A Debutante And A Soldier

I know the proper way to set a table for a dinner party for 20 people.  Where each type of spoon, fork, knife, butter dish, salad plate, dinner plate, cake plate, cup, saucer, soup bowl, napkin, wine glass, water glass and you name it goes.  We didn’t measure the distance between place settings, like you see on Netflix’s The Crown, but I was taught to see it instinctively.  I know how to seat people by military and/or social rank respective to the host and hostess.  I can still execute the perfect curtsy.barb-formal-picture

My mother went to finishing school instead of high school and wished for me to be presented at the Debutante Ball in NYC. That was going to happen the week after never.


I was raised with u-trou, up-and-at-’em, rise and shine, yes sir and yes ma’am, the proper way to stand at attention, the proper way to salute.

A debutante and a soldier.

air-force-angel-flight-little-colonelI was raised to be a debutante and a soldier.  It’s more accurate to say I was raised by a debutante and a soldier.  My mother wanted me to be a debutante and my father wanted me to be a soldier.

Actually he wanted me to marry a soldier.  Until he decided he wanted me to be one.

When it was time to think about colleges, I asked him if I could go to West Point.  My father, my uncle and my grandfather were graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  The problem was that in 1971 they didn’t accept women.  The real problem was that it would have taken me a million years to be in the physical condition necessary and I’m scared of loud noises. But I thought it was unfair.  I remember saying to my dad that “It’s 1971, we could fight this on Constitutional grounds.”

I might as well have said the moon was rolling down our driveway.

He was astounded and furious.  “How dare you say that! How dare you think that the United States military would ever let a woman into West Point!!”

Until, that is, July of 1976 when the first women cadets entered West Point and then graduated in the class of 1980.  My father said “Why didn’t you go to West Point?  You should have tried harder.”  Ummmm….Dad, have you met you?

It wasn’t until high school that I learned people were depressed.  No one understood me when I asked them if their morale was low.

I took, and passed, the Air Force Officers Qualifying Test my senior year in college then decided not to enlist.

I have never given a large dinner party in my life but man do I know how to do it.

I can handle myself with grace in any social situation.

I am neither a debutante nor a soldier.  I could not be either of my parents.  Instead, I’m an amalgamation of their dreams and my reality.

mom nyt weddingharry c harvey class of 1941 photo




About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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35 Responses to A Debutante And A Soldier

  1. Paul says:

    You might be the right person to ask…why are there three forks at fancy dinner parties? One is for the salad, one is for the main course, and one is too….scratch my back? Honestly, I just need one fork.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post and so interesting – nice to know a little bit more about you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you! Memoir essays are my favorite to write. And usually they include details that my own kids don’t know. Not things that have been intentionally left out, just stories never told or details never flushed out. These are stories that they will have and the type I wish my parents had written for us. You are very kind.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Patty Dann says:

    This is terrific! A debutante, a soldier and a wonderful writer!
    Beautiful work!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. L says:

    Another thoughtful post. I love these. It’s interesting how far our brains will go to convince ourselves to pursue our parents’ approval, even when those pursuits are somewhat at odds with who we are ….
    I love reading your writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Our parents are our first role models. So I think it’s natural to try to live up to their expectations. Can you imagine me as a debutante?? My brother had just come back from Viet Nam. Perhaps in a different generation. But had I followed her wishes, I would have been validating her background perhaps. I’m getting too touchy-feely now. Thank you for your kind words ❤


  5. annieg421 says:

    Thank you for sharing. I love reading your memoirs and learning more about the the younger you. All in all it’s what makes you the person you are today!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You may not be soldier in the military, but you’re still waging war against established norms. Not with a gun, but with a keyboard (sounds better to say “pen” I suppose, but, nobody uses those anymore). And I you’re on the winning team.

    Really enjoy your writing style. Its a pleasure to read and follow along.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you 😃 Sometimes I write first with pen and paper, if I’m in a situation where I can’t lug around my laptop easily (like the train). But I’m so used to a keyboard….Writing is cathartic for me and I love the format of a blog where we can be serious, silly, sad and write about a variety of topics that interest us. Is that how you feel?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m a relative blog rookie. Very recently began to transition my blog from an update for family and friends as I hiked along the appalachian trail to a more traditional blog format. Finding that I really love the writing.
        Yes you’re absolutely right, blogging (and joining conversations on other blogs) allows for such a huge range of expression. It’s amazing!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post. I almost joined the Navy, but then decided I didn’t want to be an enlisted man and wasn’t daunted by the effort required to be an officer so I just went in to high tech instead. There are days that I think, “right now I could have been a retired Navy Chief for the last five years instead of facing another 10 years in a high stress job.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Almost Iowa says:

    Dad, have you met you?

    OMG! How I love that! It spells hope and despair for all of us. It says we can change, for the better and the worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ann Coleman says:

    I like the last lines especially…I think they speak for most of us. We’re such a mish-mash of who are parents wanted us to be, who they thought we were, and who we truly are!
    I also agree with the comment above: “Dad have you met you?” rings very, very, true!

    Liked by 1 person

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