It’s a strange concept.
Traditionally, old Mr. Webster has defined it as a group of people with common ancestry. Over the years, the word has taken on a more expansive meaning, encompassing a group of people with a common affiliation. Coming from extremely strong family roots, I don’t use the word lightly. In fact, before joining the military, I would’ve never considered using the word outside of blood kin. But, as I flew from my traditional family nest in my early 20s and landed into Navy units, I started to understand how unrelated folks could form familial bonds. It wasn’t just the shared organizational culture, history, and values that made us close, it was also the isolation. My two primary duty stations during my Navy service were Hawaii and Spain. Yeah, I know, tough duty! But to a young woman from the bayous of south Louisiana who had never lived on her own, much less outside the small Louisiana community of Bayou Blue, those places were really far away from everything I had ever known. And back then, plane tickets, and even phone calls (pre-cell phones!), were cost prohibitive, so neither happened with enough regularity to really quell homesickness. Over time, and out of necessity, I formed connections with fellow shipmates (it always feels odd to use that term when my Navy service involved ZERO ships), who became a surrogate family, then eventually, just plain family.
Which brings me to the reason I’m in San Diego. As luck would have it, two of my closest friends from my time in Spain now live in the area- Jim and Whit. Whit lived in my apartment building and was part of the close-knit group of neighbors I described in a previous post. Jim and I flew on the same aircrew and deployed often together, plus he lived just up the street from the rest of the gang. I’m not exaggerating when I call these men my brothers. And lucky for me, they somehow convinced two extraordinary, bada$$ women to become their wives, thereby expanding my Navy family by two sisters… and over time, two nieces and a nephew 🙂 They’ve both seen me walk across the stage to accept a college degree and attended my 40th Birthday-on-the-Bayou celebration! We keep in touch frequently, but living on separate coasts, in-person get-togethers are unfortunately, few and far between. So this trip was a perfect opportunity to fix that!
First stop, Poway to see Whit, Kathie, and their twins, Cal and Naomi. We couldn’t quite nail down how long it had been since we had all seen each other in person, but it was definitely when we were all living in Texas at the same time, which would’ve been about 7-8 years ago. Of course, the kids had grown so much, and I even got my own private 80s music concerts- Cal ripped it on electric guitar, then Naomi killed it on piano! These kids have serious talent! Me, Kathie and the kids enjoyed a day in Little Italy while Whit had to work, but we all got to enjoy some quality time together over the couple of days I was there. Such a great visit!
From Poway, I dropped my bike off at San Diego Harley Davidson for the 5000 mile service- just under the allowable mileage at 5500 miles Again, I’m going to give a shout-out to Harley-Davidson dealerships for ALWAYS fitting in thru-travelers for services, usually same day. I enjoy doing my own bike maintenance when I’m at home, but I have no desire to do it while I’m on the road for extended trips (and I saved up the funds to not have to), so the sheer number of H-D dealerships and the prioritization of thru-travelers help maintain my loyalty to the brand and bikes that I love anyway. And no, I don’t get paid for saying that!
Jim picked me up from the H-D dealership and we were able to catch up quite a bit before joining up with Karla and Katie back at their house. Over the nearly three decades that we’ve been friends, we’ve shared some significant military and life milestones, from competing in countless road races and triathlons to commissioning him to a Chief Warrant Officer in the Navy to attending he and Karla’s wedding. And now, just like with Cal and Naomi, I am Auntie Karen to their daughter Katie 🙂
We spent the next several days going to the park, sightseeing Coronado, Imperial Beach, Barrio Logan and Chicano Park, and just hanging out catching up.
Before I knew it, my time in the San Diego area had come to an end. Karla and I enjoyed one last San Diego sunset just down the road from their house, then I headed out the next morning.
My time in Southern California (both Poway and Coronado) reconnecting with my chosen family left me with a full heart and bursting with gratitude.