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End of an Era: My Parents Are Moving Back to the States

My parents met in a bar in October 1972 in Valparaiso, Indiana, where they both attended college. My mother was a senior and my father, five years older, was a middle school science teacher who had stayed in the area after he graduated. The story goes that my father introduced himself to my mother and she, although attracted to him, acted somewhat coy. When he asked for her phone number, she wouldn’t give it to him. She said if he were really interested, he’d have to find it on his own. He did, and a few days later they went on their first date. Nine months after that they got married in a church on the campus of their alma mater just a few weeks after my mother collected her diploma. And three weeks after that, they moved to Okinawa.

That was in 1973 and my parents have been overseas ever since, jumping from Japan to Korea, back to Japan, back to Korea, and then in 1989, when I was 13, we moved to Germany just a few days before the Berlin Wall came down, and my parents have lived there ever since.

In the summer of 1994, which I can’t believe was 19 years ago already, I said good-bye to my family at the Frankfurt airport and boarded a plane, heading to college and a new life in Springfield, Missouri. It was my first time living in the states. I was moving thousands of miles away from my family and wouldn’t see them again for months. I was 17.

And this is how it’s been since then — a series of sad good-byes in the Frankfurt airport, or sometimes in the St. Louis airport, knowing I won’t see my parents again for many months — sometimes a year between visits. I haven’t celebrated a birthday with my parents in almost 20 years, haven’t had Thanksgiving with them in as long, or seen them in the fall when the trees explode in oranges and reds. Because of the time difference and our busy schedules, I’ve even gone weeks and weeks without speaking to them, though we’ve never let more than a few days pass without being in touch at least over email.

With my parents in Germany and my sister in Austin and most of my extended family in Missouri and my new family and in-laws and me in the Northeast, a huge chunk of my travel budget and vacation time has been spent just trying to see my relatives. And that probably won’t ever change completely, but it’s about to get at least a little easier because in just a few days my parents are moving home, or as they would say after 40 years overseas: “home.” The packers are in their house as I post this, and in a few days, my parents are moving back to the states. Once again, they’ll start a new chapter in a town they’ve never lived before — this time, Springfield, Missouri, which just happens to be where I went to college.

There are many mixed emotions around this move. It’s very bittersweet for my mom and dad who are closing a chapter in their lives that has brought them immense joy and friendships and excitement and comfort and starting a new life full of unknowns. I know they hate to leave what has become home to them, and had hoped they could stay just a little longer, though they will be happy to be closer to family. It’s bittersweet for my sister who was basically raised in the house my parents are moving out of (they moved there a few weeks before I left for college and right before Allison started sixth grade). For my elderly maternal grandparents, who are in very poor health, and for my mom’s siblings who are exhausted from the effort of caring for them, I expect there’s relief and comfort in knowing that my mom will be close — if not close enough to help in the physical, day-to-day tasks of caring for elderly parents in rapid decline, then at least close enough to lend more consistent emotional support and be by her parents’ bedside with a few hours’ notice, if need be.

For me, it’s been a long time coming, and the fact that my parents are moving to a town where I spent six very formative years — a place where I made some of my closest friends and put down some pretty solid roots — means that I might finally get to feel a sense of home for the first time in my transient life, if home means a place where your parents live and where you yourself have some history. Of course, for the last few years, I’ve been making a home for myself in Brooklyn with Drew and Jackson and the family of friends we’ve made here. But this is different. And I’m excited. Just having my parents on the same continent again, without an enormous ocean separating us, will fill a psychic void that opened the day I said good-bye to them in that Frankfurt airport 19 years ago.

To my parents: I wish you an easy transition as you begin your new life in your new home. I hope the 40 years’ worth of memories you’ve collected around the world continue bringing you smiles and that you hold on to some of the many friendships you’ve made as you forge new ones and make new memories. You gave Allison and me childhoods full of adventure around the world, but now we are happy to welcome you home — or “home” — to make some new memories here. Bon Voyage.

