The first thing we did once we got settled into our house on the German economy was attend a “Bugout Briefing” on the air station. I can’t remember what the official name of the briefing was, but it was definitely a Bugout Briefing. We were stationed in Germany when the Cold War was still on and plans had to be in place in case of a war.
People who are serving in the military are referred to as “Active Duty.” The civilians that surround them and rely on them–-members of the Active Duty Personnel’s family–are referred to as “Dependents.” In the event of a war breaking out or a massive natural disaster occurring, the Active Duty Personnel would be deployed to wherever they might be needed in order to do their jobs. The military understood active duty members might be reluctant to leave or too preoccupied over their dependents’ safety if they weren’t taken care of, so a plan is in place to get the dependents to safety and eventually back on American soil.
Remember I said GIs and their families were encouraged to live on the economy? It was decided it would be unfeasible to keep track of everyone’s addresses and go get them in the case of an incident. When the active duty member received word of the bugout, the dependents were to make their way to the base housing complex in Pruem. From there, they would be loaded onto trucks and taken to the nearest airfield. Once there, the dependents would be put on the next available plane and flown to safety. Please note: the civilians would not be given priority once at the airfield. They would be given the next plane that had time to take them. You could end up waiting at the airfield for days.
The dependents were allowed to carry 40 pounds of baggage per person. That would have to include food, because that couldn’t be guaranteed to be available at the airfield. Peanut butter and crackers were recommended, as well as thermoses of water, because potable water could also not be guaranteed. I mean it’s potentially wartime; there are no guarantees.
This was the point at which I realized I may have made a huge, tiny mistake in coming to Germany. I had 2 children in diapers. Diapers were going to be a large part of my luggage. With Nick, Monica, and myself, I would be allowed 120 pounds of luggage, all of which I would have to carry myself. While carrying two babies. While being 4’10” and weighing 100 pounds. I COULD bring a stroller, but that would count against my weight and might be left behind at any time during the bugout. I could bring blankets for the babies, but they would count as luggage. IF there were available teenagers, I might be assigned a teen from another family to assist me. MAYBE.
As far as getting to base housing? I didn’t know how I was going to do that. Rocky would have our only vehicle. IF the call came while Rocky was at home, he could drop us on the way to his post. If he was already at work, he wouldn’t be dismissed to come get us and I would have to find a way to get myself, 2 babies, and 140 pounds of food, diapers, and blankets to the pickup point 10 miles away. It might as well be 100 miles away.
Rocky immediately got his German driver’s license so he could drive. He kept forgetting to bring the book home so I could study for my license until I had a meltdown and threatened to call his coworkers to ask them to bring me the book. As a result, I couldn’t drive for about 4 months. For whatever reason–I think it has to do with electricity currents, but I could be wrong–our American TVs had a hard time tuning in German channels. And anyway, I couldn’t speak German. I remember watching a very fuzzy and wobbly episode of “The Incredible Hulk” 70s TV series dubbed in German. We didn’t have a VCR yet and I encouraged Rocky to buy one.
My German neighbors seemed friendly but they didn’t speak any more English than I spoke German. Since we didn’t live in base housing, it was hard to meet other dependents. I’d re-read every book I owned. I was going out of my mind with boredom. I asked Rocky to bring me something to read: the newspaper, magazines, anything. He kept forgetting, but he would helpfully relate news stories he’d read at work, like when three eleven-year-old boys broke into the polar bear enclosure at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn on May 20, 1987, and two bears mauled and killed one of the boys. Or when the two-year-old child or grandchild of a prominent person in the US died after falling out of its crib and breaking its neck. Monica was moved out of her crib and my nightmares intensified until Rocky tired of losing sleep and remembered there was a small library on base.
Instead of taking me there to check out my own books, Rocky asked what I wanted him to get. Anything but Andre Norton. I really don’t like Andre Norton. He returned with an armload of Andre Norton paperbacks. And I read them all because I was so bored. We finally got a VCR and I finally talked Joyce into recording some shows for us. Rocky insisted on showing Nick how to use the VCR over my objections. VCRs weren’t cheap back then and I thought it was a bad idea to let a two-year-old mess with ours. But Rocky was right and I was wrong.
