Relatives Don’t Get It

“They just don’t understand.” How many times have you heard this from a military spouse and she, or he, is referring to their very own parents, brothers, and sisters?

My father was a lawyer, and my mother raised her seven children in a world where a son graduated from college, chose his profession, went to school for it, graduated again, and opened his own office. Somewhere along the way he got married. My three older brothers, one doctor and two lawyers, followed this pattern, as did my three older sisters who married pretty much the same types. Six months after I married a Lieutenant Junior Grade, my husband “got his wings.” A few weeks after this momentous occasion, my husband and I arrived at my parent’s house for Christmas. My mother was trying hard to understand her new son-in-law’s career pattern, and at the same time was concerned about her daughter’s future. This all manifested itself with the question she asked him as we came through the kitchen door. “Have you got your own ship yet?”

Deployments are a real mystery to outsiders. My husband’s third deployment left me in Virginia Beach with our new baby and our three-year old. The night before his ship was to come in, one of my sisters called me to share in my excitement. I explained the whole pier scene to my sister, explaining that it would be an hour or more before we would be able to board the ship, at which time my husband would get his gear, and the four of us would finally head home. She then asked me what our plans were for that night. I didn’t answer immediately since I didn’t know exactly how to say “it”, so she went on to say “I bet I know! All of the wives and husbands get all dressed up and meet at a nice restaurant for an elegant dinner!” I explained that I had been going out to dinner with these women for six months, and they with me, and that our husbands had been eating dinner with the other guys on the ship for six months. “DINNER” I said, “is the last thing on our minds.” I knew she still didn’t get it when she asked “Well, what will you two do?” I just flat out told her.

We have now entered the stage when my brother’s and sister’s children are getting married, so we attend a wedding once or twice a year. Last spring one of my nephews married a young lady from Long Island in New York. The reception was in a very swanky south shore yacht club which was decorated in that brassy, expensive naval motif. Each entranceway housed several large brass cannons, swords hung over each doorway, and expensive looking oil paintings of ships hung on every wall. During the cocktail hour, my husband and I were dutifully mingling when we found ourselves together with a group of people which included the mother of the bride. My husband, a Commander at the time, was in his service dress white, with all the ribbons and pins in their appointed place on his chest. After a few minutes, I saw that the mother of the bride was staring at my husband, until he began to chat and laugh with one of my brothers. Then the mother of the bride exclaimed “Oh! I see! You’re a guest!” She explained that because of his “outfit” she had thought that he was one of the waiters. The poor woman tried to redeem herself by saying “You’re IN something, AREN’T you? Let me guess. Is it the Air Force?”

There are many aspects of military life that are hard for civilians to grasp. Career patterns, deployments, and even uniforms can eventually be explained and understood. However, there are experiences unique to military life that my brothers and sisters will never understand. For example, I do not know how to explain the bond of friendship that is instantly renewed when you turn your cart around a corner in a commissary and and come face to face with someone you haven’t seen in years, but whom you have never forgotten for some act of kindness they did for you when you were both stationed on the other side of the world. I have come to realize that that’s a military life thing, and they just wouldn’t understand.

My husband and I are now nearly finished with a one year unaccompanied tour of duty, after having been evacuated from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. My family has certainly been there for me, but there are many aspects to this one that I don’t even understand yet! As we all know, life goes on. I received a wedding invitation in the mail last week. Another niece is getting married. It was addressed to Captian and Mrs. J.F. Boland. Here we go again!

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