One day next month will mark MarshFox’s one-year anniversary of retirement from the empire after 30 loyal years of service. When you’ve been in that long, you tend to have friends all over the world. In the olden days, it’s was a bit harden to keep up with folks when they were scattered to the four-winds. But, with the invention of so many social media platforms and gadgets, keeping up with your fellow empire serving brethren and sisters is practically a breeze. It’s the many moves we made during MarshFox’s service that has me thinking on my spouses-in-arms this morning. I’ve recently noticed on social media my newsfeed is filled with the “we’re moving…again!” announcements and talk of all that entails from finding decent schools for the kids at the next duty station to dealing with the movers. Anyone who’s even done one stint in base housing knows all the mishaps that can entail. In the midst of reading along, smiling, laughing, and, I’ll admit it, a little nostalgic crying, I remembered a blog post I had written waaaaayy back in 2011ish during what we military families refer to as PCS season. This season rolls around twice a year. It happens once during the break between Christmas and the New Year and more prominently over the summer months, heavily in June. You see, these times of the year coincide with school schedules and make the moves much easier when you have a tribe of children in tow. I dug up that series of posts today so I could share a glimpse into what was once my nomadic life, and what I envision as a fictional foremother of mine’s nomadic life. Enjoy!
Modern Day Nomads Part I
I sat down at the desk yesterday, and upon hearing quite a commotion below for so early, I tentatively twisted open the window shade. The big Atlas moving van sat across the way. Another family is moving, and soon I’ll have a new neighbor. I hope it’s someone I can connect with, someone who will understand my quirky habits and overt personality. I’m quite a handful for new persons to figure out or understand. Being a writer only exacerbates this situation for me. The weird hours, the weird questions, the “unspeakable” genre. I’m smiling as I write this, because I love what I do, and as lonely as it can get at times, I wouldn’t change a thing. But I digress. Today’s topic is the nomadic lifestyle–i.e. being married to the military.
Now, I imagine most of us military wives at one point or other, more often than not, simply dread the cycle of three–in other words the 36 month points in our lives where sweetie comes trotting home proudly sporting a new set of orders. At this point we have an internal conversation with ourselves. We’re not quite enraged enough yet to take it out on sweetie (that comes later). The conversation goes something like this: ‘Oh, how nice. I just found curtains that fit these stupid windows. Little Joey just found his soul mate and I just made a friend. Wait…where are we going? Is that even a place?’
After a few weeks of fretting, wiping tears from the children’s eyes, hauling goodies to the thrift store, and refraining from taking your frustrations out on sweetie (that comes later) the movers arrive. They invade what was your home and run you crazy for the next 24-48 hours. Then they disappear with all your worldly goods. Then you have another internal conversation. ‘What if they lose our stuff? What if they break something? Where’s the Tylenol and Pepto? Oh my gravy! They packed the trash. (Yes, friends, this actually happened to us once on a PCS from Okinawa to Virginia. It’d been in the shipment sixty days when we located it. Yuck!) You still contain your anxiety and refrain from taking it out on sweetie (that comes later).
So, armed with a big box of school records, medical records, dental records, the SRB, and the vet records, you’re off. Kids, pets, enough clothes for a week, electronic devices of every sort, make, and model, and a bag of meds–all crammed in a mini-van. Usually the wife drives that car. Sweetie gets in the “going out” car to tail you. This is to ensure that if you break down, he’s right behind you ready to assist. Still you refrain from yelling at sweetie (that comes later). For many hours you traverse America’s highways and by-ways. The kids become fussy, the pets are howling, the batteries are dead in all the electronic devices, and you can’t find the big bag of meds anywhere–you’d really like that anti-anxiety stuff the doc gave you “just in case.” Sweetie is of course fine back in the rear tailing you, sipping his coffee and smiling. He can actually hear his radio.
After a harrowing couple of days, you arrive at the new base. You, the kids, the pets, and sweetie all hole up in temporary lodging for a few days while you await quarters to be assigned. It’s a mini-vacation! There’s cable again, a convenience store next door with batteries to replenish all the electronic devices, a pizza joint across the street, and free Wifi. Life is good. For a few days anyway.
Now, you’re assigned quarters. With everything and everyone crammed back in the mini-van, you pull in your new drive-way. Later that day the moving van comes. All the new neighbors come out on their lawns to gawk at you and the kids disperse. They find old friends and make new ones. The movers drive you crazy for the rest of the day, and you find your trash from the old place. Swell! The next day sweetie starts checking in to his new unit, the kids disappear, and you’re left with 593 boxes to unpack–alone. Goody. Another internal conversation. Sweetie isn’t around to take it out on (that will come later). ‘Oh, how nice. They broke my favorite bowl. Little Joey’s guitar is missing, wait maybe that’s not a bad thing. Windows? Those were made for a greenhouse.’ By five that afternoon, you’re down to 342 boxes, the kids are back and starving, and you’ve just discovered none of your curtains fit so you’ve tacked sheets up to keep out the eyes of the still gawking neighbors. And, here comes sweetie, home from the new office–he’s also starving.
At this point, you’re exhausted, your head hurts, you still can’t find that bag of meds, and one of the pets has gone missing. You can no longer refrain from yelling–yes, this is where you take it out on sweetie–it goes something like this:
“I hate you. I hate the military. And I hate this place, the house, the base, I hate it all.”
