Tag Archives: Family

Monday Memories – Ready, Set, Go!

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

We moved from Paris, France to Germany in the middle of a cold, rainy January. The holidays were behind us, the trip to Nice and the Mediterranean a lovely memory of Christmas with Americans, the long lavender fields of Provence and the smell of French perfume wafting through the air. Although the trip had been fraught with the knowledge we would be leaving for the US, we had learned of the change in orders when we returned home to our apartment on Boulevard Victor Hugo. We would be moving with all the NATO allies to Germany and not returning to the US as anticipated.

There was a flurry of contact with all my classmates. Where were they going? When were they leaving? We wrote notes between classes, stuffed into our lockers with phone numbers, addresses and contact requests. “Please be sure to remember me when you move.” We begged each other to send letters and addresses as soon as we knew where we were going. And then, one day a friend was  missing from the bus, or another from a class. The lunch table emptied over the several weeks after our holiday break. Orders for the military called for families to pack and leave at a moments notice. Ours, as civilians, were almost the same. We would be moving to Stuttgart, Germany in a matter of days.

I returned from school to find my mother packing our belongings into the large suitcases purchased the previous June. This move would be just four of our family of five. My older brother was in England, attending the University of Manchester. My father returned from the NATO base with a file folder full of information about our new location. Orders to report in one weeks time left us little time to pack up, travel across the country, cross the border and find our new home. As civilians, we had time to pack as a family, say our goodbyes and begin the trip across France to Germany. Our car was filled with our suitcases, household goods purchased during our stay and my mother’s plants. Never one to be without a flower or green plant to add to our home, she made sure the plants were packed into the car. Many years later, I am the same.

I said goodbye to my friends at school, rode the bus one more day from our apartment and then it was time. The box of croissants reminded me of the familiar areas of Paris and hinted of the wonderful breads of the Germans. We would discover the rich bread of Bavaria, beer of the Garmisch region and the  wonderful Black Forest traditions of southern Germany. We were on another adventure. I would learn to appreciate a love of food, entertainment and the outdoors. I would travel by trolley, bus and train to learn the German culture. Little did I know, the adventure was a roller coaster of fun, laughs and good times. Typically German.

I learned later of the beauty of Germany, I studied ballet in a world-famous ballet school. I traveled through the beauty of a rebuilt and occupied Germany, Austria and into Switzerland. As we set off that cold rainy day, I promised myself I would learn German, live fully in the German culture and learn how to be European rather than an ex-pat. The years that followed that trip from Paris were full of adventures and eventful escapades, many laughs and the most fun. Little did I realize the importance of that move, more than any other, it would change my life.

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Monday Memories – Holidays

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

Christmas tradition in our family changed radically from the central focus of home and family to travel and adventure. We now lived in Paris France and were comfortable with our new routines and apartment living. We observed the understated preparations of our neighbors for the holiday season, and remembered our American neighbors’ lights and outdoor decorations. There were wreaths on the doors, pine boughs in planters near the gates and ornaments hung from the lamp posts on the streets but no lights or grand displays in public places. We began to discuss how the family would celebrate our first Christmas in Europe and my parents’ twenty fifth wedding anniversary. My mother wanted to travel and so it was decided, we would travel through France to the Mediterranean Sea and spend our holiday in the French towns of Cannes and Nice, on the Riviera.

A trip at Christmas was a departure from the family oriented, small town celebration I knew for the past decade. Christmas Eve was my parents’ anniversary and always spent with my mother’s extended family. Christmas morning was at home and later, a trip to my father’s family for another celebration. That all changed in 1966, as my mother researched our route and planned the many chateaus and cathedrals we would stop and visit along the way south. The excitement began to build as we planned gifts to pack, ideas of silver anniversary celebrations were discussed and the maps appeared outlining our route. We would stop in Rouen, Avignon and explore Chenenceaux, Chambord and the perfume farms in coastal France. Cathedrals attended by Joan of Arc were on the list as well as the renowned bridge in Avignon. We shimmered with anticipation.

Disaster struck the day we were to leave on our 10 day adventure. Due to a delayed departure, my father discovered a change in plans with his job. De Gaulle had withdrawn his agreement for American forces, NATO and SHAPE headquarters were no longer to be in Paris but moved to Belgium and Germany. Many of the employees were being sent back to the US and that day, my father was included in those to return to the States.  The trip that had been long anticipated was now a diversion from the inevitable move back to America. Reluctantly, we left our apartment and set off to savor our one and only trip through France before packing our belongings for another move. We were disappointed but resigned. The car was packed, the excitement diminished but not gone and we set off.

