It has often been said that you can never go home again. And for military brats, that can be doubly true. Even if you have a chance to go back to a previous duty station, usually all of the friends who helped to make it ‘home’ have moved on with their families to new assignments. So nothing is the same. A few years ago, however, I did go ‘home’ again. And it was wonderful, and a little sad.
My husband, Tim (who grew up civilian), and I were in San Antonio, Texas for our youngest daughter’s drill team competition. After the competition ended, we were on the highway heading back to Fort Worth, when I saw a road sign for El Paso. I mentioned to our daughter that I had lived there at Biggs AFB, from 1958 to 1962, and would love to see it again. Just for a lark, Tim suggested that we head for El Paso.
We arrived in El Paso late at night, so nothing looked even remotely familiar. We checked into a hotel, and exhausted after the 500 mile trip, went straight to bed. The next morning dawned bright and clear. When I looked out the window, there were the Franklin Mountains, looking exactly the same as I remembered. Even the morning light was the same. After a quick breakfast, I insisted that we head out to Biggs, now a part of Fort Bliss. Our daughter just couldn’t understand why I was so anxious to see ‘an old Air Force base’.
On the way out to the base, everything looked different, but once we were through the main gate, I began to see familiar sights. We drove around the base for a while, then stopped at the Base Chapel, where I had attended Bible School, and youth group, for several years. I stood on the front steps, facing the Franklin Mountains, and had such a sense of deja vu; it brought tears to my eyes.
Next, we drove through the base housing area. The street names had changed, and the house numbers weren’t the same, but I had no trouble finding ‘our’ house. I just sat in the car, in front of the house, for a few minutes and memories came flooding back. Memories of happy times, and friends, and sad times, and of my parents and siblings flooded back. But none of this could compare with the experience of going back to the base school, just a block from the house.
School was in session at Benjamin R. Milam Elementary School when I strolled up the front walk. Before going through the doors, I turned to look out over the front lawn. Nothing had changed! The flagpole was right there, the cable clanging softly against the pole, in the slight breeze. The lawn sprinklers were on, making the same tick, tick, tick noise that I remembered. Past the fence across from the school, the desert was unchanged, stretching off into the distance.
As I walked into the main hall, everything looked exactly the same! The fragrance of baking bread from the cafeteria wafted over me; unchanged from my childhood. The sounds were the same. The ‘cafetorium’ with the pull-down tables and benches was unchanged except for the fading of the velvet curtains on the stage. I walked through the cafeteria line, and expected to see the same faces behind the counter. I walked into the office, and was half-way surprised that Mrs. Olfers was no longer the secretary, smiling at everyone who invaded her domain.
After speaking to the principal, I walked the halls, and visited all of the classrooms I had attended. Even the tables in the lower grade rooms were the same as those where I’d sat, some twenty-five years earlier. I visited Miss Graff’s third grade classroom, Miss Maxwell’s fourth grade, Mrs. Leonard’s fifth grade, Mrs. Roberts sixth grade, Mrs. Wright’s seventh grade… of course they weren’t there, but it didn’t really matter. The memories and ambiance were.
I felt as though I’d stepped through a door into the past. I felt the years slip away. I had the most curious sensation that, if I walked out the front doors of the school and down the block to the old house, my parents and sisters and brother would be there; at just the same ages they had been when we lived there, and that I’d be able to step back into that life. I was, just for little while, a child again. Neither my husband nor my daughter could quite understand how I felt, or why I cried, but it didn’t really matter. I’d been ‘home’.
It has often been said that you can never go home again. And for military brats, that can be doubly true. Even if you have a chance to go back to a previous duty station, usually all of the friends who helped to make it ‘home’ have moved on with their families to new assignments. So nothing is the same. A few years ago, however, I did go ‘home’ again. And it was wonderful, if a little sad.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Military Brats Online, 1997.