Since I grew up in a military family, we moved around every few years. During my childhood I lived in Alabama, South Carolina, Japan, Michigan, Indiana, and Germany. I remember hearing classmates in high school discuss their desire to travel the world, but I didn’t share their feelings. During our three years in Europe, I’d vacationed in Italy, The Netherlands, Austria and around Germany. We’d been scheduled to travel the Scandinavian countries, but Dad was stricken with a kidney stone the night before our planned departure, so that trip was cancelled. En route to living in Japan, we had stopped for a visit with my Hawaiian grandmother and some of my mother’s nine siblings. As a young adult, I felt satisfied that I had seen enough of the world.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see many more places. While at Purdue, I became a Little Sister at the Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike) fraternity. We Little Sisters were essentially charged with finding girls to attend the weekend parties at the house. I had chosen my University after careful statistical analysis of the published student data available. There were seven men for every woman on the West Lafayette campus in 1968. When I announced my decision to my school counselor at Warren Central in Indianapolis, he blurted, “You’re going to cow college?!” (Note: Purdue is known for a robust agriculture program as well as legendary engineering programs. Since I was a Theatre major, this was an unexpected school choice, by normal standards). With gender odds like these, the Pikes needed a hook up in the Amelia Earhart eight-hundred-woman dorm where I lived. I eventually married a Pike, Rex Martin, and we began traveling during most New Year’s holidays to attend or host the annual Air Guitar competition our graduating group of around forty Pikes created.
The Air Guitar group continues to this day. Parties are held wherever the host lives or wants to be the responsible contact and organizer. This tradition began in 1980 and the group has traveled the country and the world ever since. People from the group have purchased homes because the basement, family room or garage offered the perfect stage for our annual fest. We’ve been to Vermont, Texas, Georgia, Minnesota, California, Louisiana, Mexico, Jamaica and various places in between. Next year we will gather in Nashville, though nobody lives there. Peg and Dave from frigid Michigan’s northern peninsula are hosting in a friendlier clime.
While Rex and I are now married to other spouses, neither was able to take exclusive possession of the Air Guitar group in the divorce. Even though he was an actual Pike member, my time as a Little Sister preceded his arrival at the house. Besides, like good hippies, ours was not an adversarial parting of the ways. Pursuit of the elusive Air Guitar traveling trophy remains equally important to both of us.
My current husband, Paul, endeared himself to my lifelong friends by boldly cross-dressing with me in his first Air Guitar entry as we performed the Kinks Lola with Paul in a pink frock with white pumps and me in a mustache. “He’s a keeper,” Charlie proclaimed when we left the stage.
Paul and I have had the privilege of also traveling apart from the Air Guitar crew. We’ve been to Bali, Canada, Australia and New Zealand among other places. I’ve had the honor and horror of seeing the response to my nation as the political winds have changed. As a child in Germany, I was proud to see Frankfurt locals line the streets for days in anticipation of President Kennedy’s visit. Paul and I were in Bali shortly after Obama was elected and had the pleasure of people congratulating us and taxi drivers proudly displaying their buttons with his name. We met an ex-pat who admitted she’d been lying about being Canadian during the Bush years because people in Hong Kong (where she lived) despised Bush so fiercely. We just returned from down under where we were greeted with sympathy, confusion and ridicule because our nation just elected a presumable buffoon. We heard a New Zealand talk show host explain that their staff no longer needs to write scripts for their broadcast. They just repeat what the new president has said, tweeted and done and they have a full palate of entertainment…comedy and drama. It makes me angry and distressed that this is our reputation in the world of 2017. Only our Auckland tour guide (who spent years giving tours in Russia) offered some hope (I’m paraphrasing as accurately as possible), “This will be the chance for America to show the world the resilience of your systems. You are stronger than this man and his dangerous agenda.” I sure hope so!