A FAMILY BIVOUAC
It is a hot summer day, and a bright Michigan sun is bearing down upon our green car with its New Hampshire license plates. We are nearing Detroit––my husband and I and our son and two daughters. Our three-year-old is crying because she is weary of riding.
“Hush, Baby, we’ll soon be home,” I say soothingly.
“We don’t have a home,” she replies.
We do have a home; it is the boundary of love around our family. Home is the inside of a car as we travel across the United States, with orders for a new assignment. It is the inside of a jet airplane, winging its way across the Atlantic. It is a one-room motel where we wait for a house. How can I tell my child this, when words like hobbyhorse, Mama’s rocker, crib and walls-painted-blue are what she remembers about home? I hold her close but she continues to cry.
At six o’clock, we arrive at the guesthouse office at Selfridge Air Force Base, where we pick up the key to our reserved room. We unlock and open the door, but there is some mistake: the room is still occupied, with luggage in the floor and portraits on the dresser. My husband returns to the office and gets a key to another room. We settle in for the night.
Next day, we place our name on a list for base housing. We are number six, and we are happy because it seems that we will get a house soon. Two days later we are number four, and we are much happier because once we reach the number three position we cannot be moved back by someone with higher rank or more time-in-grade than my husband. That afternoon we find we have been moved back to number six by two airmen who have signed in for housing. We have been waiting, and it seems that we should not be moved back on the list. We wish we could know approximately how long we must wait for a house.
Saturday, we drive to a department store in Detroit. I look at children’s clothes that are on sale. The yellow and pink floral patterns would make the girls look like dolls.
“Should I buy these?” I ask my husband.
“No,” he replies, “not until I get my pay records from Pease.” (Air Force Base)
“But the dresses are marked down now,” I protest.
He shakes his head, regret showing clearly in his dark eyes. I put the dresses back on the rack. But they won’t be here when the pay records arrive. I buy a butter dish and a paring knife.
Our youngest child is gone! We go in different directions to look for her. I am frightened! Will we find our baby in this large store? She must be crying. But no, when her brother finds her, she is not crying. She is standing in the china department, chewing on the hem of her red print jumper, looking about with sparkling, brown eyes.
“I couldn’t find you, so I was chewing on my dress,” she says, as I pick her up.
We cannot find a house, so we wait anxiously.
Monday, my husband is home for lunch. We are eating sandwiches and drinking iced tea. I look at him across the table and know again the wonder of love that brought us together years before and keeps us united still, and I am glad we are here together, waiting for a house.
Wednesday, I cook dinner for my family in a skillet that isn’t mine. I make a peach cobbler that juicily melts the vanilla ice cream into spoons of delight. The recipe, obtained from my mother-in-law, is my husband’s favorite dessert. We bow our heads. Our second child says grace while the three-year-old imitates her. The little one makes a mistake with her sentences and the second child says, “Well, God knows what she means.” And we know that He not only knows what our little one means, but also that we need a house to put our home in.
Sebille Manor is a housing development for officers and senior-grade non-commissioned officers. I’ve never lived in anything as lovely as an all-electric Capehart house. Vandenberg Village is a huge apartment complex for airmen and their families. The family who lived in a third- floor apartment in Germany thinks Vandenberg Village is a wonderful place to live. My family, who moved from a three-bedroom duplex on a quiet street in Kittery, Maine, thinks it might be depressing to have so many people about us all the time.
We check the papers. We do not find any rentals; instead, we see an advertisement that says, “Houses Wanted to Rent––Urgent.” And we wait.
Tonight, our two older children sleep together, not too happily, on a half-size rollaway bed. The youngest is in our bed. As I look at them all tucked in, before I switch off the light, I remember my own mother, after she had tucked me in, cupping her hand by the globe of the kerosene lamp and gently blowing out the flickering flame. Do my children feel safe and secure in the dark of this unfamiliar room? How can they, when we wait anxiously for walls of a house that can be ours for a while––walls to encircle our home and strengthen it in the face of a storm? Is not this waiting a storm, and if it does not pass quickly, will not our home be scattered to the wind?
No, our home will not be scattered to the wind, because it is a Christian home. Although we now suffer from the inconveniences and the disadvantages of military life, we are proud to be part of the force that helps to keep America free. In darker times, we have seen the sun rise over the hill in other places, and we know that it will rise here, too. The housing office will call and assign us an apartment. It will have three bedrooms, a bath, kitchen, dining room, and a sun-filled living area. The movers will unload, among other items, a hobbyhorse, a crib, and a rocking chair. They will place them in the freshly-painted apartment––preferably blue. Then I shall sit in my rocker, hug my three-year-old tightly, and tell her, “We’re home!”
c Copyright, 1978, Freeda Baker Nichols
First appeared in Home Life, August 1979