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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Last month, I wrote a post entitled “Going Places” that underscored the atypical nature of my childhood. I’d like to elaborate on that.

One of the main reasons I turned out the way I did — which, in my opinion, is pretty okay — was growing up as a military brat. In my case, an Air Force brat.

A brat in this sense is a child raised by a parent or parents serving in the armed forces. It’s a term of endearment, not a pejorative.

Because military service involves frequent reassignments, brats rarely live in one place for very long. Thus, sociologists describe them as a “modern nomadic subculture.”

Today, according to the Department of Defense, about 15 million Americans — out of a population of 330 million — are current or former military brats. They range in age from infancy to the 90s.

Brat life bears little resemblance to civilian life, and it is rarely seen by the civilian world. Let me give you a peek behind the curtain.

Naturally, the overriding factor in the brat world is the military connection. The military mission is of paramount importance. Military rituals dominate. Military slang permeates the language.

Further, every military installation has areas that are off limits and protected for security reasons, such as flight lines and weapons armories. Armed guards and surveillance are part of life.

I’ve already mentioned the constant mobility. When a military parent is transferred to a new assignment — usually every few years, sometimes more often — the family packs up and moves. All around you, on a regular basis, friends and neighbors are departing and being replaced.

Like many brats, I was born in a military hospital. When I was new to the world, my family moved so often that I literally have no hometown.

Another big factor in brat life is housing. Depending on circumstances, a military family will be either assigned to on-base housing or given a stipend to live in a nearby town. Either way, family life is closely tied to the base because of the services provided. Virtually all military installations have their own facilities for shopping, dining, recreation, and, when you live overseas, schools.

The odds are high that you will live outside the US. One study found that over 90 percent of brats have lived in one foreign country, over 60 percent have lived in two, and over 30 percent have lived in three. Me, I spent a total of five years in Japan, France, and Germany.

The overseas experience, psychologists say, leaves the average brat more adaptable, more accepting of other people and other lifestyles, and with a more realistic worldview. I’ll buy that.

Further, brats have been shown to have lower delinquency rates, higher scores on standardized tests, and higher IQs than their civilian counterparts. Whereas 24 percent of civilians have college degrees, 60 percent of brats do.

The brat life does have negative aspects. Brats regularly leave friends behind, knowing they may never see them again. This is the reality, and a brat learns to let go of the past and embrace the present and the future.

Another negative I always found troubling is the military system of strict segregation by rank. According to military theory, this is necessary to maintain unit discipline. But the system seems unnecessarily draconian.

Classism manifests throughout the military world. In the military, you are required to be deferential to anyone of higher rank. The system is so strict that for an officer to “fraternize” with an enlisted person is illegal under military law.

For years, it was common on military installations for the families of officers and enlisted people to have separate seating in base chapels and movie theaters. That practice mercifully was ended. Likewise, the system of separate and unequal officers clubs and enlisted clubs is fading out.

But the inequality in housing remains. Housing for officers is always superior to that of enlisted personnel. And housing for generals and admirals is always the most lavish of all.

Overseas, the US military maintains school systems for American dependents, but the children of officers and enlisted personnel attend the same schools.

From my experience, it was rare for brats to judge their peers by the rank of their parents. To our credit, we usually formed our social groups for positive reasons, not based on the military caste system.

Even so, I can remember a few classmates, mostly the children of higher-ranking officers, who were too full of themselves. Jerks are everywhere, and these were immature, teenage jerks. Like bullies, most were not tolerated well socially.

So, growing up as a military brat was a unique adventure and a life-changing experience.

The brat life made me who I am. And, hey — I like who I am.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Several decades ago, I met a man in Buford, Georgia, born and raised there, who had never been to Atlanta. Atlanta is a mere 35 miles from Buford via Interstate 85.

In fairness, he avoided Atlanta because he considered it an evil place full of crime and villainy.

But in addition, he had never set foot out of Georgia. He was in his 40s, an auto mechanic, married with kids. He was content and saw nothing unusual about his situation.

I, on the other hand, found it mind-boggling. Having been to, and lived in, so many different places in my life, I simply was astounded.

When I was a kid, my dad was in the Air Force, and we moved often. Very often. Growing up, I lived in Macon, Jacksonville, Savannah, Japan, Virginia, Florida, France, and Germany, in that order.

