Photo by Freeda Baker Nichols
Photo by Freeda Baker Nichols
BANNER MOUNTAIN GIRL#29 “Orders: Torrejon Air Base, Spain”
My series of short works will not always be in chronological order. With this one I will share my experience of leaving Banner Mountain.
I was nineteen on that October Saturday in 1953 when I married my sweetheart. He was also nineteen and in the U.S. Air Force. I went with him to live in Kansas where he was stationed at Smoky Hill Air Force Base, which later was named Schilling Air Force Base. In 1956, my husband got out of the Air Force and enrolled in college. In 1958, he reenlisted in the Air Force and in less than a year, he received orders to go to Torrejon Air Base, Spain. By this time, we had a four-year-old son and an eighteen-month-old daughter.
Our parents had been tearful when they said goodbye to us, especially when they hugged their grandchildren. Later, I was told that a few days after we’d left, my dad had erased our baby’s footprints in the sand because when he looked at them, her absence was too painful. How sad that life must be like that. Life happens one day at a time. One. Day. At. A. Time. “Lord, be with us. We are so far from all our relatives.” And I am so very far from my Banner Mountain . . .
We rented a house in Mirasierra, a suburb of Madrid. In my language, Mirasierra means “Look at the mountains.”
And so, the beauty of Spain’s countryside was comforting. We were a family happy to be together, though lonely for our own country and home folks.
A Family Bivouac
We went with him to Spain—the kids and I.
The Air Force sent him there to stay three years.
With aching heart, I hugged my folks good-bye
and climbed aboard a jet, eyes filled with tears.
As engines roared into the sky,
the landscape fell away.
I held our baby snugly on my lap,
and thought ‘my folks have never left their town.’
I’d watched them point to Spain upon the map,
saw Dad brush tears and hide a fearful frown.
Tending cows to supplement carpenter’s pay,
he and Mama had made a home for seven children.
Where is my home? I wondered briefly. Then,
my husband squeezed my hand, and I was quite
assured my home will be where he is when
our plane descended from its five-hour flight.
The children romped across a gray-tiled floor,
then fell asleep in beds that were not ours.
The house to which we moved our home was plain,
but peaceful like the turquoise skies of Spain.
© Freeda Baker Nichols
I felt joy when I looked at my firstborn son.
We wrapped him in a blue blanket and took him home
through the Kansas snow.
I called him “Little Precious”
when a nurse brought him to me. Greg was
the first but three other children came after him,
each bringing its own beaming joy to my young heart;
their first smiles were reasons to be glad; their first blowing of spit bubbles
from tiny puckered lips made me laugh; they could sound like cars or airplane
engines accelerating for missions like those that took their daddy half way around
the world from us. I felt joy when he returned safely to us; exhilaration beyond
explanation when he winked his way back into the graces of the wee ones who had
forgotten him in those long months.
Love is joy and joy is love.
God is love and He is in all the joy I have known, causing my heart to refresh because
of past joyful times. Complete joy comes from weaving threads of laughter onto a
background of love-patched fabric in such a way that only the brightest colors show.
© 2013, Freeda Baker Nichols
I wish the whole wide world a Merry Christmas as I post this poem on Christmas Eve,
here in the USA. I’m happily looking forward to all my children being home this Christmas.
It was noon on a Wednesday– November 13, 2013 to be exact–and there I was at the Dirty Farmers Community Market in my town. I’d been invited to come in for the express purpose of signing my book. In other words, a book signing. I was the first of a few local authors invited to bring in our books. This was my second book signing for my first novel, “Call of the Cadron.” One gentleman bought a copy for his wife. Another person bought my children’s book for her granddaughter. That gave me a chance to sign my name a couple of times. Got my picture taken, too. One copy is here and another is on Facebook. The one on Facebook doesn’t even tell who I am or give the name of my novel. So if anyone wants to know what the Cadron is–It’s a creek! A real creek in Arkansas. But my book is not about the Cadron. It’s about the characters who live along that creek. Only, it isn’t true. Not one word. But I’m supposed to be writing at least one true sentence even in fiction because that’s what Hemingway said was how you could learn to write. I’ve been trying that. That one true sentence. And I just don’t know if that’s so or not. But it might could be.
