Editor’s note: If you’re new to this blog, Jade is sharing details from her tumultuous childhood as an Army brat. Today we’ll read about what it was like for Jade’s family to move to Belgium with the new military man her mother had just married. (Read Part I here and Part II here.)
By Jade Stone, wife to National Guardsman Jay
Those first few months must have been somewhat strange for a couple who were truly the best of friends who decided to get married via correspondence. I’m sure at the time, their relationship wasn’t based so much on love as understanding and security.
And many people would have said mom was crazy, Lord knows not the least of which was my grandma! She was not happy to see her grandbabies taken so quickly from her to a place she couldn’t reach. But mom was in survival mode and, after what she’d just lived through, this would be a cake walk, right?
As for me, I wasn’t fond of men for obvious reasons. I did not trust anyone other than my grandma and my mom. I loved my grandpa, but I was unsure of him. Don’t get me wrong, I grew to know him as the funniest, cantankerous little man I’ve ever met and I loved him dearly, however, it took years for me to build that relationship.
So, here I am, in this strange but beautiful land of castles, gardens, and tulips where people spoke a variety of foreign sounds I’d never imagined before. This place was like something I’d only seen in books. The cobblestone streets were filled with people walking or riding bicycles and the smell of warm bread hung in the air. The weather always seemed cold and drizzly.
This place was Brussels, Belgium. Lynn was a nurse at SHAPE Army hospital there and, on his days off, we’d travel to what seemed like a different country every day. Other than his days off, we didn’t see him much. He tried so hard to win us over with kindness. He wanted to show us a little more about a world we knew nothing of. We managed to regain some normalcy in life and enjoyed the same types of things that we might have had in the States. He even brought us a puppy once named Belgique–the cutest little black pup you have ever seen! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to keep him when it was time to return home.
I remember we went to Keukenhoff, Holland to visit the windmills and the tulip gardens. I’ll never forget the panicked look on my mom’s face when I reached out to pick the tulips. Apparently, you are fined severely for picking flowers. It was torture being surrounded by such beautifully colored blooms and not being able to take one with me!
Though I missed my grandma dearly and was sad to have left her behind, I was falling in love with the amazing landscape that made up this mysterious place.
I have few memories of the home we lived in, however, the ones I have are vivid. It was a brick building which was situated just down the road from a small park to which mom took us often. My room was upstairs and, from my window, I could see over the large stone wall across the street, past its fancy, wrought iron gates. Just beyond that wall rose a mansion with a broad green lawn which had a small lake with brilliant white swans gliding effortlessly through the still water and colorful flowers. I thought this place was a park because it was just too pretty to be someone’s yard. Peering out that window was my escape, a portal into my imagination, in which everyone spoke English and my grandma visited regularly.
I also remember the bathroom pretty well because it had a neat bathtub with a hose (portable showerhead), a dainty white potty, next to which was a lovely “water fountain” that was perfect for hand washing and giving my 10-month-old little brother drinks from. Little did I know this “fountain” was not actually meant for drinking but rather personal hygiene!!! How was I supposed to know what a bidet was??
I was meeting so many new and interesting people. It was a good thing for me that I learned to speak English before we got there because, if I hadn’t, I would have been so confused. I had a Korean and a Portuguese baby sitter. both whom I grew to love. The longer I lived there, the more I enjoyed this place. The art was brighter, the music was richer and the food more different than anything I’d ever had. I’d certainly come a long way from eating scrambled eggs and hotdogs! We even got to witness firsthand the emergence of a cartoon with little blue people called Smurf’s just before they became popular in the US. The only drawback was that they only spoke French in Belgium.
But all good things must come to an end. Lynn’s orders soon came up to go back to the states where we were then stationed in Ft Leonard Wood.
Until now, my brother and I weren’t in too much need of discipline. But our stepfather Lynn was a Drill Sergeant and that began to shape our family life. He believed there was a certain time and place for everything and that if you were asked to do something, you should do it without question or hesitation, just as any good soldier would do. Though my Grandma was tickled absolutely senseless to have us back within a two-hour drive of her, she wasn’t fond of the sternness with which Lynn used to correct us. She felt he was simply too hard on us. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Regardless, I didn’t bond with him the way my mom wanted me to.
I resented him for taking me away from my grandma and struggled through preschool and kindergarten with this issue. Of course, much of it stemmed from my lack of trust for men as a result of the way my dad handled things when I was a baby. It took me years to truly understand Lynn and love him as my dad but it did eventually come — a journey not without bumps.
Now enter my dad, to visit after two years of not seeing us. He was extremely angry with my mom when she remarried and took us out of the country. Not so much from jealousy, but rather because two of his possessions were being liquidated without his blessing.
During his visit, he stayed with my Grandma and Grandpa. Despite the turmoil he had put us through, we knew the things he had done happened because of war delusions he had, not because he was mean or he hated us. He loved us very much but just couldn’t handle having us around. My Grandparents thought the world of him and always would. They knew all too well what war could do to a person and they believed that their old “Benny” was still in there somewhere.
I grew up having a dad and a step-dad who not only got along but who also liked each other in a way that only soldiers who have been to hell and back could. Though I didn’t see dad often, we stayed in contact and he visited when he could. He had become immersed into the biker culture with long hair, leather, chains, a weapon at all times and a chip on his shoulder that never left. He was the consummate patriot who spent the rest of his life fighting for veterans’ rights and the recognition of his fallen brothers. He had issues with the law and often told somewhat outlandish and unbelievable tales about things he’d done in the past. Despite our differences, our family actually pulled closer together over the years. As for the rest of us, we were now living in a row house in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri.
In the Army, you were never anywhere for very long, and sadly we were no exception…little did we know, there would be another life changing event that shattered any chance at normalcy that we might have had…but would this turn out for the best after all? Stay tuned!
Jade welcomes your comments here as well as any suggestions you may have for her future posts. You may also e-mail her at akajadestone [AT] yahoo [DOT] com. To read previous Military Mama posts, CLICK HERE.