From Small Town Nebraska Farm Girl to Military Wife

The Texas Story Project.

On Memorial Day in 1961, my grandparents, Lorraine Stevens and Raymond Ritchie, were married in Kearney, Nebraska. Like many young women of that time, she married her sweetheart before he was drafted, except that my Grandpa had enlisted in the Air Force instead. It was not long before my recently-married Grandma was leaving everything familiar and safe to her to begin her new life as a military wife in San Antonio, Texas.

To understand the culture shock my Grandma was about to encounter, let me describe her hometown for you. Born in Puget Sound in 1941, her family moved back to Nebraska because of the fear of living in an area in which the Japanese could attack. She was raised on the family farm in Sumner, Nebraska, population about one hundred. She attended school house where all the grades were in one room and graduated with a class of twelve, which was huge for her school. The area was so rural, the electric company did not provide wiring to her family’s farm until my Grandma was in the tenth grade, in 1957. Sumner was, and remains, a small farming community where everyone knows everyone else and everyone shares the same culture.

My grandparents made the long trip from Kearney, Nebraska, to San Antonio on the Greyhound bus. Upon arrival, they met a nice taxi driver who, upon hearing their story, drove them for free to a landlady who could rent them a trailer house near Lackland AFB. The trailer was small and lacked amenities like air conditioning and heat but was perfect for the newlyweds while my Grandpa completed his basic training.

My Grandma’s first impression of San Antonio was that it had so much farm land in the middle of a huge city. She enjoyed the farmland because it was what she was used to, but not something she expected to see as she walked to the Piggly Wiggly for groceries. The buses only ran in downtown at that time, so she had to walk to Military Drive and try to catch a ride from other military wives to go anywhere else in the city.

Living in San Antonio was the first time she had encountered a culture so different from her own. The first time she encountered people speaking Spanish she just said “Hello” and hoped they would not be offended. Being on a limited budget, my grandparents could not afford to eat in restaurants, so my Grandma’s only exposure to Tex-Mex cuisine was at the Piggly Wiggly. She remembers seeing all the exotic, to her, produce and canned goods and wondering what they were for and what they tasted like. She also remembers her first exposure to Tejano music and thinking it sounded very similar to the German polkas she had heard at home as a child.

Moving to San Antonio was an eye-opening experience for my Grandma. The small-town farm girl quickly grew up and learned the ways of the large city. At times the culture shock was difficult, but it prepared her well for her new life as an Air Force wife that would soon take her to live all over the world. My Grandpa was stationed in San Antonio two more times before he retired, and they came to love San Antonio, the people, and the culture so much, they chose to spend their retired years right here.

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