It is often the loss of things which makes us realize the value of what we had. In losing something that should have been precious, we see our mistake; the way we took people or things for granted. Once in a while, we are granted an opportunity to experience a short term loss, only to have that thing or person restored to us again later. Eye opening experiences like that can change our lives, make us more loving, more thankful, or even more patriotic.
My mom grew up in a small town in upstate New York. She married my dad right after they graduated from college. It was the late 1960s. The Vietnam War was in full swing and Uncle Sam was inviting all eligible young men to join in his conflict. Dad had gotten his draft notice months before he graduated. The Army was calling, but Dad chose to join the Air Force. Three weeks after their wedding, Dad went off to Officer Training School, followed by more and more training. After a few years, Dad was on a B-52 crew, ready to go overseas.
Because their men were gone for such long periods of time, wives often followed them to Asia. When I was three, Mom and Dad decided they’d had enough of being separated for six months at a time. Mom and I made plans, Dad found us a place to live and we were off to Thailand.
Now remember, mom had not traveled much. She was a complete babe in the woods. One of the more experienced wives asked Mom if she had a hotel reservation in Bangkok. Mom had thought we would get off the plane, find a bus and travel to Padia Beach where Dad was waiting for us. The other wife insisted that Mom make a reservation. Mom and Dad didn’t even have a credit card back then, so mom paid the other gal cash and used hers.
We traveled on JAL (Japanese Air Lines). The stewardesses greeted us in formal kimonos. Having never had an international flight experience, Mom was amazed. We were served sushi and teriyaki. The meal and entire experience was wonderful. We landed in Tokyo for a 24 hour layover. The Japanese people were kind and gracious to Mom.
The next leg of the flight was a bit different. We flew from Japan to Taiwan. We didn’t have to leave the plane, but as some of the passengers disembarked, men armed with machine guns surrounded the plane. Two men boarded the plane with their guns and walked down the aisle scanning passengers, pointing their gun at the people as they walked by. Mom was terrified.
When we finally reached Bangkok, Mom thought her troubles were over. However, we landed just after a monsoon had hit that area. Streets were flooded and telephone lines were down. After leaving customs, Mom learned that no buses were leaving for the outlying Thai areas. How thankful she was that that other military wife had insisted on hotel reservations! Mom easily found the shuttle to that hotel. My only recollection of that ride was lights reflecting off lots of water in the dark roads. Mom says the next morning, she opened the curtains of our hotel room to find a beautiful garden with peacocks roaming around in it. Mom got on the hotel telephone and asked the operator for help getting through to my Dad. She said, “Madam (that was the first time mom had ever been called that), are you an American serviceman’s wife?” When mom said yes, the operator told mom to go to a certain hotel in Bangkok where buses left for the US military bases throughout the day.
On the bus to Padia Beach at last, Mom thought we were through with harrowing experiences, but she hadn’t reckoned with the bus driver. Because he was in the biggest vehicle on the roads, he expected everyone to get out of his way. He drove with the gas pedal fully on the floor, weaving in and out of traffic. If another vehicle was coming in the opposite direction, they had to pull out of the way! Through the jungle we traveled until one final curve and there was the ocean. We had made it. Mom was looking out the window and there was Dad, standing on a corner. She yelled “Stop the bus!!” pushed her way through the crowd and got me and our luggage off the bus and into Dad’s arms. Safety at last!
Our time overseas was lovely. Mom and I wandered through the markets and around the town. The Thai people were beautiful and patient and sweet to us. Mom grew confident and enjoyed the Thai culture.
When it was finally time to go home, we boarded the planes and traveled back the way we had come. Mom, seasoned from her adventure, was ready to face the layovers and whatever they would bring. After the endless flight neared its end, we flew over the New York harbor. There was the Statue of Liberty, figuratively lighting the way home for the weary traveler. It suddenly hit Mom that she was home. Tears streamed down her face as she looked out the window at that majestic lady. Freedom never looked so good.