How should I respond to this request?

Today’s post might be a bit convoluted, and some might think I’m petty to write it. I’m going to write it anyway, because I’ve got nothing better to do. To those of you who manage to finish it and follow all the twists and turns, I offer you the gooiest of cookies.I just want to get this off my chest.Fair warning. It’s going to be long, and it might come across as self-indulgent and obnoxious.Those of you who know me probably won’t be surprised.

One night in May 2014, I was living in Texas, hanging out on Facebook, when I accessed the page for my alma mater, Longwood University. I remember being worried at the time. My husband, Bill, was about a month out from retiring from the Army. He was on “terminal leave”, which meant he was using up all of the vacation days he’d amassed before it was time to separate from the service. He was also job hunting, and it seemed like the pickings, even in Texas, were slim. I’d gone to Longwood’s Facebook page to take my mind off of my nervousness about the potential financial ruin that might face us.

At that time, we were also planning our third, and most recent, Space-A “military hop“, a great perk for military families that allows servicemembers, retirees, and their dependents to hitch a ride on government aircraft for next to nothing. Because Bill was technically still on active duty in May 2014, he was “category three”, which placed him at a high priority for getting a flight. Once he retired, he’d be “category six”, which meant our chances of scoring a flight to Europe or Hawaii would be significantly lower. We planned to fly to Germany and wander around Europe for about ten days, then come back to Texas and plunge into post-Army life. At the time, I thought this last hurrah to Europe could be our final opportunity to visit there for awhile. I had no idea that within three months, we’d be moving to Germany.

That May night in Texas, as I was perusing Longwood’s Facebook page, I shared a snapshot with Longwood’s community that I had taken in New York City, back in March 1994. The picture was snapped at the back door of a Broadway theater. I was with several fellow members of Longwood’s auditioned choir, the Camerata Singers. We’d just seen the Broadway production of Tommy, starring Michael Cerveris.

The Camerata Singers were in New York because it was the end of our spring tour. The choral director at the time, Dr. Donald Trott, would use spring break as a means of promoting Longwood to high school students in Mid-Atlantic states. Our choir would spend the week traveling by bus to different high schools and churches in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, where we would perform concerts for church parishioners and students, staying at their homes rather than in hotels. It was exhausting, but great fun, and a wonderful opportunity for us to bond. Then, at the end of the week, we’d spend a couple of nights in New York City and catch a Broadway show.

The first two years out of the three I went on spring tour with “Cams”, everyone saw the same show– Phantom of the Opera my first year, and Miss Saigon my second. My third year touring– which was my senior year at Longwood– we were allowed to choose which show we wanted to see. I remember a lot of my fellow “Cams” went to see Les Miserables. Only four of us chose to see Tommy, a Broadway show based on the 1969 rock opera by The Who. I wasn’t close friends with the other choir members who had gone with me to see the show, but I did happen to be the only one in our group who’d brought a camera. A couple of them were musical theater majors, and they’d sent a note backstage for Michael Cerveris.

Before I saw him perform on Broadway, I had known the American actor Michael Cerveris as the British character, Ian Ware, on Fame, an 80s era TV show that I’d loved as a kid. He’d moved on to bigger and better things. I got to shake hands with him because the musical theater majors I was with were studying under Pam Arkin, an actress who was teaching at Longwood at the time. Pam (as everyone called her) knew Cerveris because they’d acted together and were friends. Mr. Cerveris graciously met us and posed for pictures. It was definitely a memorable moment in my college career, so twenty years later, I shared it with the Longwood community on Facebook.

In Bacharach… can you blame me for wanting to visit again?

A couple of days after I shared that post, Bill and I left on our Space-A flight to Germany, which took us on a wonderful journey through eastern France. We visited Reims, Epernay, Dijon, Lyon, Nimes, and Nice. Then we flew to Frankfurt and visited Bacharach, an adorable medieval village I’d discovered in 1997, after leaving the Peace Corps. It has the distinction of being the very first town I ever visited in Germany, and I’d been telling Bill about it for years. We’d never had the opportunity to go to Bacharach when the Army sent us to Stuttgart from 2007-09. Since, as of May 2014, we weren’t sure if we’d ever get back to Europe, I wanted to make sure Bill saw Bacharach. We ended up having a very special experience there, which I wrote about on my travel blog.

While we were traveling through Europe in 2014, I got a message from Kent Booty, a writer for Longwood’s alumni magazine. He thought my story about meeting Michael Cerveris was pretty cool, and he wanted to interview me. I remember explaining to him that I was in Europe at the time, so I would have to talk to him once we got back to the States.

