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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.