Wednesday, December 10, 2008


My dad was a dry-dock sailor. He served twenty-one years in the U.S. Navy and never had ship duty. Regardless, the Navy called him away several times. Sometimes it was because he had a special assignment. Usually it was because there wasn't any housing for us. So we'd stay behind until another enlisted family moved, making a home available.

The departure I remember the most was when he left for Guam. We had no idea when our family would reunite. Back then I didn't know anything about Guam, just that it was on the other side of the world. The day my dad left for the island. I was nine years old and we were living in an apartment in Alexandria, Louisiana. My dad's voice cracked as he hugged us goodbye before leaving for the airport. After the car drove away I moped around the complex. When I heard a man whistling a tune, I cried all over again.

One of the reasons my parents chose for us to live in Alexandria was so we could be close to Forest Hill. Located eighteen miles away, the little town was the home of both sets of grandparents and many of our other relatives. With our dad away, they stepped in and tried to fill the void. My uncle Larry taught me to swim at the apartment pool. He started by showing me how to dog paddle. Soon I shed the bulky life jacket and swam overhanded laps. My grandparents took us to visit Astroworld. We wouldn't be seeing them for a couple of years and they were trying to make memories. All the while I daydreamed about meeting our dad at the airport. I visualized him placing flowered leis around our necks while hula dancers moved to the sounds of a ukulele.

We didn't know when we'd get the call to leave, but we got ready. We made several trips to the base hospital for a series of vaccinations. My mom crocheted ponchos to keep us warm for the few hours we'd be in San Francisco on our journey to the island. She'd heard it could be chilly there.

When the call finally came it was July. We were staying with a family while their mother met their dad in Hawaii. He was on a brief furlough from his Vietnam tour. Other arrangements were made for their kids while we packed and set off for Guam.
It was a long journey--the flight to San Diego, the bus ride to San Francisco, the layover in Hawaii. Hours later my dad met us at the Agana airport. There were no hula dancers. No ukulele. But my dad slipped leis around our necks. My mom's was made of plumerias. Ours were made Lifesaver candy rolls. It didn't matter though because we were all together once again.

At the end of Piper Reed Navy Brat, Chief leaves for ship duty. I didn't have that much trouble writing about the departure. But oddly enough, I struggled with the reunion in the next book. How could I convey the importance of that moment without being sappy? I've never been one who feared writing emotional scenes, but Piper Reed the Great Gypsy was a light humorous book.

At first I avoided it. In earlier drafts, Chief is away in one chapter and then in the next he is home. My friends that read that early draft mentioned the glaring oversight. I knew in my gut I'd have to deal with it. Finally I found a way. Piper, like Chief and all the Reed girls, is a list maker. One day it came to me that there could be two lists--one about what they'd planned to do when Chief returned home, the other about what actually happened. Does tenderness without sappiness exist among the lists? I hope so. But I'll let you decide.

To learn more: Piper Reed the Great Gypsy

***Check back tomorrow for the December Giveaway***

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