“But dear, I love you. You really don’t hate the military; you say that every time we move. And how do you know you hate it here; we’ve only just arrived.”
Then things get really ugly. The pets that haven’t already disappeared do so, the kids disperse, and suddenly a dozen or so more boxes are empty because you’ve tossed them over in your little display of animosity. Soon you’re sobbing and blowing your nose on a paper towel because it’s the only thing you can find to use. Then sweetie finds his gonads. He wraps you up in his arms, kisses you, shushes you, puts you in a hot bubble bath, and orders dinner. He feeds the kids pizza and sends them to bed. Then, by candlelight in the middle of the floor, the two of you share the leftovers and have a bit too much wine. Life is good.
31 months later…You’re in Target with you new best friend. There, like the Ark of the Covenant beckoning Indiana Jones, you find them. Curtains that fit. You purchase every single one they have, you take them home, and you proudly hang them. You fix a nice dinner and here comes sweetie, proudly sporting a new set of orders. You refrain from yelling (that comes later).
Modern Day Nomads Part II
As I sit in quiet reflection on this nomadic lifestyle I chose when I married a marine, I can see how over the years I’ve matured into this role. I realized after a couple of moves that refraining from yelling at sweetie until I was boiling wasn’t such a good idea. The yelling should come sooner, much, much, sooner. The results of this switch in technique were astounding. I discovered by making my feelings known right away, sweetie would feel guilty much sooner for sending ripples across my otherwise calm pond. It ended with him driving the mini-van full of kids, pets, and electronic devices, while I followed him, smiling, drinking cappuccino, and listening to the radio. A fair trade off in my opinion for unloading the 593 boxes alone and finding the trash. Now that our nest is empty, moves come as easily as the wind blows. Sometimes boxes sit for weeks, sometimes for months. Sometimes I find boxes still unopened after sweetie comes in proudly sporting the next set of orders at which time, they go directly to the thrift store still unopened. Whatever is in there, if it sat for three years, why on earth does it need to go to the new house.
Another thought that crosses my mind is the extreme appreciation and compassion I should hold for our foremothers. The pioneers of “military wifing” that blazed the trail, often literally by blood, sweat, and tears. Picture this…
The year is 1700-somethingish. Elsbeth York sits quietly by her mantle. A nice dinner stews over her fire and she is embroidering away. Enter Charles York, AKA sweetie. In his hands is an official looking scroll.
“Prepare ye bag, wife. By order of the King, we are going to the new world.”
Elsbeth takes pause, and has an internal conversation with herself. ‘Oh, how nice. How will we get there? Wait…the new world? Does that place even exist?’ She doesn’t yell at him as I’m pretty sure back then it was considered unladylike behavior to yell at sweetie, not to mention I’m pretty sure it may have even been legal grounds for divorce.
For weeks she frets. She sits the children down and explains the situation. The older boys are excited beyond reason at the prospect of such an adventure, while the younger girls are terrified. They wonder what would happen if the wild savages they’ve heard about on the school yard should snatch them away in the night. Elsbeth manages to sell off most of their meager belongings, and, with what little they are allowed to take, she, the children, and sweetie board a ship bound for the new world. Yes, all of them on the same vessel with a few other “excited” families. Swell.
For a few weeks they traverse the wild open seas. The children grow restless and fussy, tired of playing pirates and sharing the one reader Elsbeth managed to tuck away in her trunk. There’s little to eat, she’s seasick, everyone grows smelly, and just when the fresh water barrels threaten to run dry, land is spotted. After a few hours, everyone regains their land legs and piles in one of many wagons, escorted by more troops and native guides, bound for the new outpost.
With no Motel 6 anywhere in sight, and no McDonalds on the horizon, Elsbeth puts her children to bed under the stars each night, after roasting whatever sweetie manages to drag back from the forest and eating it. Then, after mending, cleaning the campsite, and saying her prayers, she climbs into the back of the wagon to bed down with sweetie. He happens to find the whole situation quite romantic. Elsbeth thinks it’s ridiculous. Risking grounds for divorce, she turns her back on sweetie and denies him his husband’s rights. ‘Take that King, for sending me to this dreadful wilderness.’ Perfect logic.
Finally they arrive at the outpost. They are first put in a tent (AKA temporary lodging) to await their quarters–that are still under construction. The children disappear to make new friends, a stray pet arrives at the tent opening, and sweetie goes off to check into the new unit. Elsbeth tidies the new living space, trying to make it as tolerable as possible. Just before winter sets in, the new quarters are completed. Happily, she moves in with her children, their meager belongings, the new stray pet, and sweetie. She makes the two-day trip to the nearest dry goods store, and upon return starts making curtains. Not once did she yell, ‘I hate you, I hate the military, and I hate the new world.’ Poor Elsbeth. She probably had an ulcer.
For many months, things go swimmingly. Elsbeth gives sweetie yet another heir. She makes a new best friend and shares her pattern for the curtains that fit. Then, one evening, as she sits quietly by her mantle, a nice dinner stewing as she embroiders, Charles comes in, an official looking scroll in his hands.
“Prepare ye bag, wife. By order of the King, we are returning to England.”
She takes pause and has an internal conversation with herself. ‘Oh, how nice. Just let me burn these curtains.’
God bless our foremothers for showing us with fortitude and tenacity how it’s done.