Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Daddy's Armory

Oh so many memories, It is so odd to me that so much life was lived before my younger brothers David and Jacob were even a blip on the screen. It is sad too, that they missed out on some of my best memories, although, knowing my family, they have been building quite a long list of their own great memories. This is why I am trying to keep this blog up and going, so they can read and get a glimpse of what it was like when us "older kids" were the pipsqueaks, when we were the ones in trouble all the time, when WE were the ones Mom thought would surely make her age far beyond her years. Today, a new wave of fabulous memories came back, and how 'I wish you had' been around to know all about daddy's Armory

The years we lived in Walpole NH, our Dad worked in the National Guard, he was one of a handful of people who kept a daily presence at the Armory across the river from us in Westminster VT. We knew the place well. We would visit him often, sometimes bringing him lunches, sometimes we stayed there if Mom needed to go somewhere without us. We were there on weekends, we knew the people that worked there, they were like our family. One in particular was Denise Mathieu's ..( I know I didn't spell that right!) He was a big grown up kid, he liked when we came in, and sat and used the computers, played golf with his putting green, he even took us out for Ice cream once in his new, white,  Toyota Supra, top down, just us kids, and Amy at the wheel, in his lap ... only on the back road of course. :D
We knew the grounds, the firing range downstairs, the Motor Pool out back where the tanks were, the woods all around, and the sand pits way way back down the dirt road, where they ran tank maneuverer's and had a little fun sometimes.
We had Hunter safety training there, Matt did Karate classes there. On Saturdays a club for RC cars met there and had races. We got to come sometimes and help with the pit crew, running into the track to remove dead cars, running for spare parts helping in the kitchen.
We did Christmas parties every year, someone was Santa, every kid got a gift. One year we even had an elf! The food cooked by the cook "Roollie" (that was his name right dad?) He could cook! To us anyway, :) We loved the buffet of turkey, gravy, potatoes, cranberry jelly, and the baked apple's wrapped in pie crust! SOOOO yummy.
When the guys had to go away for AT (Annual Training) every summer, they would be gone for a month or so. We had parties when they came home. We would wait on the overpass to see the convoy coming in on the interstate, we'd wave and shout, and then book it over to the Armory where we had a spread of food ready for the tired guys, and all the families dressed up and clean and itching to hug their soldier. They came in with a cloud of dust and a deep ground shaking rumble. Duec and a halfs, Humvee's, jeeps, and pickups. All painted in green forest Camo. rolling in on the dirt road. I can still feel the grit, and smell the diesel, as they rolled in, some parking in the armory, others out in the parking lot. The chaos of getting everyone there, and parked, and lined up and accounted for, and then, BREAK! They all run to the people waiting for them, the dusty green duffel's all get thrown onto the cement floor. The hats come off, and the jackets, and they eat, and wolf down food, and then, you can see all they want is a couch, and a nap. So then, we all take our soldiers, and their dusty, smelly green gear and head home. After a re-connect with everyone, and a change into non-army clothes, Dad would melt into a comfy surface and catch up on some sleep, while his gear aired out under and on the clothes line. To get rid of dust, diesel, and of course "chiggers" the dreaded bug Daddy was afraid to bring home from Texas. We played and ran and played for hours, re-enacting the stories he had told us of the trip he just took.
There were "tank Ride" days. Where Dad would invite the church to come over to the Armory for Tank rides. We did PT with the soldiers, we got free pencils and other ARMY gear, we played basketball in the indoor court, we gave tours, since we knew the place so well, we got to help with a lot of it. We watched soldiers compete in "gun assembly", showing us the importance of proper equipment care and readiness. Of course the big even was the walk down to the Motor pool. There sat the gigantic Tanks. Dad loaded us up on top and a sometimes, a few lucky ones got to ride IN the tanks. They drove to the sand pits, and took us on rides to rival any roller coaster. Up and down the hills of dirt, around and around, fast, slow, up and down. It was a rush, and so cool to be the kid whose Dad made it all happen!
One year they got new tanks. What an exciting day! We all went down to the Green Mountain RR station, which we had driven by dozens of times, and never actually stopped to wait for a train. This was quite a train! The newspaper was there, a little crowd of people, all waiting to see the new tanks. Eric, Matt and I put coins on the tracks, (we'd heard that when you did that, they get flattened by the train, but imagine, a train with 3 TANKS on it?) yeah they were pretty much destroyed.
When the tanks came in, on big flatbed cars ( i think?), they were tan, Desert Tan, the first time we had seen that. Up till the Iraq war, everything we had seen was green, this was our introduction to the tan that everyone now knows as normal. They were taken off the cars, or something, that part I don't remember. HOWEVER, I do remember them being driven down the streets of the small town Bellows Falls. What a sight it was! Little stores, and Victorian houses, people walking to the ice cream window, being passed by huge, new, tan tanks, rolling along to the Armory. We got to follow, in a caravan, very proud that we were involved in it all. Then of course, they had to go try them out! I remember a husband and wife TC and driver taking one out, with Katie and I along for the ride. The driver was going nuts, having a blast with it, testing it out properly, however, after one  particularly scary move, the TC (tank commander = his WIFE) yelled into the com, "Maybe you can slow down a little?"
driver "No way lady! I am the first one to take it out, i'm gonna put it through it's paces!"
TC = "Well be fore-warned, I have SGT Akins' Daughter and niece up here with me!"
He slowed down, a little, but not after an evil laugh. It was a Fabulous day!