During our two years in Japan, we traveled the islands regularly. During our three years in Europe, we visited Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, England, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

When we returned to the US in 1960, I spent the next four years at the University of Georgia in Athens. It was the longest I’d lived in one place in my life.

On the About Mr. Write page on this blog, I describe myself as a frequent road-tripper. I mean that literally.

Since 1992, when I finally began documenting my travels, I have taken 134 multiple-day trips somewhere around the country. That’s about four trips annually. In other words, for the last 30 years, I’ve hit the road every three months.

I have visited every state in the US except Alaska. Especially after my divorce, I made it a point to seek out new places, just to see, explore, and experience.

As you may know, I have a special affinity for the Southwest, and Grand Canyon is my go-to vacation spot. As I am quick to note, I’ve been to Grand Canyon 28 times in the last 28 years.

I’ve probably driven every paved road in Arizona, New Mexico, and the southern halves of Utah and Colorado.

At some point, I began taking trips to fill in the blanks, going to New England, the Great Lakes region, the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf coast, the Appalachians, Montana, and so on.

Lately, COVID has cramped my style a bit. Age and arthritis have slowed me down, too. I don’t think my traveling days are over quite yet, but when they are, I’ll be content because of the memories.

Stored in my head are decades of superlative memories, many of them documented by the thousands of transparencies, prints, and digital images I’ve amassed — and which, I assure you, are carefully preserved and organized.

Like all of us, I am a walking memory vault of my unique experiences.

I am blessed to be a son, brother, nephew, cousin, father, and grandfather. Family memories will mean the most, always. But the memories of my travels and adventures on the road are in a special category.

I thank God I’m not the Buford mechanic.

Recently, on a travel website, I read an article entitled, “The 16 Most Beautiful Places in the US.”

Listed were Acadia, Antelope Canyon, Badlands, Everglades, Florida Keys, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Horseshoe Bend, Mammoth Cave, Monument Valley, Niagara Falls, Shoshone Falls, White Sands, Yellowstone, and Zion.

A fine selection. But they should have made it 17 and included Yosemite. For the record, I’ve visited all 17.

Okay, that said, I am compelled to include some photos…


The trail to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah, follows that ridge.

A black bear and her cub, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
In the village of Supai in Havasu Canyon, Arizona, few dogs are house pets. Most live free-range and are cared for informally by the community.

The French Quarter, New Orleans.

A boy swimming nose to nose with a manatee in the city of Crystal River, Florida. Up to 1,000 manatees winter there because the water in the bay is warmer than the Gulf.

A nice Monet in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
A row of seastacks on the Pacific coast.

Native Americans sell their art daily at the Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Hermit Rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. When the sediment levels from upstream tributaries are low, the water is emerald green.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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My late Uncle Allan was mellow about most things, so I don’t think he would mind me sharing this bit of information about him.

Allan was an amiable, soft-spoken, non-judgmental person. He never married, and when I was a kid, the possibility that he was gay occurred to me. The evidence suggests, however, that he was quite a ladies’ man — for certain in his later years and, for all I know, his entire life.

Allan lived in Jacksonville for decades and moved back to Savannah after he retired. Rather than living in the Smith family home with Aunt Betty, he moved into a retirement home on the marsh east of Savannah.

On one of my visits to the home, a young male employee told me Allan was very popular — very popular — with the ladies.

Women residents of the home outnumbered the men five to one. Allan not only was single, but also was a fit, good-looking guy. The employee said Allan was in constant demand and was seen with a variety of ladies.

Over the years, Allan lived in three Savannah retirement homes. Apparently, he was the resident ladies’ man in all three. His mission, it appears, was to make all those lonely ladies happy. Performing a public service, you might say.

After Allan died and we were dealing with his belongings, I discovered a stash of condoms in a cigar box in the back of a dresser drawer. These were new, unexpired condoms, mind you, and plenty of them. I made the stash disappear before Aunt Betty could find them.

It pleased and amused me greatly to know that Allan was a Don Juan. But, discreet fellow that I am, I never mentioned it to anyone. Until now. The man deserves recognition.

It’s always the quiet ones.


James Allan Smith (1918-2008)

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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