by Jamie Davidson
Reflections of a Brat on the 4th of July….
My sister and I recently had a discussion about family traditions as the 4th of July loomed ahead and neither of us had any definitive plans. (Today is the 4th and we still don’t!) As other (non-Brat) families prepared their picnics, fireworks and reunions we wondered why we didn’t have these connections, these family bonding moments in our adulthood. This prompted me to think back on my childhood summers.
Each summer was usually PSC time. I went to a different school for nearly every grade. We were either moving and on our way somewhere or taking a family vacation to see national sights before moving “home” before our Dad left on a year long deployment to Korea or Vietnam. Were it not for these moves I don’t think I would have seen so many of our nations incredible national parks.
“Home” was where we spent our holidays. Home is a small town in Kansas. I remember the 4th as a idyllic day when I got to spend time with my 20 something cousins (usually the only time I got to see them); hang out at the beautiful local parks getting to re-know aunts and uncles and second something cousins. (you remember your Aunt Patty right?) and eat food that people,not restaurants, had lovingly prepared in their kitchens, many of which were annual staples and old family recipes. I think there was always a parade and the traditional small town Main Street was decorated with the American flag in beautiful flower pots and lined with people wearing red, white and blue. Did my grandfather drive in the parade each year in the Shriner’s red convertible wearing his fez that to this day I still don’t know what it symbolized? That part is hazy.
There was homemade ice cream and watermelon eaten sitting on the family home porch where our annual “porch picture” was taken. We always went to the big tent set up on the edge of town to buy fireworks. My father prudently never bought the large rocket types we wanted but we always got snakes, sparklers and other annoying noise makers. I can still see the outline of those black snake marks on the brick sidewalk lovingly preserved to this day in my mind. (The bricks, not the black marks!)
We rode the rides at the local kiddie park and took the kiddie train ride waving at the people watching the kids enjoy the ride as if we were going on some long journey. The 6 cage Ferris wheel is still there and continues to delight children every summer as far as I know. They have the best snow ones in the world there.
We always watched the incredible hometown firework display together, oohing and ahhing at the appropriate times all of us looking toward the same direction. The one time each year when our family was together, was complete.
As an adult, it has become harder and harder to maintain those relationships that were forged in a few short weeks every summer. But that small town is still “home,” and I’ll head there again this July as I have for almost every summer of my 57 years here on earth. And I’ll see everyone that is left there or comes for a visit while I’m there and we’ll take another porch picture. We’ll look at the older porch pictures that have documented how our lives and relationships have changed.
So maybe it’s time to begin some traditions of my own? I don’t know. My sister and I also realized for the first time that it was our mother who held our family together with love and our father who held the bonds of tradition together. I wouldn’t trade being a brat for anything. May you and yours enjoy your 4th of July wherever and whoever it may find you with. And if you don’t have your own tradition, it’s okay.
by Circe Olson Woessner
In the 1960’s and 70’s when my parents went out of town overnight, I stayed with Frau Menzel. After supper, we settled in her tiny sitting room and played a hand or two of rummy or the board game, Mensch ärger Dich nicht. Some nights we watched TV. She’d let me carefully peruse the TV guide, circling the shows I thought I’d like to watch. Sometimes we’d watch Star Trek—Captain Kirk spoke perfect German! So did the cowboys on Bonanza and the family in the Waltons.
She and I loved musical variety shows. I still remember many of the popular singers: Heino, Nina und Mike, Udo Jurgens, and Freddie Quinn. One of my favorite game shows was Am Laufenden Band. Rudi Carrel was the host and I felt reassured that if someone who spoke German with a foreign accent was beloved, then I, with my imperfect German, could be, too.
Am Laufenden Band was sophisticated: pairs of family members performed stunts, solved puzzles and role-played until one pair won the round. In the last round, the final two contestants answered questions about events in the news. Ultimately, the winner sat front of a conveyor belt while an assortment of prizes, including a mystery gift (a box with a question mark on it) passed by. Afterwards, the person had thirty seconds to list as many things as s/he could remember, and the ones recalled correctly, s/he could keep. I was terrible at remembering—and so were some of the contestants!
My very favorite TV game show was Spiel Ohne Grenzen, which translates to “games without borders.” It featured teams from different European countries competing to complete a series of challenges in very unusual circumstances. The teams were scored after each game and there was an overall winner at the end of the show.
According to Wikipedia, the idea for the show came from French President Charles de Gaulle, whose wish was that “French and German youth would meet in a series of games to reinforce the friendship between France and Germany. In 1965, Guy Lux and Claude Savarit spread this idea to other European countries. Teams representing France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy took part in the first edition of the show called ‘Inter Nations Games’.”
The games were part athletics, part cultural celebration, part bizarre contests and a lot of plain luck. The show was hosted in a different European city each time, and the opening and closing ceremonies consisted of people wearing local costumes performing music and folk dances from the region. The competitions were culturally thematic. For example, when the show was hosted in Verona, Italy, famed for its flag-throwing, one of the competitions consisted of two team members standing on pillars in a pool of water, jumping straight up as another team member swept a huge throwing banner in a circle under their feet. The goal was to jump as many times as possible without anyone falling into the water. Another contest involved a team member from one country dressed up like a centaur with a big ribbon on its tail running around the track being chased by team members from another country trying to pluck off the bow.