My first signing for “Call of the Cadron” was at a book store in another town, back in April. If I recall correctly, I sold one book. Most people walked on past my table to buy whatever it was they came for. Which was not my book. I’m sorry to say. To admit, actually. The newspaper in that town had run a great article about me and my book, with a picture and all. And the person who bought that one book from me had already bought three when the books first came out.
Oh, at the Dirty Farmers Community Market, one man wearing a black cowboy hat went past my books and bought some hot peppers and green tomatoes.
© 2013 Freeda Baker Nichols
Although the Ozarks region is a great place to live, there are two things especially that I don’t like about living here. One—the tornados, and two–the ticks.
In 2008, an EF4 tornado came very close to my home, and too close for comfort when my husband and I drove to my sister’s place to her storm cellar. The weather alert on TV had warned of a tornado headed straight to our town. We barely made it to the cellar before the storm hit. Thankfully, my family survived that tornado. And we had very little property damage.
Since then, we have installed a storm cellar at our place, and sometimes the threat of another tornado drives us into the shelter to wait out the storm.
As for ticks, they crawl around every summer but we manage to control their numbers by sprinkling tick granules in the yard. Still, a few survive the treatment and make a nuisance of themselves. When ticks bite, they cause pain, itching, unsightly red patches that go away with time but some ticks carry a disease that can cause death. So, if a tick attaches to you, it’s best to remove it as soon as you become aware of its presence.
I have a vivid memory of removing a tick during the night a few years ago.
Recently, in preparing a post for my blog, I came across a journal entry dating back to the time my two youngest kids were still at home. My son was about thirteen and my daughter was a freshman in college, but she was at home when I made the following entry in my journal:
It is a cloudy day today. Overcast. Gray. Still. Quiet. Peaceful. Calm. Not muggy. Not yet.
Maybe it won’t be.
I don’t like storms.
When it storms, there are weather bulletins on TV, and by the time the wind arrives, I am already keyed up wondering where the storm will hit. When the tall trees at the west side of our house begin to weave back and forth and complain with loud noises, I am edgier than ever.
If a storm alert comes in the middle of night when everyone is asleep, I feel even worse. I fear by the time I get everyone awake and drive a half mile to my sister’s cellar that the storm will pounce on us. And I don’t want to be caught out in the middle of it.
When I wake my family, I hear all kinds of remarks. My husband says, “This is the worst place I’ve ever lived!” He acts like he intends to stay in bed, and he’s the one who talked all afternoon about a storm coming in.
The phone rings. I answer. My sister says, “Are you awake?” That’s code for “a storm is headed our way.”
My daughter grumbles and sleepily tumbles out of bed and into her shoes. I throw her a housecoat, and I slam the window down– the one she had raised upon retiring to bed. My husband wakes the sleeping guest of our son, and the boy obediently crawls out and starts dressing. I fly through the house, upset and nervous and yelling for everyone to hurry. My husband tells me to “Settle down!” I cannot.
I wake our son. He grumbles worst of all because he can’t see any wind blowing, and he assumes there’s no reason to hurry. He opens a drawer to get a pair of jeans. (I thought I told all of them to leave their clothes handy in case we had to go to the cellar. Did he miss my instructions?) He has his shoes on. He can’t get his jeans over the shoes. He kicks off his shoes, grumbling. I say to him, “Get your pants on. Never mind the shoes. Come on! Everybody! Get in the car.”
My husband is still telling me to settle down. We arrive at the cellar. We unload and stay in the shelter for a while. Finally, the storm dissipates. It never really came close to our area, except for the first big gales of screaming wind.
And to think, I might have slept through all this excitement if not for that pesky tick.
© Freeda Baker Nichols
Today, I saw a cenotaph
near where the children played
and there for hours I stayed
and thought I heard the children laugh,
for carved upon a stone
by little hands unknown,
I found a famous autograph.
© Freeda Baker Nichols
The news spread like discovering diamonds–
Tab and Sue’s boy was coming home!
He stayed in the South Pacific when the war
ended — that great war — the war that took the
Ellington’s other sons before the bomb dropped.
Their boys grew up on the farm, all five of them,
and they were tough as timber rattlers. Uncle Sam
was proud to get them when all but the youngest
joined up. Not quite eighteen, Joseph worked
on the farm. Ed, the oldest, died saving his squad
leader. James died at Normandy. Later, the
black-edged letters told the fate of Al and Silas.
