Going HomePosted: August 12, 2012
Recently, my husband and I drove from Ft. Bliss, Texas, to Malmstrom AFB, Montana. Bill and I stopped at several historic military posts—some from the mid 1800’s; some more recent. In Ft. Bayard, NM, shivers ran up my spine. Ft Bayard was frozen in time—a beautiful, abandoned ghost town.
The stately Victorian era houses were boarded up. “No Trespassing” signs were taped onto the main entrance of the multistory medical center. I peered into one of the windows—The blue curtains were slightly parted; I could see a very ornate dark brown ceiling fan. I half expected to see a patient peer over the ledge back at me.
Years ago, Ft Bayard was a bustling Army post. Soldiers were busy soldiering; their families going about their daily lives. Lt John Pershing, fresh out of West Point, was stationed here. Back then; Ft Bayard was a vibrant community, full of purpose and mission. Now it is (as the British say) redundant. I doubt Pershing and his comrades ever imagined Ft Bayard being shuttered and decaying away.
Now, in 2012, the only sounds at Ft. Bayard are the cicadas buzzing and a shutter banging against a house as a strong gust of wind rustles by. If I close my eyes, I can visualize the troops mustering on the parade grounds; I can hear the wives clattering in the kitchen and the sounds of children hurrying off to school. It is so eerie.
As a child growing up on the Army post in Karlsruhe, Germany, I thought our American village was the center of the universe. Everything I needed was provided: school, entertainment, shopping, and friends. Although my family and I traveled all over the world, until I was 16, we always came home to Karlsruhe.
As a brat, it is hard to identify where exactly “home” is. As an adult brat and Army wife, when people ask me where I’m from, my answers are always, “I’m not” and “I’m homeless.” Then I laugh.
Wandering through Ft. Bayard made me think about those statements.
I was born in France. My American Air Force birth hospital is now a nursing home in the town of Evreux. I caused quite a stir there when my parents and I went there out of nostalgia, to visit my birthplace—some of the nursing home residents crowded around me, shaking my hand, and clapping…My parents said that there was very little left of the original hospital they recognized.
My school in Karlsruhe, where I attended from 1967-1979 has been turned over to the Germans; the military housing refurbished to smart, modern condos. The house I lived in on the economy is a doctor’s office now.
The University of Maryland, Munich, where I attended college from 1979-1981 is gone—the Kaserne and school, turned back to the city of Munich are now repurposed.
There is an exhibit planned this fall in Munich to explain the American presence there from 1946-1989—most Germans had no clue as to what the Americans did on McGraw Kaserne. Thousands of American college students spent two of the best years of their lives at the Munich campus—and now the school is only memories on Facebook and discussions over beer…and the host city will just now get a glimpse of what really went on in the American “siedlungen” for over 4 decades.
My husband and I met at the college in Munich, married in Karlsruhe, and began our own military odyssey, raising two boys in the nomadic life. Iain was born in Bad Hersfeld, Germany, and Erik started kindergarten there. That post is closed, both boys attended school at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico—that base is closed; even the last military quarters we lived in at Kirtland Air Force Base about 10 years ago have been torn down, even as the base expands.
So where is home?
As an Army wife, I made home wherever we lived, be it for three months at Ft. Sill, OK, or two years at Ft Jackson, SC (by the way, that house is still there—our oldest son Erik, while at basic training at Ft. Jackson, made it a point to find and photograph the old green duplex, which still looked as crummy as it had when we were there in 1994-ish.)
Home, to me, is a state of mind—if my stuff is somewhere, then that somewhere is home. The location of home is of lesser importance.
The lack of an ancestral home base means we are even fragmented from our extended families. The nomadic lifestyle we lived means that we are not invested in a particular location now, since we have not lived with our siblings or parents for so long, we don’t associate them with home.
Both our sons have become nomads, one serves his country in the “Big Red One”; the other recently graduated and moved to Wichita. They, too, have no home base, no ties to location. They are home wherever they are.
So this rootlessness started with my parents and my husband’s parents as they lived and worked abroad, raising us as vagabonds. Bill and I continued the nomadic lifestyle, raising two boys who perpetuate the cycle—wanderlust, restlessness and the ability to pack up and go, because there is no going back.
Three generations of wanderers. Will the cycle pass on to a fourth?
That age-old expression rings especially true for brats—“you can never go home-“—It is sad fact, but you know what? Brats also know that wherever they are, they ARE home.