We went to Florida to tell Lynn’s mother Mabel about our upcoming tour to Germany. She went to Florida every winter with her cousin. Cathy had moved to Florida also, following a job offer. We had put it off. We were almost ready to leave. We told them both. Cathy took it in stride; Mabel did also, too well, we thought.

That night we went out to eat with a large family group, then headed to the dog races. I tried to bet based on what the dogs had previously done. It didn’t work well with dogs, only horses which have jockeys. Cathy and her grandmother won quite a few races, based on the dogs’ names. We won none.

That night as we said goodnight, Mabel teared up suddenly.  “I’ll never see you again,” she announced.

We had been in Germany six months when Mabel called to say she was coming to see us. She had never flown so far. We warned her to be a little old lady and let the stewardesses take command. We told her by no means to mention we’d be doing a Volksmarch (a little over three mile hike) after she got off the plane.

We had a problem. We had tickets to go see Huey Lewis and the News, our landlady’s favorite group. “Let’s just get your mother a ticket,” I said. And that’s what we did.

We picked her up at the Frankfurt Airport and took her on her first Volksmarch. She was surprisingly friendly, chatting with German people, not her usual style. I figured she didn’t think they counted.

The night we went to Huey Lewis, we stopped at a T-Shirt booth right outside the main entrance. “Brigitte, would you like a t-shirt?” Lynn asked. When Brigitte said no, he turned to me, “Cheryl, would you like a t-shirt?” I also said no.

We started to move on—except Mabel. “You didn’t ask me if I want a t-shirt?”

“Mom, would you like a t-shirt?”

“Yes, I would.” So we bought one for her;  I never saw her wear it. This is the reason I loved my mother-in-law. And incidentally, we definitely raised the age of the attendees at the rock concert.

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A Dog’s Bite

It was a cold, wet day in Bruchmühlbach. I was at work, Lynn at home. The rain started coming down like a blanket at one point. It poured the worst I had ever seen. After work I hurried directly home. Lynn greeted me with a “whew!” He had had a hard day.

It began with the blanket rain. It got rain all over our landlady’s mother’s entry, which was below ours. Lynn went to tell her not to walk out, that he would clean it up. She had the chow, Champ, with her since Menachem and Brigitte were out of town. Lynn began to mop it up, pushing the wet out the front door. Suddenly Champ attacked, trying to get out. Lynn put the broom up. Champ bit him. That seems to have straightened Champ out—after all, this was Tippy’s daddy he had just bitten. Lynn got it all cleaned up while Champ slinked back into Frau Keller’s home, head down and hid himself.

“So I’ve had my adventure for today,” Lynn said, while Tippy curled up on his lap.

“Where did Champ bite you?” I asked.

He showed me. It had broken the skin. “We need to get you to the Landstuhl emergency room.”

His look asked why. I reminded that Menachem had told us that Champ so dislike going to the vet that they hadn’t taken him for years. We were reminded we were in tollwut (rabies) country. Lynn turned pale. “Let’s go.”

The emergency room at Landstuhl was packed. We stayed a long time—apparently a dog bite didn’t count for much. After several hours we saw a doctor.

“The problem is our rabies experts aren’t here. They won’t be back until Monday.”

“When would he need to start having the shots?”


It was already Thursday. This made no sense to me. Couldn’t they call one of the experts in? “Oh no,” he said. “They’re all out of town.”

I begged, I pleaded, I promised my first-born child (only kidding but I might have). He refused to call. That night we sat up and talked about it. It seemed there was no way to avoid the rabies shots, which in those days were given in the stomach and made people sick.

The next day I was moping around the office. My boss noticed and asked what was wrong. I told him about the bite and our worthless visit to Landstuhl.

“Let me see if I can get a committee together,” he said.

A committee? What good could a committee do. But I thanked him.

Frau Keller told Lynn later that Brigitte had called her to make sure everything was okay. Frau Keller had asked how long it had been since Champ had a rabies shot. “Around four years,” Brigitte answered.That did it for me I was convinced Lynn would have to undergo the shots. A shot a day for two weeks, maybe three, maybe four. I was sick with worry.

