There is really no way to know that you’re in the good old days until you’ve actually left them. The art of looking back fondly is a somewhat idiosyncratic effect of human nature. We always seem to have a more idealized take on our experiences when we’re looking at them through the rearview mirror. While we have certainly preferred some locations over others, when I think about all the places that we have lived together over the years I’m able to affectionally recall good times and assemble a highlight reel that features what we liked best about each area.
This is my highlight reel.
Clemson, South Carolina
Whenever we roll into a new duty station, neighbors have little trouble determining where we went to college. Go Tigers! It has become a running joke among some of our friends, “Hey – did you guys know that we went to Clemson?” because we never shy from talking about our beloved alma mater. Because we got married during winter break my senior year (thanks Army!), we count Clemson as the first place we lived together, even though we didn’t actually live together our first six months of marriage (again, thanks Army!).
Tillman Hall is considered the building that is synonymous with Clemson University. The dorm that we lived in when we met, Clemson House (RIP), overlooked Tillman Hall and Bowman Field. We would cut across the open grass as we walked to class and spent many afternoons playing catch or frisbee in front of Military Heritage Plaza, which happens to be where Clay received his first salute as an officer. We also enjoyed hiking at Table Rock, walking around downtown Greenville, and
Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Clay proposed shortly after he commissioned. We were engaged about a week before he left for OBC (now referred to as Basic Officer Leaders Course) at Fort Huachuca. I did not accompany him to OBC because I had a great summer job in my hometown and it made better financial sense for Clay to live in the officer barracks since I’d be returning to Clemson for my senior year of college well before he graduated. I visited a few times and thoroughly enjoyed the area surrounded Fort Huachuca. We ate at the Mesquite Tree (sadly now closed), visited Bisbee (best coffee ever), and hiked in the Coronado National Forest. And of course – you can’t visit Fort Huachuca without visiting Tombstone – we took the kids there during our epic southwest road trip a couple of years ago – I’ll be your huckleberry indeed.
Fort Drum, New York
The most obvious place for the Army to send Clay after spending months in the Arizona desert was of course snowy Fort Drum, New York – home of the 10th Mountain Division. We got married and after I graduated, I joined him up at the Canadian border. We spent three and a half years in the north country and ended up loving almost everything the area has to offer. We lived in Sackets Harbor, which remains the favorite place we’ve ever lived to this day.
We would walk to the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company for drinks, eat brunch at Tin Pan Galley, and catch a show at the (now defunct) comedy club. We kayaked on Lake Ontario, walked around the historic battlefield, and skied at Dry Hill. Yes – the winters were cold and white but the summers were some of the best we’ve ever experienced.
Raleigh, North Carolina
After Clay ETSed from the Army and joined the National Guard (oh yes – Clay initially got out of the Army back in 2008…boy is that a story….you can read about it here!), we ended up in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. We bought our first home, Clay ended up going back to being a full-time soldier, and we welcomed our first child into the world. While we have no plans to ever choose to live in that part of the country again, there were things that we really liked – like the Raleigh Flea Market at the state fair grounds and the Raleigh Farmers Market.
Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Say what you will about Lawton but the Wichita Wildlife Refuge is up there as one of the coolest places we’ve ever lived near. Whenever we wanted, we could get up close and personal with buffalo and long-horned steer which was pretty amazing.
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
We went to Fort Leavenworth knowing that we’d probably enjoy our year there but we were blown away by how much we loved Kansas City. It really has it all – music, food, sports, museums, and some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.
We loved Union Station, the National WW1 Museum, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. If Kansas City were closer to mountains or water, we’d consider moving there in a heartbeat after this Army ride is over. That being said, we certainly wouldn’t complain if the Army sent us to Fort Leavenworth again due to the proximity to Kansas City and the fact that it really is a lovely and beautiful post.
San Antonio, Texas
If I had to sum up the year that my family spent in San Antonio, Texas in one sentence, it’d be: We didn’t love living there but if you haven’t been there, you should totally go visit! Most are surprised by our confession because San Antonio has such a great reputation – it’s a city certainly not lacking in culture and attitude.
We loved going to the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on a Saturday night. We’d grab a Shiner Bock and Frito pie and watch the traditional rodeo from the stands for the quintessential Texas experience. We also enjoyed Guadalupe River State Park and of course all of the food!
We were lucky enough to be stationed near our nation’s capital twice. Because we lived there the longest out of any other place (almost six years between the two stints), it feels the most like home by default. Of course we loved spending time in the city, the National Mall, and the Smithsonian. But we loved the surrounding area as well.
One of our favorite things to do as a family in the area was hike at Great Falls Park, which is where Potomac River “builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.” There are multiple trails with varying degrees of difficulty (but none are really all that difficult) with various look-out points along the way. So basically it is perfect for younger kids.
Fort Sheridan, Illinois.
We arrived at Fort Sheridan late summer 2020. Fort Sheridan military housing is located on Lake Michigan so we were able to enjoy the lake for a couple months before cooler temperatures dominated the area. And yes – Lake Michigan is the second Great Lake we’ve lived on courtesy of the Army. While we enjoy skiing and hiking in the snow, we definitely enjoy water sports – particularly kayaking and paddle boarding – more.
Unfortunately, our path to Lake Michigan is currently closed due to ‘potential explosives risk’. The closure has more to due with local politics than true risk and the organization that maintains the area is in violation of their lease agreement with the Navy so we’re hopeful that it is resolved soon. But we’re not holding our breath.
While living so close to Lake Michigan is our favorite thing about being stationed at Fort Sheridan, we also enjoy living so close to Chicago. We can get downtown in about 45 minutes during non-peak times and have enjoyed going to a game at Wrigley Field and spending a long weekend exploring America’s Second City.
We have about a year left at Fort Sheridan and we’re looking forward to exploring more of the area during non-Covid restrictions. We’ve been fortunate to live in a variety of places and while we haven’t always loved every place we’ve been, we were able to find silver linings to help us make the best of a place we wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to live ourselves. It is always exciting to see where the Army will send us next and only time will tell what we like best about those places.