The Early Years: Kentucky and England

Before I begin, I would like to digress for a moment.  We live in Graham, Washington State, a small town in rural Pierce County.  We’ve lived here for about 26 years and have seen the area build up considerably.  One of the areas that cannot be built up in our area is a marsh not too far away and periodically, I’ll go there for a walk.  Late Tuesday afternoon the weather was wonderful, a fall crisp snap in the air, the sky that soft blue I’ve only seen in northern latitude climates, and I decided to go for a short walk with Zaya, my son’s German “Shedder” as we affectionally call her.  We walked little over a 1/2 mile and turned around so I could be back for the Presidential Town Hall meeting.

On the way back, in a stand of trees that I had recently passed on the southern side of the road, there were now hundreds and hundreds of birds wheeling overhead from tree to tree, singing all the while.  It was absolutely spectacular – I was in the midst of an avian concert on a beautiful fall afternoon.  I stopped just listen to the glorious sound overhead wishing I could share this moment with the world.  Suddenly I realized I had my iPhone with me and began to record the Avian Symphony to share with you.  I hope you find it as enjoyable as I did.

Now, to today’s post…

The ship passage from to Taiwan to the United States was not as memorable as the trip to Taiwan.  There was a lot of tension between my parents, my father seemed in a glum mood about being reassigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and to top things off, some of my parents friends who had left Taiwan earlier had arranged to have their dog sent back on the same ship we were on and had asked my parents to care for her during the passage.   My parents said OK and tasked me with taking care of the animal.  Everyday I would go to the area where they kept the dog (others were there too), made sure she had food and fresh water, cleaned out the cage as needed and walked her as often as I could. Occasionally my parents would also go with me to make sure everything was OK.

As the ship slowly made the journey across the Pacific, it soon became obvious that the dog was not doing well: she was away from her family, cooped up in a cage the majority of the time, and in spite of how much time I spent with her or how often I took her out of her cage, she was beginning to eat less and less.  When the ship finally docked in Oakland, my parents friends met us and when they saw their dog, they accused us of neglect, of not looking after her and not feeding her properly.  No matter how my parents tried to explain that was the case, that we looked after her everyday, it was of no avail.  The dog’s owners left angrily and my parents were very upset over the whole situation.  It was not an auspicious beginning for the cross country trip from Oakland to Ft. Knox still ahead of us.

The 1956 Ford station wagon was soon off loaded from the ship and our cross-country trip to Kentucky began.  At first it was tense and I kept my eyes glued to window watching the country side roll by.  We began to play different games and it helped pass the time and soon we were at the front gates of Fort Knox.

Being at Fort Knox was a culture shock to all of us after being in Taiwan.  We lived on the “economy” as there was no base housing available.  I was quickly enrolled in the nearby school with kids my age who had grown up together and acutely disliked “army brats” such as myself.  Once again I found myself in school where my education was not up to the new school’s standards.  It wasn’t so much whether I was ahead or behind, it was simply a different curiculium then the schools I had been to so I had a lot to catch up on.  A few months later base housing became available and when we moved in, I was enrolled in the base elementary school, where, again, there was a different curriculum that I had to adjust to.

We had been at Fort Knox for approximately nine months when my father received assignment orders for the Armed Forces Radio Network, Verdun, France.  When he received his orders he was also informed that he would be assigned housing at Etain, not far from Verdun, when it became available once placed on a waiting list upon arrival. My father made arrangements for my mother and us to stay at my grandparents house at 5 Minute Drive, Hays, Middlesex, England until base housing became available in France.

For the second time in less than a year, we packed up, drove to the east coast where we boarded a ship for passage to England.  The passage across the Atlantic was much shorter this time and within hours after debarking, we arrived at my grandparent’s house.  We settled in quickly, my father made arrangements for my younger brother and I to attend an American school and soon after, he left for France.

Life in England during his absence was OK. I got my very first library card; my brother and I attempted to introduce baseball to some of the British kids our age – a very short lived experiment when one of the older teenagers threw the baseball directly at one of the kids, hit him in the forehead, broke his glasses and we all scatted when his mother charged out of her house when she saw him fall down (it turned out that, other that a goose egg sized bump on his forehead, he was alright and his glasses could be repaired); and I spent a lot of time with my grandfather.

My grandfather took me on many of his walks when he went out on weekends to run errands.  He took me out for my my first “fish & chips” served in a newspaper with malt vinegar.  He was a train conductor for the British Railway and he would sometimes take me with him for the day when he was working.  One day, we came home and when my grandmother saw that I had two big bottles of beer under my arms, she was shocked that my grandfather would permit such a thing and what would the neighbors think.  My grandfather looked contrite, glanced down at me, winked and said, “it’s all right lad”.

My brother and I realized that a U.S. dime would work in the vending machines as it was exactly the same size as a 6 pence piece and so we went all over Hays using our dimes to buy candy, chips, and so forth, all the while thinking how clever we were.  One day there was a knock on the front door and when my grandmother opened the door, there were a number of the local merchants with bags of dimes in their hands and told my grandmother and mother that they began noticing dimes in their machines and, as we were the only American kids in the area, we must not have realized that a dime is not the same as 6 pence and that we shouldn’t be using dimes to purchase items.  Then, they added that, as this was surely a mistake, it would be nice if this could be solved amicably.  My mother reimbursed the merchants and my brother and I worked many, many hours doing whatever my mother and grandmother needed done to repay my mother for our crime spree.

After a few months, my mother said we had been assigned quarters in Etaine, France, not too far from Verdun and that our father would be here in a few days to drive us there.  I was very glad to hear this as we would soon be with our father in our own place.

Next stop France!

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