Columns

Base Life: Military BRATS reflect

He walked in the door after work and dropped his Air Force cap on my head.

I don’t remember the moment, but my Mom snapped a photo. Toddler me gazes up at the camera, sassy-like, because how can you not feel sassy when you’re wearing Daddy’s cap and shoes with bells on them?

CIndy at two.

It was 1967, and we were living at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. My memories of island life are few.

A spill off a swing that resulted in impacted sand in my eye and a trip to the E.R.

My oldest brother holding me over his head so I could put my feet on the ceiling and “walk like a gecko.”

The smashing, crashing sounds of tropical storms that battered our lanai and tossed our metal garbage cans into the street.

Our next duty station was Vandenberg AFB (now Vandenberg Space Force Base) in Santa Barbara County, California.

Again, my memories are fleeting.

Our first family dog – a mutt we named Riley.

Getting mad at my mom and hopping on my red tricycle. “I’m going back to Guam!” I yelled. Then I got to the end of the block and had to turn around. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street without a grown-up.

My first visit to Disneyland. The Tea Cup ride made me barf. It also made Dad queasy.

My early childhood was steeped in military life and ritual and in my last column about time spent at Fairchild AFB; I invited readers to share their memories of life on a military base.

Steven Stuart (retired Army) had an interesting experience in Berlin. He was stationed there from 1979-81.

“At the time we could go over to East Berlin through Check Point Charlie and the Soviets could come over to West Berlin,” he recalled. “They would come to our PX plaza, park and just sit in their cars. There were usually four of them in small cars, smoking foul-smelling cigarettes, and watching. I always wanted to go talk to one but was informed it was a no-no. It seemed odd that the folks we were sent to protect Berlin from were in our commissary parking lot.”

Frank Schoonover grew up on military bases as an Army BRAT. He explained where we got that term.

“ ‘BRAT’ is a common reference to the children of military members. It’s a term of endearment referring to a group who often endure hardships, frequent moves, school changes, long deployments of a parent and often inadequate government housing,” he wrote.

Like many of our military traditions, the term had its genesis with the British Army.

“It’s an abbreviation for British Regiment Attached Traveler and denotes those family members who could travel with their military sponsor,” he said. “Those of us who are military brats revere the epithet as a prized acronym.”

His memories include living in Fort Meade, Maryland, where his family shared a former garage with another family – the two dwellings separated by blankets strung on a clothesline. They also shared a single bathroom.

At Fort Bliss, Texas, they lived in what once had been a stable and still had raised blocks in the bedrooms that had been used for shoeing horses. But better digs were in store.

“Our ultimate castle was also at Fort Bliss,” he recalled. “We moved into a former WAAC barracks. The bathroom had 15 sinks, showers and commodes. My mother immediately limited use to three. Woe to anyone who used a fourth!”

Paddy Inman has fond memories of Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato, California. He spent his eighth-grade year there in 1959-60.

“It was the most idyllic year of my life,” he said. “Hamilton was the Air Force Command Headquarters on the West Coast, and it was demonstrated by the amenities afforded to all the base residents.”

Every building on the base from schools to the gym to clubs was built in the Spanish style – white stucco, red tile roofs, large wood doors with brass knockers, black wrought-iron railings, expansive lawns, smooth asphalt roads with curbing and lined with palm trees.

“It exuded the aura of a posh resort more than a military installation,” Inman wrote.

One of his first jobs was pin setting in the base bowling alley.

“We sat on a raised platform in the ball pit at the end of the alley and frequently had to dodge flying pins,” he recalled. “We were paid 10 cents per line and often worked as many as six hours in the pit. If we were fast and accurate, the bowlers would sometimes leave a tip for us at the front desk.”

One of his best friends and frequent companion was the son of the base commander, who had a powerful go-kart he rode on the base roads until the MPs picked him up and delivered him home.

“His most famous escapade was roaring down a long hill toward the base headquarters in his go-kart with another of our friends standing on the back saluting during the Retreat ceremony at 5:00 and being pursued by the military police,” recalled Inman. “His dad finally decided the go-kart had to go.”

Deborah Winter’s dad was a pilot in the USAF from 1954 to 1978.

She remembers living on base at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska, in the early ‘60s, where she’d lie awake at night comforted by the sound of jet engines.

“Mom would take me and my two brothers to the flight line to welcome my dad home from several weeks of ‘alert,’ ” she recalled. “As they taxied the B-47s, they would pop the cockpit canopy and wave at us.”