Later my boss told me the committee was set for 3:30 and Lynn needed to be there. He got there at 3:00, nervous I could tell, though no one else could. At 3:30 we moved into the conference room, a large empty room with four chairs set up and two for us. A doctor was there, a dog specialist, only the vet was missing. The doctor was going on about how Lynn would have to take the shots when the vet showed up.

“Good news,” the vet said. “Champ was given a shot that lasts for five years. They tell you to come back every year so you get in the habit of it. I checked with his vet, and he says you’re clean, Lynn.”

Later I was glad that Menachem and Brigitte had a visit from a social worker, who told them to get Champ his rabies shot. And so they did.

But this explains why I liked the Air Force so much: It cared.

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When we first arrived at the Frankfurt Airport we were met by my sponsor, a woman I’ll call Molly. I got my first clue what she would be like as we were leaving the airport. “Oest,” she said. “That means west.”

“No, Molly,” I said—I’d had years of German in college. “It means east.”

So we got on the right road. We took Tippy to the kennel she had picked out, then Molly drove us to her house. “You can stay here till my husband gets home from TDY,” she said. [TDY means temporary duty, anything from one day to 179 days.]

We sat and chatted for awhile. As sleep started to roll in, we asked if we could take a walk around town. Molly got excited. “I’ve never taken a walk in Bruchmühlbach. Do you mind if I join you?”

Bruchmühlbach was a new town, laid out along three narrow streets that came together at the two ends of town. We wandered around for awhile, Molly gasping as much as we did at the differences between an American town and a German town. When we got home I asked if we could take our Erte out. This was when Erte decided to try sculpture. We had one about a foot high, numbered and signed, which Lynn had gotten for a song—okay, maybe a little more. It was of Giuletta from Tales of Hoffman. Molly stared at it reluctantly and said we could put it anywhere.

At dinner that night, Molly said she would come get me at lunchtime, so I could sleep in that morning. As it was, we were both awake before she was and lay in bed whispering till the front door closed. “Quick, let’s get up,” Lynn said.

That morning we went for a walk in the woods, happily ignoring the Tollwut (rabies) signs. Neither of us got bitten. We made it back in time for me to shower and put on my uniform. Molly arrived as promised. We drove back to the base.

“I hope,” she said, “that you were able to sleep in.”

“Actually, we got up early and took a walk in the woods.”

She started laughing then and after giggling for awhile said, “I told everyone you all were different.”

A few days later a friend from work came over. “Molly,” she squealed. “When did you get an Erte?”

We explained it was ours. Later I noticed Molly staring at it with more respect.

We went to the real estate office to look for housing—contrary to popular belief most bases don’t have enough housing for everyone. The woman looked us over carefully, then reached into a drawer and pulled out a few documents. “You can look at these tonight,” she said. “Come back tomorrow for more.”

We saw nothing we liked. Lynn and I both had the impression that these were under-the-table listings of people who were neither black, Hispanic, or Jewish. Just on that basis we decided not to accept anything. Besides they were all dirty and dark. The next day we went back to the same woman. She sighed and handed us a new list of documents, these from an official looking book. Our first one was in Bruchmühlbach, an upstairs apartment in a private residence. The couple’s mother-in-law lived on the first floor; we would have the top two. The man who took us up was named Herr Welzland. I tried to pronounce it. He corrected me. Again I tried to pronounce. Again he corrected me. Finally I asked what I was doing wrong. He smiled. “The name is Polish, not German.”

With that smile he had me. The rooms were bright and sunny and clean. The next time I saw Molly, I said, “Howdy, neighbor!”

“Neighbor?” she said. “Are you moving to Bruchmülhbach?”

“Yes, we are!”

With that we became fast friends.

[Captain, 1988]

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Lieutenant Va Va Voom (2)

We were in Germany over eight years. One of the last things we did when we left was attend Nathalie and Serge’s wedding. Truly Serge really was—is—a great guy. They married in a chapel connected to the military, one that a Medici had built. It was a great wedding although we couldn’t understand a word of it, but it was nice and short. They had invited friends and family only. The reception was at a lodge out in the country, one where we all had rooms.

