Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

In 1945 my dad was 17 years old, a new high school graduate, when he went west to join the Navy.  While he was in boot camp in San Diego, the war ended.  Nevertheless, he went on to serve on a minesweeper in the Pacific.  He used to tell stories about standing on the bridge of the ship with a rifle.  When the lookout spotted a mine, they would draw up near it, and shoot it with the rifle until it exploded.  High tech stuff back then.  It doesn’t seem like much now, but I guess they were doing an important job, making sure the ocean was safe again.  He told stories about salt water showers and how miserably hot it was on the boat.  He had a lot of Navy-isms, like “Take all you want, but eat all you take.”  He spent time in Subic Bay, Philippines; ironic that we ended up coming back to the P.I. all those years later.  It’s times like these that I wish I had gotten him to tell me more stories about his Navy life.

He only served a year before returning to the states for college at the University of Texas, on the GI Bill, like so many other veterans of the day.  He graduated in 1950 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

My grandfather, my dad’s father, was a doughboy in World War I.  I have seen a picture of him in his uniform, but I don’t know where or what became of it.  I don’t know if he ever saw combat, but I do know that everyone who served played a part in the outcome, whether it was a foot soldier or an ambulance driver or a weatherman. 

My mother’s father was gassed in World War I, and he died at a very young age in 1934, as a result of his injuries.  My mother was only four years old when he died, so she never really knew him. 

It’s not very ladylike, but I am so curious and fascinated about war and history.  About the type of people with such courage, such selflessness.  My bookshelves are lined with books about the Pacific theater of World War II.  From where I sit I can see a book by Stephen F. Ambrose called “The Wild Blue” about WWII aviators.  Next to it is a book called “Duty” by Bob Greene, a memoir about a son getting to know his dying father.  It turned out that Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, lived in their hometown.  Greene got to know Tibbets, and in turn got to know his father, and learned about the mettle of the men who won the war for us.  I recently read “Unbroken” by Lauren Hillenbrand, about an Olympic sprinter who later served in the Army during WWII.  His plane was shot down, and he spent 90+ days with another man on a leaky liferaft, drifting, barely surviving on the fish they could catch.  They were “rescued” by a Japanese ship, only to be sent to a prison camp in Japan.  Their rations were constantly cut in half, so that at the end of the war they were barely more than living skeletons.  The will to survive, to overcome, to live, kept them going.  For many, too many, it wasn’t enough.  

I have books about the Bataan Death March.  I have memoirs about American families (and their children!) who were interned during the war at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, under unbelievably harsh conditions.  There are books about the American nurses who stayed behind after the fall of Corregidor, nursing soldiers in the jungle, exposed to the elements.  The brutality of the Japanese military during the war was unimaginable, but these people survived, with creativity and sheer determination.  In my comfy cozy world, I ask myself often if I would have been one of the smart ones, or would I have given up?  I am struck by the contrast between the Japanese of the war, and the Japanese of the country where I lived as a child.  None of the Japanese that I encountered in my life there were anything but kind, polite and generous.  Their capacity to embrace humility is remarkable. 

In Manila we lived close to Fort Bonifacio, where there was a military cemetery.  I remember the moving sight of the acres and acres of white headstones, not really comprehending what I was seeing.  It meant hundreds and thousands of dead soldiers who gave their lives so that the world could be at peace.  I feel that it is my obligation as a human being, to read about and know the story of these men and women, so that they will be kept alive in our memories, and so that their deaths were not in vain.  

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Perfect joke for a TCK blog ...

An Englishman, a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Welshman, a Gurkha, a Latvian, a Turk, an Aussie, a German, a Yank, an Egyptian, a Japanese, a Mexican, a Spaniard, a Russian, a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Swede, a Finn, an Israeli, a Romanian, a Bulgarian, a Serb, a Swiss, a Greek, a Singaporean, an Italian, a Norwegian, a Libyan, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Zulu, an Indabele, a Xhosa, an Afrikaner, and an Ethiopian walked into a bar.

