Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Air Force Brat

Anna Kathryn Lanier

One thing a writer needs to know about her characters is their backstory.  Most of the time, the readers won’t know all of the backstory, but a good character will have a strong, well-thought out backstory. So, here’s my backstory….or at least part of it.

My parents married young. Mom was only 15 and dad barely 18.  A few months earlier, dad had joined the Air Force (he would not have been 18 at that time).  Mom flew to Denver, Colorado where he was stationed at the time and they married in a Baptist Church.  Nine months later (to the day), my sister was born in California, where both my parents grew up.  Dad was then stationed in Topeka, Kansas. That’s where I was born.  When I was 18 months old the family moved back to California, close family, for a few years.  My earliest memories, probably helped by old home movies, are from then.  One is deciding to walk to my sister’s school while my mom took a nap.  Luckily, a very nice lady found me walking down the road toward the highway and took me home.  She was driving a big, black car and embarrassed the heck out of my mom, who was in her nightgown, while the lady was dressed to the nines. I would have been 3 or 4 at the time. 

We lived in California until I was six years old. Then Dad was stationed to Guam.  He flew out six months before we did, so mom was left in the states for that time with three children (by this time, my grandmother had died, leaving my aunt an orphan.  My aunt is only 3 months older than me and came to live with us for several years). I started kindergarten here, where I went to two different schools, because we moved during the school year. I don’t recall my first teacher at all, but I do my second one.  She was a young black woman…probably the first black person I had a personal interaction with and she was a wonderful teacher!  I recall playing Farmer in the Dell and taking the bus to school (the only time in my school career I did.)
Dad and my brother...Guam

My brother was born on Guam and I attended first and second grade there.  Memories there revolve around walking to school, going to the beach, my brother’s birth, learning Santa Claus is…well, you know, losing my front teeth when my aunt accidently kicked me in the mouth, girl scouts, and being locked in the bathroom at school one day and missing recess. That incident left me traumatized for at least an afternoon.

After two years dad was then stationed in North Carolina.  The Air Force base didn’t have housing, so we had to live in the teeny tiny town of Freemont, population 300.  I don’t know how my mom did it, but she told the school there that my aunt and I were twins (I think she was embarrassed for people to know she had a sister and daughter the same age).  Third grade was done in Freemont.  A few years ago, I was visiting a friend in Durham and we drove out to Freemont. I have found memories of the ‘one main street town.’  The three-story, red brick 1st -12th grade still stands. I am pretty sure I found the house we lived in, and the town still just has one main street.  The elderly lady at the drug store wanted to know why I was walking up and down the street taking pictures.  Her son, now the pharmacist is pretty sure he remembers my sister being in his class, since we had such an odd last name.  It was a great trip down memory lane.

Toward the end of the school year, a house was available on base and we moved about 20 miles away to Goldsboro.

My sister, me and brother (1974ish)

During the time at Goldsboro, I did fourth grade, one and half times.  I think of my memories from that time.  I learned about Clara Barton, I walked to school, my mom ran over our cat and I discovered her. I was home alone when the phone rang. The man wanted to talk to my parents (I don’t recall why), but because I was on the phone in the kitchen, I missed seeing which curtain was the big deal on Let’s Make a Deal.  Really, I remember that to this day. How stupid is that? Oh, there was this big field behind our house and the neighborhood kids and my siblings would play war out there. 

Want to know why I have an aversion to running, or exercise in general? While in Goldsboro, mom made a comment after we saw some guy out jogging.  “He’ll go home and drink a coke, and all get back all those calories he burned.”  See, what’s the point? I was probably about 10 when she said that.

In the middle of my second year of fourth grade, dad was transferred again, to Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas.  The very last day we were at our house, on the way home from the last day of school before Christmas break, I tripped and landed on a rock, cutting me knee.  My sister and I were taken to the hospital by an young airman.  I had to get stitches and wear a brace on my leg….on the entire drive from North Carolina to Galveston, TX, where we would spend Christmas with family.

