I was 8 years old before I realized I wasn’t in the Marine Corps. That’s when my dad retired from the Corps and we moved from a Marine base to an Air Force base in Southern California. We lived in our own house instead of base housing and my life changed slightly–my sister and I got frilly bedspreads instead of scratchy wool blankets with a stenciled USMC on our beds.
Our silverware had USMC stamped into every piece. Our dishes were “normal” but the coffee mugs were stamped USN. I never did figure that one out. I knew better than to bring up anything to do with the Navy.
My vocabulary was not like my other friends and I learned quickly to use civilian lingo when I wasn’t at home. But home was an entirely different mindset. At home we spoke Marine.
Reveille was at 0630 hours every week-day. One of us used the head while the other one got her quarters ‘squared away.’ After 15 minutes, the process switched. We ‘stood inspection’ at 0700 and then sat down for breakfast or mess. Breakfast was a quiet affair–coffee and newspaper–with the paper sections being passed around according to our rank. I read the business news and classifieds a lot. Mess ended at 0715 hours and we were given our specific orders to be completed before my dad got home that day. Between 0730(when Daddy left for work) until 0800 hours I got to practice the piano. I wasn’t allowed to play the piano while Sarge, I mean, Daddy, was around. He wasn’t exactly the Bach type.
I would get home from school about 3:30pm. That gave me one hour for myself–not a lot of time to get in trouble. But I treasured that hour! We were expected to be on hand to greet Daddy when he arrived home at 1630 hours. While my parents had cocktails from 1640-1700 hours my sister and I set the table and helped bring out the food. At precisely 1700 hours we sat down to dinner. The order was given to one of us girls to “Ask the blessin’.” Occasionally, Sarge would decree he was tired of that same old blessin’ and we were to have a new one learned in one week. Yessir!
Dinner/supper was a time for inspection of posture, nail length, personal cleanliness, table manners, rate of eating/chewing, correct order of using utensils and acceptable topics for the dinner table. We had to ask to be excused from the table and then had exactly until 1800 hours to clear the table, put the food away, do the dishes, sweep the floor and turn out the lights so the News with Jerry Dunphy could be watched without distraction. I do not remember this schedule EVER varying unless Daddy was TDY.
Daddy’s interest in my education was limited to two topics: the history of Texas and making sure I knew all the words to the Marine Corps Hymn. I was about 10 when he handed me an old, worn textbook on the History of the Republic of Texas. “Toc Lynn,” he said in his best Ross Perot Texas twang, “Read this book and learn what’s in it.” The only response allowed in our house was “Yessir!” I read the book. I loved history and by the 5th grade was already intrigued with American history. But Texas had been a country, too. A week later he asked for the book back.
“Toc Lynn,” you git that book read?
“Everything squared away about Texas?”
“Alright then. Go help your mother.”
It was that same year he inquired at dinner if we could sing all the words to the Marine Corps Hymn. When he uncovered that glaring gap in our formation, we were under orders to have the whole thing memorized in a week. It got done. Yessir.
Growing up a Marine isn’t as common anymore. My Boomer friends don’t relate. My kids have had to unlearn a bit of the military vocabulary that slipped into their childhood left over from mine. But I can look back now and grin at some of the more, uh, unique aspects of my upbringing.