Friday, November 20, 2015

There's No Place Like Home

“Where is home?” people occasionally ask while getting to know me. For me, that’s a loaded question! Every time it comes up, I make a split-second calculation—how much should I tell them?

You see, I’m an Army brat. Once you know that, you know an awful lot about me. If you didn’t grow up in the military, you can’t know how different this sub-culture is from the “civilian” culture. And we brats don’t need you to know, not most of the time, anyway. We know how to adapt, and that way you don’t have to know what we’re really like.

Yes, we move a lot. Well, anyway, brats of my vintage mostly moved a lot; these days things may be different. I moved less often than most brats, and I came back to the same places a couple of times, so I’m not the typical brat. Here’s what it looks like for me:
1956 Born in Fort Leavenworth, KS
1956-1962 Arlington, VA (kindergarten)
1962-1963 Newport, RI (first grade)
1963-1964 Babenhausen, Germany (second grade)
1964-1967 Frankfurt, Germany (third-fifth grades)
1967 Carlisle Barracks, PA (sixth grade)
1967-1970 Arlington, VA (sixth-eighth grade)
1970-1972 Frankfurt, Germany (two houses, ninth-tenth grades)
1972-1974 Arlington, VA (eleventh-twelfth grades)
1974-1978 Oberlin, OH (parents moved to Bozman, MD; I went to college)
1978-1980 Middletown, CT (two apartments, first real job; early marriage)
1981-1982 Oakland, CA (firstborn child)
1982-1984 El Sobrante, CA (second child)
1984-2007 Vienna, VA (two locations, two more children)
2007-2015 Broadway, VA (children grown and gone)
2015-present Front Royal, VA

That’s 20 different houses, apartments, dorm rooms, whatever, not including my parents’ house, which was only a place to stay for a couple of summers. (My experience is less mobile than it could be. Most brats have moved more often than that and didn’t bounce between two places, as I did.) Each place was “home,” but none was a deep-down home, calling to me.

Sometimes I wake up and remember that I dreamed about home again. When I dream of going home, it’s always a dream of trying to buy the house in Arlington. I lived there for 11 years in three stints. In my dreams, somebody has changed the house in some odd way, and I can’t afford to buy it, but I keep trying. And that’s funny, because I don’t want to live there. Still, I was very annoyed when I looked up the house for this blog post and found that the owners had recently added a front porch. What the heck? Don’t they know that that house is perfect just as it is? How dare they? This picture shows what the house should look like; it’s from only a few years ago.

“Home” mostly been northern Virginia. That’s what I know best. I get a sense of home when I think about Germany, too. I spent six happy childhood years there. It’s kind of a bittersweet “home” feeling, because I grew up living in an American community, and everything American there that I knew has been given back to the Germans. No hard feelings, mind you; that was the right thing for the US to do. I just can’t go to that “home” again. See what it looks like near my old high school?

Vienna, VA, was “home” for the longest period of time, but my husband and I kind of outgrew it. By the time our children were in high school, we knew we wanted more space than a quarter of an acre in a heavily regulated town. (Our neighbors called the police whenever our dogs barked for longer than a couple of minutes or our grass grew longer than the prescribed maximum of six inches. Really.) I couldn’t find a picture of this house from when we lived in it, but it looked a lot like this.

We moved to a wonderful old farmhouse on three acres, and we loved it. But my husband had been sick for years, and he unexpectedly died after we’d lived in that house for six years. I started to feel that I didn’t have much purpose rattling around in that house by myself, especially after our youngest child finally found a permanent job in DC and moved out. It was an answer to prayer when my younger daughter and her family asked me to move with them midway between DC and my beloved farmhouse. I’m winding up that move now. It’s taking much longer than it should; it’s hard for me to throw away years of memories and leave the last home that my husband and I had together, where we had intended to live out the rest of our lives. (Well, at least he got to!)

