Early Traveling Memories

1997 Snow in our little Neon, trekking around Germany

In November of 2021, I traveled to Germany to meet my granddaughter for the first time. It was a beautiful trip. Even in the midst of COVID where regulations kept us from doing the things my stepdaughter had planned for us. We were unable to go to the zoo, the Christmas markets were all closed down. We had to wear FFP2 masks, show our vaccination cards every time we ate out, and take COVID tests before meeting with others, but none of those things curbed my enthusiasm at getting to be a part of a family I never thought I’d have.

While I would love to share a million photos of my sweet little girl and the budding relationship we have, I won’t be doing that in this post. Instead, I am going to share a memory of the grandfather she wasn’t able to meet. It is my prayer that as she grows up she will have a little glimpse of the good things about her Opa.

The first time I traveled to Germany was in October 1997. Andy was a Seargent in the Army and had just been assigned to HHC 141st Signal Battalion in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. He arrived a month before I did to secure housing.

We had only been married a little over a year, and much of our first year married, we spent apart as he was going through military training for a new job in Fort Gordon, Georgia. During that first year we spent a lot of time making the trip from Fort Campbell to Fort Gordon, and long weekends were the things we looked forward to the most.

Originally he was supposed to be sent to Korea, but luckily, his orders were changed and we were set for Germany. He was so excited to go back, his first tour was in Germany and his daughter was there.

Once he got his orders, I was left in charge of packing up the house stateside, while he got housing in Germany. This was before cell phones and international calling was not an easy thing. There was no instant messaging or social media. The phones were still wired to the walls (if you can believe it?)! There was email, but the internet was not easily accessed and if someone called while you were trying to send an email, your internet connection was lost. So communication was not a daily thing once he was in Germany, and the time difference caused a few difficulties.

Once I got the house packed up, I had two weeks to wait before my flight to Germany. A dear work friend let Snow our white Siberian husky and I stay with them until our flight.

A few days before my flight I thought I should give Snow a bath so he would be travel-ready, but being in an unfamiliar place in a new neighborhood, bathtime soon went wrong. Huskies are escape artists, and Snow got away from me. I just knew that when the next phone call came from Andy he was going to divorce me because I lost his dog. I was beside myself, spinning the worst-case scenario, I nearly lost my mind.

When I finally spoke with Andy, he was much calmer than I expected and told me he just wanted me to get to Germany safe and sound. He said he would meet me in Frankfurt and pick me up, everything would be ok.

Thankfully we found Snow, who was covered in red clay mud, two days later, just a day before the flight, thanks to the persistence of my boss, David, who drove around searching for the dog for hours on end. I was so thankful and excited that I was finally making my way there, with the dog.

I don’t sleep while traveling, between being anxious and being excited, I just can’t shut down. I flew from Nashville to Atlanta, to Frankfurt, Germany. By the time I hit the ground in Germany, I had been awake for 24 hours. The flight, a contracted military flight, was horrible. The seat didn’t recline, the headphones didn’t work, they seated me in between two huge guys with shoulders so wide they were a third of the way into my seat. I couldn’t move much at all. Snow was in the belly of the plane, on Benedryl to keep him calm. I was the one who needed something to keep calm. This was only my second flight, ever. But I made it with a sigh of relief when the plane touched down at Frankfurt.

Once we touched down and deplaned at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt. I got my luggage and the dog, (who post officials wouldn’t let me take out of the crate!) we made our way to the area where everyone was being picked up either by their units or by their significant others. While I waited, I saw numerous exuberant reunions, people meeting up with hugs and kisses. I waited, and I waited and I waited until I was the only person left from the plane. My anxiety rose and my calm deteriorated. I sat outside on a park bench with the dog, near tears, looking at the entrance where everyone else came and went.

Charmin and Andrew in Hohenschwangau near Füssen, Germany

After about 2 hours a Lieutenant came out and brought me a cup of coffee and asked me what unit my husband was with and what post I was going to? I had no idea. I hadn’t written it down and I was so out of sorts I couldn’t remember. Poor Lt., I broke into tears and he had no idea what to do to help me, so he went back into the airport. It was then that our little green Plymouth Neon made its way into the parking lot.

I have never been so relieved and pissed off at the same time. I remember being there with the dog crate and the dog crying and me crying and jumping up on the park bench waving and cussing at being left so long. Andy jumped out of the car before it came to a complete stop and gave me a huge bear hug, the whole time I am crying and fussing. He apologized because he was so excited that he didn’t sleep the night before, he said he must have fallen asleep about two hours before he was supposed to leave. He didn’t hear the alarm clock, so he overslept. He was as distraught as I was, he couldn’t stop apologizing as he broke down the dog crate. Snow had to sit on my lap on the drive back to Bad Kreuznach in order to get the dog crate and the luggage in the little car.

Andy was so disappointed in himself, he was so excited to show me the new apartment and to take me around the little town. Whenever things didn’t go the way he envisioned he would get stubborn, and irritated with himself, but then he would come around to being understanding. It took a minute before we could both laugh about the situation and I always felt his disappointment at disappointing me. That was never a feeling he was comfortable with and the disappointments of his life bothered him.

I know that he would be disappointed that I had to make this latest trip without him and that breaks my heart just a little. But I also know that he would be overjoyed to see the person his daughter is, the family she has surrounding her, and the beautiful little girl that has his stubborn streak. Maybe the next little girl will have his sense of humor.

I am thankful his daughter has his wit, humor, and love, and even more thankful that she does not have her father’s timing. She and her husband were at the airport waiting on me as soon as I made my way onto the concourse. I think Opa was smiling in heaven as I made this trip. I am already looking forward to the next one.

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