The change in plans added a new quality to our visits en route to Provence. The chateaus were magnificent and free of the summer tourists that crowd each one in the Loire valley. We walked the paths of the French aristocracy, viewed the portrait galleries in each home and walked through the maze of the cathedral in Rouen. Arriving in Nice, we were weary tourists ready to share the holiday with US sailors in port for Christmas. My brothers and I went in search of a memorable anniversary gift while my mother planned our Christmas Eve adventure. Of course it included a “short walk to the top of a mountain for the table of orientation” which would highlight the distant landmarks. We discovered a centuries old silversmith while my mother read the Michelin guide to glean the area’s history.

After a “petite dejeuner” of croissants and black coffee, we set out for our morning walk. The path was rocky, through dense undergrowth and poorly marked. We wandered off course and three long hours later discovered a cement marker, the table of orientation, at the top of a goat field. The goats were our only companions as rain began to fall and we wearily set off down the mountain. This was not the Christmas Eve tradition of our past, but a test of our endurance. The quick thirty minute climb had turned into a multi hour-long hike. When we finally found our car, we discovered my father had carried a pine branch found on the ground near the top. It became our Christmas tree when wound through the chandelier in the hotel room and decorated with jewelry.

Later that evening, my mother asked about Christmas Eve services at a local church. Yes, she was told, there is an English church within walking distance but you must hurry. We hurriedly gathered our coats and walked the short two blocks to a small church tucked between shops near the waterfront. Entering the old stone building, we heard the familiar carols played and saw the many sailors scattered in the congregation. My memory of the service centers on the sound of “Silent Night” sung by so many Americans far from home, yet celebrating a beloved holiday together.  We were all Americans sharing our traditions in a small church in France, a true congregation.

The remainder of the trip was less eventful, a trip to Cannes, to Italy and then the long trip back to Paris. Our return was somber as the move to the states in January returned to our conversations. We returned to school and work determined to enjoy whatever time was left. Imagine our surprise when my father announced the sudden change of plans he had learned that day. “Pack your bags, but not for the US, ” he said, “We will be moving to Germany.” And so, the adventure would continue.

 

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Monday Memories – School Days

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

Out the door, into the elevator and down the walk to the gold tipped iron gate at the street, we raced to be on time. My brother and I were to ride the bus to school, a great army green hulk of a bus, a relic of the post war years. There were no bus routes in my small American town, we walked the few blocks to and from school.  Our new home in St. Germain was miles from the American school provided by the military for dependents. The bus would wind through the narrow local streets, drive over the motorway and deposit us at the sprawling campus of Paris American High School. The sound of grinding gears preceded the bus as it rounded the corner and stopped at our gate. I hoped I’d remember the seat hierarchy outlined by my new friend, Carmen. Elementary up front, junior high behind them and the last four rows for the high school students. Bus seats were as important as the lunch table chosen in the cafeteria. New to bus rides, I found the fifth seat from the rear and grabbed the “chicken bar” as the driver roared away to the next stop. We stopped countless times, sometimes waiting for several minutes for the latecomers to race onto the bus with toast, books, and jackets flying around them.

The ride to school was 45 minutes from our gate and would be reversed at the end of the day. No late buses for sports or after school clubs, there was one bus for our area and everybody would start school at the same time. We arrived at the campus, entering through the gate with guards standing at attention and barbed wire surrounding the complex. There were so many buildings, the elementary school, the three-story high school with its junior high wing and the sports center behind. Two gated entrances were guarded by MP’s who ensured our safety in the middle of Paris. The students were “Army Brats”,  kids of NATO members, civilians with military clearance and the children of diplomats assigned to SHAPE headquarters. We all rode the same army green buses, all felt the first day jitters and all entered the typical American brick building for the start of the school year. No segregation due to rank, race or culture, we were American dependents continuing our education.

I was the new kid in class yet most there were new to the area. Military families moved often and starting at a new school was common. My school in the US was small compared to the multi level, spidering hallway building I entered. There was the challenge of finding the room, the locker, the gym and especially, the cafeteria. I was amazed to survive that first few days, amazed to find the gym locker rooms where I changed clothes from mini skirt to midi blouse and bloomer shorts, amazed to find the cafeteria with the trays and food lines and hundreds of kids. I had walked home at lunchtime throughout my early school days, but now encountered lunch lines, cafeteria food and keeping lunch money; I learned a whole new way of life. It was a full day of new experiences without opening a book.

At day’s end, the process reversed and we swarmed the buses lined along the sidewalk. No stenciled numbers, rather the overhead sign illuminated the bus routes. I searched for familiar faces and assured myself I would find the correct bus. I sank thankfully into my appropriate seat across from the other bewildered students and watched carefully for my brother and his friends. Fortunately there was a stop at the army base before my town, I could always stop there and wait for a general transport bus if I had boarded the wrong bus. The ride home was loud with daily recaps of schedules, mistaken classrooms and late notices and the singing from the front seats. Our driver, a seemingly ancient Algerian, smoked Gauloise cigarettes and winked at the girls, he would mutter in French as we neared each stop. Later in the fall, he would make a quick pit stop before my stop and relieve himself on the rear wheel of the bus before continuing on to my gate. The afternoon ride was comedy in action with the personalities involved.