Sure enough, once we were back in Texas, I had a long phone chat with Mr. Booty. I explained what I had been doing since I graduated from Longwood in 1994. From 1995-97, I was in the Peace Corps serving in the third group to go to the Republic of Armenia. From 1999-02, I was at the University of South Carolina, earning dual master’s degrees in social work and public health. I had some big career plans back then. But then I met and fell in love with Bill, and became an Army wife six months after I finished my studies in South Carolina. Over the course of twelve years, we moved seven times to four states and Germany. I never got to use my master’s degrees the way I’d planned. Instead, almost every penny I’ve earned since I finished graduate school has been made from freelance writing, which is a lot more portable than social work and public health are, but tends to be less steady, isn’t very prestigious, and doesn’t always pay well.

Crazily enough, just a few weeks after we returned to the States from our space A trip, Bill got a job offer in Stuttgart. I remember telling Kent Booty that we were going to be moving back to Germany. I was excited about it, since it meant we wouldn’t have to live in our cars and we’d get to live in my favorite of our past duty stations. He congratulated me for Bill’s success, and that was the last I heard from Mr. Booty. He never did write an article about me for the alumni magazine. I honestly couldn’t blame him for that, and wasn’t surprised, given that I have pretty much been a housewife since I finished graduate school in 2002. I understand that part of Mr. Booty’s job is to market Longwood to prospective students, and most students are hoping to be gainfully employed once they graduate from college. I sure was when I was a college student. My role as an “overeducated housewife” is probably not very impressive to most people.

Imagine my surprise last night when I got a message on my contact form for this blog, and it was from Kent Booty. He was requesting an interview, and it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t remember talking to me back in 2014. In fairness to him, I don’t really share my name freely on this blog, although if one searches long enough, it’s pretty easy to figure out who I am. Even if I did share my name openly, he probably wouldn’t remember that we spoke in 2014. I’m sure he talks to a lot of people, and most of them are more memorable and impressive than I am. I even realize that he might have been turned off after talking to me, because I know that not everyone can take my over-the-top personality or cackling laugh (people tell me my laugh is the one thing they remember most about me).

I have a feeling this unexpected contact came about because I recently reposted an article I wrote about how an adjunct professor at Longwood changed my life. What I wrote in that article is absolutely true. My life literally changed for the better because I chose Longwood. In fact, last night, I was telling Bill about the many wonderful ways my time at Longwood has blessed me since I began studying there in 1990. Bill’s college experience, by contrast, was not quite as rich.

Bill attended his first two years of school at a now defunct military college in Boonville, Missouri called Kemper, then transferred to the much larger and more prestigious American University in Washington, D.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986, and that was pretty much the last he’s heard from the school, even though it’s probably a lot better known and is definitely a much more expensive school than Longwood is.

Conversely, I have had a bunch of cool Longwood related experiences, even twenty-six years after I graduated. When I decided to join the Peace Corps in 1995, I asked my former advisor, Dr. Massie Stinson, to write a recommendation for me, which he gladly did. I exchanged letters and emails with him throughout my time in Armenia, and even brought him a copy of the Peace Corps cookbook I published while I was there. A couple of years after I came home from Armenia, Dr. Stinson wrote me a recommendation for the University of South Carolina, a school he had also attended. We exchanged emails for awhile until his health failed. When he passed away in June 2013, I sent a message for his family through Dr. Martha Cook, who had also been one of my professors. Dr. Cook and I became Facebook friends, and still communicate almost daily. I have noticed that many of my fellow Longwood friends from the 90s still chat with professors from that time, even though a lot of the professors have retired.

I took this photo from the teacher’s lounge at the school where I taught in Yerevan, Armenia, Ruben Sevak School #151. One of my former students from this school now works for Peace Corps Armenia.

I remember being in the teacher’s lounge at the school where I taught English in Armenia, reading a letter I received from Longwood’s then president, Dr. Patricia Cormier. She had reached out to alumni to ask them what they thought about changing Longwood’s name from Longwood College to Longwood University. I remember writing back to her, telling her that Longwood would always be Longwood College to me, but to the Armenian students I was teaching, the word college denotes “high school”. So I supported changing the name to Longwood University. Dr. Cormier wrote the most beautiful and personal letter back to me, which really raised my spirits at the time.

A few years later, I was living in South Carolina. I had just finished grocery shopping at Publix, and was loading my groceries into my car, which had a couple of Longwood decals on it. A lady came up to me and asked me if I had gone to Longwood. I said I had, and she beamed, telling me that her very best friend, Dr. Patricia Cormier, was the president there. I never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Cormier, as her tenure as president was after I had graduated, but I remember her strong leadership and how she had transformed the campus with many new building projects.