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avatar Wendy's Dad June 19, 2013, 2:19 pm

Thanks, Sweetie. That was very nice. The first day of packing was grueling. They even packed your mom’s purse and had to find it and open the box. (Sigh)! Oh, and is about 100 degrees here.

avatar visharoo June 19, 2013, 3:01 pm

Wendy’s Dad, are you a DODDS teacher?

avatar Wendy's Mom June 19, 2013, 3:53 pm

Wendy’s mom here. Ed was a DoDDS teacher for one year–and then a counselor–and then a school administrator. He retired four years ago as assistant superintendent of the DoDDS Bavaria District. I have been teaching high school and middle school English for DoDDS since the beginning of 1987. (Prior to that I did a lot of subbing in DoDDS and also taught English in a Japanese school, among other pursuits). I retired on Friday.

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:32 pm

It’s WENDY’S MOM – HI HI HI HI HI!

avatar Amanda June 19, 2013, 4:33 pm

Congratulations on your retirement!

avatar Visharoo June 20, 2013, 12:02 am

Congrats on your retirement! I am also a DoDDS English teacher! I teach 7th grade language arts in Naples.

Fabelle Fabelle June 19, 2013, 4:11 pm

Ahh Wendy, now both of your parents are on the site, I love it!

Just Max Just Max June 19, 2013, 2:25 pm

This is so beautiful! Thanks for sharing, Wendy!

Classic Classic June 19, 2013, 2:26 pm

Wow, Wendy– this is very touching. I am so happy for you that your parents are going to be closer to you guys. Hope the big move goes smoothly!

katie katie June 19, 2013, 2:35 pm

wendy, do you speak, or did you at one point speak, german or japanese or korean? i guess i didnt realize you spent so many childhood years (all of them?) overseas…

katie katie June 19, 2013, 2:36 pm

oh, and to wendy’s dad about the coffee makers- i finally did cold press myself this week and its amazing! i highly recommend it.

avatar mf June 19, 2013, 3:07 pm

Yeah, I’m curious about this too. I know a few people who grew up overseas and most of them are at least sort of fluent in another language.

avatar MissDre June 19, 2013, 3:57 pm

I’m wondering now if Wendy has accent? I didn’t realize that she didn’t grow up in North America. My best friend came to Canads when she was about 14 I think, and still has a distinct accent. But then again, she wasn’t raised by North American parents. Maybe it makes a difference?

Dear Wendy Wendy June 19, 2013, 4:17 pm

Unfortunately, I don’t speak any language other than English. Whatever rudimentary foreign language I picked up throughout my upbringing is mostly long gone. Having been exposed to different languages growing up and so many English-language accents, I speak without hint of any regional accent.

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:34 pm

But your parents must speak German fluently, right?

And no one asked me – as if – but …. can’t they settle in New York? I want them to be closer to Jackson. People need to ask me first, really.

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:34 pm

Oh wait – WM’s family is in Missouri. (Just give me a second and my brain will get there.)

Copa Copa June 19, 2013, 4:46 pm

Wendy, I grew up similar to you (no military affiliation, but overseas fo’ sho’ + many moves) and I’ve had some people try to place my accent over the years with no success. I don’t quite talk like a midwesterner (where I live now) or like a Californian (where my dad’s family is), and I definitely don’t have East Coast or Southern accents either. It’s like everyone knows I’m “not from around here” but nobody knows where I’m from — which is fair enough cause I always answer that question with, “Uhhmmm, I mean, we moved a lot… and I live in X now…?” Haha.

avatar Wendy's Dad June 20, 2013, 2:30 am

Wendy, everyone from the midwest thinks that they have no regional accent. I think so too, but I bet that some experts could pick it out immediately. And to answer a previous question, I speak German, but partly because a foreign language was required for my BA….all those years ago. Had I known then that I would be living in Germany some day, I wouldn’t have cut so many classes. After 24 years here, I have picked up a lot more. I do OK. I did learn some Japanese when we were there, and I could read and write Katakana and Hiragana, but I have forgotten a lot of it. I also could read and write Hangul (Korean), but I have forgotten even more of that.

