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  • Writer's picturechristaleigh

Where Would Mom Put The Lions?

Recently, I added a trip to my bucket list that will take me back to every place I have ever lived.  I’ll need like two months and unlimited resources, so I’m thinking about starting a gofundme or kickstarter….  (JUST KIDDING).  But seriously-

I have made some big decisions for some even bigger changes in my life and one of the things I will do is walk back through my childhood to see what is left of the world that raised me.

Clark Air Force Base was shut down in the 90’s after Mount Pinatubo erupted.  Somewhere in all of my tangible memories, I have a copy of a Stars and Stripes newspaper that we obtained, I think, while we were in Italy when the American Flag was retired from its residence in the Philippines.  A few days ago I was flirting with the idea of doing an IronMan sometime next fall, and I happened to find one in Subic Bay.  I sent my dad a text asking him if he wanted to take a trip to the the place where I was born with me to swim/bike/run.

He told me there were plenty of races to run in Florida and then sent me these:

Hospital where I was born (above)

Clark AFB, PI

I think his intention was to deter me from wanting to go to the Philippines, but I honestly can’t think of anything more awesome than wandering around an old abandoned hospital on an island in the South China Sea.  So, he probably won’t be surprised when I make travel plans…

From there my family moved to Patrick AFB, FL.  My earliest childhood memories are of the house rumbling whenever there was a launch, and how the flag on the side of the building at the Kennedy Space Center seemed larger than life. My dad was in 2nd Combat Communications Squadron and I wasn’t old enough yet to understand anything about our life, but I remember that it was cool being there because my aunts and uncles and grandparents all lived relatively nearby in military brat measurements of distance.  I’ve been back to Patrick a couple of times over the years, once not too long ago, and I was fortunate enough to take my daughter.  It’s hard to believe that so much of my life growing up was in places that people pay premium dollars to live, a five minute walk from the beach…

And from there, we landed in Germany.  I was there from the end of Kindergarten to the fifth grade.

Our first apartment was in the small town of Bahn, not too far from a hospital in Landstuhl.  I remember that hospital because (I’ll have to fact check this with my mother) I was reaching behind one of those big steel water space heaters in the dead of winter to get a headband I had dropped, and the heater tipped over and fell on me.  Anyway, I have this memory of a really nice doctor there hitting my knees with one of those knee-jerk-reaction tools.  I also remember that we had an old car that always smelled like gasoline in the back seat and that when it snowed, it was pure magic.

Every little girl should grow up in a place like this, because I got to walk through real castles.  I believe that my imagination took on it’s strength from living in this place.  I tried to find a picture of the cannonball that I know is lodged in one of the walls at this castle that stood near where we lived… we used to take visiting family there and went fairly frequently. Every time, I would sit in the courtyard and stare at that cannonball and try to imagine what life was like back when it got stuck there.

I couldn’t find that on google earth, but I did find several other interesting ones.

Georgia was up next, and this was by far the least interesting place we ever lived.  It was hot and humid, but I met one of my very best friends in the fifth grade there.  It was also the place where I really began to form the lenses through which I would see the world.

My dad was in the 5th MOB there, which at the time was adult-speak for “gone all the time”.  I think that when we lived here, it was the first time I experienced feeling alone even though I was rarely actually alone.  My brother had a girlfriend and wanted nothing to do with me, my mom always seemed stressed out and it was middle school.  I was awkward, and my glasses were too big and my hair was too short and it was the first time I went to school with kids who weren’t military brats.  Civilian kids were meaner.  Civilian kids never left.  Civilian kids knew each other, and their parents worked normal jobs.  It wasn’t fun.  Except for the time my mom took me and Jenni to Six Flags and we rode this one wooden roller coaster until it got dark… it was a military family appreciation day and in exchange for my dad being off in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, someone saw fit to let dependents enjoy a day of amusement park fun.  That is, hands down, one of my only good memories of Georgia.

In the summer before the eighth grade, we got orders to Italy.  I started school in Georgia for something like four or six weeks before my mom moved us down to Jacksonville as we waited in some kind of military purgatory before we went to Italy.  I went to middle school there for maybe six weeks.  I remember thinking how pointless it was to even try to make friends, even though the kids there hadn’t had much exposure to military brats and thought it was pretty cool that I was heading to Europe to live…  It’s weird, being thirteen and realizing that people are never forever.

The memories I have of Gaeta, Italy, are the same ones everyone has from their high school years.  Either you were awkward and out of place in high school or you were popular and fit in and your picture is plastered all over the year book as evidence that you conquered your teenage years.  I was more of the former, and less of the latter.  High school in Italy was just another stop before real life began.  I fell in love for the first time there, and I just wanted whatever was on the other side of a life that didn’t have orders every few years.

Italy led us to New Mexico, of all places.

My parents kept moving.  To Florida, back to New Mexico, to Virginia and Florida again.

The desert southwest held me for a long time, for reasons that became clear only recently.

Sometimes I think about how lucky people are to have a place where they ‘come from’.  A ‘home’ that they associate with their childhood and youth, a place that they can return to in order to remember things more clearly.  Most of what I remember from growing up is that I never really felt at home anywhere.  I felt like people and places were as fluid as water and that everything came and went like sunrises and sunsets.

There are a lot of wonderful, beautiful things about the way I was raised.  But it took me a long time as an adult to even understand what it meant to be ‘home’.

When I try to remember the details from my adolescence, there is only one thing that I can say ever made me feel like I know what ‘home’ is.

My mom has this tapestry she bought in the Philippines:

Every place we have ever lived, I have always associated this image as being ‘home’.  She still hangs it in a prominent room in every house or apartment they occupy (seriously, they move a lot, still…) and I have made it known that one day, I want this to be mine.  I think about it often, and have thought about it in every home I have occupied as an adult.  When moving in to a new space, I always think to myself, ‘where would mom put the lions?’… and then, oddly, I feel at home.

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