I was a Paris Pirate for 5 short months. The lessons learned were varied and basic, more learning of life than academics. Memories of French bubblegum chewed secretively in gym class, the long lockers crammed with coats, sneakers and texts, the smell of the cafeteria on spaghetti Friday and the posters for Prom at the Eiffel Tower revolve in my mind. Those memories provided confidence for every job and school change when being the “newbie” could never be quite as terrifying as that first day, that first bus ride to a sprawling school campus dropped in the middle of Paris.

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Dinner Out

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

I left the small suburban town in America and moved to Paris at age 13. Our family had shared many happy family meals around the small oak table in our home yet I had yet to experience a restaurant like the Officer’s Club in Paris. The night was magical, the setting from a movie set. Red velvet draperies, crisp white linen tablecloths, silver table settings and a young girl set on living a dream.

My father had been living in Paris for several months before the family joined him. His daily routine had included many evenings at the Officer’s Club, with colleagues from his office, sharing a meal, ending a workday and our arrival did nothing to change that. We were going “out to dinner.” For some, this is a usual event, nothing special, yet for me, it was a magical night complete with a display of Paris couturier finery and a drive along the Seine.

The room was in an old pre-war building with high ceilings and long windows open to the summer evening. The maitre ‘d met us at the entrance and escorted us to the table. Silver service sparkled on the table, the linen napkins crisply folded at each seat. We were seated at a round table on the edge of the dance floor. My eyes were wide with anticipation, I had never been in a restaurant like this, there was a dance floor, four piece band and the lights of Paris outside our window. Seating us, the maitre ‘d snapped our napkins open and spread them on our laps. My father’s eyes twinkled with amusement and anticipation of sharing this experience with us. My mother leaned in and whispered her excitement.

We had dressed for dinner in our “best” clothes, a simple habit from my father’s youth. My lace dress seemed too drab for the elegance surrounding us, there were officer’s wives in evening gowns. Seated at our table we peered out at the room. Soft conversation surrounded us, the drapes absorbing the sounds of the diners. The tuxedoed waiters brought a basket of fresh French bread to the table. Oh glorious, it smelled like heaven, yeasty and crisp, the crust mad e crumbs on the tablecloth. My father reached across the table to show me how to rest the broken bread on my knife after buttering each bite. Such a small thing to remember all these years later.

We ordered the filet, a delicacy I had never experienced. Filet mignon, served with new potatoes and French string beans. A simple American dish, prepared by a French chef for newly relocated Americans. I’d never heard of the dish let alone had it prepared to my instructions. The waiter filled water glasses, scraped crumbs from the tablecloth and hovered attentively at the edge of the room. I absorbed every detail of the evening, from the taste of the food, the service of the wait staff and the sounds of the small band playing for the dancers. My parents left me at the table and headed toward the dance floor in between courses. Where had they learned to dance so effortlessly? When had they learned the etiquette of an elegant evening? I was learning every moment.

The evening wound on, the meal was complete with an eclair, served with powdered sugar on a lace doily. I wasn’t in New Jersey anymore. The wine, the sounds of other diners and the lateness of the hour had me nodding at my place. And then with some excitement, the room came alive as rack after rack of clothes were wheeled  on the square dance floor on display for the women in attendance. The waiters hovered expectantly as the wives rose and perused the offerings. Coats, jackets and gowns were offered to the women, all Paris originals and dazzling to my eyes. I asked my father, “Does this happen all the  time or is this a special occasion?” “It happens every night,” he replied. Oh my, Paris originals at my fingertips. First, filet mignon, now designer clothing. Would the evening have any more magic?

I learned to expect the Officer’s Club on Thursday nights. I learned the magic could include a moonlit drive along the Seine, a soft summer walk along the banks. I learned we had begun a new life in Paris that would change my way of looking at life and I would never forget that first restaurant experience. Designer clothes, crisp linens and a hovering wait staff serving a meal I couldn’t have imagined. Magic could happen, it was up to me to decide if it could last.

