Columns

Last one out

Texas.

He never said anything about Texas. I would remember that.

When our youngest son was in fifth grade he informed me that he wouldn’t live in Spokane forever.

“I’m going to live in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York,” he said.

Last week, Sam, 22, moved to Odessa, Texas. He accepted a full-time position at Odessa College to teach English and composition classes. Odessa is 1,767 miles from Spokane.

I would have much preferred he stuck with his fifth-grade plan and moved to Seattle, but Sam has worked hard to become a college professor and his first post-graduate school job is exactly what he envisioned during his long hours of study. It’s just that none of us envisioned it in Texas.

I’m getting a bit of an attitude about that state. Our second son moved to Houston at 21, stayed almost three years, and then moved to Ohio. Thankfully, our other two sons don’t seem inclined to move to the Lone Star State and both have places within a mile of our house.

Of course, I knew this day was coming – eventually, all parents get to enjoy an empty nest. But neither Derek nor I were prepared for how rapidly this last fledgling flew.

Last month, after two Zoom interviews, Sam went to Odessa for an in-person interview and was offered the job immediately. He found an apartment, flew back home and started packing.

He had a lot to pack – mainly books. (Seven boxes full and he left an overflowing bookshelf in his room.)

We shopped and scheduled last-minute dental and eye exams. In hindsight, we should have skipped those because his extensive benefits include 100% health care coverage.

His dad slaved over the aging Oldsmobile that Sam inherited when I got my Ford Escape. Derek needed to ensure it could make the trip across six states, towing a small U-Haul trailer. Then he excitedly mapped out the route he and Sam would take.

We hosted a big family bon voyage party filled with cousins, aunts and uncles, and suddenly we were in our week of lasts.

His last Friday family dinner with his brothers.

Last visit with his Grandma Shirley, 91.

Last back-to-school s’mores night in our backyard gazebo.

Last night in his childhood bed.

Last cuddles with our cats, Thor and Walter. (Well, last cuddle with Walter because Thor ran and hid. Thor hates goodbyes.)

I wasn’t the only one shedding tears.

For 32 years, we’ve had at least one son in our home.

“I’m going to miss having another dude around,” Derek said.

Apparently, our male cats don’t count.

Those lasts aren’t exactly final. Sam will come home for Christmas, and he’s going to meet us in Ohio this summer to visit Alex’s family with us.

But I’ve been through this three times before. Once a kid has a taste of independent living, they don’t want to live in Mom and Dad’s basement anymore. That’s a very healthy thing.

After raising boys for 32 years, Derek and I are ready for the next chapter of our story to unfold. Friends who’ve walked this path before us have all said the same thing.

“You’ll be sad for a few days, and then (here they all grinned) you will love having an empty nest!”

They’re probably right, plus I have something else that comforts me.

All those years ago, when Sam mapped out his life’s plan for me, he was adamant about one thing.

“When I’m done traveling around, and I’m ready to settle down, I’m coming home to Spokane,” he said. “That’s where I want to raise my family.”

I’m counting on it, Sam. I’m counting on it.

Columns

Letting Our Quirk Flags Fly

At a recent lunch with my friend Sarah Bain, she raised her eyebrows when our server brought water to our table and I asked for a straw.

“You always do that,” she said. “Why?”

Puzzled, I asked what she meant.

“You always ask for a straw for your water, but never for cocktails or wine or coffee,” she said. “It’s weird.”

It’s good to have observant friends. I hadn’t thought about the why of wanting a straw for water. I pointed to the red bubbled plastic glass.

“I don’t like putting my mouth on those glasses. It grosses me out. I figure hot coffee destroys any germs, likewise alcohol. But water?”

She deliberately rubbed her mouth all over the rim of her glass. While I gagged, she said, “It’s a quirk, but I guess it would be weirder if you brought your own utensils.”

A quirk? I didn’t know I had any of those!

“What’s your quirk?” I asked.

She thought about it for a minute.

“I don’t touch public bathroom doors.”

When I asked how she entered the facilities without touching the door, she admitted that she usually waits for someone else to come along or uses a tissue to open it.

I’m not sure that’s quirky. I think a lot of people don’t like touching anything in public restrooms, including doors.

