A Ramble about Military Families, Veterans, and the Rest

I grew up just outside Annapolis. This meant that there was a certain segment of military children attending school with me. They’d talk of the commissary from time to time, but seemed like pretty average kids. (Except for the one who started in our school who said she was from Iran…in the midst of the whole Iran Hostage Thing. What an exotic thing. But she was from Iran like some of my big kids are from the Philippines. At least looking back that is what I guess.) I loved the Naval Academy and the dress whites, the housing that looked so much finer than ours as we drove into Annapolis.

My father was in the military. Someone in his school told him to consider a career in the military. He listened. This allowed him to be the first person in his family to go to college. It also gave him direction in his life, quite a bit of travel under his belt, and some time in Vietnam. My father was older than the average father in my grade–so there weren’t a lot of other Vietnam vet dads that I met. Well, one.

My father was proud of his service. When we were little and would go visit his parents, my grandparents, we would get to peek into his closet and see his uniform. He would make jokes when we were Girl Scouts about how he had a Girl Scout Beanie too. (that went with his uniform) We heard some tales from his travel. But other than a serious hatred for camping (“I did enough of that in the military”) and no desire for rice in general–we didn’t get tales from the front. I suspect much of it was classified–the rest he didn’t want to talk about. I knew there was a box of medals in his closet. I saw his name on a plaque at a museum. But, I also know that he got malaria flare ups from time to time. I knew but didn’t understand for years that sudden loud noises would provoke irrational behavior. PTSD they would say today. Back then, nothing. He managed and worked hard, was a strict father, but also one who you always believed would do anything for his daughters. He was a man who waited a long time to start a family and when he did–he was “all in” as one would say today. We sometimes would drive through a military base or by one where my father had spent time. Goodness knows, I spent a lot of time touring historical military sites.

But, I wasn’t a military child. My father had officially retired from the military long before I came along. I never really understood this distinction very well until Denise entered my life. Her father was career military. Her ex-husband was career military, as were her in-laws. The big kids grew up in that legacy. The oldest married back into the military–though she really had never been unmilitary during her life. I learned a new alphabet. I finally got to see the COMMISSARY (which was a place of my dreams) and the PX and BX. I got to read the little base newspapers.  I dealt with Denise who was overwhelmed by “normal” supermarkets. A running phrase in the early years of our relationship was “I was out of the country then.” It still crops up from time to time. So, my big kids are “military brats” though I think brats is not really a good description. They grew up with a tight income, some unusual experiences, and some perfectly normal things.

Because the oldest married a military man and has the most beautiful wonderful baby on earth, my grandson. (AKA military dependent) I get to think more often than I like about the life of military families. My father still did some extensive long-term travel when I was an infant for work. It was before email or skype had ever been dreamed of. My mother would send letters. I don’t know whether she would send photos or not–photo developing was expensive and our family rarely took photos outside of vacations or holidays. I know it was hard on my Pop. I know it was hard on my mom. He changed his position when my younger sister was born–because he felt he missed so much.

I didn’t really think about it though. But then I watch my oldest daughter and her son. I see the pictures of reunions and of letting go. I feel for my son-in-law. Yes, as a grandma far away I don’t get that much time with the wonderboy. But as a daddy? a parent? That leave taking must be so hard. As the parent left at home, I can only imagine the worry.

My little kid’s father travels a lot. At some point every time he was gone, I would have anxiety about the planes crashing, something happening to him while he was away (a dozen years after our divorce–I still worry for him when he is off out of the country. Shhh don’t tell) . I could talk myself out of it because it was fairly irrational. Our daughter? She must. I can’t imagine she doesn’t. I know she knew that was life she was signing up for but the strength of her and the rest of the loved ones left at home — wow. Then my son-in-law, an oddly tender guy, just. wow.

So just a ramble, I don’t know why. Maybe because of Memorial Day. Maybe because I said that my big kids were military family until me–but it felt wrong because they are still military family. We are all military family.