When we arrived in Slidell, Louisiana after the flight from England, my grandparents and their friends were waiting for us when we arrived at my grandparent’s house. My grandparents were very sad over the lost of their son and expressed great symphathy for my mother and us. In typical southern style all the neighbours brought food to my grandparent’s house and kept telling us to eat; everyone was rushing around talking to my mother; making sure the three of us were OK; and I felt in a daze from the whirlwind of activity. Soon things settled down and my grandparents and my mother were talking by themselves, ocassionally looking at us standing together not too far away.
We had stayed at my grandparents house at 5 Minute Drive, Hays, Middlesex, England for some days before we flew back to the Uhited States, so the military had time to ship my father’s casket back to Slidell to arrive before we did. The funeral arrangements were made and soon it was time to say goodbye to my father. When I looked at him he didn’t look like my father anymore but as the eldest, I was expected to kiss him goodbye before the casket was sealed and he was buried. It was very difficult for me to do so as I didn’t want kiss him on the forehead and I missed him. At the burial site the eulogy was said and as my father had died on active duty, there was an honor guard present. At the correct time the Honor Guard bugler put his bugle to his lips and played Taps and the Honor Guard fired three volleys in his honor. As I look back it seemed so surreal, the sun was out, the grass was green, the American flag draped over my father’s casket and the colors seemed so vivid. Everyone was somber and I was lost. The falg was folded and the Honor Guard commander presented it to my mother very solemnly and expressed his sympathy for our loss. Then the casket was lowered, we all took turns tossing earth on his casket and then we returned to my grandparents house where the neighbours had gathered once again with a huge amount of food for everyone.
As we had no where to go, my grandparents told my mother to stay as long as she wanted until things could be sorted out. The next day my grandfather and my mother took my brother and I to the nearby school to be registered to keep our education up until we found somewhere permanent to live.
I believe this was my thirteenth school system and once again, I had to learn to fit in. This time, however, it was a different experience from all the other schools I joined. I was on home turf back in the city where I was born, New Orleans, Although born in Louisiana, I had spent very little time there and didn’t really fit in. It didn’t matter that I had been born in Louisiana 13 years ago, that my father was from New Orleans, my grandparents had lived there for decades…the kids didn’t know me, didn’t like that I spoke with a slight English accent with no trace of southern in my speech, and so, I was the outsider, the foreigner, the new kid in the school that wasn’t “like us”. I was used to this by now from shuttling from one school system to another in different parts of the world so I made friends with those I could and did my best to fit in.
As I look back, this was very ironic. When I was in school in Taiwan where you were born decided what team you were on, regardless of who your friends were, it simply didn’t matter. When the teams for whatever game were formed, you were automatically assigned to either the “Southern” team or the “Northern” team. As I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was always on the southern side. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t understand it now. The only way to avoid this arbitrary division was simple – just don’t play. And, on many occasions, I decided not to. Yet, when I was in Louisiana going to school in Slidell, I didn’t fit in as I wasn’t “southern” enough, even though, again, I was born in New Orleans. Crazy, simply crazy logic. However we weren’t there too long as my mother decided to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico to live.
The decision to move to Albuquerque wasn’t completely out of the blue. When we were in France, one of the hot topics amongst the military members in Etain and Verdun was the best place to live once you retired. Albuquerque was considered a good place for a number of reasons: Low cost of living and two military bases in the area, Sandia Army Base and Kirkland Air Force base. Both were critical factors to my mother as my father had died before he had 20 years in so the only money we had was his insurance policy and Social Security for the three of us kids. In either case, it wasn’t a lot of money. Once this was decided, my mother let my grandparents know and we began to make preparations for the drive to New Mexico.
I was excited over this. I had read about the Wild West, the great state of Texas, the Alamo, Billie the Kid and his final end in New Mexico and I couldn’t wait until we left. Even though I had lived in Arizona, this was different as I was younger in Arizona and had read about the Wild West yet. Another irony in many way for Arizona was a western state and had its own fascinating history as well. When I look back on my time in Arizona I remembered my father did take us to a number of places, Tombstone, reenactment of the Gun Fight at the OK Corral, Boot Hill and other Arizona sights. Somehow I misplaced those memories in my haste to drive through Texas where I knew I would see bleached cow skulls, broken down wagons, the Chisholm Trail, abandoned US Cavalry forts and outposts, and other historical places that I’d read about.
My mother began taking sort of our things, packed and loaded the car and the next morning, we said goodby to my grandparents and set off for New Mexico in the big green merc. As I looked back as we driving away I could see my grandparents waving goodby to us. Little did I know that the last time I would see my grandfather and wouldn’t see my grandmother for over 20 years.
Next: Texas to Albuquerque.