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Stories We Tell: Jeannie Puckett

(Installment 7 of 14)

Collected and arranged by

Amy Uptgraft

Edited by

Audra Edwards

“As our time [in Kansas] came to a close, we all began to wonder where we would be assigned next. Ralph had received unofficial word that he would be sent to Ft. Benning. I could not have been happier at the thought of returning home again to be with family and friends. However, when the orders came, we found out that we would be sent to Bad Tölz, Germany for three years. I am usually very flexible, but my heart and mind had already pictured us being back home in Columbus again. I admit that I was very disappointed. I had not traveled to Europe before, and it seemed like another planet to me. I could not imagine being away from my family for three years! The five of us had to get passports for the trip. Marty had a black eye from a swing accident, and Tommy had to be propped up for his photo, as he was only three months old. We departed to New York for our departure in a military airplane. Tommy was placed in a cardboard box and set down at our feet! Again, not much was being done about travel safety in those days.

One of the things that Ralph wanted us to try in Germany was camping as a family. Having never camped in my life, I thought that sounded unlike anything that would interest me. We still had a toddler in diapers—and, remember, there were no disposable Pampers at this time—and I thought eating pork and beans out of a can for a week sounded terrible! Ralph vowed that he would do all the cooking and shopping for food if I would agree to give it a try. As an additional carrot, he had suggested that we go to Lake Garda, Italy, where the US military had a campground and a commissary for buying American food items. I agreed to try it one time—with Ralph being responsible for everything and me being a guest at the table!

We piled our American station wagon full of things that I was sure I could not live without, including a large highchair for Tommy. Arriving at the campsite, I was overcome by the beauty of the lake region. The camping area was full of people of many nationalities and many styles of camping gear. We pitched our tent—well, Ralph pitched our tent—while I sat in a canvas chair, sipping a cool drink and watching the process. The children took to camping immediately and loved the freedom it afforded them to roam. Jeannie immediately made friends with a little Dutch girl, and she brought her over to meet us. She spoke no English, and we spoke no Dutch. That did not hinder the two little girls from interacting with sign language and lots of giggles. In the evening, we roasted marshmallows on sticks over the fire. We found children peeking between the shrubbery to see what we were doing. We invited them to enjoy the first marshmallows that they had ever seen. The adults were just as fascinated to see us eating corn on the cob. They explained to us that, in Europe, corn was only for cattle. They did not grow the type that we did for human consumption.

After this camping trip, I realized it was a wonderful way to enjoy close family times. I will always be grateful that we had that experience together and built lasting memories for all three of the children. The three years we spent in Germany were our favorite tour. It was three years of expanding my horizons and learning about the world at large. Travel takes us out of ourselves and makes us realize that this world is composed of all sorts of people, customs, and languages. The military can give that to you and your family, and it feels like a gift.”

Reflections from Amy:

He needed me to be okay with this. I could see in his eyes that he needed me to be okay with this news. “We’re going to Alaska next!” It felt like my brain couldn’t quite catch up to his words. Did he say Alaska? Was that even on our list of choices? I, like Jeannie, was disappointed, and sad, and overwhelmed and terrified. (Have I mentioned before that I have a flair for the dramatic? Ha!) I cried to Jamie. I cried to my sister. I cried to my mom. I called almost everyone that I knew and cried. And yet . . . now, all these years after our time in the 49th State, all I can think about is how thankful I am that God didn’t take my tears and prayers to heart, because my time in Alaska changed the trajectory of my life, and it showed my family that this world is a big, scary, exhilarating place filled with dog sled races, halibut fishing and glacier walks, Inuit languages and Qiviut hats. . . . Oh, how right Jeanie is! What a gift that the military can give.

Are you an active duty or veteran milspouse interested in being a guest writer for VSP? Get in touch with your details and topic interests on our contact page!

Tags :
Army,Bad Tolz,Camping,Das Zelton,Germany,Italy,Jeannie Puckett,Lake Garda,Military Children,Military Family,Military Life,Military Spouse,Milspouse,Ralph Puckett
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One Response

  1. Thanks again for waking up more of my memories that really do parallel some of yours. Like almost being washed away by a swollen stream as we slept in our tent, or using our Coleman stove inside our bedroom in Switzerland because we were snowed in our Inn and the owners had taken the day off to ski. Camping really was the way to see the beauties of Europe. I know those were some of the happiest memories that we had with our children…. so much so that we we were lucky enough to have a second tour in Germany. Our adult children always speak about wanting to take their children back and expose them to the same wonders.

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