Friday, October 22, 2010

We waited.


Growing up overseas scars you for life. You know your life is different than your cousins have, back in Cleveland or Fullerton or Omaha or Seattle. Once you live overseas a few year, you diffuse into the movement that doesn't fit in Ohio or California or Nebraska or Washington. You are just plain different. 

And what is even more different is that all your friends are different, too.

You can go through 14 best friends in one single year. They'd come, they'd friend you, they'd move on. You'd stay. Summers were the worse - many friends were sent back to the USA for summers with grandparents or aunts and uncles. Then come the first day of school in the Fall, you'd recognize that not everyone came 'home' from the USA. Some of your friends stayed gone.

My family's mean of communications to the USA was the old trusty aerogram. An aerogram is a pre-stamped envelope and writing paper, all in one.  The letter writer could write until the 'writing paper' was used up. Then one would fold along the dotted lines of paper - and if folded correctly, the envelope was exposed. My mom, Elsa, would buy aerograms in bulk. Anytime we were in the vicinity of an international hotel, Elsa would stop the taxi, run in and buy buy buy. Twenty aerograms would last her about two weeks.

But, if a family emergency happened back in the USA, my dad would receive a teletype at work. He'd carry it home carefully, holding the vellum paper in his outstretched hands to Elsa. "Here, this came today." It would always be bad news. "Sister leg amputated. She survives." "Sam in wreck. Broke neck."

Elsa would read these and then narrow her eyes. "Hoop, one of these days, I am going home."
And Hoop (my dad) would look down at the floor in helplessness. I'd die inside.

Finally THE telegram arrived. "Daddy dying. Cancer." Daddy was my grandpa, Elsa's father. She always called him 'Daddy.'
Elsa held true to her threat. That night she grabbed my brother, Iilya, and me, and we flew out  of the country. We flew for hours, changing planes in Tehran, in Beirut, in Paris, in London, in Belfast, and finally in Boston. We grabbed whatever flights were heading 'homeward', regardless of the misdirection it took us. 

Hoop stayed behind. For months, I was 'fatherless'. I hated it.

"I am not going back to that God-forbidden place unless 'he' comes to get me. I am not going back on my own." Elsa proclaimed this to every relative who mourned with her, every passerby who shook her hand or hugged her at the graveside. "I am not going back unless 'he' comes...".

We waited. We'd never be like our cousins.

12 comments:

BANJO52 said...

“They’d friend you”—“They” is other American or European kids, right?
This all sounds very hard. Really, it does.

I’ve never had a close friend who talked at length about parents working overseas. So when people say, “I was an army brat,” I’ve been allowed to wonder only casually about it, if I cared to, when the subject came up at some gathering, or in the movies. This gives real insight into a tough way of life.

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

I hope you're writing a book! I want to start reading it, YESTERDAY!!!! Please, say you are!

Pat Tillett said...

Your stories are so interesting...
Thanks for sharing some of your adventures with us!

altadenahiker said...

Oh god, the deperation of all those departures and landings. I've always said your life was mine, but cubed. (Yeah, and the adults learned to write in a tiny, precise scrawl on the aerograms, without margins, top or bottom, side to side. And those letters, you could see through the paper and they weighed less than a feather.)

ben wideman said...

Agreed - a book needs to happen.

I spent a year in Ghana with my family when I was ten years old and though it was one of the most challenging times of my life I think it has impacted me deeply for the better. I guess those memories aren't always positive. Maybe the length of time stretches you even more.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Banjo - yes, the 'they' was often American or European kids. As I got older, I found the European kids mostly went back to their homeland to school, whereas American kids stayed with parents.

Thanks Stumpy & Mom and Ben for the book thought! I just think I ramble too much. Ben, I agree on the impact overseas experiences leave on a child. I would NOT trade mine for anything!

And AH, we are such sister cousyns! Squared, cubed, or to the tenth power, our landings are parallel.

And yes, the Aerograms were vellum thin, on light blue 'paper'. We saved several, and I have them in archival folders (I'm trying to do the preservation thingy).

Thank you for all comments!

Elaine said...

You were not like your cousins, and didn't have a home that was always in the same place, but you had fantastic experiences they never had. We moved around a bit when I was little, never overseas though, and I understand how hard it is to be always losing friends.

Sandra said...

ok, so is this for real or a story, and we need to know the rest of the story wheter it is real or not.
I must say i have never been out of the country but had a similar childhood. moving from place to place even in the states is the same. and school to school is a horror.

Whitemist said...

This moved me so deeply, I am speechless....

Pasadena Adjacent said...

We are of the "stay put tribe" . Recipients of the aerogram.

I've always wondered about you people. How you showed up out of nowhere and exited the same way.

The description of the flight home amazes

Pat MacKenzie said...

What a heartwrenching story. It's awkward being 'different'. I was an army brat (Canadian army) but most of our postings were in Canada except for one year in Germany so we always had a sense of home.

Thanks for the mention on my blog about Riparian Park. I've put it on my list of things to see/do when we come down here.

Kathy said...

A poignant story, Brenda. I was moved around as a child also and never really felt like I fit my new place, always trying to be liked and accepted by those who lived in old family homes and who had their cousins in the same town. As a result I was always trying to be an achiever and convince people I was more than what I really was to gain their acceptance.