Friday, January 17, 2020

"Turn it off, turn it off!!!"

Outside Francorchamps, Belgium
It is confused I am and confused I shall remain. For some reason I cannot remember two particular Easters spent in Europe, well, I remember them I just can't seem to place them in context with each other.

There was the Easter that The Missus Herself and Your Humble Scribe went to the City of Lights, that is the capital of La Belle France, i.e. Paris. It is somehow stuck in my head that we went there on our first year in NATO.

Then there was The Easter Egg Hunt. It sticks in my mind that that occurred during our first Easter in Europe, but how can that be? Didn't we go to Paris that weekend? Is it possible we did both activities around Easter in the same year? Does the timing and the positioning of the two events really matter, lo these many years later?

No, they don't, not really. But...

Huh? What? Why is that phrase "The Easter Egg Hunt" capitalized as it is?

I'm glad you asked. For that is my story today, suggested by The Nuke. Who remembers things a bit differently than I, but it's my story and I'll tell it as I remember it. (The title alludes to her version of the story, which I will get to. Eventually.)


Once upon a time, er, I mean, there I was, no that ain't quite right, ummm, I know...

Back in the day...

Whilst stationed with the forces of OTAN, er, I mean NATO, an excursion by my unit was set up for the wee bairns of the unit to go a'hunting for Easter eggs. Not in the local environs, such as on the base, not even in the local town (which would be Geilenkirchen itself), no indeed, this Easter egg hunt would take place in Belgium, specifically in the Ardennes, not far from Francorchamps. Which is kind of a famous racetrack out in the wilds of Belgium.

Uh, Sarge, you still haven't answered the "Why is that phrase "The Easter Egg Hunt" capitalized?" question.

Patience, I'm getting there.

Anyhoo, the idea was for the kids and their families to go on a kleine Spaziergang* through the lovely Belgian countryside to get to the venue pour chercher les oeufs de Pâques**. It will be nice they said, you'll enjoy it they said, it will be good exercise they said. Which they weren't wrong, but they weren't exactly right on all counts.

It was like a five-mile walk, through the woods. There was no path, no prepared way, kinda like this -

Sort of open, but sort of not. Don't get me wrong, it was a lovely day, the weather was cool and sunny. But it was still a five mile walk through the woods. Did I mention that I was loaded down like a pack animal? Like a rented mule? No?

Well I was. I had an Austrian Army rucksack (don't ask why, no, really) which was loaded with enough snacks and water bottles for Yours Truly, The Missus Herself, The Naviguesser, The Nuke, and The WSO. I was also lugging a late '80s era camcorder. One of these -

Hhmm, as a matter of fact, it was that very model of camcorder as depicted above.

But it wasn't that bad for us, there was another family, I think their name was Salvi, they had like 87 kids. It wasn't so much a family as an entire tribe. They covered the landscape they were so numerous. Kind of like I imagine the buffalo out in Shaun's neck of the planet (can't say woods, the place doesn't have a lot of trees) back in the day. Rumbling along, taking days to pass a single point...

Yes, I am exaggerating. The Salvis had four kids, all of them below the age of six. The older three were all self-propelled, the youngest was in a stroller. Yes, you read that right, a stroller, an '80s era stroller, for a walk through the Ardennes for crying out loud!

Yeah, not one of your robust modern strollers with big fat off-road tires, nope, it was a rickety-looking deal like that in the photo above. Do you see those little wheels? Those little handles? Now picture our beloved Sergeant Salvi pushing that thing through the woods. Over the roots and rocks and the brush, manhandling that bad boy across the terrain while keeping the self-propelled Salvis from wandering off into the forest. Yes, Mrs. Salvi helped, but believe me, they had their hands full.

I do believe that there were about twenty of us. People would come up to me and ask, "Say Sarge, would you mind carrying my purse/lunch/water bottle in your ginormous Austrian Army rucksack?" To which The Missus Herself would always answer "No, he doesn't mind, he doesn't mind at all."

Well, I did mind, sort of, but as I was the only one carrying a ginormous Austrian Army rucksack, I could see the logic in it. Not that that made the rucksack any lighter, but I was earning points for my good nature and easygoing attitude. Also, I was young then, I could hack it, I could hump a ruck with the best of them and haul that big-ass camcorder at the same time. And shoot video! (Not to mention that my boss, Major Fraker was one of those asking. It doesn't pay to say "no" to one's boss in the military, not if one still had hopes of promotion, which I did.)