The bouncer said, "Sorry, I can't let you in without a Thai."

Soundtrack of a TCK

I have heard it said that smell and taste can be the most memory-evoking senses.  A casual stroll into the Japanese pavilion at Epcot, with the smell of lacquered furniture and osimbe crackers, transformed me to my childhood in Tokyo.  The taste of pancit and lumpias reminds me of my halcyon high school years in Manila.  Chicken satay with peanut sauce represents the sad months I spent in Singapore after being uprooted during my senior year.  

The other day, however, I realized that my life also has a musical soundtrack.  Certain music represents the stages of my life; like food, music takes my senses on a historic tour.  I can close my eyes and actually “be” where I heard certain songs, and I can see every minute detail of the room.  The tone of a song from a cheap stereo can represent so many things: the agony of heartbreak and the emptiness of homesickness, but also the ecstasy of being young and carefree.

One of the earliest memories I have of Japan is going to the movies.  There was an introductory sequence before the feature started, with a Rachmaninov symphony playing in the background.  During the film, Japanese subtitles were flashed vertically on the screen.  We had the soundtrack album from “The Sound of Music”, and the text was half in English, half in Japanese.  I was so enamored with the movie that I claimed that I had played the youngest Von Trapp child.  I bragged about it to my friends at school (along with the lie about the baby sister. I guess I was a habitual liar!!) but I don’t think anyone bought it.

My oldest sister Debi was a teenager in Japan, and I used to hang out in her room playing her records.  Of course, The Beatles were among her favorites, but when I hear the early Bee Gees songs (like “Massachusetts”) I can see her room in my mind.  My grandparents once bought her an album by a group called “The Pretty Things”.  I guess they thought their teenage granddaughter would like any music as long as it came from long-haired hippie types.  It was awful!

Living in Connecticut after returning from Japan, my sister was invited to go to some insignificant little rock concert in a town called Woodstock, but my parents wouldn’t let her go.  Oh well, I’m sure she didn’t miss much.

Brussels was my sister Lisa’s high school turf.  Lisa was a talented singer, and she was in a few of the musicals that the school produced, including “Carousel” and “Spoon River”.  She was friends with several boys who played the guitar, and they used to come to our house for jam sessions.  My dad would record their sessions on his reel-to-reel tape recorder.  The music of their time was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Fleetwood Mac, early Elton John and Cat Stevens.  When I hear “Tiny Dancer” I always picture Lisa in her bedroom, putting on makeup, getting ready for the day.  “Sad Lisa” of course makes me sad, because she had so much talent, so much verve and excitement for life, and it was all cut so short.  But in my mind, she is still young, vibrant and beautiful. Recently I had Dad's tapes converted to digital format, and heard her voice again after 30 years.  It was eerie and sad, but in a way made me happy.

The musical theme in Manila was a cacophony of genres.  When we first moved there, someone gave us an album by a Filipina singer, Pilita, who sang a song called “Dahil Sayo” which was a sickly sweet Tagalog love song.  Whenever we went to the movies at the Quad, a local shopping center, we had to stand while the Filipino national anthem was played.  I can still belt out the first verse (which, I was told, is more than some Filipinos can do!) 

“Salsa” music was all the rage and we practiced dancing the salsa in our living room.  The local radio stations played the early R&B music, like “Shining Star” and “The Hustle.”  We all know what happened to the late 1970’s: DISCO!  As much as disco has been excoriated over the years, I still get a thrill when I hear the opening beat of “Dancing Queen” and Barry White’s “Love Unlimited”.  It takes me back to the red velvet walls and plush carpet of the disco “Where Else” in the Manila Intercontinental Hotel.  It was ironic to see the Bee Gees of my earlier childhood evolve into disco superstars.  “Saturday Night Fever” came out in 1977, giving my generation a new collection of anthems.  When I was in Manila for my birthday in May of 1978, my friend Leslie and I went to see the movie, and she gave me the album as a gift.  No wonder that movie and its music make me happy: it represents a supremely joyful week of my life. 

