The most courageous and intrepid woman I know is my mother, Lucille. She has been on my mind constantly since we arrived here, and not just because I miss her like a limb…but because everything I have here to help me make the adjustment, she lacked when she first went overseas, following Dad in his Army postings. People have said I am courageous to follow Tom in his new adventure. But, oh my, do I have it easy compared to what my mother had! I have electronics and instant contact. She crossed oceans and never saw or heard from her family until years later when she returned. Her family all remained in the same town; she went off to see the world.
Mom was born and raised in Bakersfield, CA, and never traveled as a child. She came from a large family, many of the men of which I would suspect traveled during the World Wars, but she herself was Bakersfield bound.
She and Dad met in high school, and married soon after World War II ended (they have just celebrated their 65th anniversary), at the tender ages of 18 and 19. They spent their wedding night on a train to San Francisco, where they honeymooned for five days before Dad had to report to Hamilton Field, Ca, before shipping off to Japan. While he was at Hamilton, they rented a room in a house, where they lived together until he shipped out. Then Mom returned home to Bakersfield until joining Dad over a year later (they were together 33 days after they got married, and then it was a year and six days before she saw him again).
When the time came, she packed up her belongings and boarded a ship to Fukuoka, Japan, saying good-bye to her entire family and embarking for the great unknown. She was only 20 years old. Imagine the sights and smells that greeted her in Japan, only a year or two after the end of the war and its devastation. It certainly wasn’t the tourist spot it is today. “The smells were horrible, especially the benjo buckets (excrement-filled buckets used for fertilizing the fields).”
In Fukuoka, she had to get accustomed to new sights and smells. They were not allowed to shop in the local markets, so Mom had to shop in the U.S. Army Commissary, which was forty miles away. Since they didn’t have a car, Mom had to ride an Army bus to do her grocery shopping. It took all day. Once in a while, she got a ride with friends with cars who invited her, but the bus was her usual mode of transportation. Because they had no children, the Army didn’t issue them a refrigerator. Anything fresh she bought at the market had to be eaten within a few days, and the rest of the food was canned or dried food. Ice was delivered once a week, so she kept things cool in an ice box while the ice lasted.
She also had to get used to eating whatever was served when they were invited out (and she was a finicky eater, never having had to eat anything she didn’t like as a child). She tells the story of being honored with the fish head in her soup when they went to breakfast at a Karatsu hotel one weekend, and she had to smile her thanks and eat it. (To this day, she doesn’t care for sushi!) They were also served fresh eggs, which they didn’t get on base, but the eggs were cooked in fish oil; Mom didn’t eat them, but that meant more for Dad. She filled up on the delicious brown bread that was served.
My brother Dennis was born while they were in Japan, and they returned to the U.S. by ship when Dad’s tour was finished. So, Mom had given birth to her first child with no family to help her, in a strange land, living the life she had chosen by marrying Dad.
After Japan, they were stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where brother David was born soon after they arrived, fourteen and a half months later. Now they were a family of four, living on a first lieutenant’s pay. Fortunately, Mom is a master financial wizard, and was able to make a cozy and loving home for them.
And then, Dad got transferred to France, which meant that he went ahead of Mom, who had to travel to a new country, this time with two little boys (not quite two and three years old), where she knew no one, didn’t speak the language, and had to make a home in a country that had again been devastated by the ravages of war and the loss of most men between the ages of 15 and 60.
Mom tells the story of transferring trains in Chicago, with luggage for herself and the boys, and carrying the two little ones. Unable to find the right track, she stopped a policeman, who told her they were never going to make it, and scooped up the boys under each arm, grabbed some of the baggage in each hand, and told Mom to get the rest and run! Mom says the policeman practically threw them onto the connecting train as it pulled away. It was moving. Had she missed the train, she has no idea what she would have done. When I’ve asked her how she had the courage to continue, she just smiles and says she did what she had to do.
After that, she and the boys flew on a military plane across the Atlantic from New York, landing in Frankfurt, Germany, where they spent the night since it would allow them to have a sleeper car the next night en route to Paris, and caught a train to meet Dad. However, upon arriving at the train station, Mom was told that she’d been booted from the sleeper car, preempted by a colonel’s wife, who was traveling alone. So, Mom sat up holding the two sleeping babies, one lying against each leg, while she tried to sleep herself. Though wearing a suit, she admits that she did remove her skirt during the night, so that it wouldn’t get all wrinkled. My Mom is nothing if not practical! She told Dad later that if he hadn’t been at the train station to meet them in Paris, she would have turned around and gone back the the U.S. that instant. I think I would have bailed much sooner than that!