I remember Dr. Ellery Sedgwick, another English professor from whom I’d never taken a class, writing to me because I’d sent a letter to the English department asking if anyone would be willing to donate books to my school. He sent a very kind letter to me, affirming that Longwood would support my mission in teaching English. I received several boxes of textbooks from the English department, which I donated to my school.

I also remember an incident involving the late Phyllis Mable, back in the summer of 1999. I was working as a waitress at The Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. Ms. Mable came in for lunch and sat in my section in The Garden Room. I recognized her immediately, because she was truly unforgettable. I told her that I would soon be moving to Columbia, South Carolina for graduate school. A few days later, I received a handwritten letter from Ms. Mable, wishing me luck and offering me support. She had taken the time to look me up and sent me that note to let me know that Longwood was proud of me. It made my day.

I remember being at Longwood to welcome Drs. Charles and Lisa Kinzer, when they joined the music department in the fall of 1992. I was a junior that year, and even though I wasn’t a music major, I was allowed to take a lot of courses in the music department, including sight singing, which was taught by Dr. Charles Kinzer (who was then still a Mr.). His wife, Lisa, was my accompanist for my voice studio with Dr. Patricia Lust. I last ran into Dr. Lust back in 2000… and yes, she still remembered me six years post graduation. Dr. Lisa Kinzer is now a professor at Longwood and is still my friend, many years after we first met. I have often told Bill about how amazingly talented the Kinzers are. I would love for him to get to hear them perform sometime.

And finally, I realize that I still have many, many true friends from Longwood. It was the kind of place where it was easy to meet and bond with other students. My late father was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, and he was friends with many of his “brother rats” his whole life. I may not be quite as bonded to my Longwood buddies as my dad was to his brother rats, but I still have so many genuine friends from my Longwood years and lots of wonderful memories. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t have any connections to American University… not even long lost college buddies on Facebook.

My husband has gone on to have a successful military career and, as of a few years ago, caught up to me in diplomas having earned a second master’s degree from Regis University. We have an amazing life together, although I have not yet managed to set the world on fire with my own career. Bill is still astonished when he sees how connected I still am to Longwood, and how every year, I am even prouder to be a graduate. He has often commented at how personal the Longwood experience is, and how amazing it is that I can still reach out to the Longwood community for friendship and support.

And yet, I still don’t think Kent Booty would want to write an article about me for Longwood’s alumni magazine. He’s already spoken to me, but apparently found me entirely forgettable. Six years after our last conversation, I’m still just a housewife, although I’m living an enviable life. I pretty much do whatever I want every day. I live in a safe, beautiful, European country which affords me the chance to see other safe, beautiful European countries. My student loans are paid off, and now Bill and I even live in Wiesbaden, Germany, very close to the picturesque town of Bacharach, so we can visit there easily. I live in a comfortable home, and spend my time writing, making music, and playing with our dog, whom I’m hoping will have a new “sibling” soon. Bill and I are still healthy; we love each other; and it’s not a horrible thing for us to be stuck in the house together during the pandemic.

I’m still proud to be a Longwood graduate, and I treasure my four years there. I’m not sure any prospective students would admire me for being an “overeducated housewife”, nor do I think my story would necessarily encourage anyone to apply to Longwood, but I can’t deny that my life has been vastly enriched by the small school experience. It still is, many years post graduation. So, if Mr. Booty happens to read this post and still wants to talk to me, I’m sure to oblige. But I will completely understand if he doesn’t, and I’m happy to keep writing about Longwood on my own space. There’s more than one way to be successful in life. Maybe I am not very impressive to the average person, but in my own way, I’ve achieved successes and had experiences way beyond my expectations. And that is all I ever could have wished for.


Reposted: Don’t ask, don’t tell…

This is a rerun post. It appeared on my original blog on June 4, 2014. I’m sharing it again because I just updated some travel posts from that time period and this post is related to them. Enjoy!

No, I’m not writing about the now defunct rule against gays in the military. I’m writing about people who ask very personal questions that they probably would rather not know the answer to. This subject comes up today after I read this very interesting blog post about a guy explaining why he doesn’t want to be a father. I happen to relate to this man’s experiences because, as a childless woman, I’ve heard a lot of the comments he’s gotten in retort. As a woman with no children, I’m sure the pressure for me to explain why I don’t have any kids is even more intense than it is for him.