Every rinky-dink restaurant band in Manila could play “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree,” and Morris Albert’s “Feelings.”  The only problem was that some Filipinos have trouble pronouncing the letter “F” and the song became “Peelings.”  We cracked jokes about that love song about bananas. 

Other favorite groups from my Manila times were The Captain & Tenille, Neil Sadaka and Barry Manilow.  I had a thing about musical cheese, apparently. 

When I returned to the states for college, I ran into a huge wall of musical culture shock.  “What, you’ve never heard of BOSTON?  Or Foreigner?  Or Toto?”  I felt like an outcast, musically illiterate.  I was dragged to concerts and given a crash course in rock & roll.  It didn’t take me long to catch up.  Groups like AC/DC, Aerosmith and the Eagles represent my college years. 

Like food, music is a sensory minefield of memories.  Songs that remind me of lost puppy loves can still make me cry.  Certain top-40 songs elicit the tinny sound of my $9.99 clock radio waking me up for 8:00 classes.  I think of my dad listening to his Big Band era music as he waited for us to get dressed for church.  I spent a few weeks with my sister Debi in her apartment once, where I learned all the words to all the songs on Paul Simon's "Kodachrome".  

My personal soundtrack meanders across the globe, much like my life itself.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Last Sunday I had a birthday, making it halfway to 102, as my daughter delights in reminding me.  (You’re old mom!)  We had an action-packed day, kayaking on the Catawba River, then dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant (a bottle of red, a bottle of white, la la la!).  I was surrounded by the people I love the most: my fiancĂ© and my children.  I felt very special (even when the kids were sniping and squabbling about who’s going to sit next to whom; does it ever stop??).  In less than three months I’m going to be married to the love of my life, and I hope we get to some day celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.  Life is good.  Money is tight and unemployment sucks, but I can’t help but see the proverbial half-full glass.  

I thought about all the birthdays I’ve had in my life as a TCK.  My mother went to great lengths every year to create a memory for me.  For my first birthday in Japan, she made an enormous crepe paper poster of a flower, with a hole in the middle cut out.  All of my party guests had their pictures taken with their faces in the flower.  The next year, she ramped it up with a party at the Tokyo American Club, with a Japanese magician who pulled a LIVE GOLDFISH out of my father’s suit pocket.  I don’t know if she was competing with all of the other mothers: one party I went to was a Barbie fashion show, complete with a mini catwalk and an emcee.  We all took turns “walking” our dolls down the runway.  Nevertheless, I always felt that my parties were the best.  Mom was a Jackie Kennedy look-a-like, and she always threw a party (even a kids’ one) with grace and elegance.

For my 11th birthday in Brussels, Mom somehow was able to get me a Hostess Fruit Pie.  These were my favorite childhood treat, but unavailable in Europe.  I don’t know if she had a friend who had commissary privileges or what, but I remember how happy I was to have it, as the sugary crust melted in my mouth and the lemony filling infused me with deliciousness. 

My 12th birthday in Brussels.  I am the weird one trying to make my cake into a crystal ball.

And it wasn’t just my birthdays that were memorable.  One year we celebrated my dad’s birthday on a freighter in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on the way from California to Yokohama.  We bought him some men’s hairspray as a joke.  Who knew that in a decade or two, men’s hairspray was de rigeur for most of the world’s male population? 

The first birthday I spent away from my family was when I turned 17.  Mom and I flew from Manila to Brussels, where she dropped me off to spend a few days with my best friend from the 6th grade.  Mom continued to London.  I hadn’t seen my friend in 5 years, even though we had remained pen pals and I was so excited to see her.  I went back to my old school with her, and reconnected with many of my old buddies.  But when my birthday came, I was depressed beyond all measure.  I wasn’t with my family, I was homesick, and I was so far removed from those days in Brussels.  When we had lived there, I was outgoing and friendly, but events in the intervening years had changed me.  My friend woke me up that morning with a beautiful necklace, and I was grateful, but I was sad and adrift. 

