a slice of memoir
By 1949, the Army base where a million and half people were processed for service in WWII stood deserted. This had been the last stop before boarding ships for western Europe. All branches of military personnel, not just Army, passed through here — even some civilians on secret missions. Surely these young people made time for the cantina, laughing and maybe dancing to big band music, or for a show in the base’s theater before they left American soil, maybe for good… how many wouldn’t return to see the wooden arch bearing the message WELCOME HOME at the camp’s entrance, erected over the wide road cut through the forest? And how did the Axis POWs feel, seeing this sign on their arrival? Did they wonder what welcome awaited them here in an Allied prison? They would be put to work; they would also be given their own canteen.
All that remained four years after war’s end were empty buildings, ephemeral fliers, yellow canteen coupons occasionally spiraling in the wind, and weeds growing tall in their eagerness to swallow it all, to satisfy the hungry forest.
A local man overheard talk that the decommissioned land was being sold and if you had a way to move a building, you could buy one cheap.
He had a way of moving a building. He had a place for it, on his own land right beside his own house. He signed the papers and took his building.
It made for a nice little home, he thought. It had a concrete floor with pipes running through for radiant heat. Solid. It would need a little paint, a little work here and there. He could do it. He was pleased with himself. He would rent it it out, make a little money…
Quite some years later, a young man came to ask about the house: We can’t stay in the apartment where we are anymore. It’s not working out… he and his wife had a baby. They wanted to be in a safer place.
The older man, now gray-haired, pursed his lips for just a moment before agreeing.
And that is how I came to live in the house which was once part of a bustling World War II Army base at a port of embarkation.
That was my dad and mom who needed a place to live.
That was my step-grandfather, Pa-Pa, the sometime opportunist who’d moved the building. He’d married my mother’s mother.
I, of course, was the new baby.
This house is the first home I remember. In this place, my memories would first come into being while I watched the interplay of light and shadow on the walls. Here I would dream my first dreams and cry out in the darkness until my father came to settle me back to sleep, sometimes holding me in his arms all night when I suffered asthma attacks. Here I would begin to recognize the distant rattle and whistle of trains, long before I first crawled on the warm, warm floors in wintertime or knew the cold and silvery moon.
I wonder if this is where I first came to understand the word ghost.
The little white house with the heated floors was, after all, the Army hospital morgue.
Photo: Shocking Wonder. CC BY
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.