Monday, December 22, 2014

Gallant young troupers

 "When we were growing up, every aspect of personal and private life was a measure of our father's professional competence." – a military brat

Mary Edwards Wertsch writes in her book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, the recollection of a variety of children who grew up in the authoritarian, and not authoritative, there is a distinct difference, environs of the military. "The notions of conformity, order and obedience reign supreme... The great paradox of the military," writes Wertch" is that its members, its self appointed guardians of our cherished democratic values, do not live in a democracy themselves. Not only is individuality not valued in the military, it's discouraged. There is no freedom of speech, save on the most innocuous levels. There is no freedom of assembly for anything that is not authorized. There is not even a concept of privacy as civilians understand it, for in the military the distinction between public and private is thoroughly blurred. What a soldier says and does privately and what his spouse and children do and say can be held against him."
From birth we are imprinted with names like Dwight and Omar. USAF parents are particularly fond of naming us after air force bases like Travis, Edward, Luke, and Kelly. (Famous aviators) Even the Marines call their daughters Maureen or Marina Cora. And there's nothing like being born in a hospital where Moms make their own hospital cornered bed, then shuffle to the mess hall to collect their dinner tray.

We were starched and creased and by the time we were five we were little militarized troupers. The Marines even have a Devil Pup summer camp in San Diego. I must admit there was some envy when I read about that. Wertch explains, "When asked by civilians if it was really all that different to grow up in the military we children of the Fortress sometimes draw a blank....(It's) like being drafted into a gigantic theater company. The role of the warrior society, even in peacetime, is to exist in a state of perpetual "readiness": one continuous dress rehearsal for war. The principal actors are immaculately costumed, carefully scripted and supplied with a vast array of props...this is not a theater of improvisation. And then there is the supporting cast: the wives-- who may lack costumes but whose lines and movements are crafted every bit as carefully-- and the children, the understudies."
Weekend chores occurred on Saturday for us. At 0700 we got up, ate breakfast and while Mom and Dad went off to the commissary Sister and I had two hours to get the house squared away. Some kids that were interviewed in the book tell about their room inspections including beds made a certain way. Our shoes had to be lined up and the clothes hung with the left shoulder facing outwards. And while ours did not include bouncing any quarters off the bed we could not sit on our bed spreads; if something was set on the bedspread it had to be neatened up immediately. Furniture was not allowed to be kitty-corner.

One Friday night Dad won a typewriter at bingo and I awoke to orders of the day typed and posted on my closet doors, but there was no standing at attention during inspections like there were for some of us. Actually Dad just took a look at our rooms and pronounced them "outstanding" most of the time. Occasionally we were jokingly threatened with the "white-glove inspection" and told to get down on our hand and knees and use some "elbow grease" on that bath tub ring! Afterward Dad and I would open the window on the second floor, set the radio on the sill and watch the Woodward boys play street hockey while listening to the dih-dih-dah-dah-dah of some far away station. We were far enough north that it may have been Russian.

Some kids relate that they received Article 15's if things were not ship shape. In our home, they were reserved for more serious infractions imagined by maternal alcoholism. One boy recalled his mom doing the white- glove inspection and finally came up with some dust from behind the toilet. When I read that I thought of all the kids like me who had lived in the same quarters scrubbing the same bathrooms and felt a kinship like I have not felt before; something less than family, yet more than friendship. Maybe that's why we always begin with where we lived and what years we lived there. Then I grinned and wondered if these family-like friends would have stifled a giggle too if they saw a Colonel in dress blues standing over the sink, peering into the mirror and using my eye lash curler to straighten out a wayward eyelash that was bugging him. 'Can't be winking at the General's wife,' I teased my father.

We have rich and difficult roots and like Mary Edwards Wertch says we're troupers, real troupers.

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