Thursday, January 14, 2016

On being a young American kid in Europe...


My very first passport photo before we moved to England.  I was about three years old and two feet ten inches tall.   I was born in Hampton, Virginia and my parents moved us back to that area when I was eight.  I grew up in Virginia and it's now "home", but I don't miss it that much. 

As I was watching the dogs outside this morning, I had a sudden thought about being an American kid in Europe.  I spent part of my early childhood in England at Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We lived on the base, but I went to a British school instead of the American school.  My sisters went to the American schools.  At the time, living in England was perfectly normal to me.

I didn't know I was in a foreign country, although I do remember my mom and sisters explaining to me that we were Americans living in England and that it was a "different country" than where we came from.  At that time, I didn't have a concept of countries, though.  England was simply "home".  I still have vivid memories of the primary school where I attended kindergarten with British and a few other American kids.  My mom told me she sent me there because the school day was longer and it kept me out of her hair.


Our backyard in England on Mildenhall Air Force Base bordered a big field with cows in it.  I was fascinated by them.  To this day, I still hate wearing shoes... and I love livestock.

We moved back to the States in 1978, when I was six years old.  At that point, I had spent half my life in England and it was really the only place I remembered.  I have only the vaguest of memories of our time at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Even though I'm American and was finally back in the United States after three years abroad, it didn't really feel like my home.  It felt like a foreign country.  The time I spent as a small child in England changed me somehow, even though I am very much an American.  I guess living in England made me more aware of the world around me.  It definitely gave me a perspective that a lot of my peers didn't have, although quite a lot of my peers were also military brats and a few of them had also lived abroad.


Me and my mom going to high tea at the Swan Hotel in Lavenham, England.  This photo was so fascinating to me that I used Google Earth to figure out where we were.  This hotel is still open and there's a chance Bill and I might book a room there in March.  It depends on how nervous he is about getting us to the airport on Easter morning.

For some reason, I was thinking about kids who are born abroad and spend their formative years in another country.  They go to school with host country nationals, probably learn to speak the local language.  It's "home" to them.  Then they move back to the country where they're really from and it somehow feels "foreign" to them.  Even though they are among their people, they are different.  They were different when they were abroad, too.  They weren't locals and weren't likely to stay there longer than a few years, but they were mingling among the locals and got to see things through their eyes.    

I think sometimes the first place you remember as a child is a place that really leaves an imprint.  I have always been kind of fascinated by England, though I haven't spent a lot of time there since we moved back to the States in 1978.  We went to London in 2009 and I remember being questioned by the customs people.  They wanted to know if I'd ever been there before.  I told them I used to live in England.  That piqued their interest, until I told them I lived there as a young child in the 1970s.  Then it was okay.  I suspect there are a lot of Americans like me, people who lived abroad when they were kids and kind of feel like their childhood home is actually "home".  I think my mom thought of England as home, too.  She said she cried all the way back to the States when we had to move.  

My parents kept in touch with my dad's British secretary from when we lived in England.  Before my dad died in 2014, they went back to visit her a few times.  She visited them, too, and even became friends with my Granny.  In fact, I saw her right before Bill and I got married.  I remember her fondly.  Before we left England, she asked me when I'd be back to visit.  I told her I wasn't coming back until they built a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean.  She reminded me of that when I saw her last.  I've lost count of how many times I've flown across the Atlantic Ocean since 1978... or really, 1995.  I never took another trip abroad until I joined the Peace Corps.

My sisters cautioned me against marrying a military guy.  They saw my mom's life as an Air Force wife and how it didn't make her very happy.  I mostly enjoyed being an Army wife until Bill retired in 2014.  The lifestyle took me in a direction I wasn't expecting, but I've been around the military my whole life.  It's kind of second nature to me.  I didn't have the globe trotting experience my sisters had because my dad retired from the Air Force when I was six years old.  But I definitely made up for that as an Army wife.  I eventually had roots when my dad retired, but now I'm not sure if I'll root anywhere else.       


Hebridean Princess in November 2012.  We'll be back aboard in March.

In March, Bill and I will be going to Glasgow, Scotland to catch a cruise through the Hebrides.  We have decided that after the cruise, we will visit my old childhood stomping grounds, possibly with a stop in Stoke On Trent so we can catch a performance of Avenue Q.  If we do make it to Suffolk, Bill will probably have to acquaint himself with British driving.  I know it makes him nervous, but I feel confident he can do it.  If my parents could do it, he certainly can.  And who knows?  We may even move to England at some point.  The expat life definitely suits us.  


I spotted this sign in Edinburgh.  My maiden name is Tolley.  My married name is Crossen.  Seems like a clue from the past.

I always thought I'd put down roots somewhere and raise a family.  That lifestyle is apparently not in the cards for me.  My expat career started with my being a very little kid in England and mingling among Brits.  Then I went to Armenia as a young woman and worked with others who also later became expats.  Seriously, a lot of my old Peace Corps friends are living abroad.  Now I'm on a second Germany tour.  I have no burning desire to move back to the United States anytime soon.  If I could, I think I'd stay abroad for the rest of my life.  We'll see what happens.

For now, I'm really looking forward to going back to England and seeing somewhere other than London.  London is amazing; don't get me wrong.  But it's not what I remember about the first childhood home I actually remember.  Besides, England, Ireland, Scotland, and even Germany is where my people were from in the first place.  


We lived in England when this happened...  

2 comments:

  1. Are you familiar with the Welsh term "hiraeth?" It's difficult to translate into English, but it means something like "homesickness for a place you can never return to, a place which maybe never was; the nostalgia, yearning, grief, for lost places of your past." I feel this way often; "home" just doesn't exist for me, and I wonder if it will ever exist for Logan. He's a third culture kid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had not heard of that term until just now. I will have to explore it. I will say that when Bill and I went to Scotland in 2012, I never felt more at home anywhere-- save maybe Natural Bridge, VA, which is where my dad grew up. It was the oddest feeling. I just felt like I belonged there. I looked like the people and related to them. The air even smelled like "home" to me. I have never lived in Scotland, but it feels like that's where I should be.

      I am hoping to visit Ireland this year. I wonder if I'll feel the same way there. That's where Bill's people are mostly from.

      Delete

Comments on older posts will be moderated until further notice.