An Extraordinary LifePosted: May 18, 2012
By Mary Lou Darst, author of War Ready: In my Father’s Shadow shares an excerpt from her book. Click here for more info.
We lived an extraordinary life, experiencing cultures on both sides of the world in ways that many people will never know. In Alaska, we experienced two earthquakes and saw the northern lights. Living in the old house in downtown Nara was an unforgettable time. Our lives were greatly enriched by Mama-sari, Mr. and Mrs. Kimoto, and our beloved Hatsie. My life was especially enlarged by the kindness of the Japanese students in Nara, who extended themselves in such a caring way to a lost and very lonely American child. Mr. and Mrs. Gruckenberg, Helga, and Gerhardt were like family to us. Without them we would never have really known Munich or the radiant warmth of the German people. Jon Madsen, my father’s good friend, shared his family in Copenhagen with us and later came to see us in the States. Living in Nara and traveling throughout Europe and the Mediterranean helped us to understand the historical advancement of humankind, while at the same time, witnessing powerful forces of human destruction. Our values and our horizons were broadened considerably by these experiences, but the long, gripping tentacles of war reached far and deep into our family life.
Being a military dependent left me with a strong need for order and the feeling that I do not belong in anyone place. Change is the norm for me, but for people around me, stability is the norm. Repetitive behaviors remain the most challenging for me. I still struggle with issues of abandonment and rejection. When my life as a military dependent ended, I had to assimilate into American life. I had to learn how to be a civilian, how to live in one place, how to make and keep friends, and how to work out difficulties. Prior to this, my life consisted of always starting over; there was never any ending.
After reading my father’s WWII diary for my book, I was absolutely astonished to learn what he had experienced and endured during WWII as a young soldier.
As an adult looking back over my childhood, I can see now that his war experiences as a young man affected him throughout his life. I am grateful for his strength and admire deeply the courage he demonstrated in life. He had a good heart and helped many people, civilians and military; throughout his life. From him I learned to withstand adversity, to be a strong person, and to not be afraid of life. My mother was very good with people and enabled us to communicate successfully with people who did not speak English. She helped us befriend wonderful people when we would otherwise have been very alone. As a military wife she created a warm and comfortable home wherever we lived from army-issue furniture. She entertained often and graciously.
After living in St. James, Missouri, for six months, where my father officially retired from the army at Fort Leonard Wood, we settled in Houston. My father started a landscaping business that later became a small construction company. My mother made a career at Trinity Universal Insurance Company. My brother and I both graduated from Bellaire High School. I went to Stephen F. Austin State University and he joined the Army. On April 6, 1978, my father died of lung cancer at fifty-eight. A twenty-year veteran and army engineer, he was honored forservice to this country with a military salute at his funeral. Shortly after his death, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Eight years later, on April 6, 1986, she passed away at sixty-two. Constantly relocating had robbed my parents of living a stable life while giving my brother and me the opportunity to travel and experience history and fascinating cultures through out the world.