November, 2017:

AN ARMY BRAT FROM BIRTH

I was an Army brat from birth. Since Veteran’s Day will be celebrated tomorrow, here’s to the military families who  also “served” although we didn’t get paid for it. Life in the military could be challenging, especially since military fathers were not very easygoing, for the most part. I was a draftee in the US Army from the time I was born. The old joke tells it best—I didn’t enlist, I was drafted.

My young mother, Garnette, wanted adventure, but I don’t think she bargained for the extra baggage so soon. After high school in Danville, Virginia, she took off for nearby Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and got herself a job as a clerk-typist. She was a beautiful woman and had no problem finding Victor, an eligible Infantry lieutenant and a West Point graduate, no less. It was 1942 and the US was already at war. I’m sure there were a slew of babies “hatching” in the pouch and military fathers doing the honorable thing by marrying the mothers.

Victor & Victoria, the draftee!

Although the marriage only lasted through the war, I think my mother loved Victor. Being a Southern lady, she didn’t tell me I was the result of a romantic dalliance until I was 19. She’d already found herself another Army lieutenant as the war ended. After a Reno divorce (she had to live there six weeks: see the old movie The Women), they married and then honeymooned in San Francisco.

My stepdad, Darby, was my new commander-in-chief, and he and Mom added two new draftees, Joan Tupper and Darby III, as the years went by. Being Army brats, there were always travel adventures for all of us: Murnau, Mannheim and Frankfurt, Germany; Tripoli, Libya, the Bronx, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri; Ft. Knox, Kentucky; Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and Alexandria, Virginia, essentially. They traveled back to Germany while I was in college, and I joined them when I graduated. Who wanted to miss the opportunity?

Luckily, I loved moving and making new friends, even though I was a little bit shy in my younger years. One learns to be resourceful and comfortable wherever you end up. Orders are orders. Housing can be spacious or cramped. Before we got officer’s housing in Ft. Knox, we were in a cantonment area, (temporary quarters)—a one-story converted old wooden hospital with closed-off corridors near the famous Gold Vault.

Regular officers’ quarters were usually more than adequate. You’d never mistake them since they look almost identical in any US fort: solid and respectable-looking two story brick with basements and garages and a decent-sized yard. Some of these leftovers remain in the Army’s famous Presidio on the best real estate in San Francisco, now privately owned.

In Germany, right after WWII, as the occupying forces, we lived like rich folks in a two-story 18-room mansion in bucolic Murnau (undamaged by the war) with a separate garage, spacious grounds, a maid and a houseboy. Murnau is now a spa town and quite lovely. The skiing area in winter was about a 10-minute walk. If that wasn’t good enough, a longer excursion would have taken us to Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze in Garmisch. Quarters never got that good again, although our Tripoli villa was top notch. The photo below shows the German home with the staked tomato plants in front. And my dad was only a captain!

I don’t think “socialism” has particularly bothered me politically, or universal health care. Those were Army services. Housing and health care was provided, and you took what they gave you. I’ve never hankered after a specific family doctor. If any of us had a health problem, we’d accompany my mom to the dispensary, have our temperature taken and then wait. If it wasn’t serious, it might be many hours. Getting shots was not a choice; my mother hauled us into the dispensary every year as needed for what we needed, depending on where we were going next. As I often heard it said, however, “The Army takes care of its own.”

 

OVENS CAN BE CARBON DIOXIDE DEADLY

After several weeks of very hot weather – several days over 103 degrees, it had finally gotten to be fall in Los Angeles. I was thoroughly sick of hearing the air conditioner and ready for much colder nights and wintry clothes for a change.

SoCal Winter Outfit

I had even called the gas company to come turn on the pilot light of the wall heater so I could turn on the heat. I resigned myself to not having heat right away, but perhaps I’d be lucky. When I checked their web site, there was a number to call to schedule an appointment. The process to sign up was fairly fast, but everyone around must have decided it was time for gas heat, and there were no appointments for almost two weeks.

I seldom use the wall heater but it’s cozy for the few hours in the morning if it’s needed. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d bent over to open the little metal door that revealed the heat dial. The appointment was no time soon, but what could I do?

Today required more than boots and a sweatshirt. I had noticed there was an option for emergency gas service if there was a smell indicating a gas leak, but I’m not a good liar. I could manage the wait, I imagined, if I wore extra clothes and made sure to keep the windows closed. The first appointment time was a conflict, but I had a friendly neighbor who could help me out by letting the technician in.

This morning I had dressed more warmly, and even used my lap blanket, but I was still very chilly. I’d already decided I could solve that problem with my stove. Why not turn my gas oven on—it seldom got used anyway. I set it to 400 degrees, opened the oven door, and went to my recliner to watch THE VIEW, my favorite morning TV show.

The recliner in my spacious apartment living room was about 25 feet from the kitchen. It got warmer fairly fast, and I felt clever that I had solved my heat problem. About an hour later I felt a little woozy and sensed there was a faint smell in the air. I started to wonder if I really did have a gas leak. I also wondered if I was mistaken and hadn’t slept soundly the night before or had eaten something bad.

I got up and went to the kitchen to turn off the oven and close its door. Might as well be cautious. I debated about calling the gas company – maybe I could exaggerate and tell them I thought the gas heater might be leaking. I decided to give it a try, tell them about my oven, and then casually mention I had felt a little dizzy and could sense a smell in the air. After hearing my story, right away they scheduled an emergency appointment, even though I still thought there was nothing really wrong.

The gas tech got there within the hour and even found a handy parking space. I told him about my oven and the smell and he didn’t treat it lightly. But he didn’t want to alarm me either. He pointed out that gas ovens create carbon monoxide, which is a poison gas if you breathe in enough of it. I now wonder if I had ever considered that – probably not since I don’t use the oven often and I never leave the oven door open.

My living room and kitchen were completely closed up and the bedroom window was too far away to bring in much air. If it had gotten worse, I did have a carbon monoxide alarm device, but I may have been sick and passed out by then – who knows!

Turns out my gas heater needed a new gas connector and he fixed it quickly after he gave me my carbon monoxide warnings! I’ve got a working gas heater now and more valuable—a lesson about what not to do with a gas oven.

What an unusual blessing for the day – I will be warm tomorrow when I need the heater and I will respect my oven’s ability to possibly kill me!

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