avatar MsMisery June 20, 2013, 1:49 pm

That’s so true! I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, and as soon as I leave Chicagoland, everyone knows where I am from. Hey, it’s not like I sound like Mike Ditka or fmr. Mayor Daley or anything! I SOUND PERFECTLY NORMAL.

avatar honeybeenicki June 19, 2013, 2:55 pm

I can’t imagine how you (and your parents!) are feeling. My mom raised me to be strong and independent, but I’ve never strayed too far. The furthest I ever lived was less than 120 miles from my mom — and that’s when I was in college. When I first moved out, I was about a mile from her house. Later, we were across town from each other. Then we lived in the same house and now we live on opposite sides of a duplex she and I own together. I had planned to move across the country for college (from WI to AZ) but ended up staying for her.

That said, I’m sure it will be awesome to live on the same continent as your parents. And I’m sure that will be great for Jackson as well! Good luck to them on a successful move. I know it can be stressful, but there’s an end in sight.

rosie posie rosie posie June 19, 2013, 3:00 pm

This a beautiful Wendy. It made me tear up a bit. I’m so happy for you and your whole family. How wonderful for Jackson to be able to see them more often!

avatar mf June 19, 2013, 3:08 pm

Just out of curiosity, what was it that drove your parents to move all over Europe and Asia? Wanderlust or their careers?

Dear Wendy Wendy June 19, 2013, 4:13 pm

Both a love of adventure/travel and their careers took them
Overseas. Both my mom and dad spent their careers as educators for DoDDs, the school system for kids of military personnel overseas. See my mom’s comment upthread.

avatar lets_be_honest June 19, 2013, 4:35 pm

What made you move to the States? Obviously college, but why in the US?

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:37 pm

Cashew chicken. It’s the best in Springfield, MO. I’m sure that’s it.

Dear Wendy Wendy June 19, 2013, 6:10 pm

That’s right. I couldn’t resist the Cashew Chicken!

avatar lets_be_honest June 19, 2013, 3:45 pm

I can’t imagine moving to a different city, let alone state or country! So brave and adventurous! All of you Atterberrys!
Safe travels Mom & Pop DW :)

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:47 pm

so is it atterberrys or atterberries?

can we start calling wendy “atterberry” and then say “atta atterberry!” when she does good? “atta atterberry! atta atterberr!” I’m just going to start saying it regardless.

avatar lets_be_honest June 19, 2013, 4:53 pm

I loved Condleberrys! We did a combo name like that too.

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 5:00 pm

ugh, my stupid ex idiot freak head did that with our first names. we were ninja. it’s not cute when you only dated for a hot second and then he turned psycho.

avatar Wendy's Dad June 20, 2013, 2:31 am

When I was a school administrator, I used to give “Atterberry attaboys” in our staff newsletter.

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:37 pm

WD and WM – At least where you are going has the best cashew chicken! I’m excited for your new phase in life and for Wendy to have you a lil’ bit closer. And – and maybe this is weird, nah – you are welcome in Chicago anytime!

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:38 pm

Wendy, I kind of feel like your dad is my dad, I hope you don’t mind.

Dear Wendy Wendy June 19, 2013, 6:11 pm

You’re his favorite, after all.

avatar Wendy's Dad June 20, 2013, 2:37 am

Actually, Addie, we will probably visit Chi-town again. It is one of my favorite cities. We went to school not far from there and a lot of our dates were in Chicago. Many of my old haunts are long gone, but it was fun back then. I spent a lot of time on Rush Street and in Old Town. I’d park my car in the Monroe Street Parking lot (long gone) and take a taxi to Rush Street to start the evening’s entertainment. The big problem was remembering not to drink too much. It was a long drive back to Valparaiso on the Dan Ryan and then whatever road had been built to get me back to Valpo. Once I-65 was built, it made life a lot easier. I also used to work in the Gary steel mills and could see the Chicago skyline from there whenever the horrible smog that we created had blown away. Horrible! Oh, and I could watch the Hancock building being built when I was cutting class and going to the Indiana Dunes (then a state park) to lie on the beach.

katie katie June 20, 2013, 10:54 am

chicago meetup with wendy’s dad!!!!!