So that long hike through the forest is why "The Easter Egg Hunt" is capitalized. It was long, it was kind of arduous, and it was a bit taxing. Back then I think I called it the Bataan Easter Egg Death March, but now I find that to be in rather poor taste. I mean it wasn't that bad, I mean there were no screaming Japanese bayoneting the laggards. (Though truth be told that might have sped things up a bit...) Still rather poor taste to make that comparison, so I don't. I just capitalize "The Easter Egg Hunt," which seems sufficient.

Finally, after what seemed like hours,  we arrived at our destination, the place where the eggs had been hidden. It's not far from where they do a sort of road race (it is near Francorchamps after all) so while hunting for eggs we had the occasional fast moving vehicle go roaring past not that far away. It was kind of cool, but kind of loud.

Whilst hunting for eggs, one of my daughters (can't remember which one, though I think it was The Nuke) found, nestled beneath a tree, two bottles of wine. I remember it well, her running through the trees, a bottle of wine held aloft in each hand, yelling "Daddy, daddy, look what I found!"

Made me proud it did, I had visions of me drinking wine in the Ardennes when our tour guide (a Belgian warrant officer who grew up in the area) pointed out that the wine was for the grown-ups and "give it here lassie." The Nuke was a bit miffed (as was I) but like a good trooper she gave up the wine. (Which I did get a taste of, but only a taste.)

Eventually the day came to a close. I was not looking forward to the long hike back to where our cars were parked, that's when our guide offered to give a ride back to the parking lot for those who were interested in such a service.

And I was.

After getting the car and gathering up the rest of the tribe, we rallied at a local pub, where The Missus Herself freaked out over the unisex sanitary facilities, I mean this was Europe.

"Honey, I went into the bathroom and there was a guy in there!"

"Uh, it's a unisex bathroom dear."

"Really? That's a real thing?"

"Yup, Bienvenue en Europe."

"You're an idiot."

"Oui, c'est vrai."

At any rate, a good time was had by all. Though when we returned home, Major Fraker called. Seems I had her passport in my ginormous Austrian Army rucksack and she really, really would like it back. Sure enough, I checked and there it was. Thinking perhaps that she was trapped in Belgium and couldn't get back into Germany, I was prepared to have to make the long drive back down there and rescue my boss.

But no, while Europe hadn't gone completely open borders at that time, there were no longer any border checks between some countries. (Though getting into France still required a passport and all that.) So Major Fraker assured me that she would be by the house within the hour to collect her passport.


By now, you are probably wondering what any of this had to do with the title of today's post, to wit -

"Turn it off, turn it off!!!"

Well, it has to do with The Nuke's version of watching the videotape of that trip once we had retired and returned to the U.S. of A. (No, I don't remember it the way she does. Thank you for asking.)

It seems that while unpacking at our new home in Little Rhody, The Missus Herself came across the tape from The Easter Egg Hunt. So we watched it. Let me say this, before going further, that for the first couple of years of our assignment in Germany I was still a "lean, mean. SAC-trained fighting machine." I used to run everyday at lunch while at Offutt, not obsessively, not like five miles or anything, just a mile or so. But five days a week. I was fairly svelte. Germany's food and beer were not kind to Your Humble Scribe's waistline.

Anyhoo, most of the video was of the kids, The Missus Herself, and the other participants in The Easter Egg Hunt (I remember a great clip of Sergeant Salvi manhandling that stroller over a brook, still loaded with the youngest Salvi.) But when we got to The Hunt itself, The Missus Herself decided to try her hand at shooting video. And there I was...

Striding on scene in all my svelte glory, pointing at something in the near distance, The Nuke cried out...

"Oh my God, look at how thin Dad is!!"

To which, she claims, I cried -

"Turn it off, turn it off!!!"

Well, I don't really remember that bit, but The WSO backs her sister's story, so maybe it did happen that way.

And damn, I really was thin back then. Rest assured, I'm working on that.

No, really.

* German for "little walk"
** for looking for Easter eggs


  1. Really good story, and the last part where you mention that you are preparing to fight your personal "Battle Of The Bulge" ties in nicely with the Ardennes trip.

    I know it's the wrong hills, but my brain insisted on singing a certain song made famous by Julie Andrews as I read the post.

    It becomes more challenging each year to reverse the personal growth from the seasonal indulgences. Sigh.

    1. The hills were alive with something that day, mostly sweat as I recall.

  2. I'm sure your nor the only reader of this fine blog who was once a leaner, meaner version of themselves. Nor the only one 'working on' trying to reclaim our lost youth, I mean our slimmer waistline. Most probably know what to do (eat a lot less, do more calorie burning activities) but lack the motivation to do it. Myself included. Oh well, maybe tomorrow - after all its time for breakfast!

