“My mom’s endless optimism prepared us for anything.” — Ian Anderson
Illustration by <a href="http://www.brittanirosepaper.com/">Brittani Rose Gothard</a>
Early one morning in 1985, my mother woke from a restless sleep with a chill in her bones. “I had this dream, and I couldn’t get warm. I was freezing.” She described it to my dad — a cold, flat landscape, colorless skies, and relentless frigid winds. In this nightmare scenario, the Marine Corps had decided to send our family to Omaha, Nebraska.
Dad was forced to admit: not only was this a possibility, but he’d actually applied to a post in Omaha just a few days prior, one he saw as a strong career decision. My mom stayed enthusiastic through 13 moves over the 30 years my dad was a Marine, but this one time she actually dreaded the prospect of our next assignment.
Not that the Marines cared how my mom felt — or even my dad, to be honest. Pretty much every other spring we Andersons endured this suspense while some esoteric, behind-the-curtain machinations of the Corps determined where next to forward our mail. We’d wonder and hope, until one evening, dad would finally come home from work with a de facto geography lesson, pointing to some obscure place on the map and letting us know we’d be living there come August. It could be anywhere in the world — an unheard of two-stoplight town on the swampy banks of a sound in eastern North Carolina; a fishy tropical island in southern Japan; or depending how the dice rolled, Omaha.
The news could be upsetting, but mom always convinced me it would be an adventure. She’d tell me about growing up in Brownsville, on the southern tip of Texas, where she and her siblings would play on the bridge crossing the Rio Grande to Matamoros, Mexico. Then how her family had moved to Houston when she was 12, where the big city had expanded her horizons. Then, just before her last year of high school, the family moved to Portland, Oregon, a smaller city with distinctly different horizons. That’s a rough time for any teen to move, but in Portland she met and married her homecoming date, and four years later they were off to Virginia, to California, to London, and beyond. She’d made the most of it, and remained ready for the best.
My mom really taught me how to move. Not just the nuts and bolts — wrapping up dishware and filling cardboard boxes packed with Kraft paper or foam peanuts — but the mentality. The daring. She enjoyed and even thrived in the challenge of pulling up stakes, crossing the world and shifting gears to adapt to a new culture. Leaving good friends never came easy, but meeting new people did. One year she might be trading banter with British aristocracy, the next with a bowling team of chain-smoking suburban housewives.
She learned not to hold too great an attachment to material possessions. As she tells me, “You really keep your clutter down when you have that many moves. Because you think twice about moving trash.” Much like the Marine Corps trained my dad to set up or break down a secure base camp in the middle of a jungle, it taught my mom to adeptly furnish or pack a home. She once hosted a dinner party the night before the moving trucks arrived. Another time she found a way to accommodate houseguests within two days of stepping off the plane in a new town.
To this day I marvel at people who are born, raise a family, and die in the same place. I recognize this group comprises most people, and that they choose to do it. But under my mom’s guidance, sampling the many differences to be found from place to place became not a burden, but a benefit, and no one place I’ve lived has ever been so much a favorite that I haven’t been eager to embrace the next.
Of course, I can say that because we never did move to Nebraska. Instead we wound up in Camp Pendleton, where we lived for more than three years — our longest stint — and developed a lingering taste for the San Diego lifestyle. Twenty years later, I would return to make my home among these 80 miles of surfable coastline. When my dad retired from the military, my parents settled here as well, excited to play tennis year-round and root for the Padres. So, I guess when I say my mom’s endless optimism prepared us for anything, I mean we’re all pretty glad that anything didn’t turn out to be Omaha.