Monday, January 13, 2014

Small Towns

My Hometown

A post over at Buck's place (here) got me to thinking about the various places I've lived over the years.

Now understand, I'm a small town guy. The town I grew up in in Vermont had around 10,000 people back in the Fifties. It's actually gotten smaller over the years. My hometown used to be a big deal in the machine tool industry. An industry I actually worked in for a few years before I donned Air Force blue.

But that industry was killed off by geniuses in suits with business degrees. Now there aren't many jobs and damn fewer prospects for kids growing up there now. Damn shame really.

Water under the bridge.

So for the first 23 years of my existence I lived in small-town New England. I loved it, but working in a factory was not my life's goal. So I enlisted and was off to San Antonio.

Now I'm going to stick with Buck's criteria and go with the one year minimum rule to count someplace I've been as "someplace I've lived". So, while I've spent something like four months there, in two installments, I won't claim San Antonio as a place I've lived.

But I'm going to add another rule for my own circumstances. If I just lived in the barracks and stayed within the Air Force community, I won't count that as "a place I've lived".

So while I spent 2 and a half years on Okinawa, I can't really count it as a place I've lived.

Living is (to me) much more than living in the barracks with your mates. It's more than drinking beer and playing cards with your mates. It's more than the occasional foray downtown where a real citizen of Okinawa wouldn't be caught dead. It's more than that.

All that's fine when you're in your twenties. But it gets old after a while.

So after the old hometown, the first place I really lived was Korea.

Of course, I was an odd duck at that time. Assigned to a "remote" location where normal folk aren't allowed to bring the family, I was married. As The Missus Herself is Korean, it's not like Uncle Sam could make me send her home. She was home.

So there I am, a married guy at a base not intended to support married folk. Not a problem, we wouldn't have lived in base housing if it had existed, too far away from the market and all the other amenities of Korean society.

So for nearly four years I lived "on the economy" as it's called. We lived in Kunsan (군산) for the first couple of years of wedded bliss. This is a city of about 280,000 these days, Probably was about that back in my day as well. It was, to me at any rate, a "big" city. Remember, this was about 20 times larger than my hometown. Not to mention being in (to me) a very foreign place. Different culture, alphabet and customs all in one.

I loved every minute of it. Picked up enough Korean to: get a beer (or three), get a taxi home and be able to ask for things in the market.

The last (roughly) two years we lived in Korea was in a smaller village away from the "big" city and closer to the base. (Made travel a lot easier. Bear in mind that in the late-70's and early-80's most travel by us military types was by bus or taxi. No one really had the urge to have a car. Driving in Korea can be an adventure.)

Now about that "enough Korean" I picked up. Once upon a day, my mother-in-law (bless her soul, she's gone now, but how I loved that little lady) needed some veggies for something she and The Missus Herself were making for dinner. It was determined that I was quite capable of going up to the market and purchasing the required carrots and an onion.

Off I went. Equipped with two new words. Proudly I strode into the market and announced to 아주머니 (ajumeoni, roughly ma'am, more accurately "aunt to whom I'm not really related") that I would very much like to purchase tamanegi and ninjing.

Absolute blank stare.

Hhmm, perhaps I pronounced that wrong (casting a glance at a little old lady about Mom-in-law's age who had just entered the market). So I asked again.

Blank stare from ajumeoni, loud guffaw from 할머니. (halmeoni, i.e. grandmother. In Korea much older women are addressed thusly. Yes, much older men are addressed as grandfather - 할아버지 hal-abeoji. Yes, I'd be called that now. Much to my chagrin!)

The owner of the market and I turned to look at grandmother, who seemed to be having a very nice laugh at my expense. When she stopped, a string of very fast Korean was directed at the market lady. Who then started to laugh as well.

Sigh. I am being mocked by my wife's people. What have I done?

Eventually the market lady (who spoke quite a bit of English) explained to me that I should have asked for dang-geun (당근) and yangpa (양파). Not ninjing (ニンジン) and tamanegi (タマネギ). Seems that I had asked for carrots and onions using their Japanese names, not their Korean names. The older lady of Mom-in-law's generation, who spoke both Japanese and Korean saved my bacon. She was laughing because she had never heard a GI speak a mixture of Korean and Japanese, as was common in her generation.

For you see, many Koreans of my in-laws' generation had lived in Japan before and during World War II. At the time Korea "belonged" to Japan. (That's in quotes as the Koreans did not feel like they "belonged" to Japan. Much like in 1776 many in the Colonies no longer felt like they "belonged" to Great Britain.) So many of them spoke both Japanese and Korean and tended to count in Japanese and use the Japanese words for many common, everyday items. Like carrots and onions.

When I got home and related the story, The Missus Herself was a little embarrassed. She had thought that she had given me the correct words for carrots and onions. Seems she had learned those at her mother's knee. Mom-in-law got a huge laugh at my story.

I did see the humor in the situation. Besides which, I learned a couple of words in Japanese and Korean that day.

Eventually we left Korea. Next stop Denver.

Now I had been stationed in Denver before, for tech school, but "only" for nine months. This time I would stay 13 months. So I count Denver as a place I've lived.