Thoughtfully, Nathalie had placed us at a table where everyone spoke English. They were mainly airline employees. Shyly, Nathalie and Serge came to the tables to greet everyone—a big improvement over our receiving line.

One gentleman spoke of taking a car tour through America. He talked of how friendly Americans were, how often they bought drinks for him, how often they paid for his dinner. He shook his head. “This would not have happened in France. We heard how the French don’t like Americans. This isn’t true. We like Americans very much.”

The other people nodded, and all began to speak of their experiences with Americans. I’m sure they were hiding the negative experiences as well. But it occurred to me that of all the people I had met in Europe, we were most like the French, even more than the British. We all like to think we’re in charge, the greatest country ever; that no one compares to us.

To tell a story about myself, I talked of ordering steak tartare in a French café. The waiter asked me if I knew what I was ordering.

“Of course I do,” I said. “I’ve had it before.”

“But do you know what you order?” he responded.

“Yes, yes, yes. Of course.” He brought me the steak tartare.

“How is it?” Lynn asked.

“Not as good as some I’ve had.”

By now people were grinning—they already knew the punchline. Sometime later Lynn was reading a tour book. “Cheryl, do you know what you ordered that evening for steak tartare?”

“Of course. Raw beef.”

“Nooooo. What you ordered was horse. In France steak tartare is made of horse meat.”

Oh no. Flicka and Fury and Silver, forgive me. Everyone began laughing. Some shook their heads. “I don’t like steak tartare,” some said.

“That’s why,” was my reply.

We are still friends with Nathalie and Serge. Last time we saw them was in 2008, when we were taking our granddaughter to Germany, France, and Holland for her graduation. We had asked Stanzi if she wanted a trip or money.

“A trip,” she said. “I know I was in Germany when I was a kid, but I don’t remember anything about it. I want to go back.”

So we went. Later I was looking through old and new pictures. There was a photo of me, Nathalie, and Stanzi as a baby. There was another photo of 18-year-old Stanzi, Nathalie, and me. I gave them both to Stanzi.

[Aug. 1, 2014, Major]

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Lieutenant Va Va Voom (1)

You would think that Fourth of July on an Air Force Base would be a big deal, but you would be wrong. Here was the thing during the Cold War, though I doubt if it’s true today. If the Fourth happened on a Thursday, we got Friday off too. If it was on a Tuesday we got Monday off. So it was mainly a four-day weekend for us. When we got to Germany we travelled. Brittany was our favorite place and it was just far enough to do on a four-day weekend.

So instead I am going to tell you about Lieutenant Va Va Voom. That’s what the men in the Personnel Office at Ramstein called Nathalie. She earned the title being small, sexy, and French. Besides, her last name, hyphenated, began with the two letters Va and Va. She was a lieutenant in the French military who came to visit our base to learn the personnel business.

I took to her right away. She had jumped out of a plane with nothing but a parachute. She was forceful and blunt, the kind of officer I wanted to be. She told me her father was a doctor. It was years later when I discovered he had been the Surgeon General for the French military.

Lynn asked me, “Has anyone invited her over?” I shook my head. She was a bit too startling for that. “Fine. Invite her over tomorrow night. I’ll make her an American meal.” He was the cook of the family.

We became friends that night. She talked a lot about Serge, her boyfriend, which she charmingly pronounced “Bye-friend.” He was apparently from a different class. This struck her as a problem.

“Does he speak English?” I asked.

“No, not at all,” she answered.

After that night she used to come to my office, and we would go upstairs to the one room set aside for smokers. She brought her own coffee since I only made decaf. “I like my coffee . . .” she hesitated, then smiled, “mean!”

One day she and her temporary boss, a French major at Ramstein, invited the officers to a French lunch. We talked for awhile about France’s past. I asked what I thought was an innocent question. “Does France still have colonies?”

