Around the world and back
Published: October 25, 2011
My son celebrated his 21st birthday in Texas a few days ago. On that mid-October evening, my husband and I sat on our back patio several states away, recalling our own 21st birthdays, wondering how the first of our three babies could have reached that milestone already. We examined the military life that has led us down so many diverse, yet convergent paths.
My husband is a North Carolinian, born and raised. He grew up swimming, surfing and loving life on the beach. He joined the Air Force to pay for college and see the world. The Air Force sent him to the Wild West. Until then, he hadn’t imagined he would spend his 21st birthday in Texas, but he did. Technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls taught him the intricacies of jet engines and real life.
Longing for the ocean, he volunteered for every seaside assignment the Air Force had to offer, even the most isolated islands. He was sent to Oklahoma, less than a hundred miles north of Wichita Falls.
When he arrived in the tiny town, he was pretty sure time had forgotten it back in the ‘50s – maybe the 1850s. He never dreamed he would spend vacations and even a few Christmases there for years to come. He does, because that’s where he met me, where my family still lives and where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.
When he came to Okahoma, I was studying art and journalism, dreaming of a career that would take me to a magazine job back East, where the leaves turned colors other than brown before the wind blew them away.
I finished college; he started grad school and we got married. After a few years of civilian life in Missouri, the military called us back, and so did Texas. I’m sure my husband never thought his first-born son would draw his first breaths at the Sheppard AFB hospital, but he did.
Although he was born a Texan, our son had no plans to spend his 21st birthday there. After traveling the world and graduating from high school in Germany, he applied to several universities, but one in Texas offered the best scholarship.
So he is attending my alma mater and celebrated his 21st birthday in his apartment, a few blocks from the apartment where I celebrated mine.
Even a family who has lived all over the map finds connections in unexpected places.
Like my son, I was born in October on a military base in Texas, but not the same one. James Connally AFB is long defunct. When I was born there, my parents didn’t know – although my dad hoped – that I would return to that same town to attend college. I did, and my father lived just long enough to see his oldest grandson do the same.
Last summer, our son worked on a National Science Foundation project at his school. He did most of the work for the internship on his own campus, but the laboratory for the program is on the grounds of a nearby technical college. It used to be an Air Force base – the one where I was born.
At some bends in the road, a glimpse of the familiar takes me by surprise.
If I hadn't wandered far from home, none of this would seem coincidental. Plenty of people are born in the same state as their parents. Many more attend their parents’ alma maters and celebrate their 21st birthdays there.
For me, these occurrences are notable, because they represent continuity in an intercontinental life, a common recurring thread sewn into a coat of many colors.
We were stationed in Los Angeles when our daughter was in middle school. I never thought she’d return to Southern California for college, but she did. She has a summer birthday, so maybe we should take a trip to Texas on her 21st just to keep the Lone Star streak alive.
She was born on Guam, and I don’t think we are going back there. But you never know.