I decided to poll my Facebook friends about their quirks and their responses made my straw-for-water issue look positively pedestrian.

Former colleague Pia Hallenberg said at wine tastings, she always turns her glass exactly two times before taking a sip. She also confesses to being a compulsive stacker.

“Napkins, magazines, newspapers, books, whatever can be stacked in neat stacks, I shall stack,” she said.

Heather Clarke can’t abide a chair that isn’t properly pushed in.

“I have actually pushed chairs in at work and in restaurants as I pass tables,” she said.

I think chair pusher-inners are providing a public service, and my friend Ashley Lorraine who navigates the world using a wheelchair agreed.

Jeanie Buchanan straightens things – all kinds of things.

“Mainly pictures on walls,” she said. “And it can be in stranger’s houses; the doctor’s office. Pens, paper, books – I straighten them, too. Today, I straightened a row of Kraft cheese slices at Grocery Outlet.”

Regarding dining out, Dan Webster is more concerned about napkins than straws.

“I always ask for an extra napkin because I don’t like to put my silverware down on a table that doesn’t have a clean tablecloth,” he said. “They usually wipe those bare tables down with a rag or sponge that I suspect isn’t sanitary. It may not be true, but I’m not taking any chances.”

While Sarah seemed thankful I don’t bring utensils from home, I know someone who does exactly that.

“I have a thing about eating off silverware at a restaurant or letting my silverware touch a table, so I bring my own and bring a utensil rest with me,” Cecile Charles said. “It holds my own cotton napkin.”

I’d never heard of utensil rest! Now, I kind of want a set.

Some folks’ quirks are on the edgy side.

“I pull off the ‘Do Not Remove’ tags from mattresses and pillows in hotels (and at my kids’ houses, too, mea culpa),” Linda Finney said.

I hope the tag authorities don’t read this column.

Sarah’s other professed quirk truly horrified me.

“I usually read the end of a book before I start it,” she said. “Is that weird or a quirk?”

“That’s an abomination!” I replied.

When I told my son, Sam, about my alleged quirky straw habit, he shook his head.

“Using straws is the most effective way to drink,” he said. “Besides, pretty soon you’ll be getting all your food through a straw, so it’s good to get some practice.”

For the record, I still have all my teeth. Well, most of them.

The truth is, I don’t like the taste of restaurant water, so I rarely drink more than a few sips even when it’s my only beverage.

Sarah pointed that out as she emptied her second refill.

We said goodbye in the restaurant parking lot, but I called her a few seconds later.

“Yes?” she said.

“Um, I’m really thirsty,” I said. “So thirsty!”

I hung up to the sounds of her guffaws.

The minute I got home, I went to the kitchen, filled a glass with ice and water and drank the whole thing.

No straw needed.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and bookstores nationwide.

Columns

A mother’s (and grandmother’s) heart always has room for more

The instant I felt his butterfly-fluttering kicks in my womb, I was besotted with my first child.

Ethan arrived with golden hair and a sweet disposition. I documented his first smile, first tooth, first word (mama, of course) with the absorption of a Ph.D. candidate completing her dissertation.

Eighteen months after his birth, I was delighted to learn another baby was on the way. But as my delivery date drew closer I worried: How could I love this new son as much as I did my first?

On a sunny April afternoon, they placed the heft of Alex in my arms. Weighing in at 10 pounds, 6 ounces with a head of dark hair that already needed a trim, he peered at me through the bluest of eyes. Instantly smitten I began to hum, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine …”

And I didn’t worry a bit when my third and fourth sons arrived. I’d discovered that a mother’s heart expands with each child – its capacity for love encompassing every new arrival.

I thought about that during our recent visit to see Alex and his family in Ohio.

Six years ago, when Alex fell in love with Brooke, he got a twofer – she had a beautiful 2½-year-old daughter.

After they moved from Texas to Ohio, I flew out to meet my son’s new loves and just like that my heart expanded again. How could I not adore the woman who made my son so happy? Her beautiful daughter, Farrah, was the icing on the cake.

When they told us they were expecting their first son, Ian Lucas, my joy knew no bounds.

My grief when Ian was stillborn at full term was equally limitless – an ever-present ache.

