retrospective

Today’s the last day of the year, and for about a week, retrospectives of the year and the decade have been filling my Google Reader with bests and worsts of, lists, and general nostalgia.  While I maintain that we still have a year to go in the decade before we can wrap it all up and tie it with a bow (think about it, there was no year 0 A.D.), I see the argument that we don’t consider 1990 part of the 80s, so I guess I’ll let it slide.

I thought of writing a decade retrospective of my own, but remembered that ten years ago I was only 15, so what the hell do I know. Still, it’s good to look at where we’ve been before thinking of where we’re headed.

On the New Year’s Eve that was known as Y2K, my mom made my sister and me stay home, because she wasn’t sure what was going to happen. We didn’t stockpile food or firearms or anything weird like that, but we did stay at home and play Monopoly, because Lord knows what the crazies were going to be up to that night.  Lo and behold, our computer, a behemoth Gateway that came in one of those dang ol’ cow boxes, didn’t up and explode at the stroke of midnight, and the world kept on spinning.

Then it felt like it stopped for a bit about a year later, on 9/11, when I watched the Towers fall live in U.S. History class.

I turned 16 a few months later, although it wasn’t much of a milestone, since I was freaked out at the thought of driving and didn’t get my license until a year later.

I turned 18. I graduated from high school.  I got a job at a summer camp and met the love of my life.

I went off to Lyon College.  I met some of the best friends I’ll ever have.  I learned how to drink.  I voted in my first presidential election, for John Kerry, and got into a huge fight with Jon when I found out that not only had he voted for Bush, he thought it “didn’t really matter anyway.” It was the only time he’s ever hung up on me.

My parents adopted a foster child, now my youngest sister.  She has Autism. I was so proud of my parents, and so impressed with the progress she made from the minute she arrived in our home.

Hurricane Katrina decimated the coast.  We watched in horror as people not that far from us lost everything.  Many refugees ended up in Arkansas.  Some of them ended up in our classrooms.

On the way to Thanksgiving dinner at my Meme and Papa’s, I hydroplaned and Jon and I ended up in a ditch.  The airbag kicked my ass, and after an ambulance ride and a lot of pain and a lot of meds, we discovered that I had fractured three vertebrae. I learned that I have an extra vertebrae. I became 1/4″ shorter on my left side. I discovered that my fear of needles is so severe I’ll refuse a pain shot, even with a broken back.  I realized Jon was the man I wanted to marry when he was the one who took care of me after the wreck.

Jon and I got engaged.

I lost my grandfather, and with him, for a time, my faith.

Jon and I got married.

I found my way back to faith.

We found out Jon had matched in Charleston, SC for a residency in pediatrics.

I graduated from college, and Jon graduated from medical school.  I finally got to go to England, though I missed getting to go to Jon’s graduation.

We bought our first house, moved over 1,000 miles from everyone we loved, and started the three hardest years of our lives.  We got our first dog, Bessie.  I got my first post-college job and learned what it means to live below expectations, learned creative ways to avoid saying “I’m just a secretary,” wondered why I don’t know what the heck to do with myself, a BA in English and Political Science, and my life.

We spent as much time as possible at the beach.  We made new friends.  We found new rhythms.  We made a new life in a new place.  We ate a lot of real seafood.

I lost my job when the economy crashed.  I spent time in the unemployment office. I discovered just how measly unemployment benefits really are.  I realized how fortunate I was to be able to get health insurance through my husband’s job.  I became even more passionate about causes I believe in. I volunteered for the Obama campaign. We both voted for him.  I cried as election results came in– Jon was post-call, so he was sleeping on the couch next to me.

We got a second dog, Olive.

I got a new job, almost exactly a year ago, at a college.  I started taking graduate English classes and finally felt smart again, had something to be good at.

I stood in a freezing cold Marion Square to watch the inauguration with other Charlestonians.  I cried again.

We became passionate about more sustainable food and discovered the emerging church movement.

