The grass is always greener where the dog drags you
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was walking back to our stairwell apartment from dropping my daughter off at Patch Barracks Elementary School, minding my own business along Florida Strasse with our labradoodle, Dinghy.
Suddenly, Dinghy spotted a hare munching grass in General So-and-so’s backyard.
Dinghy was 110 pounds, and a keen hunter. Every place our family lived, he was on the lookout for indigenous prey as soon as we stepped outside. Prior to Germany, we lived in Virginia, where Dinghy dug a WWI trench across our backyard in pursuit of a mole. After Germany, we moved to Florida, where Dinghy frantically tunneled his head into the sand until a “crunch” indicated that he’d cornered a poor crustacean.
But during our years in Germany, Dinghy longed to taste a hare. Anyone who has seen these long-legged rabbits run knows Dinghy didn’t stand a chance. Nevertheless, upon seeing that hare off of Florida Strasse years ago, he gave chase.
“Dinghy! No!” I yelled in a fruitless attempt to stop the inevitable. He took off like a bullet, yanking the leash, which I had wrapped around my waist, holding a full dog doo bag in one hand and my travel coffee mug in the other. Before I knew it, I was flying, hitting the ground, then being dragged 15 feet across General So-and-so’s front lawn before the leash broke loose.
As expected, the hare got away. Dinghy returned nonchalantly as if to say, “What’s the matter with you?”
I hadn’t spilled a drop of coffee; however, my white sweatshirt showed proof of the incident. No scratches on my knees, no dirt on my elbows, no mud on my rear. Just two large, round, bright green grass stains, right over each breast.
I wanted to bury my head in the sand. But as fate would have it, I ran into every soul I knew on my way home.
“Dinghy dragged you … in front of General So-and-so’s house?” they each said. My idiocy was the hot topic at Building 2500 that day.
Living on base, we have moments when we just want to be alone, away from judgment, prying eyes, ringing doorbells, shared parking lots and communal dumpsters.
Sharing walls with your neighbors makes you involuntarily privy to every thump, groan, argument and flush. There’s always someone watching to make sure you’re picking up after your dog. There’s no sneaking out to throw a weekend’s worth of wine bottles away, because everyone hears every clink, clank, clunk in the dumpster bay. You can’t pop into the commissary undetected, because you’ll likely run into your husband’s boss when your cart contains a jumbo box of super plus tampons and a Party Size pack of Double Stuff Oreos. If you tell your children to play outside to give you a moment’s peace, your unruly kids will quickly become the subject of judgmental parent chit chat under the picnic pavilion.
When you hear laughing, you’ll know someone saw you in your kitchen window, spraying whipped cream into your upturned mouth. Trust me. I know this firsthand.
My family lived on base for 11 of my husband’s 28 active-duty years in the Navy. I sometimes turned my lights out and ducked behind the couch, pretending I wasn’t home. We got good at “whisper-yelling” so they wouldn’t hear us arguing. I closed our shades on those mornings when I just wanted to watch “Real Housewives” reruns while eating a can of Pringles.
Despite it all, my only regret is that we didn’t live on base more.
The benefits of companionship and community in military housing far outweighed the sacrifice of privacy. I lost count of the moments when I relied on my base neighbors to force me outside for fun, keep an eye on kids, help carry heavy things, talk something through, cheer me up when I was feeling low. The special brand of camaraderie found only in base neighborhoods — with potluck picnics, spontaneous parties, commune-like feel and got-your-back mentality — will be remembered fondly long after one’s experience in the military is over.
Trust me, I know this firsthand.