My eighteenth birthday was, of course, one of the most memorable.  After being uprooted from Manila in December of my senior year, my parents flew me back in May to graduate with my class.  It was a week of partying and laughter and no rules.  I had a dishy blind date to the prom, and we danced and reveled in our youth. 

Graduating with my class in Manila.  Note the very big smile.

The summer after my freshman year in college, my parents called from Singapore with the news that they were moving back to the states.  Having my folks that far away had been difficult.  I got a phone call once a month, while my roommate would talk to her family practically every day.  When everyone else went home for the weekend, I rattled around the empty dorm feeling sorry for myself.  The news that Mom and Dad were moving stateside made me literally jump for joy. 

I think mothers should be celebrated on their children’s birthdays too.  After all, where would we be if not for our mothers?  Thank you mom, for my very first birthday, when you did the hardest work of all!  And thank you for making each and every one of my birthdays, wherever they were, extraordinary.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Leigh can SING!

This is my cousin Leigh singing with her son on the guitar (with white hat). Apparently my grandfather passed on his musical genes to her and her children!

Finding Grandpa

June 1, 2011 will be the 115th birthday of my grandfather, William Sergeant Dixon, Jr.  He died back in 1977, a few weeks short of his 81st birthday.  My father’s goal was to live longer than his father, and my dad died three days after his own 81st birthday.

The other day I was chatting with my cousin Leigh.  Leigh is the youngest daughter of my father’s sister, and grew up in the same small Texas town as my grandparents.  We were talking generally about music, and she commented, “Remember how Grandpa like to sing so much?” 

I did not know that my grandfather liked to sing.

I was struck with an immediate pang of envy for my cousin, and of regret that I never got to know our grandfather as closely as she did.  I do have some vague memories when I was very small, of spending time with the Texas cousins.  But after we moved overseas the first time, our visits to Pampa became infrequent.  We stopped by every year on home leave, and I do remember Grandma & Grandpa visiting us in Belgium and Japan.  But they were virtual strangers.  As a budding writer, I penned long letters to them about my life, but they were only symbols to me, metaphors of my father’s previous life. 

A WWI doughboy.  Not my grandfather.

Grandpa was an elegant man.  I mostly remember him wearing a suit and a hat.  He was soft-spoken, always smiling and pleasant.  Born near Mebane, North Carolina, he was one of eleven siblings in a poor farming family.  In spite of his humble beginnings, he graduated from North Carolina State University with an engineering degree, and early on played minor-league baseball after serving in the army during World War I.  He met my grandmother in Ohio while playing ball, she being the daughter of the publisher of The Toledo Blade.  I can only imagine what her upper-class family thought of this countrified, southern baseball player marrying their daughter.  When the depression hit, Grandpa joined the masses heading west to find work.  Daddy talks about the dust storms of his childhood, when the sun would be completely blacked out, and the dust would creep into the house under the doors and through the windows.

Also not my grandfather.

Not my grandfather's house.

Grandpa worked for Cabot, a carbon black company in Pampa, until his retirement.  They lived in a small, white frame house on North Gray Street, active in their Presbyterian Church and Grandma was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Somewhere along the way I heard that they were members of the John Birch Society.  They were huge fans of Ronald Reagan.  When I think of them as a couple, the words “formal” and “proper” come to mind.  I remember how they carefully did the dishes together after dinner, Grandpa scraping the plates into a newspaper, and hooking up the dishwasher to the faucet.  Sometimes they would bring in Kentucky Fried Chicken when the cousins came over.

When my sister was born on July 4, 1952, Grandpa hung the American flag outside their house, with a pink bow tied on the top.  There was a little twinkle of a sense of humor behind his green eyes.

Grandpa had a little workshop in the back yard, surrounded by Grandma’s flower gardens overflowing with bachelor buttons and zinnias.  One summer, I was interested in the stories of knights in shining armor, and asked him to make me a sword.  The true reasons I wanted a sword are lost to me, but Grandpa made me a beautiful green and white one with a sanded handle, my name on it painted in red.  It had a special place on the wall of Grandpa’s shop, hanging from a little hook. 

