Fourth of July weekend Jim and I traveled out to Oceanside, CA and Camp Pendleton to visit our firstborn in his Marine habitat. It was our first trip out to see his life and we had a wonderful time exploring the base, a summer weekend in Southern California and the lifestyle of our son on base.
The weekend was chock full of activities. It was a bit odd adjusting to the climate and weather in Southern California on the coast. June Gloom was quite a different experience than our usual sunny and hot summer weather in early July. That was more than balanced by the celebration and excitement which accompanies the Nation’s Birthday on a military base.
Thursday morning, the 4th proper, we met up with Alex, enjoyed a hearty breakfast and toured Camp Pendleton. Highlights included seeing Alex’s barracks and his room, trying on his flak vest, hiking to the beach and hearing him share the language and experience of being a Marine. Living on base as a single person is a bit like being away at college–except most colleges don’t include mortal threats. Anyway, the guys are hanging out, doing laundry, partying and working out. Just like college with rank and more rules…
There was lots of activity including a big beach party for military and civilians. We enjoyed the beach a bit, grabbed lunch and headed to Sargent Jackson’s house. Sargent Jackson is Alex’s team leader and good friend. We met quite a few members of his team and hung out in Sargent Jackson’s garage. With the bay doors open, it looks out over the base and the ocean and they all seem to spend quite a bit of time there drinking beer and talking about Marine-like things. It was a fascinating window into Alex’s life and I thoroughly enjoyed this view. Everyone was very nice to us (the civilian parents) and Sargent Jackson said all the complimentary things about my son a mom loves hearing.
We never made it to fire works retiring early after dinner and a full day.
Friday morning we met up and breakfasted at Jennie’s Cafe. Afterwards we drove down to San Diego and the Naval Base where Alex’s ship was docked. Although the fate of the free world is in his hands, he had left his keys locked up on shipboard and couldn’t get into any of the locked storage in his barrack’s room. This gave us a nice drive and the opportunity to see the U.S.S. New Orleans up close and personal. Alex was able to grab his keys which would give him access to his personal items and clothing and we got to tease him mercilessly. A win all around.
Then we headed over to the firing range. Alex very much wanted to share his love of shooting with us. Without a doubt this would not have been my best moment had I pursued a career in the military. I am deathly afraid of the guns, the noise, the smell and pretty much everything there is about a shooting range. My second shot with a pistol, it jammed and Alex had a mis-fire when he cleared the chamber. Fire shot out of the gun and that did me in. Well, until someone fired a shotgun and I screeched. It went downhill. Alex says I hit other people’s targets but who would know my eyes were firmly shut tight. Jim shot well and Alex does love the whole experience of shooting. I did get a t-shirt which is a good joke on me.
Saturday morning we headed to a celebration of smoked meats. Tip Top in Carlsbad is a German-owned fleischerei which was quite a scene. Alex’s team had gone there after getting back from a stint at Twenty-Nine Palms. I can imagine all those big hungry guys chowing down. I would have loved to have gone there for the dinner dishes which were all from Bavaria.
Saturday after breakfast we went bowling.It was a great bowling alley right out of the 70′s with music to match. We had a super time and everyone won a game except Jim won two. The lanes were called Surf Bowl and they looked exactly like a bowling alley in So. Ca. should look including the manager with a “hey dude” grey beard. If we had lanes like this at home, I would go bowling regularly. It was great fun in a really cool environment.
After bowling, we went to the PX and bought some folding chairs, an umbrella and boogie board. We slathered up and headed back to the beach. It was cold and grey but that didn’t stop Alex from spending several hours riding the waves and enjoying himself. It was a nice crowd out on the beach, much less frenetic on the 4th but still a group of families with young children and another glimpse at the lives of families in the military.
Saturday dinner was our last time with Alex. Although our stay was only 2/3 over, Alex had to work Sunday. The Marine Corps didn’t care on bit that his parents were visiting–that is different from college. It was tough to say goodbye and I had a small hope that we would see him Sunday, but that was not to be.
Instead Jim and I headed back to Jennie’s for breakfast on Sunday and then drove inland to hike. We hiked a great trail called Double Peak which was a bit more hike than we had anticipated. It was pretty darn hot, especially compared to the coast, and we had a steep trail, but the scenery was beautiful and it felt good to be out and about. As sad as I was not to be with Alex, it is always fun to hang out with Jim. After scaling the Double Peak, we celebrated with burgers and fries from In-N-Out– a must anytime in CA.
It was a great weekend. We headed home Monday and I was looking forward to seeing Peter and Ellie as much as I regretted not being able to see Alex for a very long time. He will deploy in August and will be away from seven to twelve months. But having had a few days in his world, I think we understand it much better and can feel closer just being able to better understand his chosen culture. And there is no question that Jim and I are both incredibly proud of the man our firstborn child has become and perhaps a little in awe.