It was a bleak day in the military transport terminal at Dover AFB in New Jersey, 1974. Christmas Eve Eveand sniveling toddlers, anxious wives, and nervous Army recruits were jammed together as close as marbles in a bag in the cold green-walled and dirty linoleum floored boarding area. We were waiting for the delayed overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany and a new Dept of Army civilian employee posting in Kaiserslautern.
Our nine month old was at the far limit of her tolerance for the car seat. The (starter) Husband was anxiously pacing and looked as if he was in pain. Then he told me he WAS in pain and was going to go to the emergency room on base. Maybe he was having a heart attack at 28 years old! “Stay here,” he said, “and board the plane if it gets to that point.” Oh, that struck terror in my heart! Fly to Germany with a toddler and no knowledge of the language – by myself?!
Of course, the time came to queue up and no sign of The Husband. People with empty hands helped carry the kid, the baggage, the coats, the scarves ,and mittens for three travelers. This was not a luxury plane, but some sort of military charter and there was little room for comfort in our 5 across row. In a state of panic, tears flowing, hands shaking, I felt both relieved and angry when he boarded just before door closing. Having suffered an anxiety attack he was blissfully high on Xanax and immediately fell asleep for the next 8 hours.
We were met in the Frankfurt terminal by Benno, a German co-worker who spoke excellent English and drove us to the Visiting Officers’ Quarters on base. At a service plaza on the autobahn we stopped to get coffee. I took the baby with me into the Ladies Room where I discovered pay toilets. I had no German coins and was too embarrassed to ask for help. Looking around to make sure we were alone, I slithered under the door and yanked the baby through the opening. I don’t even want to think about the condition of the floor we were mopping with our bodies.
I began to calm as we sped along the highway. Baby finally slept. Snow covered the ground just enough to decorate the pine trees and roof tops. Little villages, looking so different from our home town, reminded me of the miniature towns set up along a model railroad train track. Tiled roofs, candles in the windows. I was exhausted, sad at being away from family on Christmas, and apprehensive about this new life beginning in a foreign country.
To my surprise, when we arrived at our temporary housing we found our rooms softly lighted and a small tree decorated with handmade ornaments and paper chains. Other families in the same situation welcomed us and fed us, and best of all, took the baby for a few hours so we could settle in. Christmas Eve was peaceful and calm and after all the chaos was a time to reflect on the moment and the adventure ahead of us.