Helen and Bill raised three children: my dad, and his sisters Dorothy (Dido) and Marjorie (Margie).  Dad ran track at Pampa High School and became an Eagle Scout.  He joined the Navy when he was seventeen, served for a year on a minesweeper, then attended the University of Texas on the G.I. Bill.  After graduation, Dad went to work with Ethyl Corporation, and never looked back.  I imagine it was his ticket out of sleepy small-town America, and he jumped right on that train.

The last time we saw Grandpa was the summer of 1976, when, at age 80, he was still riding his bike every day.  He dropped to the ground before we left and did several push-ups.  So it came as quite a shock when he died the following spring of congestive heart failure.

One of the sad things about being a TCK is the missed relationships.  Our family was just us, mom, dad, and my sisters.  Our cousins were acquaintances, people we only saw once a year, although as adults we are trying to learn more about each other.  I get sad when I think about all the things I never knew about Grandpa, like the fact that he liked to sing.  Leigh probably knows myriad things about him that I don’t; things that you just know from interacting with someone on a regular basis.  I guess there were a lot of characteristics in my father that came from his father (whom he called “Pappy”).  I know Daddy got his red beard from his dad.  And the blessing that he said before dinner was probably Grandpa’s.  When I asked Dad how he was, he used to answer “Fine as frog’s hair.  Split three ways.”  His favorite expression was, “Everything in moderation.  Including moderation.”  I like to think those twinkles of humor came from Grandpa too. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Like most teenagers, we all misbehaved.  In Manila there was a lot of drinking, although it wasn’t illegal.  (The taste of gin & tonic always takes me back).  There were a lot of drugs, from marijuana to heroin, and everything in between.  I heard stories about people smuggling drugs in boxes of tampons.  (No self-respecting customs agent would want to paw through a box of Tampax!)  We used to sneak out of the house for midnight rendezvous in parks and bars.  For a short period of time I hung out with a girl who, shall we say, lived on the wild side.  She and I went to a department store and shoplifted some shirts.  (Truth be told, one of the shirts became one of my favorites, and my parents have a portrait of me wearing it).  Lord knows what would have happened if we had been caught. 

There were stories of foreigners who had been out after curfew, and taken to the infamous prison “Camp Crame,” the name of which would strike fear in anyone.  I never saw them myself, but it is said that these westerners, in their party finery from the night before, were seen early in the morning picking up trash on E. de los Santos Avenue.

If we had grown up in Small Town, USA, the sheriff would have known us since we were born, and either looked the other way or called our parents to come haul our naughty selves home.  In Manila, however, we were strikingly anonymous.  Even though we stood out because our western appearance, the Filipinos tended to be complicit in our misbehavior.  We usually kept a peso note folded up in our wallets and if there was ever any trouble with the police, well, I don’t want to use the word “bribe” …

The story of Michael Fay, a student at Singapore American School, hit a little close to home.  He was arrested in 1994 for spray painting cars with a gang of vandals.  He claims he only stole street signs, but confessed to the painting after being threatened during interrogation.  His punishment was 12 lashes of the cane, later reduced to four.  President Clinton got involved, as did members of the World Trade Organization.  The story became front-page news and there was a huge outcry from the American public.  He ultimately took his blows and went back to the states to live with his dad.

I agree it seems a little barbaric to cane someone for painting graffiti on cars, when the cars can be easily repainted.  But Singapore has a no-tolerance policy on a lot of issues.  When we first landed at Changi Airport, I noticed signs in the airport with pictures of boys with different lengths of hair.  Anyone entering the country with their hair too long was taken into a room and summarily given a haircut.  Even in the line at the drivers’ license bureau, men with long hair were served last.  Spitting on the sidewalk or dropping a cigarette butt on a street was illegal (probably still is), and a hefty fine was imposed. 

You thought I was making this stuff up?