Nathalie and the major looked at one another thoughtfully. Finally the major said, “We don’t call them that anymore.” From then on whenever I saw the major around base I saluted him. Normally we did not salute foreign officers since it was hard to figure out what rank they were. He always returned my salute with a smile that recognized me.

When Nathalie left after a month to return to her base in Strasbourg, we used to visit her. It was a mere two hours away. There we met Serge. It turned out he spoke beautiful English. Nathalie was surprised. “I didn’t know you spoke English,” she said.

He shrugged. “We never had occasion to use it before.” We liked him a lot.

[Captain, 1990]

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Meeting Dick Cheney

The Air Force believes in education. For its officers it offers three tiers. First Squadron Officer School for captains. Almost everyone goes to it. It was an eight-week course in Montgomery, Alabama. Next, for majors is Air Command and Staff College. Few get to go there.  I passed up an opportunity to go because I wanted to stay in Germany. Next for lieutenant colonels is Air War College. I was at the Pentagon when I made lieutenant colonel. There was no way I could go to Air War College, but I could join a once-a-week meeting to go over the material, take the tests, at least get it under my belt.

I already planned to retire so had no need to go to Air War College. But I don’t believe in letting things go because I plan something. And let’s face it: I’m a nerd. I like to study. And what we were studying was fascinating to me, even Air War College.

I was in a group of about 13 new lieutenant colonels. I remember only one argument of mine. I insisted on calling Macedonia FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) instead of Macedonia. I kept Macedonia for Greece. One of the guys and I got into quite an argument about it. But otherwise things went smoothly. I read Killer Angels by Michael Shaara—awfully good book about the battle of Gettysburg. And I learned and learned and learned.

One week one of the guys came in all excited. He had met Dick Cheney, who was at that time the CEO at Halliburton. Cheney had agreed to address us the following week. Were we up for it? We all heartily said yes. After all, Cheney had been secretary of defense, one of our noted thinkers. Who wouldn’t want to meet him?

When I arrived the only seat left was at the top of the table. I sat next to Mr. Cheney. He began to talk. Later he answered questions. The one thing that I mainly remember about his discussion was this: he talked about how Carter had banned production of one of the bombers. He said something like, “It was the right thing to do. Nobody wanted it. The services didn’t want it. But Reagan pledged to bring it back. Politically that was what pushed him into office and Carter out.”

I had always thought that Carter didn’t get elected because of the hostages in Iran, but what did I know? What I remember about the rest of Cheney’s speech was how often when he spoke he went back to politics, the political solution to the mess. As if politics was all there was.

At the end of his talk he shook hands all around, wished us all luck. I look at my hand now, the one that Cheney shook. And I shudder to see it, as if his paw print is still on me.

[Lieutenant Colonel, 1998]

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Curt’s Courage

Curt and I worked in the same office, desks nose to nose. Curt was not his real name. I will also not tell you what grade I was or where we were. I cannot find Curt to ask his permission to tell this story.

One day the phone rang. Curt picked it up.  I heard him say, “Go to the neighbors’ house. Tell them I’ll be there right away.” He got up. “I have to leave,” is all he said. I nodded. He was a dedicated, hard worker. If he said he had to leave, he had to leave.

Curt was married and had two children. I assumed one of his children had called him, maybe had gotten locked out of the house. I expected Curt back that day, but he didn’t return. He came in the next day. He seemed frazzled, worried to the ends of his very short hair. Later that day, as I was going outside to have a cigarette, he asked if he could join me.

“I want you, someone, to know what’s going on. I may have to be gone on and off for awhile.” This is the story he told me.

His parents were visiting. The kids were out of school that day. His mother and wife decided to go shopping; the son decided to go along. The daughter said she would stay with her grandpa. After they left, the grandfather suggested they go upstairs and snuggle in bed together. The little girl was only eight, but her antenna went right up. She told him she would join him, then once he’d gone upstairs, she called her father. That was the conversation I had heard.

Curt sent his folks away as soon as he got home. Later though he started investigating. He was the only boy in the family, his father’s pride and joy. His father had taught him to hunt, to play basketball, to do manly things. Curt had a slew of sisters. He started asking them if their father had ever raped them.

