As a child, I had a normal life. Or so I thought.
Every two and a half years, my family would pack up everything we owned and move to a new place. I’d say goodbye to my old friends, and make new friends at my new school. We went from Vandenberg AFB in California (where I was born) to Florida (where my brother was born), to Alabama to Oklahoma in a matter of 8 years.
Then at the age of 9 we moved to Greece. All this meant to me was that I was packing up my toys and stuffed animals and moving to a new house. Once there, we rented an apartment above a Greek family. I would often play with their daughter, Vasso, on our rooftop. We would paint our nails and fix our hair. She would teach me some Greek words and I would teach her English. I wanted so badly to learn how to write in Greek, as I was so fascinated with their alphabet, but I never mastered it. My brother would play soccer with the boys in the field across from our house. We got along very well with them, despite the language barrier, but there was one thing we never understood…..
The Greeks disliked cats. We would often find kittens tied up in plastic bags by the trash cans, sometimes still alive. We’d see the kids swinging older cats by the tails and flinging them across the fields. We’d try to save all of them that we could, but it was almost a hopeless cause. My parents were kind enough to help us build homes for them in our backyard. We’d take them out during the day and play with them, and then put them back in their safe house at night.
We did plenty of sight-seeing while we lived in Athens. My parents understood the magnitude of living in that country. I did not. I must have walked up the millions of torturous steps to the Parthenon 5 or 6 different times. It was always so hot, and my scrawny legs would be on fire after the long trip up. I remember thinking to myself, “Why are we doing this again?” My parents would drag me to many other places as well… the Delphi Theater, Mykonos, the monasteries… yawn.
We’d often go to the beach, however. It was a treat to eat the twist donuts they sold there, or dig into the freshly caught shrimp stored in barrels. I did hate that we always had to wear a hat, and that we could only go out into the water up to our belly buttons, although sometimes it would seem like we could go miles out into the ocean before the water came up to our belly buttons. I was a little worried about the jelly fish that would swim around us, but we had no trouble playing with the clear dead ones that washed up on the beach.
We visited Flea markets quite often, and I remember vividly the smells of the leather that was so often sold at the market. I always admired the flowing, colorful sundresses, and the beautiful stone jewelry. Every time we went, I would beg my mom for some “worry beads”. And the food. Holy moly. I loved the lamb gyros, and the Greek salads with fresh tomato, cucumber, green olives and feta. And I could eat the Tzatziki sauce with a spoon. I’ve yet to come across an authentic Greek restaurant in the U.S. that serves the food they way I remember it over there.
From there we moved to Wiesbaden, Germany. I was 12 by this time, so I was comprehending the significance of living in another country a little more. Again we traveled to many places while there… The Berlin Wall (where I signed “I love Chris”), Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, snow skiing in Austria, the Black Forest… All very interesting. I collected souvenirs from every new place. I loved the ‘magic boxes’ (wooden puzzle boxes where you had to know the puzzle in order to get the box open), and I loved the wooden jewelry boxes that played music when you lifted the lids. My parents were into the wooden clocks, so we had tons of cuckoo clocks and a big Grandfather Clock as well. I secretly loved the chimes and cuckoos heard throughout the house on every hour, and sometimes every quarter hour.
For my 8th grade trip, I went with the class to Paris. It was interesting, I guess, but we were typical 13 year olds traveling on a train without parents and only a few chaperones, so the Eiffel Tower wasn’t necessarily high on our lists of things to do. It was more fun to hang out in the hotel with just the girls. Our next school trip was to London. This was a little more interesting. I actually enjoyed seeing Big Ben, watching The Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, seeing Pirates of the Penzance in the theater, and riding the Tube. We crossed the English Channel on a ferry, where I became so sea sick I ended up sleeping through the whole trip. We saw the Thames River and I related it to the novelist Agatha Christie, who I was familiar with because my mom had tons of her books. My final Jr. High trip was a week of horseback riding somewhere in England. I felt lucky to have gotten the horse named Snowball. I learned he’d been in a movie, although the name escapes me now, but it must have been pretty well known – at least in those parts. During that trip, we all were responsible for our own horses. Feeding them, grooming them, saddling them… I remember my legs being so sore after riding that first day, that I wasn’t sure I could keep going. But it was an incredibly fun trip!
I liked the food in Germany, but not as much as in Greece. The pomme frittes that were sold at the pools were my absolute favorite reason for going swimming. They were so buttery, salty and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. I think this is where my love of fries came from. I try to avoid them now, but any time we go to a new restaurant, I make my hubby or kids order fries so I can have a few. I also like the roasted chicken we would order when going out. It would come as a half chicken, again very crisp on the outside, leaving moist chicken meat on the inside. I never liked the goulash soup, although I kept trying to because my mom raved about it, and I was just “ok” with the schnitzel.
I grew up not having much TV or even Radio. In Greece, my brother and I could only watch two shows – The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. If there were others that were PG, I was not aware. We looked forward to watching them on Sunday nights, but didn’t miss the TV during the week. I, however, missed music. Once a week, we would get the Top 40 Countdown and I would glue my ear to the radio. We had a full station of TV in Germany, so we were able to watch a few extra shows. My favorites included General Hospital and Ryan’s Hope. We also had a radio station, so I could listen to the radio every day if I wanted. We were limited to whatever was on the top 40 charts, however. My hubby makes fun of me because there are quite a few songs that I heard for the first time after meeting him.
Coming back to the states after living overseas for 5 years was bittersweet. I was anxious to get back to a place where everyone spoke English, and I couldn’t wait to see commercials on TV. But I remember feeling sad when our plane landed in Florida. We lived with my Grandma for a little while, before making the trip to Scott AFB, IL. I was 14 at the time and entering my Sophomore year in High School. This time around I found it a little more difficult to make friends, mainly because I was an adolescent, and concerned about what everyone thought of me. It helped that there were girls there that I went to school with in Germany. We weren’t necessarily friends over there, but now that we had a commonality, we found it easy to talk with each other. I ended up making some very close friends while participating in the flag corps in the marching band.
I’ve been living in Illinois ever since. We transferred here in 1984. 28 years later and I’m STILL here. After years of moving around I looked forward to settling down in one place and raising a family.
So why now, am I looking back on that decision and wondering if it was the right one?
I’ll save the answer to that question for another day….