I will fess up now to the most serious crime I committed in the Philippines.  I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out.  I had spent a weekend at Subic Bay with a girlfriend (whose father was military), and been introduced to the shangri-la of American food, American candy and American sailors.  We had a weekend of eating ice cream and hamburgers, bowling and dancing at the Officers’ Club.  The song “Afternoon Delight” seemed to be playing on every juke box.  We left the base that night and went clubbing in Olongapo, the city that abuts the base.  Crossing the river from the base to the city was a bridge over the fetid brown water.  Below the bridge were several men on small boats, who cried out, “You want a virgin?  I have sister!  She only thirteen!”  The main drag was a bustling cacophony of thumping music, sweaty bodies and alcoholic haze. The smell of old beer was insidious, strangely combined with wafts of tropical flowers.  Tall, white uniformed and armed MP’s strolled amongst the crowd.  Heavily made up, stiletto-heeled prostitutes sat outside their brothels, shouting out to all who passed.  It was surreal, like I was watching a movie.  We drank too much, danced and reveled in our youth.

A few weekends later, my friend and I found out the I.S. soccer team was going to play Dewey High School at Subic.  We signed on as “spectators” to accompany the team.  Of course, once we got there, we ditched the game and headed off into the Subic paradise.  We took the tender over to Grande Island, for more music and drinking.  We had no intention of returning to the school.  We made up a story about “getting lost” on the base, and planned to take the public bus back to Manila later that night.

Being the “goody two shoes” that I was, I whined and worried and kvetched all day, until my friend and our sailor dates yelled at me to just shut the heck up.  I wasn’t used to a life of crime, and my conscience was going crazy.  We arrived home, exhausted, after midnight, and our parents bought our story.

However, the school did not.  The next week my friend and I were hauled before the athletic director and we were read the riot act.  The school had been responsible for getting us back home, and they had waited nearly three hours for us before returning to Manila.  There were a lot of angry people, and our irresponsibility was reprehensible.  I don’t remember any other punishment, but for me, the dressing-down was enough.  I was humiliated and ashamed. 

I know, fairly innocuous by most standards.  Many other kids did far worse things, and I don’t know how many people who quietly moved back to the states had been forced out due to their kids’ bad behavior.  We heard rumors, but none of them were ever confirmed.  The fact is that adolescent antics in our foreign homes had far graver consequences than they would have had at home; deportation, the loss of their father’s job or worse.  We may not have recognized it at the time, but in retrospect we lived on the edge of danger.  We laugh about our crazy selves now, and what we got away with, but I’ll bet Michael Fay has a different point of view. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Coffee, Tea or TCK?

I often wonder if I took a survey of my fellow TCKs, how many of us grew up to have a career that continued the wanderlust of our youth?  Without peeking, I can name several of my classmates who did.  There was a couple from our high school who got married and both became Foreign Service Officers.  One IS Manila alumni that I spoke with is now back in the Philippines working, after 30 years in the States.  Another friend is an attorney in Shanghai.  A friend from Japan was a photojournalist who traveled the world for one of the large news agencies, photographing Princess Diana and the Pope.  Yet another buddy works for a major airline in Rome.

Myself, I had big plans.  After graduating from college, I tried on law school for size, but it didn’t fit.  (I was one of the “I have a liberal arts degree, now what do I do?” crowd).  I tried to join the Navy.  (All those fun weekends at Subic Bay inspired me.  Yay, another idea for a blog post!).  I had studied Russian language all through college, and thought that a career in military intelligence was my destiny.  Even passed the OCS exam and had my physical.  After all that they made some excuse about a freeze on hiring women.  Or maybe they realized that I was a wimp and would never make it through basic.

I took the Foreign Service exam (twice) but there is a big emphasis on economics, which was never one of my strengths.  Ultimately I ended up working as a paralegal, and the closest I got to being “international” was working on a maritime case.  It involved a Japanese freighter that crashed into an American ship on the Mississippi River.  While the law of the seas requires the captain to make notes in his log in English, this particular captain, seeing the collision happening in front of him, freaked out a bit, and reverted to writing in Japanese.  My task was to find a native Japanese speaker who could translate the frantic kanji scribblings of the panicked ship captain. 

