A Sister’s Southern Allure and Military Esteem
Laura Moore is a full-time English instructor at Cape Fear Community College. After working in corporate America and for various newspapers, she knew she would rather do something to make a difference. She became a high school teacher which eventually led to her teaching at CFCC, which she calls, “the best job I’ve ever had.” She is married to Cameron, and they have two daughters, Norah and Jillian.
I have four sisters who range between 11 and 15 years older than me. My sister Liz, the second oldest, is a Navy vet, and the reason behind my affinity for the armed services.
Growing up, some of my earliest memories of Liz involve her sleeping all day and hanging out in a pimped out 70’s style van with a chick named Nancy Goldsmith. Needless to say, our mother was not stoked with this situation.
After a great deal of fighting, Liz threatened to join the Navy. She did not get the resistance she thought, so months later, she would soon be on her way to boot camp.
Before she left our home in New York for basic training, my father gave her a sentimental piece of jewelry that I thought was the coolest, a gold dog tag with her name carved in it in script. It was a passport to her new life that would forever change us all.
My next memory is driving down to Florida to see her graduate from boot camp. I had always thought Liz to be beautiful, but seeing her tanned from the Florida sun, shaped by Navy boot camp, and dressed in the clean lines of her dress blues, I had never seen such a gorgeous woman. My five-year-old self was impressed by the transformation from messy teenager to Naval badass.
After boot camp, Liz went to Chicago for training, where she met Ed. She sent home a picture of this man dressed in his official Navy garb along with a note that she was engaged to be married. Weeks later, we got another letter, explaining how Ted, not Ed, would be my future brother-in-law.
Ted actually did make the cut, and 42 years later, he is still very much my family. Liz and Ted made me an aunt at the ripe old age of 7. We flew down to Portsmouth, Virginia to welcome my new nephew, Teddy, and that is where I was introduced to southerners for the first time. I was captivated.
“Rey ya’ll, I’m Betsy Sue and I’m from North Carolina. Imma gonna go out with Bobby tonight. Gonna get my heels on!”
Transfixed by this magical place called North Carolina that had created this storybook character, a seed was planted.
Shortly after, Ted got orders to work with the Marines at Camp Lejeune, so I would get to discover the magical homeland of Betsy Sue.
This magical land of Jacksonville, North Carolina held a whole new vocabulary for me. Pawn shops, strips clubs, and tattoo parlors, oh my! For those of you who think Jacksonville is a dump, let me tell you how far it has come since 1982. I remember driving onto base and feeling so privileged that I was able to be allowed through these formidable gates by these serious-looking men in uniform. But what struck me more than anything was the tunnel of sheets along the highway leading up to the gates with love notes to their returning sailors and Marines from afar. It seemed a romantic world where long distance loves reunited once again.
From there it was New London, Connecticut. The Navy Submarine base was where Tara was born, and we spent many an hour tearing up I-95 from New York to go see “Liz, Ted and the kids.” There was talk of Corpus Christie, Texas, but somehow Camp Lejeune won out again.
Back on Camp Lejeune, it was on base that Kathy was born, and Liz almost died following her birth. A mistake that could not be proven, left Liz hemorrhaging and in need of dozens of transfusions. A serious surgery followed, and Kathy would be Liz’s last baby.
Now, I was a teenager, and these once serious looking men were eye candy for my burgeoning womanhood. As we drove on base, not only did I get to check out these fine specimens, I got to see drills and humps, often in the southeastern summer heat carrying 40-lb packs. They were the real deal.
The Base Beach was my favorite place in the world. It was where I met Clay from Texas. Re was beautiful and added to my Rollywood notion of the military that I got by watching Top Gun on VRS tape.
But it was there, lying on that beach, as the fighter jets flew overhead, that I got it. I did not yet know that cheesy phrasing of “The sound of freedom” that is overused today, but I did know what a privilege it was for me to witness these loud, thunderous exercises while the majority of the country was ignorant to what it meant to truly protect and serve this nation.
I began to see what sacrifice and loyalty meant, and it was real and it was impressive. I’ll admit “Righway to the Danger zone” played in my head, but the reality of those lyrics struck me much more than Maverick and Goose’s portrayal. For some, they would not get to hang a sheet welcoming their loved one back.
Instead, a flag would hang a half staff for their loss.
Although I flirted with the notion of joining the Navy myself, I discovered the Grateful Dead in my later teens, and chose a much different path. Rowever, I always spent time with Liz and Ted as they were maneuvering the world of the Navy, and my respect and admiration continued to build for what they gave and what the entire military sacrificed for this country.
The magical land of North Carolina would become the home I chose for myself, and with that, I gained proximity to those who protect that home. I may not be a veteran myself, but I will always honor those who are.