HomePosted: July 6, 2017
By Circe Olson Woessner
Summer is PCS season and across the globe, military families are packing up and setting out on new adventures. “Home is where the Military sends you” is a familiar saying to these families, but what really defines “Home” to these globewandering gypsies? At what point does a temporary military house become a home, and how does one cope with leaving that place, and can one ever really go back?
The Urban Dictionary has a definition for a word many military families can relate to: Hiraeth. Hiraeth is a “longing for one’s homeland, but it’s not mere homesickness. It’s an expression of the bond one feels with one’s home country when one is away from it. An example of this is: ‘As soon as I step over the border into Wales, my hiraeth evaporates. I am home.’”
This longing, or nostalgia, is evident when many military family members recall a favorite home.
Cathy describes her home in Newfoundland. “I can remember how the air smelled, and the breezes of summer, and the bitter winter winds.”
Guam was home for Michael. “The heat was tough to get used to, but once you did, the place was great. The bases were wonderful. As a 14 year old, Guam was an adventure. Trailblazing the boonies and hanging out at the pool and beaches…the views of the ocean and sunsets were incredible!”
One military brat says, “When I left Fort Sill, Oklahoma at 4 years old, I was merely going somewhere new and interesting. We joined my father, in Hawaii as he returned from Korea with the Tropic Lightning. When I left there two years later, I was leaving home for the first time.”
As a military wife, 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. Because my husband and I had two small kids, 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.)
Navy brat Michelle considers Hawaii home, and it was wrenching when she left. “The day I left Hawaii, at the airport gate, I must have had 50 people saying good bye to me. I was one of the last to board the plane…crying my eyes out with so many leis on, I could hardly see over.”
Another Navy brat also considers Hawaii home. “I came fully into myself as a person in Hawai’i. When we left, I tossed my lei toward Diamond Head as our ship headed out to sea, and I wept. But my mother showed me that my lei washed toward the shore, toward Diamond Head. I know I will return to the Islands someday, as the legend goes: Ha’ina ‘ia mai ana ka’puana, and I believe it.”
Many military families say that home is wherever they are all together—after all, it’s family which makes up the heart of the home. “Home” is where the heart is—no matter where it is, or what it looks like.
Jeanne agrees, “I have a very different perspective as an adult. I realized that much of the nostalgia was for my mom and dad and brother–it was an exciting and happy time for our little family.”
It’s said that one can never go home—and this is especially true for military families. Some installations are off-limits to civilians, some are deactivated, and some housing areas are bulldozed to make room for new structures. Trying to trace one’s military family odyssey is often heart-wrenching and frustrating.
Terri describes a recent trip to an Air Force base, “I stood there in the trailer park where we once lived– and cried. It was the only place we all lived together for any length of time. For me it is home.”
Many military families feel that once they leave a place, going back, isn’t really an option. It’s never the same.
Larry disagrees, “ You can go back…but it’s never home again…It’s changed…and so have you!”
Bob admits, “As tempted as I’ve been to revisit places from my youth, I now realize how disappointing it would be. My memories are of a time, culture, and collective consciousness that can’t be replicated. I’m fortunate to maintain contact with several friends from various times and places that help to keep the “ghosts” at bay.
Babette did go visit several of her childhood homes. In Maryland, she even got a tour of the house by the new owner. She recently returned from a trip to Bangkok, Thailand where she graduated from high school 43 years ago.
Her advice? “Although much has changed, so much is the same if you look for it. If you haven’t returned to wherever feels like home, do it.”
One of these days, I just might take that advice—and head back to Karlsruhe, Germany, the place I most consider Home. In the meantime, I’ll reimagine it.