Christmas in the Caribbean is the exact flavor of surreal that defines a military childhood, in my opinion.
You’ve got palm trees strung up with lights, you’ve got fake pine trees laid out on lawns or propped up in living rooms, you’ve got songs about snow and frost ringing out on sweltering 90-degree days – Santa wears shorts in Puerto Rico.
The military base even offset its general austerity, Christmas decorations breaking up the monotony of uniform neighborhoods. I feel like the soldiers enjoyed playing Santa, up until the point where they had to put on a coat to complete the part.
I remember steering a boat along the marina on a cooler tropical evening alongside a local Santa, who was kind enough to let me control the helm as we coasted on the waves. I couldn’t have been older than seven or eight.
I never felt like Christmas was “proper” when I was a kid – I was annoyed at the contradictions to what the Christmas of my movies and television shows portrayed to what I saw outside, endless sunny days instead of snowy ones. I longed for that which I did not have, that “normal” Christmas cheer, with all the trimmings to go with it.
Now, of course, with hindsight, I have more affection for those tropical holidays, where still we tucked presents under a great big tree, decorated with ornaments from Germany, France, America – and some local crafts too, joining that map of a lifetime hung every year on our military family Christmas tree.
It’s quite a life, a sort of hazy dream at the best of times – a childhood of ever-shifting scenes, a panorama of Christmasses in lands and climates radically different from one another. I would eventually get my snowy Christmasses, my icy winters, and there’s a strong possibility that in the future, as my travels continue, I may yet again enjoy that surreal sort of Christmas, on a tropical island far, far away.
by Circe Olson Woessner
This summer, the museum started a new project, and to get inspiration, I went onto Facebook and asked Military Brats to write one word to define their core values. I would choose the top three for our “Brathood” installation. Not surprisingly, I got a lot of answers. “Diversity” popped up over and over, as did “tradition” and “resiliency.”
Resiliency struck a nerve to one Brat who said, “please don’t use ‘resiliency’ as a core value. It’s used too much and puts pressure on kids who have been asked over and over to be ‘resilient.’ Some of them just can’t be resilient any more…”
After several days, dozens of answers, and more than one spirited discussion, I selected the top three words Brats selected for their Core Values. They are: “Respect,” “Adaptability,” and “Pride”.
Here’s what Brats had to say about these words:
“Respect is a learned core value, instilled from Day One of our Brat lives. It permeated our lives as dependents, and hopefully, continues to our adult, non-Brat lives. It did with me.” Jill
“As a Brat, I was raised to respect others, as well as myself. From the ability to listen to another person’s point of view to the shine of my shoes, respect is a core value of mine. Not only do I give respect to others and their property, I expect it in return.” Sharyn
“Respect is woven throughout our lives as Brats. Respect for family, friends, community, the nation are formed with every encounter we make, and every transfer to a new location. With respect, we find acceptance for others, and the diversity that is part of the military experience.” Jennifer
Jim adds, “We had discipline/respect. Goof up bad and your dad got demoted or transferred…”
“To me, ‘adaptability’ comes first. Because of the 2-4 year transfers, you learned to adapt to different regions of the country and of the world at a very young age. For example, many Brats learned ‘yes’, ‘no’ and the numbers 1-10 (and more) in two languages before the age of 3.” Steven
Patt says, “I always felt ‘adaptability’ was my word. As a military child, I never gave moving every three years a second thought. I thought this is how the whole world did things. We moved, we set up a shiny new home, we made new friends quickly. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Oh, the places I have gone. The other word used for the military child is ‘resilient’. Words I try to live up to every day.”
There was some discussion of whether “Pride” and “Patriotism” were the same thing, but, ultimately “pride” won out. Overseas Brats founder Joe Condrill explains, “Many Military Brats identify “Pride” with “Patriotism.” Pride is a deep-rooted feeling for a Military Brat. It is evoked when we see the flag flying or a member of the U.S. military in uniform.”
Pride is evident in Pegi’s answer, “I loved living on base where everyone stopped what they were doing at 5 pm to honor the flag and our anthem. I was so lucky to grow up proud.”
Regina didn’t hold back when she discussed what the word “pride” meant to her: “I am so proud of our Brat family! We go through a lot, love a lot, and learn a lot.”
Clare says, “I’m proud to be a Brat and all that entails, especially being an ambassador for the military and ‘your’ branch to civilians. After all, as my sister says, ‘this is the most exclusive club in the world – no amount of money or fame can get you in; you’re born into it, and bloom.’”
Steven sums it up, “Later [in life] I reflected on how happy, durable, inseparable, even tribal and resilient we young Brats were. We lost first loves, best friends, favorite schools, houses with our own rooms, warm neighbors, close family and so much more – on a regular basis – yet we thrived. A Brat life became part of our DNA.
These core values are woven into the fiber of military children across generations, and stays forever, as Army/Air Force Brat Debbie explains:
“Being born and raised a BRAT (Brave, Resilient, Adaptable, Tenacious) is at the very core of who I am. Without a doubt, these qualities were instilled in me –not only by the examples around me 24/7, living behind the barbwire, but also from my Brats. Best way these words describe the impact being a Brat has had on me was during a cancer diagnosis in my early 30’s as a young wife and mother of a small child. I was Brave because I had the ability to face the unknown head on, Resilient in my ability to withstand and bounce back, Adaptable when all my hair fell out – knowing that this, too, will pass, and Tenacious in the fight for my life. Brave, Resilient, Adaptable and Tenacious was our way of life as Brats and remembering that has served me well my entire life–all 60 years!”