I loved the smell of the place, motor oil, chalk dust, boot polish, coffee and diesel. The sound of the polished cement floors, the feel of the chalkboards in the classrooms with the movable walls and folding chairs and tables. The old wooden desks, the squeaky chairs, the glass show cases of trophies and medals and plaques and newspaper clippings, all documenting the history of their division.
This is probably the reason I love trucks, and loud engines, and the smell of diesel. This would be the reason behind my wedding limo actually being a green Camo HumVee. When we moved to Rutland, although I visited the Armory where Dad worked several times, and appreciated the same feel of the place, it was never really "Dad's Armory" to me. I do remember when they got a new HUM-Vee though, he brought it home, much to our glee, and decided, since we live in the woods, what better place to test it out? SO, much in the fashion of the old days, he loaded us up, and took it for a spin. It was a flashback to days gone WAY BY, and then, when he let Eric, (newly enlisted? Private Atkins? Sooo long ago!) take the wheel, it was a jump to the present, and a little sad, thinking about how much was changing, but, not so very much different, and still, how much I missed those fun days exploring Daddy's armory.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ice Skating

As I sit and watch the Olympics, and anxiously await my favorite sports, mostly the figure skating events. This year has been the best in a long time, as I am online and can chat with my cousin about the skaters, and the routines, and the costumes, and of course, how much we love Scott Hamilton. :)

