Alabama Country Girl Moves to France

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In a letter to my parents dated March 26, 1965, I wrote: “We are over here in France and de Gaulle doesn’t want the Army or any other part of the U.S. in France.” The U.S. Military had a presence in France after WWII, but by the time I moved over there in August of 1964, it was apparent that — like the relative who overstays their welcome — the military would have to depart French soil. Of course, had it not been for the U.S. Military’s intervention in the conflagration in Europe and the South Pacific, history would have a completely different configuration, and one shudders to think of what that would be. Nevertheless, the U.S. Military departed France in 1966.

I had been a freshman in college, anticipating going into the field of medicine. My teachers at the high school from which I had graduated the year before (1963) as Valedictorian had high hopes of success for me in my chosen path. But instead, I jettisoned my college studies, got married, and moved to a foreign country. From the vantage point of history, I can see now that there is a strong possibility I would never have had children if I had hesitated in starting a family. Children — Anthony, Pamela, Ophelia, and grandsons Marquis and Robert — are the supreme joys of my life, so no regrets in that area.

What was it like living in a foreign country so far from my parents? It was an adventure, and yes, it was at times extremely lonely. France is a lovely country, steeped full of the history Mr. James Lewis had taught us in school. My husband and I spent some time in Paris before we journeyed to his duty station in Chinon, which is 200 miles south. Chinon is located on the banks of the Vienne River. In 1429, it is where Joan of Arc visited the uncrowned king Charles VII to urge him to declare himself king of France, and to ask his permission for her to lead an army to liberate France from English rule.

My high school French was not adequate to thoroughly converse with landlords, merchants, and neighbors, but I made a friend who served as an interpreter for us. Her name was Nellie. By the time my son Anthony was born, Nellie had become a valued friend. She adored my baby. We called him Tony. There is something about the French and babies that is interesting. Before Tony was born, I would walk down the streets in the town and no one approached me or spoke to me. That changed when I walked those same streets with Tony in his little carrier. People would come up to me and coo over the baby, exclaiming in French that the petite baby was so precious. It was some time later that I would learn my precious little baby had been born with Down’s syndrome.

My husband, Specialist 4th Class Clancy Pinkston, was stationed with the 83rd Engineer Battalion and was gone a lot. To pass the time, I resorted to what had gotten me through many a lonely day growing up on our isolated farm in south central Alabama. Reading was always my solution to periods of solitude. Tony and I spent most of our days at the library on base. He was such a good baby. He napped while I devoured reading materials from the shelves and checked out books to read at home.

It is with fond memories that I note that early time of innocence in my life and the pride I felt that my husband was part of the United States Army, a military that was the envy of the free world. The adage that “Freedom is not free” is appropriate. Probably we all pay the price, and none more than military families.

Photo by Fotolia/ednorog13