The Root of the Matter

Sunny Frazier 4Returning 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.

sunny69@comcast.net

http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

http://www.oaktreebooks.com/

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“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.

Where Angels FearFinally, 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.

22 thoughts on “The Root of the Matter

  1. I just love your description as Christy drives by the orchard. What a great visual, yet so sad, too. I would imagine that’s how you must have felt, even if you could have expressed it yet, when you lived off-base and suddenly realized you were different.

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  2. This post really touches me. We moved a few times, but basically grew up in the same area. I couldn’t imagine the lifestyle you lived, and yet after reading your blog, I can.Isn’t it interesting how we often put our histories into our characters’ lives. Excellent post.

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  3. Claire, that orchard description actually happened. On my way to work it was a standing orchard; eight hours later, it was demolished. And, the thought hit me, just like it hit Christy: rootless.

    Lou, what a way with words you have! Not that I would expect less. Might have to steal that “tempered steel” phrase. And, back atcha!

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  4. My kids were fortunate–we only moved a few times, lived in Navy houseing twice, in Little Creek VA and then in quonset huts on base in Port Hueneme. We remained in Oxnard in apartments and finally our own house while hubby went all over the place. We had too many kids for his pay grade to follow him and then when he did make Chief the Vietnam war came and we stayed home, thankfully. So my kids never had to go through all the uprooting we did. Good post, Sunny.

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  5. Well, adversity certainly builds strength and compassion, and that rootless feeling is something that lots of people may feel, and you can give voice to it through your characters. To me the Midway experience sounds like paradise, but I can see how the frequent moves and changes can be so hard, too. Thanks for giving us a window into this, Sunny.

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  6. Lovely glimpse into your childhood, Sunny. I think I might have enjoyed moving around the way you did, but then the ‘different’ always seems more appealing than the ‘normal’ that we’re used to.

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  7. Geez, that’s a rough road to travel Sunny. I admired you before I knew this, and now it amazes me how you keep strong and persevere. Love your books and can’t wait for the next release. I have more feeling for your characters now too. Thanks for sharing 🙂 —Chris

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  8. Thanks for the post, Sunny. As always, there’s more food for thought in your writing than just the words on the page. Hope all is going well.

    Amy

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    • Strangely enough, many of us military children go back to what we know and enter military service ourselves. It’s familiar territory, even if it’s in Newport, RI, Orlando, FL, or Puerto Rico–all the bases I was stationed at during my time in the Navy. The hard part is forming attachments to people and places and feeling a part of any community. I’m working on it. So far, the writing community has proven to be my strongest and mosst durable relationship.

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  9. Do not ask a military brat “where are you from?” when you really meant to ask “where were you born?”. Asking the “from” can lead to a several volume set detailing places, dates and circumstances.

    Asking “where do you call home”, more often than not, results in the location where their father’s or mother’s last duty assignment was.

    Another uniqueness of a military brat going to a public school for the first time instead of at an on-base school:
    Who knew they actually have real buses painted yellow instead of
    converted livestock trailers painted olive drab pulled by semi trucks!

    I have to agree with Marta’s comment above that your words, Sunny, “I grew up saying good-bye.” is a much nicer way of saying the reality of “One of our early life’s lessons was it is better not to make friends.”

    Take care, fellow brat!

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  10. Ah, the cattle cars. And yet, we didn’t think it was strange, did we Casey?

    Casey and I were in the 8th grade together, square dance partners. I got the only guy who actually liked to twirl a girl around. Plus, he was taller than the other boys. He didn’t even squirm when I choose fuchsia for our dance colors. Yikes!

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    • I even remember the caller’s patter sayings after all these years!

      Call your dogs and grab your gun,
      Let’s start dancin’ and have some fun.

      Chase the rabbit, chase the squirrel,
      Chase that pretty fuchsia gowned girl.

      Cat in the corner, stalkin’ a mouse,
      Promenade your girl around the house.

      Everybody swing, everybody whirl.
      Give that pretty girl one final fast twirl.

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      • This is the call I remember:

        “All join hands and you circle the ring,
        Stop where you are, give your honey a swing.
        Swing that little girl behind you,
        Swing your own if you can only find her.
        Now you alaman left with the corner girl
        Dosey-doe your own
        And you all promenade with the sweet corner maid
        Singing oh Johnny, oh Johnny, oh.”

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  11. Hi Sunny. Really , very nice piece on your background. As I am a valley native, so much rings true with Christy and you. Also, as I grew up in Madera, there was for many years – the cold war 50s – a US Air Force radar base there. Located about seven miles east of town, there were no planes or runways. Many of those Air Force kids went to school with us, and I became friends with many. I still wonder where some of those kids ended up and yes, with a certain nostlagic sadness. The base closed in late 60s and was turned into an native American training center. NAS Lemoore’s history is of interest to me also, as a friend of my family was a WW II veteran. He was sent there for bomber flight engineer training, from Fort Ord when Lemoore was Army Air Corps Field.

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    • Tim, I didn’t know anything about the Madera base. I did know there was an old airfield prior to NAS. We were one of the first families stationed there, they were still building the base. Rumor was that there was an atom bomb on the base and that we were the 3rd target during the Cuban Crisis. They sent us and our father’s home as we tensely waited it out. The town people never knew.

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  12. Pingback: Brat Blog | timdesmondblog

  13. Sunny, I never though about the kids who came in and out of our schools. I figured their parents were roamers and couldn’t stay in one place too long (I hated moving…even to this date). Most of these kids were loners and just when they made friends, they were gone. Its wonderful to hear that perhaps many of them survived as you…this gives me hope for the many children who are on bases because of their parent(s) choice of necessity. I’m proud to know that you are as dedicated to your art (as well as Military Service) as the parents of those children. augie

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