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Pull Up a Chair

I was extremely sad to hear about Elizabeth Edwards passing to the other side of Life this week. I felt a sort of kinship with her… since I grew up as a military brat, too. The cancer’s movement to her liver had just been reported and it seemed she might be with us a little while longer, but then she was suddenly gone.

Of course, her father was a Navy officer and mine was in the Air Force and enlisted; so, the comparisons pretty much end there. The military may be integrated, but it still has serious problems when it comes to class and gender. Still, I know what it’s like always to be a new kid in school. I didn’t have to move during my senior year of high school as Edwards did, but I was in 13 schools during K through 12. Third grade was in three different schools; seventh and eighth grades were also in three different schools. Mostly, I was in at least one new school each year of my life, until 8th grade, where I finished what was then called junior high with the 9th grade in that same school. High school was one more new school.

There is a way in which one’s emotional development can be stalled or delayed by moving so many times. That delay doesn’t seem to show up in her life story, but it does in mine. There was never enough continuity with the people in my life to go through the ups and downs with them. It took me a long time to figure that out. It isn’t easy living as a nomadic child when all you want is some real structure. However, I’ve had the same job for 15 years, and I am in a relationship that’s lasted for more than 20 years. Both of those are achievements of a sort for a brat.

There are some advantages to a military life. You learn some survival skills… for example, how to compartmentalize and be able to move on in your life, even without continuity. You also pick up, mostly by osmosis I guess, the idea that you are supposed to give something back to the world, and Elizabeth Edwards never held herself back when it came to that. She lived her life to the fullest; and from what I’ve read about her, she always gave one hundred percent. Perhaps she gave too much. I’ve read many tributes and obituaries about her, and in one of them she was quoted as saying that she was doing other things she thought were more important when she should have been getting mammograms.

Giving back is one of the legacies of a childhood inside the fortress, which is the subtitle of a book by Mary Edwards Wertsch, called Military Brats. Reading that book years ago was one of the first times I ever felt as if someone understood me. I’m pretty sure it came near the end of several years of reading far too many self-help books. I keep meaning to purge those books, but I haven’t yet. It’s probably time to do so. Wertsch decided to write her book after seeing the film, “The Great Santini,” which was adapted from a book by Pat Conroy. She was so moved by that film that she knew she had to respond in some way. And so she interviewed military brats all over the country for her book, trying to discern the themes that unite brats, whether the offspring of enlisted men or officers.

I know we have some other military brats in these threads, as well as others who have lived, or grew up, in the same place for their whole lives. To me, that seems pretty exotic. Which category do you belong to? And how did you feel when you heard about Edwards’ death?

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