She learned to drive on an unused runway at Lajes Field, Azores.

Winter said the bases all had things in common: a close-knit community, other kids ready and willing to make friends quickly, meals at the Officer’s Club, and support for the wives and families when husbands were away.

That lifestyle made a lasting impression.

“Later on I would earn my own wings as a Naval Flight Officer and serve as a navigator in my squadron,” she said.

As Father’s Day approaches, my 27th without my dad, I scroll through black-and-white photos of him in uniform. My memories of his time of service may be fleeting, but the feelings the photos evoke linger–pride, gratitude and so much love.

Columns

Together again, time with Mom a priceless gift

When my brother told me our mom could have a designated emotional support person, all I could picture was a fluffy service dog wearing a bright orange vest.

At the end of February, the governor allowed for one individual to be able to visit their loved ones in assisted living facilities. While my brother takes care of Mom’s finances and doctor’s appointments, I attend to her personal needs. In other words, I’m her toilet paper, toothpaste, soap and lotion gal.

Since Mom could only have one ESP, it made sense for that person to be me. Plus, I look better in orange.

Actually, I was relieved to learn I wouldn’t have to wear the vest or remain on a leash. All that was required was the completion of a fair amount of paperwork, and an introduction to the automated sign-in process. At every visit I fill out a health questionnaire and take my temperature. Surgical masks are required at all times, even though Mom is fully vaccinated.

Small price to pay to be able to see my mother again.

On Feb. 24, I walked through the doors of my mother’s apartment for the first time in a year.

“Surprise!” I said. “Do you recognize me with this surgical mask?”

She laughed and reached for me.

“Of course, I do!” she said. “You’re my baby girl!”

And then we cried because that’s what we do when we’re happy.

“I’m your ESP,” I explained.

She shook her head.

“Now, honey, you know we don’t believe in things like that.”

I grinned.

“Well, believe it or not I’m going to come see you every week,” I said.

Then I got busy checking her cupboards to see what she needed. Alzheimer’s has decimated Mom’s short term memory. As she likes to put it, “My short term memory is – very short!”

This made it difficult to discern what personal supplies she needed via phone calls. For a while she would try to go through her cupboards while I was on the phone with her, but that worsened her anxiety.

For months I’ve had to guess how much toilet paper she had, or if she was out of deodorant. That caused me anxiety. However, I was relieved to find I’d done a pretty good job guesstimating.

I was wrong about her candy stash, though. Every week she’d tell me she was out, but I assumed she’d forgotten some still in the cupboard. Nope. Mom’s sweet tooth is impressive.

As I sorted, tidied and organized, I paused in front of her wall calendar. It was still on March 2020. The world stopped for a lot of us that month, but not as completely as it did for our elders in assisted-living facilities.

Gratefully, I hung her new calendar.

I wanted to take a picture of us, so I fetched Mom’s hairbrush.

“My goodness!” I said. “Your brush is missing a lot of bristles.”

She nodded.

“Yeah, it’s losing teeth as fast as I am.”

I brushed her hair, and told her I’d bring her a new one. Then I dabbed a touch of lipstick on her and snapped a few photos.

Cindy Hval with her mom. February 2021

“How come you’re taller than me now?” she asked. “I was always taller than you.”

I assured her the only growth spurt I’d had was COVID-19 pounds.

She shrugged.

“Must be gravity.”

The next week I showed up with the biggest size bag of her favorite Wintergreen Life Savers I could find.

“Oh, my goodness! I’m going to have fresh breath until I die!” Mom said.

I pointed out I bought her the party-size bag, and she said, “Honey, if they find out we’re partying they aren’t going to let you come see me anymore!”

But they will, and now that we’re in Phase 3 she can have additional visitors, not just her designated emotional support person.

I unwrapped her new hairbrush and slid it through her silver hair while she reminisced about babysitting my boys when they were little.

She caught my hand and held it to her cheek.

“I’m glad you didn’t forget me,” she said.

It doesn’t take ESP to understand how precious these visits are for both of us.

Columns

Sock-wearing, sweater-toting, vitamin-popping can only mean one thing….

Apparently, I’ve reached the stage of adulthood in which I must wear socks around the house. I’ve always been a barefoot kind of gal, so this came as quite a surprise.

I do wear socks with my walking shoes or boots, but when I get home I shuck my footwear and let my tootsies go au naturel.

