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The Bookmonger | Barbara Lloyd McMichael

Barbara Lloyd McMichael - The BookmongerMoving is surely one of life’s more stressful activities, but every year, more than 20 million Americans pull up stakes and relocate. In our mobile society, the average American experiences 11 moves over a lifetime. These are statistics Steilacoom author Joan Brown cites in her new book, “Move and Other Four-Letter Words.” Brown has been there and done that. As the wife of a career military man (who is now retired), Brown moved 21 times over 33 years. When she was a newlywed in 1954, she started out as a most reluctant vagabond. This memoir captures the flavor of life as a military wife throughout the Cold War era. And it certainly chronicles the sacrifices required of her and of her family (Brown and her husband raised three children, now grown) in what is a hyper-transient subculture, even for America.

It probably didn’t help matters any that she was one of those directionally challenged people for whom maps or step-by-step instructions for getting somewhere only seemed to be an invitation to get further lost. Yet from New York to California, Illinois to Guam, Brown was called upon to navigate new neighborhoods, investigate new school systems, and figure out the logistics of whatever it would take to call a new place home.

Because her husband was frequently off serving on military missions, she learned to cope with the home repairs and plumbing problems that seemed to crop up in almost all of the military housing they found themselves in. She became a whiz at hemming drapes. She even figured out how to deal with the local fauna — whether cockroaches, geckos or mice. And sometimes for many months on end, she functioned as a single parent.

Brown’s tales tend to be the story equivalent of easy-listening music, told with a gentle sense of humor and mild self-deprecation. Recollections of chaos, mishap and hardship are softened by the passage of time and Brown’s Catholic piety. She is more likely to focus on the nerve-wracking experiences of getting up to speak in front of a group, or serving up paella to guests for the first time, than on more challenging topics such as the unpopularity of the Vietnam War or the growing pains of her three children as teenagers. These are acknowledged briefly, but seldom dealt with in any depth.

Still, “Move and Other Four Letter Words” clearly is about much more than the thousands of miles Brown has traveled by plane, train, and car. It is also about the emotional journey she has taken as the spouse of a man whose career was directed by a male-dominated military. It is about packing and unpacking a life many times over, and learning that perhaps some baggage is best left behind.

Over several decades as a military wife, Brown has come to appreciate the places, cultures, and especially the people she encountered along the way. This memoir provides a view into a distinct time and way of life.


The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.