The birth of their identical twin sons, Adam and Nicholas, in November 2019, offered our broken hearts a way to begin to heal.

Two weeks ago, we took Derek’s mother, Juanita, with us to Ohio. She hadn’t seen the twins since they were eight months old and was eager to reconnect with Farrah.

She celebrated her 79th birthday with us during our trip. Alex took the day off of work to take her and Farrah on a shopping spree to the landmark Columbus book store, The Book Loft, and then out to lunch.

While Derek and I entertained the twins, Brooke decorated their house for GG’s (great-grandma’s) birthday. GG spent the afternoon at their beautiful backyard pool and taught Farrah how to dive off the diving board.

I’d simmered pulled pork in the slow cooker all day for dinner, and GG chose a bakery carrot cake for her birthday treat. We all sang while Alex brought the cake to her, and Adam helpfully blew out the candles.

As I watched four generations of Hvals swim together that evening, I marveled at the ways families shrink with sorrowful losses, but grow with the joy of new additions.

The next morning, Nick needed some Nana cuddles and crawled up in my lap with his blanket. Adam wasn’t about to be left out. He ran and got his blanket and scooched onto my lap.

Adam, Nick and Nana Cindy

I wrapped my arms around them both and swayed and sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray …”

It was a tight fit for two gangly toddlers, but oh, there’s always space on Nana’s lap and plenty of room in her heart. That’s just the way love works.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Spokane Summertime Fun

I’m an unabashed hometown girl.

I love Spokane (except for the potholes), and in 40-plus years of living here, I’m still finding new things to do.

In July, Derek and I attended two quintessential outdoor Spokane events.

First, we finally made it to a Sunday summer concert at Arbor Crest. Though we’ve visited the winery many times, we’d never made it to an outdoor concert. When we saw one of our favorite local bands was scheduled for July 10, we quickly bought tickets.

The Sara Brown Band plays R&B tunes with a soulful edge that usually gets us out on the dance floor at least for a few songs.

At Arbor Crest, you can bring a picnic or buy a meal there. We opted to picnic and while I packed a cooler with salamis, cheeses, olives and chocolate, Derek fetched our folding camp chairs.

We arrived early to find a good spot. That’s when we discovered Derek had accidentally grabbed our bleacher seats instead of chairs.

No worries. The winery provides plenty of plastic lawn chairs.

With our spot staked, we sampled a wine flight and purchased a couple of bottles of Fume Blanc – one to enjoy with our picnic and one to take home.

The evening proved spectacular. Just enough sun to make us welcome sunset’s arrival, fabulous music and fun chatting with fellow concert goers.

A kiss at Arbor Crest.

The following weekend, we attended the final night of Crave! Northwest a three-night foodie extravaganza showcasing the best of the area’s food and drink. The event offers an opportunity for chefs, breweries, and winemakers to connect with each another while serving fantastic food to the public. It’s also a great way for attendees to discover local chefs and restaurants.

Saturday’s “Fire and Smoke” night at Spokane Valley’s CenterPlace quickly sold out, and no wonder. Billed as a “culinary adventure of smoked and fired foods,” my home-grilling king only stopped smiling long enough to chew and swallow.

Derek and Cindy Hval at Crave!

We sampled smoked ribs with apple chutney from Tracy Rose of the Coeur d’Alene Casino, smoked steelhead, from Peter Froese of Gander and Ryegrass, and beef and pork wood-fired meatballs with charred Pomodoro sauce, from Aaron Fiorini of Market Street Pizza.

Then we tasted pork shoulder, smoked tri-tip, grilled jalapeno poppers, and more!

Of course, there was plenty of swill to wash it all down with. We saw our friends from No-Li Brewhouse and Barrister Winery and grabbed ice-cold bottles of water upon entry.

We needed the hydration, as it was a sizzling evening, but the venue offered some shady spots and a cool misting fan or two.

Two back-to-back, action-packed weekends made us perfectly content to enjoy our own backyard the following week, but we’re so glad we got to partake of some of the best fun our area has to offer.

While I enjoy all four seasons in the Inland Northwest; Spokane truly shines in the summer.