But this winter I started feeling the cold.

Last week, I donned some fluffy pink socks that Derek had bought me a while ago, and noticed they said “Kissable” on the sole.

If you have to wear socks, I guess it’s not a bad thing to be kissable.

It’s not just my toes that are noticing the chill. Last summer, I started grabbing a sweater before I left the house.

One evening as we headed out to enjoy patio dining at one of our favorite restaurants, I wondered aloud if I should run back inside and get a sweater.

“It’s 80 degrees!” Derek said.

I paused.

“Yes, but a breeze may come up,” I said. “Or what if we have to sit inside and the air-conditioning is set too high?”

He shook his head.

“You’re the one who insists on sleeping with the bedroom window open all winter long,” he pointed out.

This is true, but sleeping next to my husband is like sleeping with a sturdy old-fashioned furnace (and just as noisy).

While a newfound appreciation for socks and sweaters doesn’t necessarily indicate advancing age, my recent multivitamin purchase is certainly a harbinger of decrepitude to come.

I’ve never been a supplement fan. Other than whopping doses of Vitamin C when the crud is going around, it’s been 20 years since I last took a daily vitamin. That was because I was pregnant, and then nursing our youngest son.

Before that, it was Flintstones chewables.

When my kids were little, I dabbed in gummy vitamins for a while, but the habit didn’t stick.

At my last eye appointment, however, the doctor noted the developing stages of age-related macular degeneration.

“It’s common in nearsighted people as we age,” he said, and he recommended a supplement known to support macular health.

Did he really have to say hurtful things like “age-related,” and “as we age”?

“And of course, you’re taking a daily multivitamin,” he added.

Gulp.

Nevertheless, I took his advice to heart and immediately purchased vitamins specific to eye health. At my next trip to Costco, I looked for a multivitamin suitable for women of a certain age.

It turned out to be the exact supplement I purchase for my 89-year-old mother.

This sock-wearing thing is proving to be a slippery slope!

The good news is, I’m not totally ancient, yet.

I know this because in November my mom had a dental emergency. Now, this is not normally good news, but it gave her an excused absence from her quarantined retirement home, and it gave me the first opportunity to spend time with her since late September.

Mom likes to introduce me wherever I take her, even if it’s to people I’ve previously met on numerous occasions, so she introduced me to the receptionist and to her dentist.

“This is my daughter. She may look young and beautiful, but she’s a GRANDMA! Can you believe it?”

Who knew a mask-wearing benefit is camouflaging mom-induced blushes?

But more important, this goes to prove that I may have advanced to the sock-wearing, sweater-toting, vitamin-popping age, but I’m still not too old for my mom to embarrass me.

Columns

Go home chicken, you’re drunk

Tears poured from my eyes as I thumbed through the pages. My sides ached with laughter. I snorted. I guffawed. I giggled.

Who would think a cookbook could provoke such hilarity?

Just when I caught my breath, I spotted a recipe for Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky, and I howled again.

But first a little background. My mother collected recipes like there might not ever be another Dorothy Dean column or Campbell’s soup cookbook. She clipped them from newspapers, magazines, flour bags and shortening cans. She filed them in index card boxes and three-ring binders. Cookbooks lined a shelf in her kitchen and filled drawers in her buffet. Even after my dad died and she didn’t have anyone to cook for, she kept on clipping.

Her cookies were legendary. For years, she supplied my boys with enough baked goods to feed a small platoon. Her dessert plates were the first to be emptied at every church potluck.

In recent years, she tried to downsize. I’m not sure which sibling ended up with her battered copy of Irma Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” but she gave me my grandmother’s vintage “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” and her own copy of “Better Homes and Garden Cookbook,” which I still haul out every time I bake apple pies.

My recipe box is filled with her handwritten recipe cards.

When she moved into a retirement home, the cookbooks and clipping collection had to go. I didn’t have time to sort through her recipe-filled envelopes, but somehow I snagged a cookbook and brought it home before her house sold.

With the holidays approaching, I finally sat down to go through it. The 270-page cookbook has no cover, no back and no title. I have no idea who produced it. I think I grabbed it because it features Mom’s handwritten commentary. Some recipes had checkmarks or stars. Some said “try,” and others had “good!” written next to them.

The source of my amusement came from the many, many recipes that called for some kind of booze.