 

 

 

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DP Challenge – Steps Along the Past

My mother told me the news at lunch on a cold February day during our mid-winter break. Our family was moving to Paris. Yes, Paris France, the city of Les Mis, the Bastille, Marie Antoinette and an eager American teenager. The plan was for my father to go ahead, establish his place in the workforce, find a home for the family and then send for us to come after our school was finished in June. The plan left the majority of the work to my mother, to prepare our small suburban home for rental, gather our school records, sort through belongings to store or sell, schedule immunizations and maintain our life in New Jersey. There seemed to be so much time between the announcement and the departure. I was on the brink of adolescence and cranky teenaged angst. The February announcement would forever change my life and by June 1966 I would begin to walk a different path than that of the ordinary suburban schoolgirl I had been.

My father left first, in March. I remember taking him to the airport on a cold March afternoon, driving through the dark slushy streets in a car loaded with his entire wardrobe of suits, ties, casual clothes and at least one hat. It was 1966 and dapper men wore hats and overcoats, suits and ties and shiny shoes. My mother was remembering all the details of their last separation during World War II. I hoped this would be shorter. “Do you have your passport, your traveller’s checks and the ticket?” my mother asked over and over. “Yes, dear,” he repeated to her every question. I had never thought he would be gone, not present every night at the dinner table, presiding over the family supper with jokes and job stories. Yet, here he was, leaving on a jet plane with hugs and kisses, tears welling in his eyes as he looked one last time at my mother. In a moment, he was gone with his heavy suitcases and his leather briefcase. We watched as long as we could.

Predictably, my mother accomplished miracles in the next three months. She organized repairs on the house, scheduled my brothers and my immunizations, prepared the paperwork for our passports and turned over her Women’s Club presidency. I remember walking into the house from school to hear an attic floor being hammered into place, the noise reverberating throughout the neighborhood. My brother and uncle were preparing a storage area for our furniture and personal treasures. While they hammered sheets of plywood into place, my mother was supervising the workmen setting new steps and a walkway at the front door. Weeks of endless workdays, hectic schedules and farewell parties almost overwhelmed her but at last, the house was empty, the back steps had fresh paint, the dog had a new home and the four of us were loaded into cars en route to JFK airport for a Pan Am flight to Orly airport in Paris.  The family was moving to a two bedroom apartment in Ste. Germain-en-Laye, France. The transformation was underway.

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Still Family

Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday. At least, she was my sister-in-law for many years until they divorced. Does that make her my “ex” sister-in-law or does she just become another person from the past?

I am reminded of a conversation I had with my was-band prior to our divorce. We had been married for twenty years, had two great children and shared extended family during that time. Now we were separating and I planned a trip with the kids to his parent’s home. During our discussion, he told me to “leave his family alone and get my own.” What a surprise to discover the people who I’d entertained after our children’s births, visited in hospitals, shared holiday meals with and attended funerals beside were no longer “my” family. Twenty years shared do not make them family? How was that possible? When did the line break, the in-law become outlaw for me?

I recently hosted a dinner honoring our son and his fiancée. They were the guests of honor and chose the people to attend. They wanted their family to attend and so the invitations went to all those in-laws of mine from long ago. They are still my children’s’ aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, although no longer my in-laws. Strange to make the separation.

It was a lovely dinner, with all those in-laws (and the was-band and his current amour) and I was glad to share the occasion with “my family.” Divorce cuts ties with spouses, not with family and that is the lesson we’ve shared with our children.

Happy birthday, sister-in-law, wherever you are, I hope it is a happy occasion and you are surrounded with love. You are still family.

'Ohana means family - no one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten.  ~ Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois


‘Ohana means family – no one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten. ~ Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois

 

 

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First Person Singular

I am a single parent, confirmed by the judge on Wednesday. Of course, the was-band is still the sperm donor, however, given his unwillingness to provide sustenance and support, I classify myself as a single parent. Initially, this realization creates a sense of panic when I realize I am solely responsible for this child of my heart. How will I manage? How will I find the strength to address all the little issues of life, like finding toothpaste or where socks go in the wash? How can I support a Pumpkin Soy Latte habit on a Perked at Home budget? The order from the court seems overwhelming until I realize I have been a single parent for ten years. The order from the court is merely a legal recognition of fact.

We arrived at this point after ten years of wrangling over responsibilities accepted and ignored. Entering the foreign courtroom is reminiscent of previous court appearances with one exception. This is my final appearance.  I let go of the need to explain, the need to convince and the need to force responsibility. He is a deadbeat and I am not. He is unwilling to provide, to love and cherish. I am not. I have succeeded, created adult relationships with my children. I move toward the future free from the narcissism, the greed, the felonious behavior. Whatever he decides to do, whether he follows the order or not, I know I am a single parent. I am blessed.

There is no longer panic when I realize I can savor the acceptance to college, the high school graduation with honors, and her move to college.  I can enjoy the thrill of her first job, apartment and success. I can cherish the young couple finding their way in marriage. I know they are ready.

I am a single parent and life is good.

First Person Singular

First Person Singular

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