MaterialsGirl MaterialsGirl June 28, 2013, 12:24 am

A) love the dunes. B) steel mills are beautiful

avatar Taylor June 19, 2013, 4:42 pm

Happy moving Wendy’s parents!
You remind me of my family =) My folks lived abroad for 35 years, we moved to the U.S. when I was ten, a couple years after my older sister went to Mizzou. One of the first times I heard the term third culture kid was on this site, and it’s been tremendously helpful for both me and my sister.

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:45 pm

How weird – my folks also lived abroad for decades (or forever, in my dad’s case), then moved to the states when my siblings were all about 10 and then my siblings when to Mizzou! …In conclusion we are basically the same, only different.

avatar lets_be_honest June 19, 2013, 4:51 pm

I’ve been scared to relocate anywhere because of lil. Last weekend we were up North and I jokingly said let’s just move here, we’re all happier here. She said ok, so I said what about school, and family and friends. She said ‘so we’ll visit, new places are awesome.’ I’m always surprised how different we are. Change scares the crap out of me. If my mom suggesting moving at that age, I would’ve have had a stroke. I should stop being such a chicken.

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 4:58 pm

I was like you – the thought of leaving my school and teachers and friends and neighborhood and soccer team and all that was familiar DEVESTATED ME as a kid. I moved when I was 10 and life was OVER as far as I knew it. Until my new school started in in 1 day I was into my new digs. As an adult I’ve moved around a lot more – abroad 3 times, and then here and there (but just in the Midwest). … Moving is a fun way to start over.

avatar Taylor June 19, 2013, 5:11 pm

That is weird! My mom also isn’t American, so there’s another same but different for ya. It took me years to realize that many people live in the place they’re from.

avatar sisisodapop June 19, 2013, 4:50 pm

Dammit, Wendy. You made me get something in my eye again. Really though, I thin kit’s amazing how you’ve kept so close to your parents after several decades of being on different sides of the globe. What a good daughter! Very happy for all of you.

avatar Addie Pray June 19, 2013, 5:03 pm

now hold on, we don’t *really* know that wendy was a good daughter. we need WD to spill secrets about her. … ahem, WD, Wendy won’t see what you write if you just reply here, I’ve set it up so.

avatar Wendy's Dad June 20, 2013, 2:44 am

OK, I’ll tell…but there’s nothing really to tell. Both Wendy and her sister were very good kids. Well, there was the time that Wendy cut her own hair at about age three, but what kid hasn’t done that? I’m sure that she pissed us off more than once, but I can’t really recall anything now. It must not have been very important. As far as I know, she stayed out of jail, so that’s saying something. And she went to college in the town where we are moving, so she introduced us to Andy’s Frozen Custard (but I still like Italian Eis more!) That’s one thing I will miss about Europe.

avatar Auntie Allie June 23, 2013, 5:47 pm

I also cut my hair when I was five. Maybe you guys shouldn’t have made scissors so accessible to your small children? Just a thought, Dad. ;)

avatar d2 June 20, 2013, 1:06 am

What a wonderful family story – from a bar in Valpo to the rest of the world!

That must have been fascinating to experience all of those different cultures with your family. And there couldn’t have been a more exciting time to go to Berlin. I was there as the wall was coming down and have visited since. The city is so much different now – it must have been interesting to watch the city change so much in so little time.

Enjoy your new adventure and your new “home”.

avatar Lily in NYC June 20, 2013, 10:50 am

I was there too! I was living in Italy and a bunch of us got on a train and went to celebrate. That was the most incredibly packed train I have ever been on, and that’s saying a lot. It was such an exciting thing to witness.