    1. Ah yes, motivation. We used to be close, somehow we drifted apart...

  3. You mentioned Offutt - did you ever eat at the Edelweiss restaurant while you were there?

    1. Unfortunately no. Apparently they are no longer in business either.

      Too bad.

  4. Hey AFSarge;

    Man reading that post brought me memories of my 5 years in Germany, man I do miss them.....and truth be told My waistline also. I was the crazy guy that ran 10K everyday for sport, rain, snow didn't stop me. I just wore issued Rubber Galoshes and ran slower. Great story. Part of me wishes I had met my wife while I was in the service so she could have experienced some of the things I did.

    1. Ah the good old days. Run a mile? No problem. Stay out all hours and still make it to work? No problem.

      How did I survive this long?

  5. I tend to haul stuff around in an red Royal Mail carrier bag.

  6. Sgt Salvi's stroller! Some 48 years ago, was so delighted to find, and purchase, one like it. Before, we had a fold up monstrosity that was nearly as big as a 3/4 ton utility trailer (slight, but only slight, exaggeration).

  7. Okay. Dissection by Beans

    You did a German invasion of a Belgium Forest to get to French Easter Eggs with a host who spoke like he was Scottish?

    Dooomed. Doooooommmmeeedddd.

    As to running. Beans no run. Beans walks almost as fast or faster than Beans runs. Beans is a plodder. Same speed through mud, shallow water, bodies, piles of stuff, sand, children, dogs, (enter material/terrain type.) Has been scientifically checked.

    As to Easter Egg Hunts. I remember one at Kwajalein. New Base Commander's wife put it on. Army wife no understand we were close to equator, so real hard-boiled eggs spoiled while chocolate was kinda melted. Dur. Dur hur. Oh, well, at least we got to hunt eggs or ptomaine poisoning near a display battery of 155mm howitzers (the long barreled ones, more gun than howitzer, able to out-shoot a Zummie any day (well, when they were working, by 1971 barrels were filled with concrete, yes, I checked, and the transverse and elevation gears were welded into position, yes, I checked, and the breech-block was welded shut also, yes, I checked.)

    Udder dan dat, good story on your part. My wife and I have always been the ones who would over-prepare for situations and those around us would whine and carry on about what we had vs what they didn't have.

    And... bottles of wine. Where they put there as part of the egg hunt, or left there by Les Boche, or what?

    My memory of family outings, at least till 1970, was the three hellions were on leash and harness. Remember when those were accepted parts of parental culture. With the ever-present threat of "If your hands come out of your pockets, you'll regret it!" Good times. We survived. It worked.

    1. Actually the guns on the Zumwalt actually out range the Paris gun. It wasn't the gun that got that bit cancelled, it was the cost of the individual rounds.

      The wine was left for the adults participating in the affair.

      I did some checking today, "Sergeant Salvi" (not his real name, which I did remember) passed away from cancer at the age of 57 back in '16. RIP brother...

  8. "And damn, I really was thin back then. Rest assured, I'm working on that." Working on that. I like that term but I hope your "working on that" is different than my version. I've been "working on" a she-shed for Kendy (for three years now!)

    1. It's a long term effort, has its fits and starts but it will happen.


  9. Great story! I can just see the little one running with the wine. And that stroller in the woods. The military always held good on their promise of adventure. Sad about "Sergeant Salvi" RIP indeed.

    Unless I go back to drinking the tequila with the tapeworms I'll probably never get back to the same physical stature I had back when, but I can still stagger pretty good for a one-eyed fat man.

    1. I stagger with the best of them.

      I can still picture her with that wine, pretty excited she was!

  10. I mention to those curious about the bulge that I am a bit like a camel. True! I spit. But I digress. I lost 20 pounds painlessly during Operation Praying Mantis when we ran out of food and the Navy was too chicken to run supplies out to us. I lost 20 pounds sailing from San Diego to Cabo on a 41 foot sailboat because it turned out there was nothing really edible onboard and if you want to see the inside of a Mexican prison just show up in their waters with a fish hook and no Mexican fishing license. It comes, it goes. I made a good faith effort for 30 years to make sure it didn't adhere but I'm over that now. Still, for all that, can still fit into the uniform as we did for Dave's ordination.

    1. I lost about 15 pounds at Medina Annex (Lackland AFB). Lots of exercise and terrible food. My on thought that I looked like I'd just got out of a POW camp. Amazing what activity and crappy food can do. I don't, however, recommend such a regimen. Ain't exactly healthy!


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