I shared the post on Facebook and the responses were mostly positive.  There was one comment from a man, who said that he and his wife never had kids and no one ever called him to task over it.  I wrote that perhaps it’s different for men.  He responded that the author of the article is a man, to which I wrote that I knew the author was a man.  I was simply sharing my similar experience of being told that not having kids is apparently a huge mistake for which I will no doubt feel great sorrow.  

I can relate to what the blog author wrote, in spite of his gender.  When you are a woman without kids, particularly when you are a childless woman who is married to a military man, people often feel free to question why you don’t have any children.  Sometimes they’ll tell you you’ll be sorry you didn’t have them.  They’ll question who will look after you when you’re old (I think that is a really stupid reason to have kids, by the way.  It’s not right to expect your kids to take care of you when you’re old– it’s nice if they do, but I don’t think it should automatically be expected of them).  More offensive to me is when they try to tell me about adoption, as if that option has never once crossed my mind.

As an Army wife who has no children, I am definitely not within the norm.  Add in the fact that I went to college, grad school, and was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and you really have a strange duck in your midst.  I’m not saying there aren’t other military wives like me.  I’m saying I have yet to come across very many of them.

The blog that I posted about on Facebook was written by an Australian man who, no doubt, doesn’t get the stink eye as much as your typical childless military wife does (not that there is such a thing as a “typical” childless military wife).  Reading his thoughts reminded me of an incident that Bill and I ran into just days ago, while riding a train to Landstuhl, Germany.  It was the last of three trains after two flights getting us from Nice to Frankfurt.  I was tired and a bit grumpy.

A young mom and her four kids got on the train. The children’s grandmother was also in tow. They struck up a conversation, having just come from Paris after a trip to Euro Disney. The kids were as tired and as over public transportation as I was, and they were being a bit disruptive. Mom was trying to get them to settle down for their brief journey to Ramstein Air Force Base. Bill was helpfully explaining the train system to the mom and grandma while the kids busied themselves. It turned out the mom and her husband were stationed in Germany. Bill and I told her how lucky they were and I said I’d love to move back to Germany and stay for a long time.

Then Grandma pipes up with, “Yeah, but how do you do that with a family?”

I said, “Oh, it’s just us and two dogs…”

You would have thought I’d just dropped the f-bomb in front of Grandma.  She gave me a serious stink eye that seemed to say, “How could you NOT have kids?  You are selfish!”

I didn’t try to explain, though later I wished I had said something to the effect of, “Well, we don’t have kids because I used to be a man.”  Imagine the reaction!  It would have been classic!

But I was too tired to come up with something clever to say and elected not to explain to Grandma why Bill and I don’t have kids.  For one thing, it’s the kind of thing that most people would consider TMI, though I don’t have any problem telling people if they insist on knowing.  For another thing, it was really none of her goddamn business.  Moreover, I’m sure that if she knew why we don’t have kids, she’d be grateful that I kept my mouth shut.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to bring up such sensitive and personal subjects with total strangers or acquaintances.  There are any number of reasons why a couple doesn’t have kids.  It could be as simple as them not wanting to reproduce, or the reason could be complex and painful, like one or both of them had cancer that left them sterile.  In my case, Bill had a vasectomy when he was married to his ex wife.  He had it reversed eleven years later and the operation was technically successful.  We commenced trying to make a baby… and we failed.

Then he got sent to Iraq and we lost several months of time when we might try to reproduce with assistance (not that I was really all that keen to undergo a medical procedure to get pregnant). I have never been interested in adoption and have determined that the maternal instinct in me isn’t strong enough to spend the time or the money on the quest to have a child. So I am resigned to being childless and have finally come to terms with that decision. But there are people out there in the world who apparently want to second guess my decision not to be a mom.

Grandma wisely didn’t ask me why we don’t have any kids.  If she had, I might have taken the high road and said, “I’ll forgive you for asking if you’ll forgive me for not answering.”  Or, if I was feeling bold, I might have told her the truth.  Then she and her daughter would have to explain what an unsuccessful vasectomy reversal is to the kids in their care.  Or I could have said something totally outrageous like, “I don’t have kids because my husband’s dick is way too large for me and we physically can’t have sex.”  It would have been a rude thing to say, but if you think about it, it’s probably no ruder than having someone you’ve never met before judge you for not being a parent.

I’m starting to get to the age at which people will soon probably stop asking me about whether or not I have kids…  Then they’ll ask if I have any grandchildren.  I can hardly wait.

By the way, I also thought it odd that Grandma apparently doesn’t think kids can be successfully raised in Germany or elsewhere.  Frankly, if I were a mom, I’d prefer it if my kids grew up outside of the United States.  Things have gotten pretty weird around here, if you ask me.