We went on a few sight-seeing trips, not as part of groups, but on our own. Rocky had taken a photography course and considered himself a photographer. He had a fancy camera and a big bag of lenses and filters and tripods and whatall. We went to see Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. Designed and paid for by “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria from 1868-1892, Neuschwanstein was built with battery powered bells, telephone lines, hot and cold running water, forced-air heating, a working elevator, and flush toilets.
When we arrived, Rocky parked the car, gathered up his camera equipment and hurried to the castle, leaving me to retrieve and open the stroller, gather up diaper bags, snacks, and toys, load the babies into the stroller, and run to catch up to him. What I saw of the castle was beautiful, but I spent most of my time pacifying the kids while Rocky took artsy unfocused black and white photos, taking too much time to set up his equipment and getting miffed when I would move on to keep the kids occupied.
We visited other castles, not as fancy or new, but I can’t remember the names because I was occupied with the kids and growing exasperated. Once, we stopped for dinner at a German restaurant. I ordered pizza to share with the kids. I was having a hard time trying to juggle two kids and plates and drinks and cutlery. The German hostess came to our table and cut my pizza into bite-sized pieces and poured the kids’ drinks into their sippy cups. I thanked her profusely: “Danke. Danke sehr!” She looked directly at Rocky and made sure she had his attention before replying. “Bitte. Nichts zu danken.” (not a problem.)
We finished dinner and left and got about 20 minutes down the road when Monica started crying. I reached back to give her the woobie–her Jammie Pie, more dear to her than any pacifier or blankie. It wasn’t in the car. I told Rocky I thought we’d left the Jammie Pie back at the restaurant and we had the second moment of unstrained, wordless agreement in our marriage. He turned around immediately and went back. When we pulled into the parking lot, the hostess ran out to us, Jammie Pie in hand. Woobies are understood in all languages and cultures.
Rocky went to see the Berlin wall. I did not. I was done taking care of the kids while Rocky took pictures. It was easier and less irritating to take care of the kids at home. I did go on one more trip with him before I gave up. I took French as a foreign language in high school and I was dying to go to Paris. Rocky said we couldn’t afford that, but we could take a day trip to Luxembourg, where they speak French. Not really the same? But I took what I could get. Rocky didn’t understand how the gas pumps worked and ended up losing about $20. He asked the attendant, who replied in a string of French. Rocky asked me what the guy said. I didn’t know. Rocky was outraged: “You said you could speak French!” “No I didn’t. I said I took two years of French in high school. That’s a long way from being able to speak the language. I said I wanted to see Paris. I didn’t say I wanted to speak French. Because I can’t.”
I did get to see the Cologne Cathedral. The Pruem Air Station Wives’ Club arranged a trip to Cologne for a Christmas shopping trip where we would tour the cathedral and then shop in the market. The Cologne Cathedral is the tallest twin-spired church in the world. It took 600 years to build. It’s Germany’s most visited landmark and a World Heritage site. It holds the Shrine of the Three Kings, believed to hold the bones of the Three Kings who visited Christ after his birth, as well as the Gero Crucifix and the Milan Madonna. I’m not religious, and I’m certainly not Catholic, but this is HISTORY and art and I love both. The Cathedral is a breathtaking work of art and architecture and cannot be described.
I almost didn’t get to go because Rocky didn’t want to babysit. I think this was my tipping point. No more going along to get along. A father does NOT ‘babysit’ his children. A caring husband doesn’t prevent his wife from seeing a wonder of the world because he doesn’t want to watch his own children. We fought. I won. When I got back, I applied for a job on base.
Since the air station was so far from a full airbase, there was a little shop that took in dry cleaning and alterations and the like. A German dry cleaner would come to the gate at the end of the work day and we’d give him what we’d gathered and take in what he’d fixed. The person who managed the shop was the wife of one of the base MPs. Her name was Donna and we immediately hit it off in the interview. I left with the job. I had to bring the kids with me for the first week until I could find daycare and Donna was cool with that. She became my closest friend while I was in Germany and I was so relieved to finally have a companion.
This was the beginning of the end.