I can’t recall how often the show aired –Wikipedia shows 30 episodes in 34 years. I thought it more frequent. I do know that Frau Menzel kept me posted on when it was on TV, and I made every effort to watch it.
So, who did I root for? Germany, naturally!
When I look back at my childhood, I realize that I am a TCK—a third culture kid. Like most TCKs, I moved between cultures before I fully developed my personal and cultural identity.* I knew I was American, but didn’t think of myself as an American—at least not in a nationalistic way. I knew I wasn’t German, yet; I rooted for German teams, spoke German and was comfortable in Germany. I blended cultures and customs seamlessly, and along the way, adopted customs from other places I lived. Borders meant little to me—wherever I was, and if there were kids to play with, we became friends—if only for an hour or an afternoon.
While the Europe of my childhood was divided by physical borders, as far back as the 1940s there were people conceptualizing and planning for a unified, united Europe. In 1989, Bill and I were stationed in Bad Hersfeld, Germany, just a stone’s throw from the East-West German border, where we witnessed the end of a divided Germany and the beginnings of reunification. Soon, Europe did away with its frontiers and ushered in a new era of European collaboration.
In writing this piece, I learned some things about Peter Gabriel’s song, “Games without Frontiers.”
Gabriel was familiar with the game show of the same name. He used its concept as inspiration for his song. His lyrics are a social commentary about how some world leaders, exhibit childish behavior as they make life-or-death decisions on behalf of their countries. They seem to be playing a game, but their actions have serious consequences. On the surface the TV game show is jolly and harmless, but underneath the silliness of the games, there are elements of nationalism, territorialism and competitiveness. In his song, Gabriel switches back and forth using analogies to the TV show and real-world events. The children’s names and flag colors in the lyrics refer to countries, politics and specific people. The refrain is French translation of the game show title: Jeux sans frontiers.
Throughout the song, Gabriel balances the harmless (a game) and ominous (political bullying) using descriptive lyrics such as “dressing up in costumes, playing silly games/Hiding out in treetops, shouting out rude names.”
As an adolescent growing up in Cold War Germany, I took Spiel Ohne Grenzen for what it was: a funny, friendly game show. I had no idea that there were political leaders using people as pawns and playing more serious, sinister games. Communism, Watergate, repression and terrorism were not in my vocabulary. As a teen, I began to understand the deeper meanings of Gabriel’s song—and as an adult, having experienced the fall of the Iron Curtain first hand, the isolation some citizens experience at the hands of their governments, I am all for countries tearing down walls (real or imaginary) and collaborating instead.
My dad once told me that Peter Gabriel’s agent talked with him about performing a concert at Pourtales and attracting German and French attendees. His boss Dr. Leibrecht wouldn’t let him do it, fearing too much traffic would damage to the grounds.
My Dad came home with his orders. We were being transferred to Tokyo, Japan in 1960. I was ten years old and could not wait to begin this new adventure. I read so many books about Japanese life and culture and I had seen the pictures of the girls on Girl’s Day wearing their kimonos with the obi and zori shoes. I could not wait to go shopping in the Ginza district. I was fascinated by the Japanese language. I already knew how to count from one to ten: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyuu, juu. My new life at yet another Air Force base was about to begin.
My Mom, younger sister Carla, and I descended the steps of the MATS (Military Air Transport Service) plane with the seats with nets and the boxed meals that they gave us and there was Dad. He had preceded us to get things in order. “Girls, I have some news. They have no housing for us at this time so we will be staying at the Imperial Hotel until quarters have been approved.” The only word I heard was “hotel”.
What an adventure this would be and I was, to my astonishment, given the run of the hotel. I first met the staff in the kitchen who were gracious enough to ask what kinds of food I liked, as well as introducing me to new and wonderful Japanese fare, never failing to offer me some Mochi (ice cream). They taught me Japanese phrases each day: Moshi, moshi, anone (when answering the telephone), Chotto matte kudasai (Just a moment, please) and Ah, so desuku (Oh, I see). My new friends would help me continue to learn more Japanese numbers and they would quiz me every day. We saw Kabuki dancers each night after dinner. I was entirely enthralled with this life, this language, the new food adventures, and the very kind people.
My sister and I would play games in the spacious front lobby. I would learn how to use an abacus in order to be ready for maths class. In school, I found myself in a Japanese Culture class where we learned the art of writing in Kanji. My Mom signed us up for a Judo class and because I was taller than the other students, for the first time, I excelled at a sport.
Then the day came. We were moving to a Japanese house in the “paddies” near a rice field. I walked to the school for American military dependents every day and never failed to stop on the way home for some street “Yakitori” (grilled chicken on a stick).
After three years my Dad got his orders. We were moving to Frankfurt, Germany. Another chapter in the book of my life was about to begin. World, here I come!
Donna Peacher-Hall (Air Force BRAT)