Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Moss Don’t Grow (on a Rolling Spud) Part One

Spud was born in Germany, but her story didn’t start quite there. Her Mom and I had been in Germany about two years and change in a three year tour when the “idea” of her came into being.

We had been through a couple of rough patches, but were on the mend. Life in the Army for both soldier and spouse can be rough enough; deployments far away from any home you’ve known, can be much, much harder.

We had the advantage of being able to live off post together following a short separation. My wife at the time knew German – albeit a very Haucht (“High”) university German – and we had a three old kinder fraulein who charmed everyone she met. So we had certain advantages, but it still could be difficult.

I worked a rotation shift, sometimes it was 5 (on) and 2 (off), for a while 6 and 2, although for many months I was lucky enough to land day shift. Always with shift work, it rotated. And backwards, despite volumes of research that says if you must rotate, always rotate forward. Plus, I went off on both a one week technical exchange and a six week language refresher. I am sure being pregnant, life in the Army, and a soldier husband that disappears doesn’t make life easy.

But that was the environment, and the life style.

Spud never got much of a chance to enjoy the Great German adventure of her youth, although she was to fully do so later on (more on that in a later installment). It was a world of Gasthauses, and shopping for the day at the local grocer, watching Armed Forces Network (AFN) television (or occasionally the local German channels), wishing for snow, but knowing it never snows like back home, then a quick birth in a German hospital, back home a day later, and a few short months to enjoy the little Spud before we were packing up for home.

Those first few months with Spud were easier as we remembered Early Life with Jilly Bean, but also much more unsettled. I was busy jamming out resumes and cover letters trying to scare up anything for a job back in the states. Staying in the Army was definitely out of the question, I was getting out and never wanted anything to do with the Army, ever again. I appreciated the skills, the experience, but I came in with a Bachelors and discovered too late that my Montgomery Bill GI benefits would pay for another Bachelors but not for a Masters.

I felt cheated. I had put in 6 tough years (the infamous “Bearcat Six Year Plan”) getting a B.A. in Theater from State University of New York (SUNY), and by gum, I wasn’t going to sit through anymore classes. (Though I tried while deployed, but that fizzled when I wouldn’t keep up with the reading or the papers. A university career in Theater does not well prepare you for the rigors of advanced college education.)

Nothing popped before we had to leave, so I brought my family home to the folks, not having any other place particularly in mind. (And it’s not like I had many options at that point.)

I know we all survived those few months home, but that had to be the most difficult period in any of our lives (except maybe for Jilly Bean and Spud, who I think loved all the attention at Grandma and Grandpas). A young family of four jammed in on top of another family, and a mix of personalities and attitudes and habits to boot.

I know my ex described this period as “You owe me. Big-time.”

I was so desperate for work and income at one point, that I seriously reconsidered joining the service, not Active Duty, but in the Reserves or National Guard. Any need for a Czech Linguist or Intel Analyst? No? Too many right now? Need to travel? What about right here in town?

And before you know it, they had me sign the papers. 4 years, New York Army National Guard. And two days after I signed the papers, I was offered a Technical Writing job. Figures. Good firm, good opportunity. Company with several good writers willing to give a youngster with raw talent but little polish an opportunity to learn, writing User and Technical Manuals for Computer Systems, which the firm’s programmers coded for corporate clients.

But I had a job, and we could move out of my parent’s house.

Spud’s next place of residence was the kind of place that settles in your mind like music in summer, redolent in warm and hazy sways of grasses, orchard fields and solitude, save for the crickets.

We rented a 200 year old farmhouse, really only the upstairs, a family member lived in an expanded first floor, the family Matriarch and landlady lived next door, and our little family lived in the 2nd floor of the old house.

The upstairs had those great old plank floors, at least a foot wide, each plank, and where brick was not directly exposed (though layered with centuries of paint), every other scrap of wood was wide plank or beam, all held together with pegs. The pane glass was old, we even had one that was original, along with the etched initials of some ancestor fiancé who wanted to ensure that the peddler’s diamond was just that.

There were stairs too, leading up to the attic, but we weren’t allowed up there except on the obligatory historical tour, expressly for the purpose of seeing the old standing loom that still resided in the attic, carefully preserved.

The fireplaces were off limits too, mores the pity, although as anyone who knows we well will tell you, that’s probably just as well. (Let’s see, the flue, the cinders, the wood, chopping etc., and then of course, the fire itself. Maybe we should leave the fire making to the professionals, shall we?)

But best of all, this first real home of Spud’s sat on a several acre remnant of an old family farm of landed gentry in Southern Saratoga County. For those that know, that means a slice of a history fast disappearing amid suburban sprawl. The closest I’ve seen to it, and as fast disappearing, are a few remaining slivers of Maryland countryside astride the Baltimore Washington Beltway. Now Saratoga County in New York is not by any stretch wider metropolitan Washington, but the almost ghostlike quality of what little traditional rural life remains, suffers the same melancholia.

But in the sliver of time these memories reside, it is always near summer, there are always tall grasses, and the 200 year old Pear and Apple Trees are resplendent in bloom. And fully swallowed up in the soft grasses is a little babe of a child, with hair beginning to go as blond as the grass seed, a ready laugh, and a sparkle in her eyes that set the birds to twitter.

Sitting and laughing in that orchard field, looking out across a landscape unchanged barely since the Revolution, could you blame us if the whole world seemed as manageable as the apple in our hand? As easy to bite into as that ancient fruit, with a legacy and heritage older than the house itself? As easy to chart a course for the future, as the winds find their easy way through the tall, shifting grass?

And yet, in less than a year, our lives would change greatly, as the next big Adventure would begin.

But for now, in the tall grass, a small child full of brightness and light fixes her eyes on a grasshopper that has hopped up on our blanket. All attention and hope, and then a ready grab, but too late, and the critter pops away. A little chill, the sun heading down, and time to bring the kids inside.

Look for Moss Don’t Grow (on a Rolling Spud), Part Two, following the Spud to the Apartment Complex and her first years at school.

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