I wrote an essay for this blog a couple years ago about what it feels like to be a military brat and not have a hometown. Other military brats will understand what I mean. I was born in Turkey and lived in several places before Dad finally retired in Tampa. Dad was born and raised in Bradenton, Florida, Mom in Nederland, Colorado; they had hometowns. But my four sisters and I were born and grew up in different places. I think it was tougher on my two older sisters; they packed up and moved more often than I did, so they had more friends to say goodbye to and never see again.
I’m not complaining: I thank God I lived the life I did, traveling all over the world, experiencing other cultures, making friends with kids in other countries. I wouldn’t trade my youth for anything. In fact, if I could do it over again, I’d want to live in more places, meet more people, experience more cultures.
Still, it bugs me sometimes that I didn’t experience more of Tampa before I joined the Navy in 1977. I lived in Tampa for 12 years. I was stationed in Maine for 6 years, Hawaii for 6 years, Maryland for 9 years and other places for 7 years. I retired from the Navy in Maryland and have lived here for a total of 20 years! But Maryland isn’t “home” and never will be. My wife is Japanese and calls Hawaii home, but Hawaii will never be home for me. Maine is the place I loved most in my career – I vacation there every year – but it will never be home.
Tampa is my home. Tampa is the place I skinned my knees showing off for Francis Cooper. Tampa is the place I swung on the swings with Cindy Combs before school at Belle Witter; Tampa is the place I fell in love the first time; where I kissed my first girlfriend – Esther – in the breezeway at Ambassador Baptist School in eighth grade; where I went fishing with my buddies in the retention pond next door; where I played baseball and hotbox in the streets until Charlie White’s dad whistled for him and Danny to come home for supper; where (Dow Sherwood’s) Village Inn Pancake House was my first job; where Billy and me drove my VW through the woods; where Dennis Yost sucker-punched me (my first fight); where I was baptized at Northeast Baptist Church; where Jesse and me stole the traffic barricade and then freaked out when the yellow light wouldn’t stop flashing in the back of my VW Beetle; where my friends and I skipped school and drove to Clearwater Beach for the day; where we booed the demolition derby drivers at Golden Gate Speedway for wussying out at crashes; where Alan and me spent a hundred nights at his house falling asleep in the family room while watching Doctor Paul Bearer and the late late late late early show.
I’ve always said the world was my hometown, as it is for every military brat. But every military brat has that one place they hold dear in their heart, that one place they call home, that one place the military calls our “home of record.” For me that place is Tampa. I’m not a native of Tampa, but I am a Tampa Boy.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.