It was across the board. Every last one had been introduced to sex by him. When they complained to their mother, she just said, “Then keep your bedroom door locked.” The father removed the locks. Curt asked his cousins. Ditto. His nieces. Ditto ditto.

He was shocked. He had always adored his father, but this was a side of him he had not known. “How could I be so stupid?” he asked me. “How could I not have seen it?”

“Who expects that? Especially since you had such a good relationship with him.”

No one in his family wanted the father brought to trial. Their mother was old; it would affect her too. And it was all water under the bridge. After they reached a certain age, he lost interest in them. But Curt thought about it, thought of all the little girls his father had raped, all the little girls out there that he might still rape. He went to the police. His father was arrested back in his home state.

Curt stood up in court and talked about what he had learned. The little girl did too. The father was convicted and hopefully has died in prison. With his whole family against him, Curt did the right thing. That takes guts.

But let’s talk about the little girl too. Her mother asked her how she knew what to do. The little girl replied, “Mom, you keep telling me what to do in those situations. I just followed your advice.” Talk to you daughters. Talk to your sons. Give them the example of bravery.


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Crete 1990

The first time Lynn saw Crete, or any part of Greece, we had gone to meet our German landlords, Brigitte and Menachem. They had been there a week already, had claimed their space around the swimming pool, and spent the days catching tans in front of it. It was a hotel right outside of Malia, not far from Iraklion and the Palace of Knossos.

The Palace of Knossos

         We arrived and rented a car. I wanted Lynn to see so much of Crete that he fell in love with it, like I had so many years ago. We arrived on the Saturday before the Orthodox Easter, which begins at midnight. We asked Brigitte and Menachem if they wanted to walk with us into town to visit the church that night. They said no, so we walked that way around 10:00, in the dark. The church was crowded already. There was no room inside so most people hung around the outside area, crammed together.

Before midnight we were all given candles. I taught Lynn how to say Χριστός ανέστη (which means Christ is Risen, and I’ve probably badly misspelled it) as he lit someone else’s candle. At midnight the bells began to ring, and the priest lit the candles of the people nearest him. These people then turned around and lit someone else’s candle—which I’ve always thought one of the best ways to celebrate Easter. It took awhile for the candle light to work its way to us, but we both managed our  Χριστός ανέστη. Then we walked back to the hotel, carefully preserving our flames. Okay, I was—it’s good luck, you know. Lynn not quite as superstitious as I am, handled his cavalierly. Strangely I had more difficulty keeping mine alight.

At the hotel, they had a place for us to put our candles. The dining room was wide open. We went in for the wonderful soup they serve this time of year and only this time of year, mayeiritza with lamb organs in an egg-lemon sauce.

The next day, the hotel had pits dug to roast lamb on. We all signed up for Easter dinner (I had to do a little persuading), but we had a great time sitting out at a table on the beach. We ate and drank wine it seemed for hours.

The only other thing we persuaded Brigitte and Menachem to take part in with us was a visit to the Palace of Knossos, where the ancient Minoans once dwelt, and its museum. Menachem was interested. I think Brigitte would have happily stayed at her place near the swimming pool.

The hotel mainly catered to Germans, but it became obvious early on that even though we spoke German, we weren’t. Someone asked us what nationality we belonged to.

“American,” Lynn said.

They began to speak to us in English. They began to bring special treats to our table at night.

One day we persuaded Menachem and Brigitte to go to dinner in the town with us. There was a nice-looking little restaurant we wanted to try. We got there and began to order in German. Okay, maybe I showed off a little bit with Greek. The waiter looked at us.

“Sie sind keine Deutsche,” he said. “Was sind Sie?” You’re not German. What are you?

“American,” I said.

His face lit up. He went in, brought all four of us out some free ouzo. This is how you know they’re glad to see you in their restaurants, the free stuff they give you.

When we got the bill, they brought out free pastries, more glasses of ouzo. Brigitte was very silent throughout. As we left to wander back to the hotel, she began. “They are so good to you when you say you are American. They don’t treat us that well. But we’re the ones who keep them in jobs. I don’t understand. What makes you so special?”

