Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Birthdays Abroad

Today is a member of the family's 45th birthday. Nothing unusual there, true, but it reminds me, as it should, of the place in time where the blessed event occurred, Stuttgart, Germany. For Americans born overseas most are usually like mine in being part of the United States Armed Forces. Otherwise unassuming and ordinary citizens like my family member always get a double-take when the starter topic of where one was born comes up. Unexpected answers like Korea, Turkey, England and Germany come up followed by the innocent question of "What was it like?" right behind it.

Of course the person being born has zero collection of the event or the conditions of time and place but a small sample of things at the time would include a divided Germany only just recently rebuilt from the Second World War, an escalating Cold War between the NATO powers and the Soviet-backed Warsaw Pact and a Black-American family stationed in a foreign country at the height of the Civil Rights Movement back home in a branch of the service that was integrated only 12 years before.

At one extreme one might say ours was just one family not welcome at home in America, grudgingly tolerated by the service, targeted for elimination by the Soviet opposition and bitterly resented by the citizens of occupied West Germany. It wasn't that bad in truth though the Soviet threat was as real as the confusion back home across the Atlantic. Though it took some time, once the order was given the service, to its credit, followed the orders of integration to the letter and beyond. Civil unrest in the United States military was not tolerated as all families got along well enough to understand we were the only support each other had while overseas, regardless of whatever was going on back home.

The Germans were supportive and friendly as well, appreciating the civilian jobs that came with keeping a multi-national foreign defense force running smoothly and taking every opportunity to share language and cultural exchanges. Getting on and off the military bases around the country generally required a military ID or escort but those checks were very perfunctory, nothing close to the car and body searches required post-9/11. It was generally understood that, welcome or not, military bases, especially American ones, were off-limits as far as demonstrations or terrorist activities.

So now, 45 years later, we are left with the memories of the birth of my family member and certainly do wish them all the best and many happy returns. What we are unable to do these days is actually visit the location where the blessed event occurred. Not only is it in the heart of Southern Germany and a long distance away but the actual facility is no longer a part of the US Military system of hospitals. Access to the housing area we used to live in is also behind high walls with barbed wire and restricted access only.

Sometimes it is exactly the same here in the United States. I was born on a military base here which is now also restricted access only. I've never seen it with my own eyes but from the pictures my parents saved of that place oh so long ago it has most definitely changed from the dusty backwater it once was.

Maybe one day but for now, Happy Birthday, and many happy returns!

Gotta go.

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