Crawling Through Purgatory: Memoirs
of William P. Meyers

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When Father was still in the Marine Corps he was stationed in Japan for a while; the rest of us stayed stateside. I remember he wrote letters from Japan, and it was a big event when he returned. I saw pictures of Japan too, the kind for tourists, of Japanese in their traditional costumes. I have always had an interest in Japan, and in the U.S. war with Japan, World War II, since those days.

When I was five I attended kindergarten at the local Catholic school. The only clear memory I have of that is of a day when I had to take a note to Tom's teacher at the beginning of school because he was out sick. This resulted in needing to walk into Mass with the first graders and then switch over to being with the kindergarten class. Mass was a natural part of life when I was five. I went to Mass every day of the week except Saturday.

While not remembering very much from the era before I was six years old, I remember when I first learned the difference between talking and thinking to myself. Perhaps I had unverbalized thoughts before then, but I had not noticed. In any case Father was driving Tom and I to Sunday Mass, while Mother stayed home with Lisa. Father asked us to say a prayer, to keep us occupied. When I started saying it out loud, he said I should pray silently. I should talk inside my head. To my surprise that was easy. I quickly figured out I could say what I wanted inside my mind. This silent talk, or thinking, was much safer than talking aloud. My parents liked silent children. We were to talk only if asked a direct question. I talked very little after that, but I took up the habit of thinking.

Then my father, Captain Meyers, retired from the Marine Corps. As a child I was led to believe this was as natural as rain. After Father died Mother told me that he had no choice but to retire. This was in 1961. He needed to get promoted above Captain to stay in, and he did not get the promotion. Mother believed it was because he had no college education. On the positive side the GI Bill meant he could now go to college. He chose Jacksonville University, a private college in Jacksonville, Florida. We had already visited Florida for at least one vacation at Sanibel Island. Back then the island had not been developed. I thought we were going back to the beach, but instead my parents bought a house in a development called Sandalwood located about half way between the city of Jacksonville proper and Jacksonville Beach.

The house was modest, too modest, my mother thought, for the wife of a Marine Captain, but at the time it did not seem outside of what I was used to. My brother and I shared a tiny bedroom with bunk beds. My sister had an even tinier room. My parents had their own room and bathroom. The dining room and living room were adequate for a family of five. There was a carport instead of a garage. The landscaping was pretty barren, the climate and soil not being great for a grass lawn. A couple of baby palm trees promise that it would look more like Florida in the future. My Mother took an immediate dislike to the neighbors and forbade us to play with their children.

Although my father was going to college and had a part-time job too, at Sea-Land transport, if anything the Marine Corps drilling increased. My brother and I could follow all the basic commands. We did not cry, and we did not smile. I was better at not smiling than my brother. We played with each other, and somehow always managed to annoy Mother into explosions of anger and spankings. Not every day, but often, Mother would complain about our behavior to Father, who I realize now was not coping well with civilian and family life. He was no longer a highly respected guy. He was at the bottom, a freshman in college and a clerk at a shipping company. He was happy to spank us we he returned home for such infractions as not following Mother's orders fast enough.

I don't think Mother was happy to be a civilian either. As a Marine Corps wife she knew exactly where she stood socially, a notch above the bottom of the officer class. Civilians may not have known, but Marines and former Marines (and military people in general) would know that Father was retired because he had not made the grade. Nor did he transition quickly into something socially upscale from the working class, as former officers often do. But she liked the occasions when she could go to the Naval Base at Mayport and use her retired officer's wife's privilege to shop at the base commissary or lounge by the base swimming pool or at the Officer's beach. That restored her feeling of status.

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