In France, Mom learned to speak the language well enough to get by (remember, they didn’t have computers with Rosetta Stone!), and learned to cook like the French. She had a wonderful group of friends in France, and she and Dad were able to take advantage of travel opportunities from time to time. They lived in a chateau in Mer when they arrived, and in the past ten years have become friends with children of the people who built the chateau (it was a small chateau, not Versailles). La Grande Cour is the name of the chateau.
While in Mer, Mom had a cook named Josephine. She was the wife of Martin, who was the concierge of the chateau. Martin had been horribly burned by mustard gas during World War I, while saving the life of Marechal Michael Joseph Maunory, the owner of the chateau, and the man who formed the taxicab brigade that saved Paris. Martin threw his cape over the Marechall to protect him during a mustard gas attack, suffering burns over much of his own body as a result. As a gesture of his great thanks, the Marechal gave Martin a place to live on his lands for life.
They were in France for three years, and then Dad was transferred to Fort Ord, Monterey, California, where brother Stephen was born soon after, and I arrived twenty months later. Shortly after I was born, Dad was assigned to go to Korea, leaving Mom behind with four little ones, the eldest only 8 years old.
Mom tells the story of Dad teaching her to shoot a pistol and telling her to shoot first, and then ask questions. During that time, the Barefoot Rapist was prowling the Monterey area, and one night Mom heard something outside the windows. She called the Monterey Police, and hearing that she had a gun in her hand, they kept her on the phone until a police cruiser rolled up to the door, at which point they told her to put down the gun and answer the door. She left the pistol on the sink in the kitchen, and opened the door. After verifying that all was safe and secure, the officer asked Mom if she knew it was illegal to shoot someone outside her home. She answered, yes, she knew, and that her husband had warned her that if she needed to shoot someone, be sure to drag his foot over the threshold!
Dad came home when I was eighteen months old, and we set off soon after for Fort Bragg, NC. That’s where my memories begin, as a three-year-old. I distinctly remember the pool that Stephen and I played in on hot summer days, and biting a neighbor girl as we raced to climb the lattice on our porch. I was competitive even then!
After Fort Bragg, we were off back to France for four years. This time, there were four children, and John was added to the Aubrey clan a year before we came back to the States. Mom says that this tour was easier than their first to France. Now she knew the language, the people, and the country. And life had significantly improved in the years since the war. After four years, Dad was ordered back to the States, to California. So off we went again.
In California, we lived in El Segundo, and were there for a year with Dad, and then throughout Dad’s thirteen-month tour in Vietnam, when he left Mom at home with five kids, a Volkswagon bus, and two teenagers who needed to learn to drive…in Los Angeles! While he was gone, Mom managed to help in Stephen’s and my classrooms, be a room mother, manage the school paper drives, attend Dennis and David’s basketball and baseball games, as well as Stephen’s Little League games, and coach my first-place softball team (11-1, go Hummingbirds!), all the while raising a two-year-old in a home with a pool (she doesn’t swim). When the day came for her to meet Dad in Hawaii for R&R, she never looked back. She later admitted to me that she seriously considered staying there!
She came home to be greeted by her sister, who had come to stay with us after her aunt (who had started out with us) had to return home to a husband who’d fallen and broken an ankle. Aunt Sweetie had also bitten a hole in her tongue, necessitating stitches the night she’d arrived. Of course, we told Mom all of this as soon as she disembarked. Mom says she almost turned around and got back on the plane to Hawaii! I don’t blame her.
When Dad returned, we set off for Fort Carson, CO, for two years, and then Dad was transferred to Frankfurt, Germany. Mom had to leave Dennis and David behind at college, which broke her heart, as yet again she set out for a new country, not knowing the language or the people. By this time, however, the economies were recovering, so life was not quite as difficult as it had been during their first tours overseas. Still, she had to learn another language, at least enough to get by, and make a loving home in a new land.
Dad retired once his tour in Frankfurt was over, and we settled in Santa Barbara, his family home since his grandfather and grandmother had first settled there. And thus, today, Santa Barbara is my home town.
Throughout all of our travels, Mom was our rock. The one to whom we clung. Our home was not a place, but it was in Mom and Dad’s embrace. Our walls were their arms, our roof their hearts. I never remember Mom complaining or wishing she were somewhere else. She is the very definition of intrepid. And I’m happy that I am even the least bit like her. She’s my hero.
(Any errors in this post are due solely to the fact that I cannot get my parents to write their memoirs. Until they do, such errors will persist!…PS: Mom made some changes to this post after reading it. I knew she would!)