Back when I was in grad school at the Monterey Institute learning to be a translator (95-97), I had a classmate who was one of the feistiest, funnest (I know, not a word, don’t bug me) young women I’ve ever known. She had enough energy and enthusiasm for ten people.
And she spent most of it on others.
A force of nature, so generous. Unforgettable. And she hasn’t changed.
We’ve exchanged e-mails a few times since we left MIIS, but though she’s been living in Europe for years, we’ve never managed to get together. I hadn’t seen her in 15 years. Until yesterday! It was like no time had passed at all except for the adorable nine-year-old daughter she had with her! But the visit — breakfast in a nearby café — was much too short. She was here on a mother/daughter trip to Paris for the big semi-annual sales, and she’d come with two American friends and their daughters. All of them live in Brussels. Two of the three, including my friend, are the wives of military officers.
It was simultaneously bizarre and perfectly natural to be in the company of officers’ wives. My mother was one! I was a Navy brat. Grew up watching my mom do Officers’ Wives Club luncheons (remember luncheons?) at our house (had my first sip of lime daiquiri on one of those occasions, yummy, thanks Mom!). My parents hosted Hail and Farewell parties. Mom was a killer hostess and I learned to love entertaining, thanks to all this.
I had to get all dressed up to go to Change of Command ceremonies on giant gray boats (I know, ships, not boats). I had to get dressed up to see my dad’s ship off early in the morning every time he went to sea for six months at a time. Mom was so sad. Dad was so handsome in his dress whites. He even had a sword. They went to Navy Balls, and I remember my mom making a pink chiffon ball gown when I was six. Those ships had a smell that only they had. I knew what half mast meant. There was protocol. My brother and I were well behaved.
Dad knew how to navigate using only a sextant. He showed me all the constellations one starry night on Guam. It was Viet Nam for a while and they made my mom take the Flower Power daisy stickers off our white VW bug because it “wasn’t appropriate for an officer” (might imply support for the peace-loving hippies). One night Dad had duty and we went to dinner (in the Officers’ Wardroom, where a steward in white gloves and a white jacket served us) and a movie (The Poseidon Adventure!) on his ship.
He always brought the coolest stuff back from his cruises. My favorites were the black lacquered jewelry box with a twirling ballerina from Japan, and the muu muu from Hawaii.
He was my hero. We were the good guys. I never questioned. I was a kid.
It’s its own little world, the military, with its own reality…
Which brings me to the commissary, and back to my friend from grad school.
So my friend, having read my last post, showed up with a bag (Trader Joe’s no less!) bursting with some atrocious (as a joke) and some fabulous (GIRL SCOUT COOKIES, WOOHOO!!!) American food that she and her friend had picked up for me at the commissary. (For you civilians, the commissary is the (usually enormous) grocery store on a military base that lets you pretend you never left Kansas, Dorothy. Your tax dollars are paying to ship Oreo pie crusts all over the world. It’s a morale thing, I guess.)
She’d lugged this giant bag all the way from Brussels on the train, with a kid in tow, and their own luggage. What a doll. It was just like her to do something like this. Such a lovely treat. I hope I get to see her again before another 15 years go by.
Vincent immortalized the treasures on Instagram. This isn’t even close to all of it. But you get the idea. Strangely satisfies and intensifies my nostalgia at the same time.