It was the end of 1970, beginning of 1971, and mom and dad bought their very first house in Fort Worth.  Up until this time, Fort Worth would be the longest we stayed anywhere.  I finished up the second year of fourth grade, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and part of tenth grades.  Dad, who all this time had been a technician on flight simulators, cross-trained to be a tail-gunner in a B-52 and was sent to Vietnam for temporary duty over several years. (He was awarded the Distinguished Flyer Cross for one mission) Mom maintained the household, while working, too.  In 1975 or so, she started working at Village Inn Pancake House.  I started working there, too. First as a busgirl, then as a waitress.

By the way, who remembers the nuclear war drills in school?  The fallout shelters?  My elementary school in Fort Worth was a fallout shelter, with barrels of water stockpiled in the basement (where the cafeteria was).  So, for nuclear war drills, we would all duck under our desks with our hands over our heads, because THAT would save us from an A-bomb being dropped on Carswell 15 miles away.....

In 1976, dad retired from the Air Force, after having served for over 20 years.  Mom was offered a managership at Village Inn in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  So, the family moved once again. It was the middle of my tenth grade when we moved.  When I started in the middle of the year, I met up with an exchange student from Australia, who had also just arrived at the school.  She and I became good friends and she encouraged me to apply via Rotary International to be an exchange student too.

My mom told me once that she allowed me to apply because I was a C+ student and she figured my grades were not good enough to make it.  Well, lo and behold, I was accepted into the program and was sent to Finland for the year between my junior and senior years of high school.  That was a great experience! I was able to visit Leningrad, Sweden and parts of Finland, including being within 300 miles of the Arctic Circle.

When I returned to Las Cruces, I finished out my senior year and met up with an exchange student from Finland.  Needless to say, we became friends (and a few years ago, Annika found me on Facebook!).  I also met my first husband during my senior year.  Because of having to redo fourth grade and losing a year while in Finland, I was 20 years old when I graduated.  Instead of going to college, I got married.

My parents had by this time gone into the restaurant business themselves, opening a sub sandwich shop. Right after my graduation, the family moved from Las Cruces to Albuquerque.  A year later, I married Randy Rose and we moved to Denver, Colorado.  Less than a year later our daughter Tiffany was born.  When she was 18 months old, we moved back to Albuquerque.  Aside from a book I started in high school, it was during my time in Albuquerque that I really started writing, Harlequin-type books, longhand in notebooks. I wrote several at that time.

 In 1985, my parents sold their restaurant and we all moved to Gonzales, Louisiana. I got a computer while here; you know the kind, where you had to put in a floppy disk to load the ‘word’ program every time you used it.  My stories were also saved on floppy disks.  The one and only story I sent into Harlequin was rejected…I mean, who knew about query letters, synopsis, and agents? 

Randy and I divorced and I met my current husband, Jim. Right after we married, we moved to Charleston, WV.

My second child, Holly, was born in Charleston.  Jim, I and the girls spent six years in Charleston (the longest I lived anywhere up to that time).  Jim was then transferred back to Gonzales, LA, where my parents still lived.  Jim and I bought our first house and lived there for eight years.  He then got a job outside Houston, Texas and we moved in 2001.  Now, this is the longest I have lived anywhere in my life, thirteen years!

Jim and me

I put my writing pretty much on hold for 20 years. It wasn’t until after we were settled here that I sat down to write again. I wrote two 110,000 word novels in six months.  Needless to say, they are not well-written.  After I wrote them, though, I signed up for a creative writing class at the local community college.  That’s where I learned I didn’t know how to write a novel.  But my professor is the one who told me about Romance Writers of America and got me started in the right direction for being published.

In the meantime, my daughters grew up, graduated high school, married and had children.  I now have three grandchildren, a boy and two girls.  I finally went to college when I was 45-years-old and got an Associate of Arts degree in history and education.  Had I gone to college out of high school, I would have gotten that very same degree.  I am now a substitute teacher with the local school district.  I help care for one of my grandchildren (the other two live in Louisiana and I see them as often as I can).

Oh, and very recently, I learned all about geocaching.  I’m going to write a blog about that, even though, it’s not really a ‘western’ thing.   It’s really fun!