Columns

Saying Grace

There’s hungry and then there’s waiting-for-your-father-to-say-the-blessing-over-dinner-hungry.

I grew up in a family that said grace before every meal – even breakfast. My father usually led the family prayer and he was from Arkansas. There’s a reason they call it a Southern drawl.

Basically, it means what most of us say in one or two syllables becomes three or four when pronounced by someone from the South. Also, my parents were Pentecostal and supported many missionaries. Support included mentioning them by name in prayer at every opportunity – often before a meal.

While our Cream of Wheat solidified, our PBJ sandwiches calcified and our meatloaf cooled, my father prayed.

Often, we kids were expected to pick up the mantle. My brother Jon famously balked when asked to pray over dinner. At age 3, he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled.

“I payed (prayed) at noon!”

This became an oft-used mantra when my siblings and I were expected to offer the blessing. It rarely held sway.

When Derek and I raised our four sons, we rarely breakfasted or lunched together, but family dinner was sacrosanct and included saying grace.

We held hands and took turns saying the prayer, which almost always ended with “and bless the hands that prepared it.”

Those hands were always mine and whoever prayed that evening often followed their father’s example and lifted my hand to their lips and kissed it. It’s one of the sweetest memories of all my boys at the table.

My sister reminded me that our brothers were less sweet and often got in trouble for amending that phrase to “Bless the hands that repaired it.”

Also, less sweet were the prayers my boys brought home from church camp.

Alex returned after one excursion and prayed, “Thanks for the meat. Now let’s eat!”

I was unimpressed.

His brother Zach upped (or downed?) the ante the following year, by bellowing “Jeeesuus! AMEN!”

I asked Facebook friends to recall blessings they said before meals.

Mary Roy’s family topped my dad’s invocation frequency.

“As a child, we would invite Jesus to our table to begin with prayer, then ended our meals with, ‘Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for he is good and his mercy endureth forever! Amen.’ We were a two-prayer-a-meal family.”

Joe Butler’s family was more concise: “God’s neat, let’s eat.”

When Ellen Peters’ kids were young they said a traditional blessing. “Bless us, O Lord. And these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Gene Brake’s less-reverent blessing didn’t amuse his grandmother: “Good bread, good meat, good gosh, let’s eat!”

Nina Culver said when her family was feeling goofy they’d pray, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.”

My sister reminded me our oldest brother David finished that prayer with a rousing, “Yay! God!”

That seems tame compared to Cecile Charles’ dad. He mortified her mom when company came to dinner and he prayed, “Bless the meat, damn the skin, pin back your ears and cram it in!”

Norma Weber’s family prayer focused on counting blessings. “There’s a roof up above me. I’ve a good place to sleep, there’s food on my table and shoes on my feet. You gave me your love, Lord and a fine family. Thank you, Lord, for your blessings on me.”

And when a teenage Miriam Robbins worked summers at the Salvation Army Camp Gifford at Deer Lake, they sang this grace: “Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we may live to love and serve but thee.”

The simple act of pausing to express thanks before a meal may seem antiquated, but it still has value to me. In a world where many families eat in front of the television or with their eyes glued to their phones, something precious, perhaps sacred is lost.

Recently, Derek, Sam and I enjoyed a lovely dinner on our deck and I was reminded of an older prayer.

“For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”

That evening, my eyes filled with tears. However slowly my father prayed, his heart was pointed in the right direction – gratitude. No matter the state of the world, if you have food on your table and people you love to share it with, there is always, always something to be thankful for.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Solar Powered

As home improvements go, I’d rather have an updated kitchen or a home office with a door. Instead, I’ve got solar panels on my roof. Twenty-eight of them.

The Hvals have gone green and it’s all my Norwegian brother-in-law’s fault.

Norwegians are a thrifty lot and when Derek heard Kjell bragging that his utility bill would “zero dollars” he was intrigued. He followed the process intently, as our brother-in-law winnowed through solar companies, selected a provider and had his panels installed.

Then Derek announced that he too, wanted our electric bill to be zero dollars. He regaled me with several lengthy presentations about the amazing benefits of solar energy, even though installing solar panels isn’t cheap.

“No sales tax on it in Washington State,” he enthused. “And a 26% federal tax credit that will drop to 22% in December. so we need to move quickly.”

