It was just another harried Wednesday afternoon trip to the commissary (grocery store on military bases). My husband was off teaching young men to fly. My daughters were going about their daily activities knowing I would return to them at the appointed time, bearing, among other things, their favorite fruit snacks, frozen pizza, and all the little extras that never had to be written down on a grocery list. My grocery list, by the way, was in my 16-month-old daughter’s mouth, and I was lamenting the fact that the next four aisles of needed items would wait while extracting the last of my list from my daughter’s mouth, when I nearly ran over an old man.
This man clearly had no appreciation for the fact that I had 45 minutes left to finish the grocery shopping, pick up my 4-year old from tumbling class, and get to school, where my 12-year-old and her carpool mates would be waiting.
I knew men didn’t belong in a commissary, and this old guy was no exception. He stood in front of the soap selection staring blankly, as if he’d never had to choose a bar of soap in his life. I was ready to bark an order at him when I realized there was a tear on his face.
Instantly, this grocery aisle roadblock transformed into a human…”Can I help you find something?” I asked. He hesitated, and then told me he was looking for soap.
“Any one in particular?” I continued.
“Well, I’m trying to find my wife’s brand of soap.” I started to loan him my cell phone to call her when he said, “She died a year ago, and I just want to smell her again.”
Chills ran down my spine. I don’t think the 22,000-pound Mother of all Bombs could have had the same impact. As tears welled up in my eyes, my half-eaten grocery list didn’t seem so important. Neither did fruit snacks or frozen pizza.
I spent the remainder of my time in the commissary that day listening to a man tell the story of how important his wife was to him — how she took care of their children while he served our country. A retired, decorated World War II pilot who flew missions to protect Americans still needed the protection of a woman who served him at home.
My life was forever changed that day. Every time my husband works too late or leaves before the crack of dawn, I try to remember the sense of importance I felt that day in the commissary.
Some times the monotony of laundry, housecleaning, grocery shopping, and taxi driving leaves military wives feeling empty — the kind of emptiness that is rarely fulfilled when our husbands come home and don’t want to or can’t talk about work.
We need to be reminded, at times; of the important role we fill for our family and for our country. Over the years, I’ve talked a lot about military spouses…how special they are and the price they pay for freedom too. The funny thing is; most military spouses don’t consider themselves different from other spouses. They do what they have to do, bound together not by blood or merely friendship, but with a shared spirit whose origin is in the very essence of what love truly is. Is there truly a difference? I think there is. You have to decide for yourself…
Other spouses get married and look forward to building equity in a home and putting down family roots. Military spouses get married and know they’ll live in base housing or rent, and their roots must be short so they can be transplanted frequently.
Other spouses decorate a home with flair and personality that will last a lifetime. Military spouses decorate a home with flair tempered with the knowledge that no two base houses have the same size windows or same size rooms.
Curtains have to be flexible and multiple sets are a plus. Furniture must fit like puzzle pieces.
Other spouses have living rooms that are immaculate and seldom used. Military spouses have immaculate living room/dining room combos. The coffee table got a scratch or two moving from Germany, but it still looks pretty good.
Other spouses say goodbye to their spouse for a business trip and know they won’t see them for a week. They are lonely, but can survive. Military spouses say good-bye to their deploying spouse and know they won’t see them for months, or a year, or longer. They are lonely, but will survive.
Other spouses, when a washer hose blows off, call Maytag and then write a check out for having the hose reconnected. Military spouses have to cut the water off and fix it themselves.
Other spouses get used to saying “hello” to friends they see all the time. Military spouses get used to saying “goodbye” to friends made the last two years.
Other spouses worry about whether their child will be class president next year. Military spouses worry about whether their child will be accepted in yet another school next year and whether that school will be the worst in the city…again.
Other spouses can count on spouse participation in special events…birthdays, anniversaries, concerts, football games, graduation, and even the birth of a child. Military spouses only count on each other; because they realize that the flag has to come first if freedom is to survive. It has to be that way.
Other spouses put up yellow ribbons when the troops are imperiled across the globe and take them down when the troops come home. Military spouses wear yellow ribbons around their hearts and they never go away.
Other spouses worry about being late for mom’s Thanksgiving dinner. Military spouses worry about getting back from Japan in time for dad’s funeral.
The television program showing an elderly lady putting a card down in front of a long, black wall that has names on it touches other spouses. The card simply says, “Happy Birthday, Sweetheart. You would have been sixty today.” A military spouse is the lady with the card, and the wall is the Vietnam Memorial.
I would NEVER say military spouses are better than other spouses. But I will say there is a difference. I will say, without hesitation, that military spouses pay just as high a price for freedom as do their active duty husbands and wives.
Perhaps the price they pay is even higher. Dying in service to our country isn’t near as hard as loving someone who has died in service to our country, and having to live without them.
God bless our military spouses for all they freely give.-Paige Anderson Swiney