My parents were married at 2:00 in the afternoon. My father was on medical leave from the US Navy after having his appendix out. The year was 1943.
My mother remembers driving with her father to the church. They lived in a small town in Iowa. As they drove through downtown my mother noticed the bank clock said 1:55. When she and her new husband drove back the same route to her house for a small reception, she again noticed the clock. It now said 2:15. The minister had married them under the wrong name. Nobody mentioned it.
My father’s father ran the family farm so he had petrol coupons. He filled the car with gas and gave them coupons so they could go to Kansas City for a two day honeymoon before my father returned to his post at Lakehurst, New Jersey. He was training to fly blimps. My mother was teaching school and had to finish out the year before joining him.
They were separated again when my father went to fly blimps off the coast of Brazil searching for German submarines. He remembers Christmas Day, 1944. He and his buddies drove through the Brazilian countryside on their way to find a beach to play volleyball. It was the first time he had ever seen that kind of poverty. He noticed the crops in the fields and decided that very day he could help people by teaching agriculture.
He had planned to be a vocational agriculture instructor when he returned to civilian life but this gave it a whole new dimension. He wanted to work overseas. His mother had always told him he could do what ever he wanted if he set his mind to it.
Nine years and two children later, my father went to work for the US Technical Cooperation Agency and he was assigned to the Burmese State Teacher Training College in Rangoon, Burma, where he worked with students in agriculture. My parents and my two brothers who were 4 and 6 years old started their great expat adventure in 1952. Their friends and relatives thought they had lost their minds. This was before jet airplanes, email or a polio vaccine.
My father was the only one of eight children to finish college and he went on to earn his doctorate. His career took him and his family to live in Burma, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria and the Netherlands. He also traveled extensively and visited 90 countries by his 90th birthday.
My mother says the difficult part of the marriage was his travelling so much. He was always away when there was a crisis. Our cook came down with small pox. My father was travelling. Our nanny’s niece died and my mother had to arrange for the burial. My father was away. Kennedy was assassinated. My father was away and my mother had just moved to a country where she didn’t speak the language.
On the other hand, my father says the reason they had such a good marriage was because he travelled a lot. He says this half jokingly.
My parents were always a team. They supported each other. My father had a successful and demanding career that he loved. My mother was always a perfect hostess. She was flexible and friendly to everybody she met. She was willing to travel and live under difficult and challenging circumstances. She took care of the children and the home front and he conquered the world – with her help. He couldn’t have done it without her and he is the first to admit it.
After living abroad for thirty years, they returned to the United States. My father continued to travel and do consulting while my mother enjoyed the grandchildren but she also was able to travel with him and they spent several months in Indonesia and Malawi.
In April 1993, we celebrated their 50th Anniversary. My brothers and I took them out to a nice dinner. The next day I left to join my husband in Russia. I had become a second generation expat.
Ten years later, I was back on US soil to celebrate their 60th Anniversary. The whole family along with an aunt and some cousins gathered in a small Minnesota town for the weekend. It was a memorable occasion with many toasts, speeches, and photo sessions.
This past weekend we gathered again to celebrate their 70th Anniversary. One brother brought a wedding cake that started to lean so we tried to prop it up with cookies. Another brother sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers. We had a nice dinner with cousins, grandchildren, a great grandchild and my mother’s sister, the maid of honor.
My brothers and I sat at one end of the long table with my parents and talked about the places we had lived and reminisced about traveling all over the world. I asked everybody what their favorite place to live had been. We each answered in turn. We all had the same answer. All for different reasons, but the answer was the same. Mexico City.
It was a happy family gathering. We decided to start planning a big blow out party for the 75th. My mother says we will all have to bring lots diamonds.
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.