Saturday, December 17, 2011


Graduate and Proud Sister

Vienna, Austria, 1991. In the middle of our sixth Foreign Service posting, sixteen years after signing on, we realized just how close we were to empty-nest-time. From Voluntary Nomads, Part Seven: Austria Adventures, Chapter 29:

Dakota went to Turkey on his senior class trip in May and returned mere days before graduation.  High school graduation. Where had the time gone? I recalled our photo of not-quite-two-year-old Dakota in Washington, DC, all dressed up in his new Winnie-the-Pooh outfit, ready to fly to Tehran in 1975. Now in 1991 our handsome eighteen-year-old son stood at the beginning of a new path to his own future.

More interested in music than in academics, Dakota decided to stay with us in Vienna for a year of study at the American Institute of Music (AIM). To fill the time between graduation and the start of classes at AIM, he signed up for the summer work program at the embassy. The personnel office did their best to create jobs for teens, gave them a courtesy security clearance based on their parent's background investigation, and paid them to help the gardeners and caretakers or function as security escorts for workmen in unclassified areas of the embassy. Before Dakota got a job through that program, I had a brainstorm: he could do my job while I went on home leave. My boss and the Brookhaven Lab accountants approved the plan.

I wrote glossaries to automate the correspondence that Dakota would have to generate and streamlined the daily routine as much as possible. The story had a perfect ending. Dakota did great work, and I still had a job when I got back. And Dakota survived his two-month bachelor experience as well.

Meanwhile, Tina flew to Washington, DC to spend time with her girlfriend Alex Asselin from Dominican Republic days. Fred and I rode the train to Frankfurt where we could catch a direct flight to Dallas. This was our first time on a night train and our first experience in a sleeping compartment. Novels always describe the wheel clicking rhythm and rocking motion as soothing and dream promoting. But it reminded me of my father pushing on my shoulder to get me up for school, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up.

In the middle of the night, Fred got up to pee. Being a considerate guy he didn't turn on the light. He groped in the dark to find the floor-level cupboard that held the urinal, a quart-sized vessel with a handle at one end and a spout at the other. After using the urinal, the traveler was supposed to return it to the cupboard where the angle of the shelf would automatically tip the contents (onto the tracks below, I'm guessing).

Fred fumbled the cupboard door open, removed and used the urinal. Bumping and clunking noises followed.

"What the hell?" He flicked on the light. "Damn."

The overhead light glared upon perplexed Fred holding one of his shoes. I watched him pour the contents of his shoe into the urinal. And I giggled. Giggles escalated into belly laughs that disintegrated into hiccupy guffaws. Fred laughed then too, although he didn't seem quite as amused as I was; maybe he wasn't quite as loopy from sleep deprivation, or he envisioned putting his foot into a damp shoe in the morning.

In Dallas we launched our visit to Fred's sisters who lived within the Texas Triangle, as we called La Porte (Laura), Conroe (Pat), and Austin (Beth). Party, party, party. The Austin segment included a side trip to Port Aransas where I got the second worst sunburn of my life, blistering my calves, during a long walk with Fred up and down the beach.

After our whirlwind tour of the Texas Triangle, we flew to Albuquerque and met up with Tina for our visits to my dad and his wife Bea in Los Lunas and to Fred's parents in Roswell. Tina toured the UNM campus, one of her options for college. She also got her driver's license and practiced driving in my dad's Goldie, a venerable Pontiac sedan. Fred spent the whole vacation feeling sick. We wondered if it might be a recurrence of dengue fever that had first infected him in Somalia and then again in the Dominican Republic. He felt better by the time we topped off the home leave experience with five days in DC getting physicals and taking care of other business.

When we arrived back in Vienna on that August day, home never looked so good. It would have been perfect if our suitcases had arrived with us, but international travel is not all wine and roses after all. Our bags showed up two days later. ###

Read a review of Voluntary Nomads at Story Circle Book Reviews and purchase your copy at popular online retail outlets. E-book formats are available at and Outskirts Press

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