A Branching Point in My Life

I recently took a “Personal Legacy” writing course, in which our lives were compared to trees with numerous branches. We were assigned to write about a branching point that changed our lives. This is what I wrote:

The major branching point of my life occurred in 1972, when I joined the US Navy after college, instead of becoming a schoolteacher. I had grown up with the dream of teaching in one-room country schools, much like the one where I spent my childhood. By the time I enrolled in college, South Dakota had passed a law requiring all schools to be part of 12-year districts. This mandated closing rural schools that taught grades 1-8. We sold our country schoolhouse at auction in 1969.

Thus ended my life-long career plan. There went my dream of being a modern-day Laura Ingalls Wilder. I had no desire to teach in town schools. I wanted the whole school, with all eight grades, out in the country. My mom had been in the WAVES during World War II, and my sister and I both decided to follow in her footsteps. Upon receiving my elementary education degree from Augustana College, I joined the US Navy. Never for an instant did I ever regret that decision. After 32 years, I retired at the rank of captain. The Navy made me a leader, a speaker, and a writer. It turned a bashful farm girl into a confident career woman.

Looking back, I sometimes marvel at how I could have grown and changed so much. While in college, I preferred lecture classes that allowed me to avoid speaking. By the time I started working on a master’s degree, I was an officer who enjoyed classroom discussions. Being a leader, especially as a woman in a world of men, I learned to look confident even when feeling quite the opposite. That branching point in 1972 changed my life completely.

Every three years, I moved to a new command, found a new home, learned a new job, and built a new social circle. Without dependents, I wasn’t eligible for on-base housing. I always rented or owned a house out in town, even in Japan. My photo albums are filled with memories of travels all around the world.

Of course, there were tradeoffs. High-ranking military women seldom have families. Such an all-consuming career doesn’t allow for much else. I sometimes joked with my male counterparts about wishing I had a wife. They had someone to take care of the house and kids, run errands, cook meals, offer moral support, and even prepare their uniforms for them. Anything I wanted done, I had to do myself.

A family branch did finally appear on my tree when I became a mother at age fifty. I was a captain in command of an organization in Los Angeles when I adopted a pair of sisters, ages 5 and 7. They were with me for the final four years of my Navy life. They were very happy when I retired, stopped traveling, and became a stay-at-home mom.

I wouldn’t change anything that happened in my life. I wish I could have been smarter while younger, but that’s all part of maturing. My tree continues to grow since I’ve moved back to South Dakota. I’ve added a few new branches. Life keeps getting better.

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