Joe joined the Navy. His folks gave up the farm and
moved into town. When the war ended, they longed
to see their one remaining son. He didn’t return.
The gray in Sue’s hair made her old. Yes, it was
the gray that made her old — it was not her grieving
for her sons because . . . they still played at her feet. Tab
spent most of his time outside, feeding the birds. His
shoulders stooped. He heard the good news. His son
was coming home. Why should that matter now? Then
Tab saw him on the walk, a woman with slanted eyes
beside him, a baby in her arms. Four small boys behind
them. Joseph bear-hugged his father and asked, “Where’s
Mom?” Sue came running, and Joseph took her hand,
“Mom, meet my wife and your grandsons. This one’s Ed
and here’s James, Al and Silas. That’s Joseph.” Sue’s eyes
shone. She touched the hands that held the baby, and
smiling, said, “Welcome home.”
Copyright 2013, Freeda Baker Nichols
Christmas at our house will be different from those of the past. Last year, our family, consisting of my husband and me, four grown children, their spouses, and five grandchildren, decided to make handmade gifts. A whole year seemed like plenty of time for each person to make one gift so we drew names with anticipation.
I imagined that hammers would pound, saws would buzz and needles would click during the year as we set to work making this Christmas so different we would cherish it as one of our best.
Now, with only a few days until Christmas, nobody seems to have completed a gift and some haven’t even started.
At least one member keeps saying, “Where am I going to find time to make something? Anyway, I always liked shopping for Christmas!”
Another says he can’t make anything. That’s what he said when we decided on this plan but nobody believed him. Suddenly, with no homemade gift in sight, we believe him! But that’s okay. We know that the person whose name he drew will somehow receive a gift.
What about the grandchildren, ages eight to eleven–what can they make? Or do I underestimate them? Some of them have made key chains for yard sales, so I’m sure they’ll think of something with help from their parents.
Another member moans, “I can’t think of anything to make. What would he want? What would he use? Whose idea was this?”
As for the gift for the person whose name I drew, I have a pattern, I have the materials, I even have the time. So why am I waiting to start the project? I think I like deadlines and work best under pressure.
I always liked wandering through the shops on Christmas Eve with carols playing, bells ringing, the rush of the crowd, people buying gifts for their loved ones. I liked searching for a final gift, then breathlessly finding it just in time.
When I’m Christmas shopping, the only thing that disturbs me is that of the less fortunate looking longingly at gifts they can’t afford for their loved ones.
But even that usually doesn’t dampen my Christmas spirit. My own parents often had little money for gifts but we always celebrated Christmas. One year, my mother had given birth to my brother on December 18th. But my daddy saved Christmas Day–he made the meal and tried his hand at homemade candy, the family’s only gift that year, unless we count hearts filled with love and gratitude.
I trust my family is aware of our love for each other as we recall the Birth of Christ in Bethlehem that First Christmas–the reason why we celebrate.
And I hope the daughter who drew her dad’s name doesn’t make something to land in a yard sale like the big fish grill she gave her brother one year. And maybe she won’t tape her package so well that it requires a set of all-steel kitchen knives to open it. In years past, we have all laughed together as we teased her about keeping the transparent tape companies in business.
Creative we may not be, but a family we are, and this Christmas promises to be different because one of us had the courage to suggest giving homemade gifts.
Now, as I reach for my scissors, needle and thread, late one evening, Christmas lights in the little town of Shirley blink clearly, brightly and silently. I am far from the ringing bells, the sound of Christmas carols, but I am close to a love which surrounds me, just as surely as the angels sang to the shepherds that night long ago. Can I weave this emotion into my small project, I wonder, as quietly, lovingly, I recall the family member who suggested this different idea for gift giving.
c Copyright, 1996, Freeda Baker Nichols
Published in Van Buren County Democrat, 1996
The snows of Banner Mountain
made a rug for rabbit’s feet.
The snows fell in the night-time
to become our morning treat.
Snowballs whizzed all around us
as we played out in the snow.
Snow angels guarded over us
in our childhood long ago.
Vanilla-flavored snow ice cream
turned into our favorite dish
when the snows of Banner Mountain
made for real our winter wish.
c Copyright, Freeda Baker Nichols Continue reading