I did really like that city and its environs. But the Fates decreed that Uncle Sam would send me to college. I asked for my home state and got Colorado. Ya know, I get that. Me staying in Colorado would save the government money.

But when the program says you can go to college "anywhere", I took them at their word.

Which would be absolutely the very last time I trusted the Air Force.

So if was off to Fort Collins. Approximately 150,000 souls live there. (I wonder if they count the kids at Colorado State?)

To me that's a city, but it had such a small town feel back in 1983. The family and I loved our 3 and a half years there. It ended much too soon. And in January of 1987 I was off to San Antonio for my second training excursion at Lackland Air Force Base. That ended oddly. Someday I might tell that story. Though it's 27 years after the fact, my last time at Lackland still angers me.

But after that travesty the Air Force decided that the Strategic Communications Division up in Omaha, Nebraska needed me. So it was off to Offutt.

Four years. I actually enjoyed Nebraska. It's not the locale that makes a difference I have learned over the years. It's the people who live in the area that make or break one's time in a place. And the folks in Nebraska are great. I now have a great respect (and yes, love) for all things Midwestern.

Now while at Offutt, The Missus Herself thought how nice it would be to get a European assignment. It's important to understand that at that point in my career I had just re-enlisted recently enough that my current enlistment would take me to twenty years. And, most importantly, retirement eligibility.

Essentially I could ask for an assignment overseas and if (in true military fashion) they gave me the opposite of what I asked for, I could tell Uncle Sam to stick his assignment where the sun, she does not shine. So this was a low risk thing, asking for another overseas assignment.

So off to Personnel I went. Some goober of an airmen tried to talk me out of it as "the odds of you getting an assignment to Germany are as good as me becoming Pope". Just fill out the GD paperwork airman. And yes, THAT'S AN ORDER!

Fill out the paperwork he did, assignment to Germany I received.

(When I went up to the Personnel Office to do more paperwork, I called the kid "Your Holiness". He didn't get it. Sigh...)

Ah, Germany...

I believe I have spoken of my time in Germany before. (That would be this post. There may be others. I forget. I'm an old man, I get confused. Said in my Seinfeld's Uncle Leo voice.)

We lived in a small village, got to know our neighbors very well and generally had a wondrous time. We were all sad to bid that marvelous country Auf Wiedersehen! But we did. For it was time to retire. Time to don civilian attire and "get a real job".

Which we did.

In Little Rhody.

Not Far From Here!

So far it's been "happily ever after."

Good times. Small town New England. It's what I've always called home.


  1. Thank you for the pictures; my dad's family was (say a hundred years ago or so) from Woodford, VT. I've never been, and don't know if any kin still live there. His pa and grandparents traveled to Missouri in a covered wagon in the 1880s (my Grandpa was born in 1876), and I don't think any of us who are descended from him ever went back.
    It's nice to see pictures, though.

    1. Woodford? I've driven through there on my way to Bennington. Pretty country over there.

  2. Four years. I actually enjoyed Nebraska.

    Funny you should mention that. Both boys have "done time" in Omaha, SN1 in his undergrad days at UoN, Omaha and SN2 a three-year tour at STRATCOM. Both of the kids enjoyed their stays so much they're both talking about Omaha as a retirement destination. Go figure. I went up that way and visited but I fail to see the attraction. It might be sumthin' that grows on ya, like athlete's foot.

    Ah, Fort Collins. That's a very nice town, too. I considered living there... seein' as how TSMP lives there now... but decided not to do so, coz the temptation to kill someone who really needs killin' might be too strong to resist. I wouldn't do well in prison, bein' the smallish kinda guy I AM.

    Great post... ya done good.

    1. Good folks up Nebraska way. Down to earth and nice. Well, except when the 'Huskers are playing. Then everyone dresses in red and woe unto those who don't live and die for Nebraska football.

      I believe you have mentioned that TSMP teaches at my alma mater. And Buck, you're too damn pretty for prison!

      Thanks, once again you inspired my writing. So you can take some credit there. Or blame. Whichever works...

  3. Must be nice...LOL! I played ping-pong across the country on EVERY damn transfer...

    1. While I wouldn't call myself a homesteader at certain bases, I got awfully close!

  4. How does that old joke go? "The only thing good about Offut is when ya get OFF-IT!" LOL.

    True story. A buddy of mine (from Spokane) from college who spoke fluent Japanese and, when he was drafted, was teaching Japanese history to Japanese College students at the Univ of Osaka, went to OCS, then Intel School at old Lowry in Denver. (Did I mention he wore coke-bottle glasses?) LOL. Did the AF, in it's infinite wisdom, make use of his language skilz in counter-intelligence or anything? No, they assigned him to SAC and made him a PI (Photo-interpreter) in the targeting section of the command bunker at Offut. get out of there he posted a big anti-war poster of a mushroom-cloud and the "peace symbol" over his desk, lol . His superiors finally took notice and transferred him out and he managed to finagle a re-assignment to Japan where he married a Japanese national. (He later ended up as the State Trade Representative to Japan for Washington State after he left the AF and then retired and set up his own import/export business in Seattle.)

    1. PS: I should add, given the mentality of SAC in those days, he was lucky he wasn't given an Art 32 discharge for the poster alone, lol.

    2. SAC HQ was never known for their sense of humor.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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