Remember our friend Steve?  The one who was in “Apocalypse Now”?  Steve spent several years as a flight attendant for Miami Air, a charter jet group**.  Based in Miami, Steve never knew if he was flying domestic or international.  It was Boise, Idaho one minute, and walking amongst the ruins at Pompeii the next.  Miami Air would fly their flight attendants on commercial planes to meet their charters.  Steve remembers fondly one trip flying Alitatia (Always Late in Takeoff, Always Late in Arrival) non-stop from Miami to Rome, then to Athens.  The flight ended up being non-stop partying as well, and then on to work.  Ah, isn’t youth wasted on the young?

Then there were the military charters, to Egypt and Kuwait, the ten-day layover in Iceland, and bonding with the local Greeks after the Parthenon closed early in the afternoon.  Now THAT is the life.

I know that being a TCK makes me comfortable in foreign cultures.  I have great empathy for international students who come to the states.  One summer I worked at the information desk at Trinity University.  A poor guy from Indonesia turned up one day, ready to start school.  Some misunderstanding had resulted in a date mix-up, and what were we to do with him?  I felt so sorry for him, imagining myself in his shoes.  We did some finagling and got him a dorm room for the rest of the summer.  I’m not sure what happened to him after that. 

I always thought if it was just me, if I didn’t have kids, or a husband, I would be the first one to apply for a job overseas.  Don’t think I don’t get excited when I see a job listing for a librarian in Dubai, or Singapore, or Qatar.  (Well, I might draw the line at Qatar).  Didn’t Jimmy Carter’s mom join the Peace Corps in her seventies?  Realistically I have to remember that it is a totally different animal to be the grownup and breadwinner living overseas, instead of the kid.  Still … the world beckons to me.  A girl can dream … 

**No, Steve is not the infamous Steven Slater with Jet Blue who famously cursed out a passenger, grabbed a beer and quit his job going down the emergency slide.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Do TCKs Make Good Criminals??

From The Displaced Nation:

Making the case that expatriates make good criminals:  Agatha Christie thinks so!  Consider the suspects in "Murder on the Orient Express":

"It's an odd assortment — call it an expat enclave in microcosm — consisting of an American translator, a British valet, a French conductor, a British governess, a retired British army officer, an elderly Russian noblewoman, a German maid, a Hungarian diplomat and his wife, a Swedish missionary, an elderly American woman who has just been to see her daughter in Baghdad, and an Italian-American businessman from Chicago."

Makes you go hmmmmm.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Teacher Appreciation

I was going to post something really insightful and wise about the death of Osama Bin Laden.  The internet is smoking today with people commenting, so I don't feel that I need to add to the mix.  Before I write about a non-Osama topic, I will sum up my thoughts with a quote from Mark Twain: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week.  I had the idea to talk about some of the teachers I have had in the nine different schools I went to all over the world.  I can’t put my finger on one particular teacher who played a pivotal part in forming who I am.  Perhaps a little cocktail party at my house for all of them together would celebrate who they are and their collaboration in shaping the person I am today.

When we first moved to Tokyo, I went to a three-day-a-week kindergarten at the American School in Japan.  There were two teachers: Mrs. McCleod and Mrs. Van Kleek.  Mrs. McCleod was a motherly type, a little serious, but warm.  Mrs. Van Kleek was hot.  She had a huge beehive hairdo, and I remember thinking she could have been a beauty pageant winner.  Mrs. McLeod was the one who punished me when I threw a rock off the top of the slide and hit a boy on the head.  I had to lie on my mat, crying my eyes out, while the others had art.  I learned a lesson that day.  But she patiently explained why I was being punished and I didn’t hold it against her.  (It was an accident, I swear!)