Geocaching fun with the grandkids

As backstories go, this one is pretty bland, I know.  There is no angst or drama given here.  My childhood was good, but not perfect.  I, unlike my sister, did not mind the frequent moves.  I still don’t mind moving to a new place.  My sister, after a short stint in the Air Force and marriage, settled in Fort Worth, where she graduated high school.  She’s been there since 1985 and is happy (and is now a retired Fort Worth Police Officer).  My father, when he was TDY in Vietnam, started drinking heavily and the family had to deal with his alcoholism for the rest of his life. My parents, after 35 years of marriage, divorced.  If I were to use my life story as a character’s backstory, I would need to dig deeper and, maybe, fictionalize some things….

So, have you been keeping track?  How many states did I live in?  Don’t include Guam, which is a U.S. Territory or Finland. And don’t count the fact I lived in three of those states twice.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of one of my books…winner’s choice.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Author, A Gift Beyond All Measure
www. aklanier. com
Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester 


  1. I've probably miscounted the states you lived in, but I believe it was 6: California, Kansas, Texas, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisiana.
    I was so sorry to hear about your father's struggles with alcohol after he served in the Vietnam War. Sadly, many soldiers did.
    I understand your ease with moving to new places. In my youth, I loved moving to a place all fresh and new and meeting new people with cultures different from my own. Now that I'm older, it isn't that appealing.
    Your mother seems to be the strength in your family of origin. It has to be difficult to keep a family happy while moving from place to place all on her own.
    You had a long, difficult road getting to publication, and like most us, you made some ploopers along the way. It's always a learning process, isn't it?
    I wish you continued success. I truly enjoyed reading your bit of personal history and learning more about you. All the best to you.

  2. WOW. You know what blows my mind? You and I probably were living in Charleston, WV at about the same time! We moved out there the summer before my sr. year in highschool, summer of 1974 (I graduated in 1975). My husband is from there--I met him in college. Oddly enough, he'd been in Viet Nam and had gone through a divorce, and hadn't lived in Charleston for many, many years--had just come home a few months prior to college starting. LOL Isn't it weird to think that we might have passed each other on the street and spoken and not known it?

    What a great life story you've had! You've sure lived a lot of places and had a ton of adventures. My dad became an alcoholic, too. Very hard to deal with. But a tail gunner? Gosh, I can sure understand why that might have caused some stress!

    Thanks for sharing your life with us, Anna Kathryn! Gosh, I still can't get over our WV connection!


  3. Wow. Parallel lives. I was an Air Force brat, too, at about the same time. Where was your dad stationed in Vietnam? Mine was at Cam Ranh Bay.

    Looking back on those Civil Defense drills now, they seem more than a bit ridiculous, don't they? Daddy was a fighter pilot stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we suffered those darn drills at least once a week. I'm fairly certain I earned a Master's degree in crawling under elementary school desks. :-D

    Thanks for sharing your backstory with us. Felt almost like old home week. :-)

  4. Hi, ya'll. I wrote Sarah an answer idea what happened to it. Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by.

    Sarah, you're off by a couple of states (New Mexico and Colorado). Not surprising. I always have to count on my fingers when I think about it and go in chronological order.

    Cheryl, I was in Charleston 87-93, so not sure if we were there together or not. I lived in Kanawha City.

    Kathleen, dad wasn't actually stationed in Vietnam, he was in Okinawa and Guam (again). They'd fly their bombing missions from there. I know that today's generation doesn't understand the Cold War scare. But those drills are laughable now, I think.

  5. Anna Kathryn, I've moved a lot, too, but only in three states. Enjoyed learning more about you. That's a sweet photo of you and Jim.

  6. There was nothing boring about any of this, Anna, the places you got to see! Loved learning the details of your mighty fine life!

  7. Fascinating gimpse into your life, Anna Kathryn. I now understand your adventurous spirit and chutzpah in Australia on the bridge. And I have long admired and respected how you went back to school. I remember when you graduated, too. It is so interesting how life experiences shape us, and put us on the path that is our destiny. So glad you found yours as a writer. (((Hugs)))

  8. Hi, Caroline, Tanya and Ashley. Thanks for stopping by and for the wonderful comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the blog.

    Ashley, I did figure that would be the only time in my life that I'd have a chance to climb a I seized the opportunity. It was great.


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