Mom is such a stringent teetotaler that she’s never even purchased cooking wine or sherry. She certainly never had the ingredients for Drunk Chicken, or Bourbon-Pecan cake, or New Bacardi Chocolate Rum cake. And even if she had the ingredients for Beer and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, I can’t imagine that she’d inflict that on anyone.

It’s wasn’t only the alcohol-laden recipes that gave me giggles, just the names of some of the recipes induced mirth.

Creeping Crust Cobbler anyone? How about some Liver Surprise? (Spoiler alert, the surprise is cinnamon, or maybe it’s the applesauce.) Beef Birds with Olive Gravy gave me pause, but Carrot Loaf- a Meat Substitute made me queasy for hours. The recipe calls for rice, carrots, eggs, milk and peanut butter!

Not every recipe proved as stomach-churning. Amazed, I discovered the original source for Mom’s Five-Hour Stew, her Busy Day Chicken and Rice, and the zucchini fritter recipe I’d assumed was my grandmother’s. The titleless cookbook is proving to be a treasure.

My husband enjoys my culinary escapades, but he was a bit bewildered last week when he called and asked about our dinner plans.

“I thought about making Pheasant- All Drunk and Spunky,” I said.”But catching a pheasant and getting it drunk, seemed like a lot of work. And how can you tell if a pheasant’s spunky?”

“Uh…” Derek murmured.

“Nevermind,” I continued. “We had some poultry in the freezer, but you’d better come home soon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because the chicken’s already drunk,” I replied.

Unlike my mother, I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the recipe.

Columns

Quilts and the ties that bind

 

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Newly retired, Dad waited by the front door to take my mom grocery shopping.

“Tom, you can’t wear that,” Mom exclaimed.

“Why? Don’t I match?” he asked.

A fair question, since Dad was notoriously color-challenged.

But that wasn’t the problem. He’d donned a sport coat and a snazzy red tie with multicolored stripes.

“Sweetheart, you’re retired. You don’t have to wear a tie every day anymore, especially not to the grocery store,” Mom explained.

Disappointed, he removed the tie, but kept the jacket.

Dad loved his neckties.

He grew up picking cotton in Arkansas. As he labored in the sweltering heat, he dreamed of a different life – one that involved a desk job and wearing suits and ties.

His career in the United States Air Force, followed by a career with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, allowed him to achieve his dreams.

When he died in 1995, he’d amassed an amazing collection of neckties. My husband kept a couple, and most of them were donated to a local thrift shop. But I couldn’t part with all of them. I set aside a few dozen and gave them to some dear friends who incorporated them in a beautiful quilt. That quilt hung in my Mom’s bedroom until two years ago when she moved to a retirement facility.

Now, it’s draped over our living room sofa where I can see it every day and think about how blessed I was to have a dad like mine.

It’s also a daily reminder of the friends who took the time to create such a sweet remembrance.

I love quilts, like my dad loved ties. The beauty, artistry and stories behind the patterns fascinate me. Sadly, when it comes to sewing, I’m all thumbs and totally lacking in skill or patience.

Thankfully, I have friends who work magic with fabric, needle and thread.

The necktie quilt isn’t my only memory-filled patchwork. Eleven years ago, our oldest son was struggling through adolescence. His actions and attitudes grieved me. I worried. I fretted. I prayed.

A friend made a lap quilt for me to curl up in when I felt overwhelmed. Because I’d often referred to our firstborn as our “golden child,” she incorporated big golden hearts throughout the design. The border features the worlds of one of my favorite hymns, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

That quilt kept me mindful of my son’s true nature. Every time I wrapped myself in it, I felt cocooned in the comfort of my friend’s love and prayers, evident in each tiny stitch.

My husband has his own special quilt. A diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips a few years ago rocked him. A strong, active man, he struggled with the reality of a degenerative disease at a relatively young age.

Bonnie, my sister-in-law, knows that pain all too well. So, she went into her sewing room and crafted a cat-covered quilt for Derek. Using masculine colors for the backing and border, the counterpane delighted both of us – especially when we spotted the cat curled up in a basket that looks just like our Thor.

And recently, a new quilt arrived in the mail, made by an extremely talented, prolific quilter.

Its vibrant colors brighten our bedroom, adding homespun cheer, and the accompanying note warmed my heart.

“Thank you, dear friend, for all your glorious words which help so many,” she wrote.

You can spend hundreds of dollars on beautifully pieced quilts, but the quilts in my home are priceless. Each one is threaded with memories, and has been stitched with prayer and bound with love.