I live in a cozy four-room house behind the main house now. It’s really a perfect situation; I get to be with my daughter’s family most of the time, and I just love those five adorable kids! (See—what’s not to love?) It doesn’t feel completely like home yet, which is to be expected, of course. After so many years of making a home with my husband, it’s odd to be back in the situation of being a dependent again. Plus I still own the farmhouse (anybody interested in buying a lovely peaceful place in the Shenandoah Valley?), so I don’t really have closure on that part of my life yet.

“Home” is a tough concept for me to get my mind around. I understand it intellectually, and I see how it works for most people. But for me, well, I’ll never quite understand that longing that Dorothy felt when she clicked her heels and murmured, “There’s no place like home.”

This post is part of the “Home to Me” blog hop, hosted by Julie Walsh of These Walls. During the two weeks from Friday, November 13 through Thanksgiving Day, more than a dozen bloggers will share about what the concept of “home” means to them. “Home” can been elusive or steady. It can be found in unexpected places. It is sought and cherished and mourned. It is wrapped up in the people we love. As we turn our minds and hearts toward home at the beginning of this holiday season, please visit the following blogs to explore where/what/who is “Home to Me.”

November 13 – Julie @ These Walls 
November 14 – Leslie @ Life in Every Limb 
November 15 – Ashley @ Narrative Heiress 
November 16 – Rita @ Open Window 
November 17 – Svenja, guest posting @ These Walls 
November 18 – Anna @ The Heart’s Overflow 
November 19 – Debbie @ Saints 365 
November 20 – Melissa @ Stories My Children Are Tired of Hearing 
November 21 – Amanda @ In Earthen Vessels 
November 22 – Daja and Kristina @ The Provision Room 
November 23 – Emily @ Raising Barnes 
November 24 – Annie @ Catholic Wife, Catholic Life 
November 25 – Nell @ Whole Parenting Family 
November 26 – Geena @ Love the Harringtons

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"No Sank You"

My mother-in-law grew up in France and was friends with a few large local families. She always seemed to be getting a letter from one of the Rivières, Tommy Martins, or Letourmys. They were kind of extended family to the Kilmers.

So when Denys Letourmy (I think I have the name right) came to the US in 1980 or so, he visited us at our apartment in Connecticut. We took him to see the notable local sights, such as the Mark Twain house in Hartford. Denys was a photographer, as I recall, and he raved over the beautiful blue sky and fluffy clouds. Apparently that is uniquely American. Who knew?

It occurred to us that Denys might like to experience something else that was uniquely American. We were young and poor but well educated, and we knew that peanut butter was not just delicious but also very nutritious, so we always had it on hand. Surely Denys would like to have some, right?

Not so much! Denys took one look at it and turned a little green. Always polite, though, he managed to mutter “No sank you” while backing away.

I guess it looks odd if one isn’t used to it. Maybe it even looks nauseating. And it does have a strong smell that might turn some people off. Poor Denys! He didn’t know what he was missing!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What the Heck Kind of Punishment Is That?

I'm listening to Rosie being interviewed on a podcast: She mentioned that the twins (Elizabeth and Mary Claire, currently about 2 1/2) recently were sent to their room as a punishment and started taking everything out of their dresser and closet, throwing it on the floor. As a punishment for that, their dresser was taken away. "You don't get a dresser any more? Who punishes their child like that?" Rosie asked, almost in despair.

Ohhhh, do I sympathize with that! Once I was so mad at my kids that I threatened them with a bath. Then I realized that that was not a punishment, but I had to keep my face in punishment mode. Fortunately, that threat worked. Whew! If it hadn't, I would have had to administer a bath as punishment, and that would have tainted baths forever!

In any case, once I took practically everything in Paddy and Peggy's room away. I had to make the punishment fit the crime, and the crime was—

<record needle screeches>

Well, let's back up. From 1984 to 1987, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment in what was then Merrifield Gardens. (It's now called Merrifield at Dunn Loring Station, but Metro didn't come there until 1986.) Patrick and Meg shared a room. When Rosie was born, she had a crib in the den, which had no door and was not counted as a bedroom.