Dear Wendy Wendy's Dad June 20, 2013, 2:49 am

And d2, I was in Berlin for work when the wall was coming down too. I took a sledge hammer and some bolt cutters to Steinstücken where there was wall everywhere and just hammered away at it. I cut out some rebar and even took one of the clamps that held the concrete pipe that topped the wall. I gave away a lot of my pieces of the wall, but I think a shoebox full of wall pieces got packed yesterday. Or at least I hope so. Oh, and Wendy, your Fuji climbing stick got packed. DWers my be interested to know that Wendy climbed Mt. Fuji when she was 9 years old. She was the only kid from her school to make it to the top on that trip.

avatar Daisy June 20, 2013, 3:28 am

Beautiful sentiments, Wendy! I’ve lived on a different continent from my parents since I was 22 (almost 9 years already) and can strongly identify with the too-infrequent visits and sad goodbyes. I’ve been extremely happy living abroad, but being so far from my family never gets any easier. I hope some day we will be reunited as well, although that would almost certainly mean my moving back to America. In any case, enjoy being just ONE time zone away from your parents — I envy you!

avatar Zepp June 20, 2013, 3:56 am

Hi Daisy, are your parents retired? My mom is retiring in September so she will have a lot more freedom to visit me. She is going to sublet an apartment in my city for a month this February (and wants to do it every year) and if I have kids here I’m sure she’d stay a lot longer. It can work really well if they come during the student uni breaks because then there are lots of one-bedroom apartments available for a 1-3 month sublease. Of course, your parents have to enjoy living in your city. My mom even got Rosetta Stone for German! She is really exciting about learning it :)

avatar Daisy June 20, 2013, 9:08 am

@Zepp, that sounds great! And awesome that your mom is going to learn German! My parents actually both took Hebrew classes for a while but they never really got the hang of it. It was super cute though — a few years ago when they visited, I greeted them at the airport and my dad proudly said, “I am here” in Hebrew! Unfortunately, his language skills never progressed much beyond that haha. Hopefully your mom is a better language learner!

My parents aren’t officially retired yet, but they are working less and therefore visiting more (every year and a half or so, instead of every 3-4 years). I know my mom is really anxious now that I’ll be starting to plan a wedding, and I won’t be surprised if she comes out at least a few weeks before to help. And if we do end up having kids, I’m pretty much counting on her to come stay a while!

Nookie Nookie June 20, 2013, 4:33 am

That’s a lovely essay and hooray for Jackson to have his grandparents a bit closer for the visiting!

fast eddie fast eddie June 20, 2013, 9:05 am

What a cool family to be so close when it took 3 planes changes and 2 car rentals to see each other. My nomadic military family was similar but for several decades we’d meet up in St. Joesph (St. Joe) Mo and went to Springfield annually for the state fair. Mom’s twin sister had a concession there for 40 years. One year I flew into Springfield to change an engine on a C-124. It was Aug. 14th, the fair was on and it was the Aunt Edith’s birthday. Of course I managed to go see her and was she ever surprised.

Is there something special about the family connections in the midwest? I hope it’s not exclusive to the region. We have no family left so we’re the last of the lot and facing the end of the line ourselves, but dam, life’s been one hell of a ride so far.

avatar Daisy June 20, 2013, 9:09 am

So many Missourians here! I ended up in Israel, but my parents and most of my family are still in the St. Louis area.

avatar Taylor June 20, 2013, 10:50 am

Love this thread =)

avatar Auntie Allie June 23, 2013, 5:51 pm

Wendy, you made me cry with your beautiful writing. Thank you for being such a great big sister, particularly as the years have separated us. I love you!

avatar Auntie Allie June 23, 2013, 5:53 pm

I need to update that photo of Jackson and me when he was a newborn. We’ll take a new one when I see you in August!

avatar Nothing But Bonfires June 27, 2013, 6:22 pm

Wendy, this made me tear up (granted, at nine months pregnant, EVERYTHING makes me tear up) because I know EXACTLY how this feels. My parents moved to the same country as me four years ago — after years and years of us living on different continents — and it really does feel like a homecoming. There have been adjustments (for all of us) but it’s wonderful in the end, and I’m so happy it’s happening for you too.

Dear Wendy Wendy June 27, 2013, 10:23 pm

Thanks, Holly. I remember reading when your parents moved to California and looking forward to my parents’ eventual move to the states. And now it’s here! So glad your family made a smooth transition. And how nice it will be to have them close to babysit if/when you two are ready for a weekend away!