Phone calls were made, funds secured, and in June our panels were installed just in time to capture rays during our sunniest months.

At least, I think we’re capturing something. Honestly, despite Derek’s PowerPoints, I’m still not exactly sure how this solar energy thing works. I mean, I get that solar power is the conversion of renewable energy from sunlight into electricity – it’s just that I don’t understand how.

Apparently, Avista does because they installed a net metering system at our house which measures the difference between the amount of electricity supplied by them and the amount of electricity generated by us each month.

“We don’t store it,” Derek explained. “Avista does and the excess is credited toward the winter months. We’re already generating more than we use. In our older years, we won’t have an electric bill!”

Then he said a bunch more stuff about kilowatts, one-to-one credits, and the grid.

I tuned back in when he said he was heading to Costco to purchase a generator. It seems like my husband’s efforts to save money initially involve a lot of spending.

“Do we need a generator for our solar panels?” I asked.

Derek shook his head.

“No, we’re not using battery back-up or anything; I’ve just always wanted a generator.”

Then he talked more about the grid.

My husband has many talents, but I didn’t know clairvoyance was one of them.

In our north Spokane neighborhood, our power lines are underground, which means we rarely have power outages. Even Ice Storm didn’t dim our lights. Yet, when Derek pulled into the driveway with the generator in his truck, our power went out for the first time since last summer’s brownout.

“See!” Derek said, tapping the still-boxed generator. “This baby operates on natural gas when hooked up to the line, or we can use propane or gasoline! It will run our lights, AC, freezers…” he paused. “But I’m not sure about your blow dryer – that sucker uses, like, 2000 watts.”

I grinned.

“I can always use solar energy and dry it in the sun.”

He took that as a sign I’ve embraced solar power, but what I’ve really embraced is my brother-in-law’s influence. You see, Kjell has also installed a beautiful in-ground pool in his backyard and recently added a hot tub.

Derek often mentions he wants to have less grass to mow, and a pool takes up a lot of space.

Lately, I’ve been dropping subtle hints about how a pool could be warmed by the sun and wondering aloud if a hot tub could be powered by a generator. If I can somehow work in “the grid,” I may be swimming laps in my own pool next summer.

For now, I’ll sit in the shade of our backyard gazebo and watch those solar panels convert sunlight into electricity.

Columns

Thankful for Every Milestone

Two weeks ago we sat in a classroom at Eastern Washington University, my husband’s alma mater.

“These chairs are way more comfortable than the ones we used to have,” Derek whispered.

I shushed him as the lecturer stepped to the front of the room and introduced himself.

Even though we know him quite well, we sat forward in our seats so as not to miss a word. The speaker was our youngest son, Sam, and we were there to watch him defend his master’s thesis.

Sam Hval defends his master’s thesis at EWU.

It was the final step to earning his master’s degree in English with an emphasis on literature and writing. Did I mention that Sam is just 22?

He started at EWU as a 16-year-old Running Start student. In six years, he graduated from high school, earned his bachelor’s degree, and now his master’s–and he didn’t incur a penny of debt.

The only help Derek and I gave him was housing him, feeding him and paying for his gas and car insurance. And maybe I threw in a few extra hugs and a listening ear when he decided to switch from education major to English.

As Sam introduced his thesis, “Navigating the Labyrinth of ‘House of Leaves’ Through a Postmodern Archetypal Theory,” I was stunned by his poise. In front of a panel of three professors and a handful of fellow grad students, he eloquently explained a new theory of literary criticism that he’s developed.

This from the kid who in first grade was sent to the reading resource room because his teacher felt he was lagging in reading skills.

This surprised me. Sam’s three older brothers and I had read to him since his birth and he was reading independently by kindergarten.

It turned out Sam found the first-grade reading material “boring.” When he understood the faster he progressed through “The Cat Sat on the Mat,” the sooner he could read chapter books, he suddenly didn’t need additional tutoring.

Our fourth son has been surprising us since birth.

