A Long Journey Ends with a Special Memory

I must admit that I have been looking for a shortcut to writing this blog lately. I usually would have already written another post by now, but the last days and weeks have been busy and tiring. I have several writing projects going on right now and am in the midst of checking edits for a chapter book that should be forthcoming before too many more weeks and months. I love it all but exhaustion does rear it’s ugly head from time to time. Life has been a bit frenzied in other ways as well. But that is usually true for all of us, so I try to lean back and simply enjoy the ride. Who doesn’t enjoy a Ferris wheel from time to time?

Anyway, I looked over some things in a back filing drawer—yes, some of us still have a few non-electronic files—and found one of my old pieces of writing. It is an article I wrote for the Fayetteville Observer Times (Fayetteville, North Carolina) several years ago. I was reminiscing about my first trip overseas as an army wife. Forgive this self-indulgence, but I am re-cycling it here. Here goes—

We all have moments in our past that exist forever frozen within the mysterious recesses of our minds. Some smell or taste or spoken word may summon one of them from that misty chamber and usher it, in vivid detail, into the present. For me, many a rain-drenched night calls forth a wet fall evening in Germany and my first brief moment alone in a different world.

I did not begin my journey to Germany alone, however. On a sunny afternoon in an early October, my 3-year-old child and I boarded an airplane in Dallas, Texas, to do precisely what was “old hat” for many army families. Yet, for Stephen and me, it was new. Bidding a sad farewell to doting grandparents, we hurried up the boarding ramp to our airplane. Once seated with safety belts in place, we watched out a window as the runway began to move slowly beside us and listened to the thunder of powerful engines. At last the airplane picked up speed. The pavement whizzed. I leaned back against the seat—tense, forever fearful of take-offs. Suddenly, the roar of engines ceased. Rather than lifting, the craft jerked, then slowed. All around me, impassive men in dark suits and sensible ties laid down magazines they’d read throughout the attendant’s safety demonstration. Craning their necks, they peered out windows and spoke to each other in constrained whispers. Many moments passed before the captain’s calm voice sounded within the cabin. We would be going back to the terminal and disembarking. Two engines were malfunctioning. For nearly two hours, mechanics probed and tinkered with those engines before a different airplane finally rolled up to our ramp. This time all went well but too late, I feared, for our connection in New York.

This was simply the fitting beginning of the harried hours and days that were to follow. At Kennedy Airport matters became worse. Erroneously told that our flight to Frankfurt had already left, I struggled not to panic. While I watched my exhausted preschooler fall to the floor kicking beneath the disapproving frowns of seasoned travelers queued before reservations desks, a bespectacled clerk informed me that our luggage was being unloaded and that I would have to take care of it.

With my arms laden with jackets, a shoulder bag full of books, and my son, I tried unsuccessfully to think. But God had not deserted us. A veteran army wife and her four children—all over the age of ten—appeared at my side. She, too, had been on the same fateful flight from Dallas and was trying to make the same connection. Admiring her calm, I watched as she championed both our causes. With authority, she ordered the clerk to recheck our connection before routing us to another flight. Sure enough, the connecting flight had been delayed. He could not say, though, how much longer the airplane would remain on the ground,

Watching our luggage bump down the conveyor belt, I feared that we still would not make it. Two of my new friend’s children each grabbed one of my bags as I wrestled with an additional suitcase. There was no time to wait for a porter. Racing outside and into an adjoining terminal, we found our loading area, checked our luggage, snatched our boarding passes, and dashed along the ramp into the yet slumbering 747.

When eight hours later, we landed in Frankfurt and Stephen and I found our way down confusing corridors and moving sidewalks, past passport inspectors, and to my smiling husband, I was too relieved and weary to even consider strange the airport guards who carried machine guns. Neither could I nor my sleeping son fully appreciate the shimmering green countryside that sped by our windows on the two-hour automobile ride that followed. We were headed for Fulda, a town only a few kilometers from the East German border and Soviet presence. We were headed for rest.

The rest was not to be a long one. The very next evening, we attended a squadron party. The days that followed it were spent settling into the house my husband had hurriedly rented during his one day off from field maneuvers. Although adequate, our new residence boasted few amenities. Dark, damp and heated by smelly oil, it was in dire need of cheerful touches. Fortunately, I was more intrigued than irritated by the old-fashioned water heater that hung above the kitchen sink and had to be filled with liters of water before each use.

Though still fighting the annoying grogginess of jet lag, I set about to make the place comfortable while we waited for government quarters. The next few days were spent in a flurry of unpacking, measuring windows in confusing centimeters, traveling downtown with my husband through winding streets and into bustling stores with strange signs and unfamiliar displays, With bravado, I spat out well-rehearsed phrases which I hoped conveyed my need for a specific size of window sheers and then watched as sharp scissors sliced through lacy bolts of fabric. After days of hanging curtains with strange, plastic roller hooks, scrubbing tacky decals from a tall, footed bathtub, polishing floors with the well-intentioned help of a three-year-old, and journeying on foot to the military post in order to attend required driving classes, things were beginning to fall into place. So, naturally, it was not long before my husband came rushing home with the exciting news that government-leased housing was now available for us in the nearby village of Eichenzell. I sighed, at least thankful our main shipment of household goods had not yet arrived from the states and would not have to be moved twice.

The next day, we began repacking and in a carefully loaded car, commenced the first of several trips through the countryside to our new home. In the stir associated with our change of residence, I only mildly realized how pleased I was with the village and how I liked the somewhat small, three bedroom attic apartment, our luck of the draw. But not until late one dark and drizzling night after the whirling activity of the previous few weeks had slowed did I capture a brief but lovely moment that remains with me still.

Alone and quiet for the first time since we had come to Germany, I remember pushing hard against an oddly tilted window and being rewarded by the spray of a fine mist against my face. With my head pushed through the opening, I looked out onto a black roof, it’s rain-soaked clay tiles glistening in the glare of a nearby street light. I knew that in time I would grow accustomed to the sloping walls of this attic apartment and to the feeling of being a bird that had nested on the roof. I remember the autumn chill and that my gown seemed thin, but I didn’t care. I hugged myself and smiled as this was my time—all mine. Three-year-old Stephen was safe and asleep in his warm bed, and my husband slumbered peacefully in our room.

I sat on the barely warm radiator, peering out the bathroom window watching the rain fall on a narrow, cobbled street beneath me. It fell on an immaculate, little garden spot and an open lot beyond. It fell on dark, steep-roofed houses and occasional concrete barns that lined this and other streets winding up the village incline, upward toward us from the businesses below. Though we had moved a few days earlier to the small German town, this was the first time I had taken to be still. I looked and listened and marveled at the unfamiliar world around me.

6 thoughts on “A Long Journey Ends with a Special Memory

  1. Brenda, I truly enjoy your writing! I was left wanting more! More of details of the sweet friend from the airline ride! More of your excursions amid the new “home front”. Lastly, more of the view from your window! Your imagery is wonderful! Love ya!


  2. Donna, while I was putting this on my blog, I did a lot of remembering. I kept thinking as I was transcribing my article to the blog—“and that wasn’t even the half of it.” The times then were rather perilous—hence the reference to the guards with machine guns. But the article could not go on forever! But we loved our time in Germany—though it was seldom easy..


  3. I loved this story of the early years of your life with Marion. Thank you for sharing in such vivid, tight prose.


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