Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, reveals what it meant—and still means—to be a military brat.
“I grew up saying good-bye.”
Those were the words that came out of my mouth while talking to a friend recently. She stopped me and said, “You need to put that in one of your books.”
In the tumble of conversation, I would have overlooked that nugget. But, she’s right—it’s a great line and defines not only myself but the main character in my books.
Growing up in the military is tough on a kid. I remember feeling like one of “Our Gang” in the San Leandro neighborhood from ages four to six. It was the 1950’s and since my family didn’t live on a base, I only knew that my father sailed away for long periods and showed back up with his seabag and white uniform. Meanwhile, our pack of children roamed safe streets and played in backyards, putting on plays and having picnics. Birthday parties were a neighborhood affair, complete with games like “Drop the clothespin in the bottle” and “Pin the tail on the donkey.”
The first realization that we were different from other families came when my parents packed us up and we took a long plane ride over the ocean in Navy transport to a spit of sand called Midway Island. It was a kid’s dream and an adult’s nightmare: a mile long and a mile wide with nothing much to do but watch the gooney birds and hunt for fish balls washing up from Japanese fishing nets after storms. There were no cars on the island—we all rode bikes. The beaches were white coral and we played inside bunkers from the war dotting the beach.
In this magic land, all fathers were like my father: they all wore uniforms. My dad “flew the barrier,” staying up in planes for days, circling the pacific to thwart commies from bombing us (remember, this is the 50’s). School only went up to the 6th grade and then kids were sent to Hawaii for education as it was felt unsafe to be a teen on an island of single sailors and no other women except wives. Kids rotated in and out as families transferred, so there were always new faces in the classroom.
Our turn came and we transferred to San Diego. That’s a Navy town, but we didn’t get base housing. I was back with “civilian” kids and suddenly realized I was “different.” I didn’t know their games of kickball and dodgeball. I didn’t know who Yogi Bear was. They knew each other after years of going to school; I was a stranger in a strange playground.
It got worse. We moved so much, I went to three fourth grades. One hadn’t started multiplication, one had just finished. I fell behind and still have trouble with math. That year of my life is a whirlwind of vague memories, disappointments and never fitting in. Very tough on a 9-year-old.
Finally, we came home. “Home” was NAS Lemoore, a Navy base nowhere near an ocean. It was carved out of the rich farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. The purpose was to train pilots to land and take off on aircraft carriers before they ever saw one. This confused the small town and they weren’t sure if they wanted us there. We brought in money, sure, but we brought in other elements as well. Like sailors.
I grew up with the comfort of barbed wire surrounding me. Sentries guarded us from outside forces. As children, we recognized our own. Having lived on Midway was no more odd than having lived in Japan, the Philippines or Europe. We knew things were temporary, especially friendships. Coming back from Christmas vacation, half the class had transferred out and there were all new faces to deal with.
In my book, Where Angels Fear, I give this feeling of displacement to my character, Christy Bristol. Her best friend Lennie is determined to get some land from her ex and Christy doesn’t understand why it’s an important issue. Lennie retorts “That sounds like someone who never stayed in one place long enough to put down roots.” Seven chapters later, Christy drives by an orchard where the trees have been pulled up. “It was as if a giant had crossed the field and pushed over every peach tree in his path. The trunks lay on the soil, with rootballs obscenely thrust toward the sky. Rootless. Exactly what Lennie had called her.”
I call it my inner childhood setting things straight.