To live in a life where there is nothing constant, to continuously long for the people you love, and to begin repeatedly isn’t a life a child should have. But due to the demand of being a military daughter, she has to. Mary Lou Darst shares with us her vivid memories of her journey in the expanse of the world after the war.
Born in Houston, Texas, Mary Lou traveled much as a child, as a military dependent. She graduated from university, married, and relocated to Galveston, Texas, where she learned to cook. For the first time in her life, she will be confined to one location. She went back to school twenty-eight years later, earning a bachelor’s degree in literature, a master’s degree in multicultural studies, and a bachelor’s degree in visual and applied design. She worked in public schools and three community colleges, teaching English language arts and English as a second language.
Out of all the places that you’ve been through, where do you think is the most special one?
Out of all the places I’ve lived, Japan from 1952 to 1954, remains the most special place. We lived in Nara, an old city, once the capital of Japan. We lived in an old Japanese house near the downtown area. The property was surrounded by a large old fence. The owners lived on the property as well in a typically small Japanese house by the front gate. Behind the old fence, was a large yard with beautiful trees and green plants.
My brother and I loved playing in the yard. Mr. and Mrs. Kimoto, and Mr. Kimoto’s mother, Mama San, lived in the small house. They did not have children. Mama San often stood at the sliding glass door of her room and watched us play. She always smiled when she looked at me!
If things were different before, would you choose to grow up in a more stable American life over the one where you moved a lot?
As a child it was difficult to be moving every two or more years, adjusting to new environments, meeting new people, living in foreign countries, not understanding the spoken language. As an adult now, living in the same house, neighborhood, city for more than twenty years, I wish I could hop on a plane or a train and just travel anywhere ~ just to be moving to absorb how life is lived in other countries, to see the architecture, listen to the language, and to be part of a different community that is not like my own.
In your travels, you met a lot of families. How did meeting these people help you and your family adjust to new environments?
Several factors are relevant here. Military families help other families move into a military environment that is new to them. Neighbors often share food products, household items, and most importantly, information regarding the new environment such as schools, commissary, and the Wives’ Club.
When we lived close to native people overseas most were curious about us. We didn’t speak their language, but they were kind and accepting. Eventually, we learned some of the native language and the native people learned some words in English.
Sometimes a native family was so kind, they became the grandparents we left behind. On a Sunday afternoon, they might take us to a park or invite us to go swimming. This was very helpful in erasing any homesickness we might have felt.
We invited them to our dinners and they responded by inviting us to their dinners.
How would you describe your parents?
My parents were exceptional in rearing my brother and me while moving and adjusting to new environments.
My mother was a warm and loving person who enjoyed entertaining, playing bridge, cooking and being with people. She came from a large family. My father was an army engineer who asserted strong discipline at home. He had high expectations for my brother and me. He loved traveling, especially on the sea. He was often away even when he was living with us. When he came back, we were all different and we lived like strangers until we adjusted to being together again.
What was the hardest part of being a military daughter aside from moving so much?
The hardest part was the constant change, and the fear of discrimination from a native person, especially from a group of people. The seasickness and motion sickness was so hard.
You mentioned that your parents like books, and I assume so do you. Could you share what your favorite book is?
My parents loved to read when we were home and not traveling. I have many favorite books!
- Americans in Paris by Charles Glass
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Last Kings of Shanghai by Jonathan Kaufman
- Rick Steves’ Germany 2010
What inspired you to begin the memoir?
When my second grandson arrived, I began to think about how my life had been so different than their lives would be. There was so much to tell, but how could I tell it so they would understand?
I joined a writing class at UTMB in Galveston where I was living at the time. My stories were always different from the others because of the travels.
The short stories I wrote were the beginning of War Ready.
Do you plan to write another book? If so, can you tell us what it might be about?
There is much more I can write regarding my life as a military dependent.
After others read this book, what do you want them to realize?
Good question! What goes into the life of a military dependent(s)?
I never saw my mother cry so hard in her life as she did the day we left for Japan in 1952. Most of my mother’s family came to Union Station in Houston to see us off. I was nine years old and I did not understand why was everyone crying? Were we never coming back?
My grandfather cried so hard his face was wet with tears and red from crying. My grandmother couldn’t speak. Her face was so wet and so red. My Godmother cried so hard as I watched her from the window in our cabin.
Being military-dependent means moving to and living in a different culture.
If you could talk to the younger Mary Lou, what would you like to tell her?
What a hard question!
“Don’t give up in life.
Even when you think you are alone, you are not.”
This book is available on Amazon.
Grab your own copy now!