OK, You Brats, You Know Who You Are

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Next Wednesday the Magnolia Theater will screen a new film called Brats: Our Journey Home, a documentary about military brats and the experiences they had growing up all over the world, not to mention coming back to the U.S. of A. at some point. I have to go see it. The promotional material available online brings back a memory that has always been painful to me.

This was Ann Arbor in the 1950s. Ann Arbor. Home of the University of Michigan. The town called itself "The Athens of the Middle West." Well, so did Bowling Green, Ohio. The point is: Ann Arbor had pretensions to sophistication.

So there's a kid in my second or third grade class -- can't quite remember -- and he had lived all over the world because his dad was a Strategic Air Command base commander. The teacher asked him to do a show-and-tell about things he had seen in his travels.

He got up in front of the room. His eyes opened up like silver dollars. And he told us in this breathless voice about a town he had seen where the mountain caught on fire and melted, and it made such a big fire that the ashes came down and buried everybody alive. Later some people came along and dug away the ashes, and you could still see the houses, but the people had melted. But some of the people's skeletons were down on the beach where they had tried to escape.

Right about at that point we all started giggling. The kid was nuts, right? What kind of goofball crap was this? The teacher told him to stop. She told him that he knew he was making up fibs, and she told him to apologize for not telling the truth. He cried, but eventually he apologized for lying to us.

About two days pass. All of the sudden class is interrupted by prior arrangement. And this really cool-looking Air Force guy, the base commander, comes in and gives us one hell of a slide show and lecture on Herculaneum, the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, the discovery of the ruins in 1709 and the current status of the excavation.

He asks his son -- the classmate who we had laughed at -- to explain the skeletons on the beach.

I have a vague memory of the teacher giving us a grudging apology for having made the kid apologize, but I may have invented that in my dreams.

Anyway, this documentary, narrated by Kris Kristofferson and featuring General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, deals with things like that -- with black kids who grew up outside American racism and then had to come home, and with some of the sheer wonder of the adventures military brats have had all over the planet.

There's a great trailer. A special effort is being made to invite Dallas brats to the showing at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday. Cost is five bucks, all proceeds to Brats Without Borders. I was never military, but I think my kid might be a member of that group. --Jim Schutze

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