I knew she was talking about Americans in general, that she wasn’t upset with us. Menachem gave me a look with a slight shake of his head. His father still wore the number tattoo that he had been given as a Polish Jew brought to Germany to build the Autobahn. He survived; his family did not.

What I wanted to say was, “They lost so many people here in World War II, fighting you. Crete was held down with an iron fist. These people have strong memories.”

But all I said was, “Gee, I don’t know.”

[Captain, 1990]


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I’m working on another book now, so have decided to limit my blog to one a month. It will be the first Friday of every month. If you want me to put you on a list to notify you, please let me know. Thanks for reading. Cheryl

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General K

At the beginning of the week I was due to retire, I sat at the end of a long table in the Pentagon.  General K sat at the head. He was in charge of a different area; I was just there as the personnel representative. This meeting concerned another meeting we’d had, weeks ago, with the Air Force Chief of Staff.

General K was a good-looking man, with black eyebrows and black hair, a solid body, just tall enough. Everyone else there belonged in his area. He wanted to know how well his folks were doing in carrying out the Chief of Staff’s instructions. There was a lot of disagreement about what the Chief had instructed. I sat and fantasized about my retirement on Friday. I was lost in my dreams when General K said, “Doesn’t anyone here know what the Chief instructed us to do.”

I did but it wasn’t my project, so I hesitated to speak up. But when the General repeated his question I knew I had to. “Uh, sir, as you know I sat over to the side behind the DP [Director of Personnel]. He had to leave for another meeting so he told me to take good notes and send him an email later summing up what had happened. I have it here.” (This was a new DP, one who actually liked me.)

General K stretched out his hand. I passed the email down to him. It was fresh, from right after the meeting. It distinctly said what the Chief of Staff wanted. General K read it and frowned, “Why don’t we have anything like this? Why didn’t anyone else take good notes? What else do you have there, Cheryl?”

I had a copy of the slides on which I had made my notes. “Well, just this, sir, but my notes are just scribbles, maybe not very helpful.”

He held his hand out again. Reluctantly I passed him the slides. Maybe he would lose interest before the line I didn’t want him to see. He began to read my notes, every now and then saying, “This is good stuff. Why don’t we have any of this, gentlemen?”

They fell over themselves explaining that they had good notes too, just hadn’t bothered to bring them. The general kept going through the slides, commenting on my notes. Oh please, oh please, let him lose interest now. Please please please.

He did not. He kept going, very deliberately reading out some of my notes—more to put his men to shame, I think, than anything else. Finally toward the back he reached it. I could tell because his black eyebrows shot right up into his black hair and stayed there. He read it intentionally, slowly, went back and read it again, then again. My guts clenched. Could he stop my retirement?

“So, Cheryl, what does this mean? ‘General K looks pissed.’” He looked coldly up at me.

I thought through several responses. Finally, I said, “I may have just been starting my grocery list. Sir.”

He stared at me coldly for a moment, then opened his mouth. What came out was a big “Ha!” followed by another and another. Soon he was laughing heartily, his men snickering with wild eyes at me, me giggling a little. This told me something: he actually had been pissed!

At the end of the meeting, one of his men came to me and asked if I would please come to the next. “I can’t,” I said. “I’m retiring on Friday.”

But this is what I liked about the Air Force. Even the bigwigs could laugh at themselves, most of them at least. And laughter was a good part of what it was all about. In those days we weren’t in the big wars we’ve experienced since 9/11. We were able to laugh, to have fun, not to take ourselves too seriously. I doubt if that’s true nowadays.

The following Friday I retired in a joint ceremony with Lynn at the WIMSA [Women in Military Service for America] Memorial outside Arlington Cemetery. The next day we were to have a big party. On Saturday morning I sat out on the deck, sipping coffee with Lynn. I felt something I had not felt for many years. I didn’t know what it was. Then I realized: it was the absence of stress.

[Lieutenant Colonel, 2000]

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