Ice Skating has been a passion for most of my life, thankfully, Eric, Matt, and even Amy all shared the love for the sport, along with my siblings, I had Katie and Chris, and most of our friends, most of the winter was spent watching the weather, looking for good ice making weather, so the ponds would freeze solid, then enough time to get out and shovel them off, before the snow sat on them too long and pitted the surface. If it got warm, we would hope for a quick melt then a fast solid freeze again ... like we really had ANY control whatsoever. :)
When the Olympics came around we were ALL ABOUT the skating, we knew each skater, their strengths and weaknesses, we knew where they stood in the ranks, we knew how the scoring worked, we spent hours talking about it, reviewing the performances the next day as we skated in the cornfields and tried to imitate their talents.
There was a rink, about 30 minutes south in Brattleboro, there were Saturdays where we would all go for "homeschool skate" a time where it was mostly "us" as in, all our friends, skating together, on BIG real ice, it was fun. Mom usually left us there for several hours while she shopped or relaxed, :) we skated the day away, once a week, for about two to three months.
Then, Eric got his license, and it got kicked into overdrive. We got a years pass, then we went on Sat AND SUN, then we went on Wednesdays, pretty soon, we were there 5 times a week, Mon-Wed-and Fri nite, then saturday afternoons and sunday evenings. We knew the people who ran the place, we knew the skating guards, we knew the regulars, well, we WERE the regulars! They started letting Eric, Matt, Chris Katie and I skate from 9-10 for the "adult skate" on Sunday Nights. As long as we didn't go nuts, or get too loud. On nights when it was basically just us, they would even play our music for us, and we did our "routines" to it.
In those late hours, we learned SO much! We skated with instructors, who saw our love of the sport, they would coach Katie and I on the finer points of footwork, and how to do a few simple jumps. They gave us a wide berth to practice speed and spins and crazy moves. It was so much so much fun!
Eric would come home from work, tired and exhausted, and eat dinner, and pile us in his little ford escort, and drive an hour each night in snow and sleet and freezing temps, and never complained, he loved the sport, and if we did too, then more fun for all of us. Often on Sunday nights and sometimes Saturday afternoons he would take us through the drive through at McD's and we'd fill the tiny car with the smells of sweaty smelly skates, warm wet mittens and fast food. All the while, U2 is cranked on the radio and we are singing at the top of our lungs.
We had our mishaps, one 'near miss' speeding warning one late night on RTE 5, some run-ins with the skating guards over our speed on the ice, some personnel issues with some of the regulars, practical jokes going back and forth with Matt, myself and the snack shop dudes **I think though, it was Eric who switched the Coke and Root Beer soda tanks on him one Saturday heeh classic!** , and of course there were the injuries.
We were FAST, and we were trying tricks people practice for years, we were just throwing ourselves into these jumps, and spins, and we even tried some of them in Hockey skates. THAT may have been a bad idea. :) I tried a lutz jump one Sunday night, in Hockey skates, and it is a jump that requires having toe picks, so, NOT having those, i went UP and then came DOWN, and landed on ONE knee cap, all I remember is coming down, thinking ... "hmm not a good thing" the next thing I know, I'm laying flat on my back, looking up at everyone who had been skating,now surrounding me, looking at me like i was dead. Seems the sound my knee made hitting the ice, stopped everyone in their tracks, so, i was the only one who didn't see my fall :D
Eric, being the good big brother he was wanted so badly to call the ambulance, but I was dumb and stubborn and wouldn't let him I thought I would skate again that evening, I had 2 1/2 hours to go, I'd be fine......... or not :P It swelled so big, I almost cut my jeans off that night it was so hard to get them off, and it didn't go all the way down till late spring. oops!
Our entire lives revolved around skating, in the winter, we lived at the rink with our skating friends, and we loved it. Katie and I bought professional leather figure skates one year, and nursed blisters for a whole year to break them in. In the summer we spent our time trying new jumps in Rollerblades, trying to work on our footwork, and saving for new skates, I had the professional leather ones, and then of course being a tomboy, had to get authentic hockey skates too!
When Eric left for the Army, it was never the same, partly cause it got WAY more expensive! with the pass, and the gas, and food! ALso, he was such a big presence on the ice, the kids in the rink LOVED him, they followed him all across the rink. He skated on hockey skates like they were figure skates, and part of his body, it was artistic. Even now when I hear U2 songs, I see him skating to it and doing air guitar with a trail of little kids imitating his every move.
It was more than skating, it was bonding, with our friends, and mostly the three of us older siblings. When Amy was able to come, i know she felt so grown up, and loved the time in Eric's car, with the music, and singing, and of course the happy meals he would buy her.
Skating will always be a love of mine, every time i get on the ice, I feel the chill, and the rush, and I want to go fast, and dance, and jump and then i realize I'm 15 years older, and not as practiced, and then there is that knee, with the cracked knee cap, heh.
How I wish you could have been part of our Skating Days, I know I treasure the memories, they will be the stories I tell for years, and never tire of. :)