I counted it up once, and by the time I reached my teenage years, I had at least nine different mailing addresses. The joys of being a military brat, growing up all over the world. And I wouldn’t change it for the anything. I lived in motels, camping trailers, relatives’ houses. But I was wondering to myself the other day, have the places I remember best changed as much as I have?
The very first home I remember living in was in San Diego, California. Moved out by the time I was five. I do remember walking to kindergarten from there. I remember getting picked on by a first-grade bully because I wrote a girl a poem. My dog D-dog would catch rabbits and squirrels and robins in the backyard and leave them on the porch for us. When I pulled the old house up on Google Earth, it looked much the same as it did in my memory. Then I went into Street View, and everything around it has changed. Where we had a chainlinked fence at the end of the backyard, there is now a stone fence. Next we moved to Great Lakes (North Chicago), Illinois.
I became a Chicago Cubs fan after we moved to Illinois so my father could train Navy recruits (I went to Basic and A-school there myself just eight years later). About 15 years ago, I went up to Chicago on business and decided to drop by the old neighborhood. I ended up writing a poem about it. The huge circle in the cul-de-sac was not as big as my rental car. The huge field we caught grasshoppers in was only a lot barely 50-feet long. The baseball fields were empty and grown up with weeds. Six years ago, I went back up to watch my niece’s graduation from boot camp. This field you see in the picture above was there. All the houses were gone. The roads my friends and I built bike ramps to jump over were gone.
Between Great Lakes and Keflavík Iceland, we stayed with my maternal grandparents in Cypress, California. I had some adventures those brief six months there. Broke my arm wrestling with my uncle’s new garage door. Learned to swim because I fell in the deep end of a pool and it was either that or drown. Climbed some of those huge trees in the park beside the house. Went streaking for the first time because I had laid down on a nest of red ants. I was completely naked by the time I got back to the house. I stood in the garage while my grandfather and father picked the ants off me. The house hasn’t changed a whole lot. Darker paint. My grandfather’s rose garden had extended all the way up the drive next to the stone wall. But the strawberry fields that had been across the park are now rows and rows of warehouses. On to Iceland.
My fondest childhood memories have to be from my family’s time in Keflavík. Windy, beautiful, barren in places. After some of the worst snowstorms, I would “skate” home from the Youth Center because the roads would be covered in ice. I learned the beautiful game of football (soccer) while living just below the Arctic Circle and haven’t stopped loving it since. Spent almost three weeks at a summer camp learning to ride Icelandic horses in the traditional English style. Midnight hamburgers on the longest day of the year. Getting a concussion playing basketball, and later learning that I had the best game of my brief career. But I couldn’t remember any of it. Geysirs. Waterfalls. Went camping with the Boy Scouts and found a World War II Canadian plane that had never been recovered. Watched whales in the bay. Fried ysa every Friday at the Top of the Rock. French fries at the little red restaurant down by the lake in Reykjavík, where in the winter just a corner would be ice free because the ducks and geese and swans would swim around constantly. Watching the US hockey team upset the Soviet juggernauts.
The base is now closed down and the military housing is now civilian housing. There is a community college in the old high school where I went almost one year. I cannot find the Youth Center on the satellite images. The old theater is there where I saw The Last Unicorn. But I don’t know if it is open.
I guess all these places are a little like me. We look the same, but our surroundings and the things that made us what we are have changed. I still remember the Blizzard of ’79 in Great Lakes. But where I thought we had a mountain of snow as high as the sky in the middle of the cul-de-sac, it must have not been a mound not much higher than my father was tall. Memories aren’t what they used to be.