One lovely summer weekend day in 1985, I was in my (our) bedroom talking to my mother on the phone, and it was going well. That was so unusual that I was willing to let the phone call go on longer than usual even though I heard an ominous silence in the background. Jonathan would take care of everything, right? Right . . . ? That silence was still going on when I got off the phone, and I rushed to the kids' room.

The kids had taken everything out of their closet and thrown it on the floor. They had taken everything off their beds. They had actually pushed a hole into the edge of the windowscreen and

they had thrown most of their toys and clothing out of the window.

You think that isn't a problem? We lived on the second floor.

They had thrown just about all their stuff outside. All that was left inside was a mattress and pillow for each child; those clearly didn't fit the hole in the screen. Jonathan and I had already noticed that stuff that was left outside (like Paddy's bike) managed to walk away.

So these two kids, aged almost-four and almost-two, were bored and found a novel way to entertain themselves. After they finished, they had the feeling that they had not done a good thing, but they didn't know how to get out of it. So they were just standing in their room staring at the lack of stuff and looking stunned.

It was hilarious! But a parent can never admit that an infraction of this sort is funny. So first I had to squash any hint of a smile, and then I had to speak sternly to the kids. They completely understood that they had done something bad; they were just wondering what the consequences would be. I was kind of wondering that, too. While I thought about it, I got their daddy to go and get all the stuff they had pretty much given to the neighborhood.

I finally decided that their punishment was to have nothing in their room for a week except what they had left in it. They were greatly relieved that nothing worse was happening to them. Gradually, I gave them back their bedding, toys, and clothes. It was summer, after all, and they weren't cold enough to need any blankets.

So I completely understand why Rosie took away her twins' chest of drawers. When they are old enough not to be tempted to do it again, maybe they will read this story. Then they can tease their Uncle Paddy and Aunt Sister about it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Two July 14ths

There are at least two family stories about the fourteenth of July. Let's have the funny one first, shall we? Well, anyway, I think it's funny.

I learned the Marseillaise in French class. Eighth grade, I think it was. It is such a stirring song that I still enjoy singing it, probably because I've never been forced to do so. Here's my favorite rendition. It doesn't start out as the Marseillaise, so wait for it.

I learned the first two verses. Well, sort of. I don't remember all the words right, and sometimes I loop between verses. Eh.

It really sticks in my head, so much that when I tell my kids that we're going, I say, "Allons, enfants." Even Timmy knows what I mean, and he doesn't speak French. It faintly amuses me every time I say it, because I know I'm not calling them to battle; I'm probably just telling them we're going to the checkout counter.

So that's the first. The second is about July 14, 1986; I remember because it was Bastille Day. I'll probably never forget that awful day.

Rosie was 2 1/2 months old, and I'd been back at work for a few weeks. It was always hard for me to go back to work; I never got to stay with my babies as long as I wanted. I nursed them as long as I could, which wasn't very long for any of them—maybe seven months at the most. There weren't any nursing lounges or effective breast pumps back then. In fact, my company (which had awfully good benefits in most areas) didn't even provide maternity leave; that came after I'd finished having babies. I had to use my accrued sick leave and then accrued vacation, and then the company would allow new mothers to go in the hole for some length of time I've forgotten. What with kids getting sick, my sick days, and doctors' visits, it took me so long to get out of that hole that I didn't have an actual vacation until 1990, when Timmy was two. That one was a staycation. We painted the outside of the house.

Anyway. On July 14, 1986, I had forgotten to bring my cooler with empty baby bottles and ice packs. That was how I pumped milk—by hand into baby bottles, which I kept cool until I got to my home fridge. Without it . . .

Oh, wait. This is a family blog, right? So if you're embarrassed by breastfeeding, stop reading.

You aren't embarrassed? Okay, let's go on.

Without that cooler and pumping my milk, my breasts got really engorged. Painfully engorged. And I couldn't bear to pump milk into the toilet or something. I never had more milk than I needed, and I desperately wanted to give my babies my milk and feel that even though I wasn't home with them, I was at least doing what I could to help them be healthy. Remember, I was postpartum, and my hormones were still going crazy.