We found out Jon had matched in Little Rock, AR, for a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine.

We started wondering what our next decade will hold.

So. I guess you could say that the biggest takeaway for me in the last decade is that I grew up.  I found love, I found grief, I lost and found my faith, I found strength, I found independence and dependence, I found myself.  I look forward to the next 10 years.

remembering my GI Joe

My Pops, Joe, must’ve been a fun guy to know in college.  He had his own big band, Joe Sweatt and his Collegiates.  He

This could ahve been my Pops-- a medic in a medical tent at Anzio.  Photo taken 1944 by Margaret Bourke-White, via the LIFE photo archive @ Google.
This could have been my Pops-- a medic in a medical tent at Anzio. Photo taken 1944 by Margaret Bourke-White, via the LIFE photo archive @ Google.

was known for pulling pranks on a rival college.  He worked on the school newspaper.  And he dated one of the feistiest girls on campus, later to become my grandmother, who was known around campus as “Cutie” by one and all (I’ve seen the inscriptions in her yearbook that prove it!), who once broke up with him and left school for a few months just because he didn’t take her to the school dance (in truth, he couldn’t afford the tickets and couldn’t bear to admit it– I told you she was a handful!).  My grandmother has remembered fondly a secluded campus bench they liked to visit in the moonlight, if you know what I mean!  And then, one semester shy of graduating, my Pops was drafted into the army.

He served in the 1st Infantry Division, a real GI Joe.  While in the “staging area” in North Africa, he caught the disease that probably saved his life– malaria.  Weakened by the malaria, and with a nearly-finished college degree setting him apart from many of his fellow soldiers, the army made my Pops a medic and pharmacist.  So, as his unit traveled into Anzio, up through Italy, and through Europe into Germany, my Pops wasn’t on the front lines.  I guess I should thank a mosquito!

Pops always had a great sense of humor, so most of the stories I heard from him were sort of funny– like the time, getting off the duckboats at Anzio, he, being a rather short man, immediately sank over his head into the water under the weight of his pack.  Some taller soldier next to him grabbed him by the pack, pulled him up, and dragged him to where his feet could touch the ground.  He also joked about how his height made him work doubly hard as a litter-bearer, carrying wounded men on stretchers back to the medical tent– if his partner was much taller than he, he’d have to hold the litter up very very high to keep it level!  And, though I knew him when he was a grandfather sneaking Little Debbies, my Pops always had a sweet tooth.  He was actually at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest when it was captured, and while he describes other men cutting priceless paintings out of their frames and sticking other valuables into their packs, my Pops was stuffing his pockets and pack with a stash of chocolate he had found!  That’s where his priorities were!  He did make it out with a beautiful green blown glass vase– I have no idea how he got it home intact, but it sits in the china cabinet in my Memaw’s house, amid all her carnival glass and Kewpie dolls.  His one other prized piece of plunder was a discus from Mussolini’s personal athletic complex.

My Pops even used his sense of humor to entertain the other soldiers.  Perhaps because he had a taste for show business, his younger brother Albert having acted in films like “Angels with Dirty Faces” and “Boys Town,” or maybe because of his big band experience, Pops and a friend routinely perfomed skits, Pops playing GI Joe, of course, for the other soldiers.  He later got back into character to perform one of those skits at his 50th high school reunion!

I guess, more than anything, the fact that what I know of Pops’ service in the army, which must have been very difficult at times, is the funny stories says a lot about him.  He wanted to make me smile.  He didn’t want to burden me with the horrors he surely saw as a litter bearer and medic.  He was just an optimistic kind of guy, whistling everywhere he went, and it wasn’t in his nature to dwell on unhappy things.  I hope I take after him in that respect.

My Pops died almost three years ago, and I miss him all the time.  I wish he had been there for my wedding, a month later, but I know he was there, even if I couldn’t see him and hug his neck.  And on this Memorial Day, I’m missing him like always, thinking of him, and thankful for the service he and so many men have given to our country.