He arrived on a golden September morning within an hour of our arrival at Holy Family Hospital. Weighing in at a hearty Norwegian 9 pounds, 9 ounces, Sam had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

Soon after his birth we were told his time with us might be brief. Sam was airlifted to Sacred Heart Medical Center where he was diagnosed with congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Only his right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Twenty-two years later, the grief and terror I felt when I saw him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit hasn’t abated. It’s still as sharp as the moment I was told he was so fragile, I could only touch his toe with my finger, and even my whispered “Mama’s here,” elevated his blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Obviously, this story has a happy ending. Sam survived. He grew. He thrived.

And he’d prepared us for the outcome of his thesis defense.

“I’ll either fail, pass with revisions, or pass,” he’d said.

After his presentation, attendees were invited to pose questions or offer comments. I may or may not have shared that after Sam had his wisdom teeth pulled, he’d asserted that the anesthesia had a minimum effect on him.

“It’s because I have a really big brain,” he’d slurred.

Honestly, when you invite your mother to this sort of thing, these kinds of comments are inevitable. As Sam’s older brother said, “Mom’s gotta mom, whether we like it or not.”

I may have been a teensy bit anxious as we waited in the hallway while the panel debated Sam’s fate. I needn’t have worried. He passed with no revisions.

After attending college for six years, Sam isn’t interested in pursuing a doctorate right now. Ideally, he’d like to teach at a community college or private university.

Who knows what the next year will bring?

But this I do know–the students who attend Mr. Hval’s classes will be blessed by a passionate instructor whose love of literature and language stems from both his intellect and his heart.

His time in our nest is drawing to a close. Over the years, I’ve battled the urge to smother, hover and over-mother, but I’ve not taken a moment of his childhood, nor his early adulthood for granted.

Each milestone is a gift I was never sure I’d be granted.

Derek, Cindy and Sam Hval

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon.

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

Ritual Rekindles Memories of Life on Base

The echoing roar stopped us in our tracks.

Like everyone else in the parking lot of Fairchild Air Force Base Commissary, we craned our necks and watched the Thunderbirds practicing for SkyFest. It was the Friday before the air show and we were thrilled to get a sneak peek at the six F-16C Fighting Falcons soaring through the blue skies and darting in and out of fluffy white clouds.

I’ve spent a lot of time at Fairchild, beginning at birth. My dad served 24 years in the Air Force. My oldest brother and I were born at the base hospital. My second brother was born at a base in Montana and my sister in the Philippines.

After several moves, we returned to Washington when I was 5, and we always did our grocery shopping at Fairchild. Even after Dad retired and we lived in Ritzville and then Moses Lake, we drove to the base to stock our pantry.

I remember the old commissary that seemed more like a dimly-lit warehouse than a grocery store. Mom bought “GI bread” in its plain wrapper and Circus Peanut Butter that came in tall plastic jars.

I lived in terror that my friends would discover my sandwiches weren’t made from Jif and Wonder Bread. Still, that would’ve been better than them seeing the bologna in our refrigerator that came in a huge hunk. My dad hacked off crooked slices and when I’d decline a sandwich, he’d fry it up in a pan for breakfast.

Oh, to have a thinly sliced Oscar Meyer, Bologna, with pre-sliced American cheese sandwich in my Barbie lunchbox!

We didn’t just grocery shop at Fairchild. There were doctor visits, dental checkups and trailer rentals.

Yep, Fairchild has an Outdoor Recreation Center where active duty and retired military personnel can rent tents, trailers and everything you need for a family camping trip.

That is everything except a dad who can put up a tent and back a trailer into a campsite. Dad was not an outdoorsy kind of guy, so while mom “helped” (mainly by laughing hysterically) my siblings and I usually just pretended we were with another family.

Of course, I married a military man. Derek served 23 years in the Washington National Guard which turned out to be providential. Without our monthly trips to the commissary, our budget would have buckled under the strain of feeding four growing boys.

Nowadays, with just one kid at home, our trips to Fairchild are far less frequent, but our recent visit complete with thundering jets overhead was something special. We finished our shopping at 5 p.m. If you’re familiar with military life you know what that means.

As we were loading our groceries into the car “Retreat” began to play through loudspeakers across the base. The tune signals the end of the official duty day and is followed by the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the lowering of the flag.