So I called my husband. (Probably only my family is reading this. Let's call him Daddy.) He was staying home with our children as usual. This was when he was at nursing school at Georgetown, but maybe he had no classes that day? I don't remember. Anyway, at lunch Daddy packed our three kids up and brought them to BNA with my precious cooler, bottles, and ice pack.

July in DC can be hideously hot, and July 14, 1986, was just about the hottest day of the year. Rosie couldn't stay in the heat for long; she was just a newborn, and she wasn't used to the horrible heat. Daddy brought the kids inside and told the security guard at the front desk that he was there to see me. Rosie's skin was still kind of mottled from the heat, and I think she'd been crying.

Of course as soon as she saw or smelled me, she wanted to nurse. Daddy had probably given her some formula, but she wanted her mama. I couldn't refuse her that. Anyway, it was my lunchtime, so I had time.

But it was noonish, so it was the hottest part of the day. I think the AC didn't work in the car; anyway, for some reason, that wasn't a good spot to nurse Rosie. I didn't have an office, and the older kids would have been disruptive at work anyway. I was not going to nurse her outside; she would have thrown up. I considered the bathroom, away from people, but, well, would you eat in a bathroom?

So I nursed her in the lobby, with everybody passing and complimenting me on the lovely baby. I positioned my clothing so that many people didn't even know I was nursing. But I still felt the need to tell my boss so that if anybody got mad, she would have heard it from me first.

She exploded. She said my children were never allowed on BNA property again. I worried that she might find a way to fire me from this job that I didn't much like but that fed my family. Within a year (I don't remember when) I found another job within the company, to my great relief.

Poor thing, I feel sorry for her now. She was painfully thin, her face was always squinched up in some kind of displeasure, and I don't remember that she ever laughed. From what I could tell, her marriage was not happy. She volunteered at St. Ann's, a home for orphan babies, and I suspected that she was having trouble having her own baby. Later I found out that was true. So it must have hurt her to imagine me with three young children, one of them still nursing.

Anyway, that's my Bastille Day. What's yours?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"I Didn't" [insert word here]

Rosie's blog posts often remind me of stuff my own children did. I think, "Oh, I should blog that." But then I don't have enough material for a whole post, and I don't.

Well, phooey on that. I should just blog whenever I think of something, right? Otherwise, these priceless pearls of—um—history would go unblogged. And they might be lost! Forever lost in the mists of antiquity!

So this may be the first really short blog post about just one thing. And I doubt it will have a picture. Contain your disappointment.

Mary Claire is following in Patrick's footsteps when she makes up a word or claims that she didn't do whatever her mom is telling her not to do. Patrick used to throw things when that was not the best idea. I told him, "Patrick, don't throw things."

But of course he hadn't been doing what he wasn't supposed to do! His response was generally, "I didn't throw it! I tossed it!"

Yeah, right, kid. Throwing, tossing, what's the difference? Well, one was apparently allowed and the other wasn't. But it was only after I told him not to toss things that he would stop.

. . . Sometimes. Because, of course, he wanted to do what he wanted to do, and he didn't want to be caught at it. He actually admitted that once. I saw him doing something against the rules, and he exclaimed piteously, "But you weren't supposed to see!"

Monday, May 25, 2015

When We Went to France, part 1

This is the family in 1995 at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery. It’s east of Paris. Google Maps says it’s in Seringes-et-Nesles, but I don’t remember that name.

We had rented a really lovely car and driven from wherever it was our plane had landed (anybody remember?) to Oise-Aisne. We couldn’t find a place to eat, so we bought some bread at the French equivalent of a truck stop. What we didn’t know was that it was raw dough to be cooked at home. Timmy ate quite a bit and then threw up. Yay for family stories, right?