My teacher in first grade was Mrs. Cromartie.  She was African-American.  There was a little boy in my class who, having lived overseas all his life, had never seen a black person before. When he came home after the first day, his mother asked him how he liked his teacher.  He replied, “Oh she is so pretty!  She has the nicest tan!”  Now that is the story my mother told me.  Whether or not it’s true, I’ll never know. 

Mrs. Cromartie taught me an important lesson about lying.  Being the youngest of three, I was desperate for a little brother or sister.  Instead of an imaginary friend, I invented an imaginary little sister.  Her name was Zoe.  Whenever friends came over to play, they would ask to see her, but I would say she was sleeping.  The charade carried over into school, and I told my teacher all kinds of creative things about Zoe.  The gig was up when my parents attended parent-teacher night, and Mrs. Cromartie asked how the new baby was doing.  Mrs. C. never looked at me the same way after that.  When a student had a birthday, she would write their names on the board.  I don’t think she wrote my name on the board on my birthday.  The shame still makes me blush.

Mrs. Larrigan was my second grade teacher.  I thought she was beautiful.  It was in her class that I learned about money.  We set up a make-believe store, complete with empty cans and boxes of food.  We had a cash register and we would make change and add long columns of figures.

Our little grocery store.

In third grade we moved from Tokyo to Westport, Connecticut.  My school was Saugatuck Elementary, a traditional little red schoolhouse with a real bell in a belfry on the roof.  I remember the feel of the wooden floors under my feet, and the smell of crayons and paint.  Mrs. Asquith was a grandmotherly woman, kind but firm.  We each had a little plastic bucket on our desks, and we watched mealworms transform from worms to pupae to beetles.  We had speed spelling tests and I learned to read under her tutelage. I remember going to the book fair that year, and Hardie Gramatky was there, the author of the "Little Toot" books.  I still have an autographed copy of "Little Toot on the Grand Canal".

Another move in fourth grade took us to Baton Rouge, where I attended Audubon Elementary School.  Mrs. Thornton was my teacher, another kindly grandmother.  That year is a little fuzzy for me.  All I remember is that one of my classmates got shot in the lung with a bb gun.  I remember the blue doors that lead right out onto the playground, and sitting on the floor while Mrs. Thornton read to us.

Fifth and sixth grade were spent at the International School in Brussels.  Mrs. Buegman was my fifth grade teacher.  She was Belgian, and had a beautiful accent.  She was matter-of-fact.  It was here that I was introduced to the SRA Basal Reader.  I think my report card said that I rushed through my class work so I could go read the SRA cards or a book from the library.  A ha!  There lies the genesis of my lifelong addiction to reading.

Miss Kay was our sixth grade teacher.  She was young, unmarried and enthusiastic.  She read “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Little House in the Big Woods” aloud to us.  She taught us about how light travels in a straight line, but can be bent with prisms and solid surfaces.  I’ll never forget how the boys and girls were separated for a lesson on “the facts of life”.  She drew a sanitary pad on the blackboard, right as the principal knocked on the door.  She started to go to the door, realized what was on the board, and quickly ran back to erase it before she let Mr. Sedgwick in.  Once we were required to do a demonstrative speech to the class, and I showed everyone how to do cross-stitch. 

Of course, starting in 7th grade, we had many teachers.  I can’t remember them all.  In Manila, one that stands out is Vicky Herrera, who taught Creative Writing.  I think she sparked the writer in me, and I believe she reads this blog even today.  Mrs. Valles was my theater teacher.  I remember having to kiss a boy as part of a skit we were doing.  (Good thing he was cute).  Monty Swiryn taught me the basics of research.  In Mrs. Belen’s algebra class I earned the only “D” in my high school career, but it wasn’t her fault!  I’m just algebra-challenged.  I became interested in chemistry thanks to Miss Trinidad.  Of course I can’t name them all, but I remember them all with great fondness and respect.

I wish I could give them all a little plant or a scented candle today.  Or a gift card to Starbucks.  But such a small token would never express my gratitude.  Very simply, a very big thank you to you all, wherever you are.