The piping bugle call echoed and everyone, whether in uniform or not, stopped what they were doing and faced the nearest flag. All vehicles stopped. Those in uniform stood at parade rest, and the rest of us put our hands over our hearts.

It’s a beautiful thing to see a bustling military base come to a standstill. To watch older retired folks, young civilian grocery baggers, and men and women in uniform, united for a few moments of respect and reflection.

May is military appreciation month and we’re heading into Memorial Day weekend. Today, I’ve got “Retreat” set to play on my phone. At 5 p.m. I plan to stand and let my workday worries go. I’ll be thinking about the men and women in uniform across the world who are doing the same thing.

And I don’t have to be on a military base to feel profoundly thankful for their service.

Sam Hval places a pinwheel on his grandfather’s grave at Washington State Veteran’s Cemetery.
Columns

Taking the unexpected gifts of COVID-19 into post-pandemic life

On Jan. 17, 2019, Derek and I whooped, hollered, and danced at Northern Quest Resort & Casino as REO Speedwagon made us feel like teenagers again – albeit teenagers whose ears rang for hours after the high-decibel show.

We had no idea a global pandemic meant it would be three years before we’d return to the casino for an indoor concert.

On April 24, we eased our way back into the live music scene to see Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy. Clad in his trademark polka-dot shirt, he promptly tore into a number and busted a string on his guitar.

The enthusiastic crowd roared.

Guy, 85, delivered a lesson on the blues, tracing the history of the music and downplaying his part in its evolution.

Then he grinned

“I’m gonna play you a song so funky, you can smell it,” he said.

And he did.

Last week, we upped our funk level when we saw “Hamilton” at the First Interstate Center for the Arts. The promise of seeing this award-winning show is what prompted our purchase of Best of Broadway season tickets, oh so long ago.

While we’ve enjoyed the season, this is the show we’d most anticipated. Some things are worth waiting for and “Hamilton” is one of them. Who could have imagined a Broadway show about the architect of the American financial system would be such a phenomenon?

The stellar cast captivated the crowd with the musical’s mix of hip-hop, R&B and big Broadway sound and we were thrilled to see downtown Spokane bustling again.

I’m happy our calendar is again filled with all the activities we missed during the pandemic, but despite the fear, isolation and loss COVID-19 ushered in, the shutdowns also offered some unexpected gifts.

Recently, my friend Jill reminded me of our pandemic walks along the Centennial Trail. For years, we’ve stayed connected via lunches, coffee dates and countless happy hours. Suddenly, none of those things was possible.

So we took our conversation outdoors. Every week, we met at a trailhead and walked and talked – relishing in movement, in the beauty around us, in seeing another human face-to-face.

Spokane River seen from The Centennial Trail

Those outings were a bright spot in a dark, scary time.

It’s great to share a meal again, but I think we’ll lace up our walking shoes and hit the trail before our next happy hour.

Speaking of meals, weekly family dinners, including our two sons who don’t live at home, became sacrosanct during the shutdowns. Cooking is how I show love, so feeding these young men fed my heart.

Our little “bubble” of five savored the connection of familiar faces around the table, and we even brought back family game night. It gave us all something reliable to look forward to during an uncertain time.

Now that our activities have expanded, we’re considering making family dinner a monthly event instead of weekly. But I miss my grown-up boys, so you can be sure this mom will still regularly gather them around my table.

I got the hospitality gene from my mother. Not being allowed to see her for six months, even though she lives less than a mile away, was one of the worst things I experienced during COIVID-19.

When I finally received notice from her care facility that outdoor, masked visits were allowed as long as there was no physical contact, I immediately scheduled a visit.

We met under the portico.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how beautiful you look to me,” she said.

I laughed through my tears.

“Yeah, these masks make us all look good.”

Thankfully, now I can visit her room as often as I want, and though masks are still required, hugging is allowed.

While I’m delighted by the return of live entertainment and dining out, and all it means to our local economy, I hope I never lose the pandemic-sparked appreciation for things I used to take for granted.

The healing balm of a walk outdoors with a friend.

The boisterous conversation of a shared family meal.

The joy of a warm hug from my mom.

Perhaps I needed a pointed reminder that the things I value most don’t cost a dime.