The Early Years

Berlin, as all the various places I’ve been fortunate enough to live, provided another view of our small planet; a different perspective; how people live and interact; the difference in cultures; and that to truly understand our individual lives, both in our own and other societies or cultures, you need to step outside your skin, your comfort zone, the way you’ve always lived, and that by doing so, you gain a much richer, deeper understanding of your place in the world, that your way is not the only way.

My world travels began early in life.  My father was in the military and in the 1950’s we lived in West Germany, England, Formosa (now Taiwan), and France.  I was a young boy in West Germany and the only real memory I have there is being left alone at the hospital when I had my tonsils removed – military hospital regulations did not allow either parent to be present at the time.

From West Germany we moved to England to stay at my grandparents house at 5 Minute Drive, Hays, Middlesex for a while.  By then I was older and my younger brother and I attended an English school, complete with the official school uniform (cap, purple blazer, white shirt. purple/yellow horizontally striped tie, shorts as I wasn’t old enough for “trousers”, and knee high socks).  It was an interesting adjustment as it was painfully obvious I was way behind my English counterparts in education and knowledge.  I needed to catch up quickly and there were a few times I had the pointer applied when I didn’t do my work.  As we lived on the “local economy”, going to an English school, and had English friends, my brother and I were soon speaking the local Cockney dialect with ease.  This proved interesting at my father’s next assignment in Arizona.

Soon my father was transferred to Fort Huachuca, Arizona: a hot, dry, dusty place with little rain; mostly mesa, tumbleweeds, cactus, insects I’d never seen before; mountains I’d only read about; deer walking down Main Street; more open spaces than I imagined existed; and the bluest sky I’d ever seen.  It was a shocking transition from our time in England. Not only was the locale, temperature and environment an exact opposite but the school was different. I’d been behind at the English school; here, I was ahead, an advantage not fully appreciated by my classmates towards someone who just arrived with a thick Cockney accent.  My brother and I would walk down the streets talking and our accent caused Arizonians to stop and look at us in the most peculiar manner.  As time progressed, the accent grew less noticeable and we began to sound more “normal”.

Between school and exploring with my friends, I soon learned about scorpions and how you could catch them, rattlesnakes, the different types of ants, and dozens of other useful items, what to avoid, what was OK.  We watched our dog give birth to puppies; met other military kids from different parts of the United States; and I helped my father build a cactus fence around the yard.

Even the rain at Fort Huachua was different from what I remembered of England.  I only saw one rain storm in Arizona and it was spectacular!  The sky began clouding up and soon huge billowing thunderhead clouds were overhead, thunder and lightening began and the first drops of rain began to fall, a drop here, a drop there.  At first when the raindrops hit the earth, each drop would raise a tiny puff of dust, then the rain began to fall heavier, faster, harder and within minutes, the ground was saturated and fast moving water was flowing everywhere.   A few days later the most amazing thing happened, the mesa around us exploded in color from plant blooms brought on by the rain.  It is a memory still with me today.

The other memorable event from Arizona is when my parents sent me to visit my grandparents in New Orleans, Louisiana.  My father arranged for the porters to look after me during the trip.  I was seven years old on my first trip without my parents.  Train travel in the 1950s was much more widespread than it is today and the ride from Arizona, though Texas, and into New Orleans was fascinating and I remember being glued to the window watching the countryside as the train went clickly-clack towards New Orleans.

We were only in Arizona for about a year before ft. Huachuca was placed on inactive status and my father was reassigned to Formosa (now Taiwan).  We drove to Oakland, California where we boarded a military ship bound for Formosa.  Talk about changes in my life – within a year, I’d lived in two continents, attended three different school systems, been exposed to kids my own age in Germany, England, and from different parts of the US in that short period of time.  And now, after the drive through Arizona, and California, I was on a ship crossing the Pacific ocean.  It was a truly exciting adventure for me.

As I look back to these early years in Germany, England, and Arizona, I see the influences on me in my world view and even my photography.  The dramatic skies, sunsets, and sunrises in Arizona, the deep green forests and trees of England, the vibrant colors I saw in those years, are still with in the back of my mind.

Next…Formosa and France.

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