This reflection is spurred by a memory of another military brat.
Moving, again, was always an adventure and the excitement accompanying each move was down right palpable. My Dad had returned from Vietnam, (praise God!), and we were leaving the civilian world in Northern Virginia as my Dad was now ordered to Fort Dix. Second school of my junior year in high school meant some difficult goodbyes, but, hey, what would we learn in New Jersey?!
First day of the new school I was blessed with a very nice girl who attended Pemberton Twp. High for two years. She was a member of the school’s choir and they had a program that day. As wonderful as it was to have a ‘pal’ for the day, I was very nervous, being on the shy side. At lunch we sat down at a table in the very loud cafeteria. Hamburgers and fries were the menu for the day. While my pal was telling me the ins and outs of life at this school, my hands were busy fidgeting with a ketchup packet. My hands were used for eating, writing, carbon, etc, and also as communication devices. I talked with my hands all the time. So as my pal is brightly talking, I bent the packet back and forth, rolling it between my hands, squeezing it from one end to another, listening avidly to my buddy. Suddenly her white shirt is stained with red goo, her glasses dripping a similar goop, and her hair now had a red tint.. Agh, who did this?, wasn’t me, oh my gosh, it was me. That day I vowed to be a high school drop out!
My parents had other thoughts on the idea, and the next morning I boarded the bus like so many others in the varying neighborhoods that comprised Dix.
It doesn’t take long to get to know others finding commonalties in many ways, even the fascination with the Galloping Gourmet. He always drank wine while cooking! So the bus, the school, our father’s units, places we’d lived, and before you know it, we had many friends. (Not the choir girl, tho’, I seemed to turned her off!)
Another venue for friendships was the Post Chapel. Those days, civilian family might be Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, or Jew. But on a Military base you were Army Protestant, Army Catholic, or Army Jew. The denomination didn’t matter, our friends did. Many of our school buddies attended the PYOC (Protestant Youth of the Chapel). We would hang out there after school, attended weekly meetings, and our friendships deepened. No matter your faith, that’s where we gathered.
We could talk about anything that was on our minds, expressed joys, interests, hopes and fears. What a great gathering. We were not many faiths, ethnicities, heritages, and variouly ranked fathers. The latter was of no concern, as well as the rest. We were David, Chris, Donna, Helen, etc. That’s what counted, the person.
One meeting in the Spring of 1970, we had a guest come speak to us. He was a missionary working in the US, and he came to share of his travels and experiences. Something new was appreciated by all of us. He went to the lecture and as welcomed with loud applause.
He stood silently for a moment, looking at each one of us, and then he spoke. ‘You have no idea how special you are, how unique to see you gathered here as a group. I was in the hall while you gathered here and witnessed your conversations, your greetings of one another, the closeness you all shared. You are unique and special. Do you know why?’ We looked at each other, probably with goofiness, as we asked of one another, What makes us special?
He spoke again, answering our thoughts. ‘You are unugue and special, because you have what this nation is trying so hard to obtain. You don’t see your differences, you accept one another for who they are. Just look at the skin colors you share in.’ We were Black, Hispanic, Oriental, White. He didn’t know of our religious histories, or the variety of our parents rank. That was a moment of awakening for many.
Every group isn’t like this? We had no idea that we were different than many groups in our country. We had lived across this vast nation. We had lived in foreign countries around the world. Our families varied in their heritage, but we were one. How blessed was I, how blessed my friends were to see we were special, we were different, but that didn’t matter. We were friends!