Once free to hit the road again, plan a post-pandemic drive along New Mexico’s Route 66.  Whether heading into or out of Albuquerque, keep your eyes peeled for the village of Tijeras, seven miles east of the city.  Then find the Museum of the American Military Family and Learning Center—a living museum honoring military families with ongoing dialogue on the interplay between active engagement at the front and sacrifice at home. 

The Museum sits modestly along an interesting stretch of that venerable roadway as it weaves through a scenic canyon and a charming mountain village, whose even more newly built civic buildings pay homage to a vanishing rural America.  All of which makes it a fitting place to reflect on how families have contributed to military life–something a country seemingly always at war has overlooked for lifetimes. 

As a volunteer, instead of using I-40, I’d take the Route 66 by-road—now posted as New Mexico highway 333—to get back and forth from my Albuquerque home when visiting the museum before COVID forced its temporary closure.  I like going there to enjoy the exhibits, participate in one of its public events, and just sit with other visitors and stir up old memories going back before World War II to the first World War, or as recently as Afghanistan, aligning past and present the way the old highway and the Interstate do with east-west travel. Whether first discovering how family members serve, or already knowing first-hand the strains and triumphs of that complex living arrangement, the Museum comes alive for its guests.  

The reception area is furnished to display temporary housing over the career span of life moving from post to post, assignment to assignment.  Seated in a semi-circle of couch and chairs, visitors face a mantled fireplace, gaze at photos of uniformed loved ones, spot an old WWII vintage short-wave radio that allowed hope following the overseas whereabouts of a deployed husband or son.  To one side sits a galley-sized kitchen separated from the living room by an open ironing board, adorned with a uniform waiting to be pressed.  To the other sits a shelfful of bric-a-brac accumulated as souvenirs and round-the-world mementos.  Behind them stands a rack of various uniforms whether dress or fatigue.   Along the wall, written text details the wide range of family experience that accompanies military service. 

Elsewhere throughout the museum, other items display domestic life curiously cosmopolitan in one way, spartan in another.  Mugs lined up on a kitchen shelf name deployment sites world-wide; bronze cookware from an Asian kitchen or a Russian samovar in the Museum’s rear gallery of displays: all unique to a military lifestyle, ranging from blue-star window hangings, textbooks from overseas schools, and various medals and shoulder patches signifying an enduring lifeline connecting service in the field, and a makeshift hearth wherever a family might find itself fixed during times of separation, whether over a long career, or during a single, short tour of duty.   

Taking that into consideration in a country perpetually at war or on edge to deter one, what family does not hold memories from as far back as the automobile’s mass production without at least one member having served?  My own family is an example, although my parents never identified ours as a military one.  But think again, I tell of my own three-generations.  Soon after Pearl Harbor, I had two uncles inducted. Both my brother and I participated in the Korean war, he as a one-term enlisted soldier, I as a draftee.  During the seventies, my live-in nephew served in the Navy.  All contributing memories of departure and return, anxieties during deployment, exchanges by mail and telephone, packages shipped back and forth.  Directly or indirectly, we all belong to military families and can be touched by what the Museum represents as part of Americana. 

I consider it fitting to have it housed on Route 66, where during the forties the Andrews Sisters sang we should all take our kicks, commemorating a century of cross-country highway travel in tandem with upwards of generations of global military activity. To which the Museum dedicates its holdings, its public programs, its accumulated archival records, its own published books, and its ongoing live discussions going clear back to the advent of the Model T Ford. In other words, the Museum spans a kind of motorized memory lane, where today’s travelers can stop and reminisce on the nation’s east-west passageway between then and now and back again. 

And oh, yes: this year the Museum marks its tenth anniversary.  Come help celebrate.  We are open by appointment seven days a week.  Please try to call 24 hours in advance. For visits occurring on a weekday, please call (505) 400-3849. For weekends, please call (505) 264-7184. There is a suggested donation of $3.00 per person for admission. 

Paul Zolbrod, MAMF Writer-in-Residence Emeritus

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