t worry,” Mom said. “With all his Indian blood he can find it easily.” He always did.
Driving through Washington, Oregon, California and on to Texas was not fun for a third-grader. It was much worse, however, for our mother, who had to deal with cloth diapers the whole way. Every so often we would stop at a Laundromat for a few hours.
I was assigned to read THE GRAPES OF WRATH once in high school, once in college, and once in graduate school. It was the only assignment I could not finish. The story of the Joads and the troubles they faced was too real for me.
On the way to Texas, we envisioned a life like MY FRIEND FLICKA. We would ride horses to school, of course, and live in a house like Tara in GONE WITH THE WIND. Third graders are really gullible.
We arrived near Groesbeck, Texas, to find an old farm house with holes in the walls, a well for water, and an outhouse an appropriate distance away. After being in Army housing for most of our lives, the farm was a shock. We did, however, have electricity and a propane tank. Taking baths in a tub in the kitchen was horrible, and the outhouse was full of Daddy-Long-Legs. Dad tried to make a living as a farmer, but he found it a lot harder than when he had a brother and father to share the work.
Another baby sister was born in Groesbeck, a precious baby sister. Someone once asked Dad if he was Catholic, and he said, “No, just a fun-loving Protestant.” Mother said she always liked to have a baby in the house.
Dad tried to make a living as a photographer, but it is a fickle occupation, and we ended up in Waco for tenth grade. Evelyn and I went on to college at Abilene Christian College (now a university). I met and married a band director and, once again, lived a nomadic life as he moved on to better and better jobs.
I earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and Latin at ACC, a Master’s degree in English and Latin at The University of Texas at Austin, and a Specialist’s degree in Education (45 hours beyond the MA) at Wichita State University in Kansas.
During my 30 years in the education field, I taught English, Latin and Humanities in middle school, high school, and college in ten different schools as I followed my husband from town to town whenever he changed jobs. I was also Director of Curriculum and Personnel for a school district in Kansas. After retiring, I worked as a technical writer for a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm for nine more years before I retired again.
When I finally retired for good, I started writing and have not stopped. I hope you enjoy my blog.
Now I am working on a novel set in San Antonio. The protagonist is an intern in a private investigation agency who bungles and bumbles her way to a successful career. The main character is a cross between Stephanie Plum and Kinsey Milhone.
I am also working on a children’s picture book on manners, in addition to a memoir about my teaching experiences: IF I SURVIVED THIRTY YEARS OF TEACHING, SO CAN YOU.
In the meantime, I will be blogging on a regular basis. My goal is to make people laugh because that makes me happy.