While the words above are not “official” Brat Core Values, most Brats I spoke with agree that these words resonate with them.
As Bette puts it:
“We were taught them
We learned them
Therefore, we live them
They define us as Brats.”
People often ask us what kinds of things we are looking for to put in the museum. Here’s a short list of items we’re focusing on right now:
•Plates, mugs, glasses from any military installation
•Collectible spoons that have different cities on the handles-both from US and overseas
•tees from military installations
•Food product boxes, cans, alcohol bottles ( empty) with labels that reflect the military. ( We are doing a new kitchen exhibit.)
•Military or patriotic Christmas tree ornaments
•DODDS, DODEA or International school memorabilia
•Beer Coasters from overseas
•Scrapbooking supplies- military & travel stickers, photo mounting tape, acid-free albums, etc.
•Military unit patches
Your tax deductible donation can be mailed to:
Museum of the American Military Family
PO Box 5085
Albuquerque, NM 87185
•We are also collecting written memory pieces from spouses and kids who were stationed in Bad Hersfeld or Fulda at any time. These can be emailed to us at:
Thank you for helping us grow!
There were those times when Dad was sent overseas without us, usually to a war zone. My earliest memories of this happened when Dad was in Korea. Mother would send him a box from home. One time Dad wanted a pipe and some tobacco. Remember, this was around 1952, and nearly all adults smoked. Mother had a very strict weight limit for anything mailed to that distant part of the world. She took her kitchen scale, weighed the box with the pipe in it, and then wrapped some of the tobacco in tissue paper before stuffing it into the box to provide some padding for the pipe. Finally, the desired low weight was achieved, and the result mailed to Dad in his tent in Korea.
Towards the end of his time there, weight restrictions were eased a bit. Mother, with the ‘help’ of a three year old me, would bake cookies, put them in a coffee can with crumpled wax paper to cushion the precious cargo, and mail it to Dad. (This was in the era of metal coffee cans, and the lids did fit snugly onto the top of the can. All Mother had to do to it was to tape it down with electrical tape, wrap it in brown paper so she could write the address on it, and mail the result.) I asked Dad about those cookies, and he said they were the best crumbs he ever ate! (So much for the cushioning of the crumpled wax paper…)
I was a freshman in college when Dad was sent to Vietnam. Letter tapes were the in thing then, although there were some traditional paper in envelops letters as well. Still, those tapes were wonderful!! We could actually hear Dad’s voice, and he could hear ours. Which sounds really old-timey in this era of face to face conversations via iPhones or tablets and computers with Skype.
Mother and I would send him boxes of things- frequently edibles. Evidently we over did the sweets, as he complained he had enough to cause diabetes. Again, there were cookies baked. Dad loved oatmeal about the best, although he didn’t complain at all about the Christmas sugar cookies and ice box cookies we sent, along with crackers- in small packages so the humidity wouldn’t ruin them. Small cans of ready to eat ham. Maybe canned shrimp. Once, someone sent him a box of raisins. But, it was summer time, and mail sometimes had to wait a while before apace was found for it on a plane. The long and short if it is, the raisins were ‘inhabited’ by the time they arrived. Oops!!
There were things we couldn’t send him though. The local paper advertised a willingness to send daily papers to local guys in Vietnam. Sadly, when the paper listed the names of those being sent the paper, those frustrated with the war took it out on some of the listed families. When Dad came home, we met him at the gate! It was obvious that he was back from the war zone, and that we were his family greeting him. Some manner-less wonder glared at him, and flipped him the ‘bird’. Sadly, Dad remembered that rude gesture as much as he remembered his joy at being reunited with us.
Years later, he was invited to a “Thank You Korean Veterans” dinner by the local Korean American community. After a dinner, including kimchee and other Korean delicacies, he was given a crystal-looking commemoration. Never mind that it was the earlier conflict, receiving that thoughtful token meant a great deal to Dad, and it eased his annoyance with the airport incident when he returned that last time.
I learned an appreciation for even simple gestures. Even back in the world of the 1950s, sending a coffee can of delicious crumbs could reach a loved one across the world, and take that person back home, even if that connection lasted for only a few minutes. I remember Dad telling me just how much mail from home meant. Even if the post office had closed for the day, Dad could see if he had mail waiting for him. And if there was something in that little cubbyhole, he could savor the knowledge that there was something waiting for him to open in the morning. To men overseas, wealth wasn’t, and still isn’t, measured in money. The wealthiest soldier is the one whose mailbox, literal or e-mail, frequently has Facetime/ Skype and packages from home; the poorest person, even if he or she is high ranking, is the soldier who gets few or no messages or packages. Mother and I made sure Dad always felt a wealth of love from us.
*******WARNING, THIS POST MAY CONTAIN TRIGGERS********************
As I sit here beginning this post, my hands are shaking. My heart has the feeling of a hundred pound weight atop of it, and my chest has a burning sensation sitting directly under my sternum. My mind is swimming with ideas, thoughts, and static. It’s almost as if I can have a clear thought for only a brief minute, then it’s wiped away like the image of a distant tree in massive blizzard. Occasionally, the wind will shift slightly, and the snow breaks just enough to glimpse the distant figure only to be wiped away again in a blink. On my way home from work I noticed that it did not take much to piss me off. When I say it didn’t take much I mean, it took NOTHING. I saw a guy on a moped, that pissed me off. A woman was…
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