We also couldn’t find a hotel the previous night, so we slept in the car in the cemetery parking lot. It was a comfortable car, but no car is comfortable for sleeping in. Rosie slept deeply but apparently had bad dreams. In the middle of the night, she cried out, “Mrs. White! Mrs. White! Wait for me!” (This was during the summer after Rosie had had Mrs. White as a teacher.) She woke me up, which was good, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to vouch for the veracity of this embarrassing story.

Of course, the real reason we were at the cemetery was to see Joyce Kilmer’s grave. He was Jonathan’s paternal grandfather. When the cemetery opened in the morning, we went over to the cemetery’s office to ask where his grave was. The American guy who was working there said he could look it up and what’s your grandfather’s name? We told him. He said, “Well, I can tell you that without looking it up. More people come here looking for his grave than for anybody else’s.” After taking us to the grave, he took several pictures of us, including the one you see here.

Joyce Kilmer (we always call him by his name rather than “Grandaddy,” what with none of his grandchildren having known him) had volunteered for the war practically as soon as the US got into it, even though he had small children at home. One of his children had just died and another was born several days after his departure. Jonathan’s daddy was the oldest. He was eight when his dad went to war and nine when he died.

My grandfather-in-law really threw himself into soldiering. He got himself transferred to military intelligence (hazardous duty) and was killed by a sniper during the Second Battle of the Marne. Earlier that day, he had been leading a party to find a German machine gun. He was 31.

Yes, I thank him for his service and for having made the ultimate sacrifice. But I cannot imagine how he could have left a pregnant wife and bereaved family, especially given that he didn’t have to go. I have complicated feelings about the military anyway, but that’s another story or nineteen. Another day, maybe.

Monday, May 18, 2015

That Hated Hyphen

“Oh, I never bother to remember the last names of my brothers’ girlfriends,” one of my future sisters-in-law airily informed me. “They just change them anyway.”

Well, I was darned if I was going to be the sixth Mrs. Kilmer. When relatives visited, it was already confusing enough directing incoming phone calls at the house—“Which Mr./Mrs. Kilmer do you want?” Often, the caller didn’t even realize that there were several of them. Besides, my brother’s wife and all my female friends who had gotten married had retained their maiden names; why shouldn’t I?

Jonathan had a different idea. He wanted us to have the same last name, just as his friend Jennifer Taylor-Ide and her husband did. In a huff, I asked him if he intended to change his name to a hyphenated name, too. “Of course,” he replied, looking at me as if I’d asked him if two plus two made four. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”

The Hunter-Kilmers before any of them changed their name
Even today, though, some people don’t understand that my last name is really, truly Hunter-Kilmer. Surely it’s Kilmer, right? I must not know my last name, I guess. Until Patrick was married, my stock answer was this: “No. It’s Hunter-Kilmer. It goes under the Hs. My husband’s last name is Hunter-Kilmer. The kids’ last name is Hunter-Kilmer. The dogs’ last name is Hunter-Kilmer.” That makes people laugh, and they put down my last name as I had originally told them.

Sometimes people want to know which was my maiden name. Just in case they are then going to assume that my last name is actually Kilmer, I tell them it doesn’t matter. I’ve had this last name since 1979. “But which name is it, really?” “Oh, I wouldn’t want to confuse you. My last name is really Hunter-Kilmer.” I smile to take the edge off.

Other people want to know what our children would do when they got married. What if they married somebody with a hyphen and became something like Hunter-Kilmer-von Lawick-Goodall? Jonathan and I figured that that was their problem. We didn’t care if the name of Hunter-Kilmer survived into the next generation, anyway.

Of course, our children thought that hyphenation was a terrible idea, and they all had plans to change their last name. Patrick took Hopkins, his wife’s last name. Rosie took Hill, her husband’s last name—which was actually more rebellious than what Patrick did, given our family.

The two single children are apparently too lazy to change their last names as they said they would. Timmy intends to take his wife’s name when he marries. “But what if she wants your last name?” “She can’t have it!”

Fortunately, the dogs don’t mind. Maybe they’ll be the last Hunter-Kilmers.