Tuesday, June 10, 2008

ARMY WIVES

This week-end, I received my eleven exposures, or whatever the number of “hits” is to heighten one’s awareness of a product, program, person, or event so one will either, buy, turn on, or participate in something because one is zapped eleven times with a television ad. The ad centered on “Army Wives,” a show with an obvious title, touted by both presidential hopefuls, Obama and McCain. When the show came on, it was my reading hour, so I didn’t catch the first installment for this season of an award-winning TV show. Perhaps I’ll watch it next week.

Years ago, 55 to be exact, I was an Army wife in El Paso, Texas (in the heat of desert summer) and in Limestone, Maine (during a severe winter). My experience as a Cpl.’s wife included the experience of learning how to cook ground meat 999 ways. I can also remember the bounteous plates of beans and potatoes I consumed while living in the heart of the potato industry in Aroostook County, Maine, and when I returned to Louisiana, friends wondered how I had fattened up when we had lived on such a meager salary as Uncle Sam provided Army personnel during the 50’s. The best benefit from this experience was the G.I. bill, and coupled with my salary at LSU, we managed to support an education for my ex-spouse. The Army experience involved two years following the end of the Korean crisis and wasn’t exactly a “mean” tour of duty – it was just a time of learning how to balance a budget of $300 for rent, utilities, gas, car note, and clothing. For me, the loneliness of life in snowbound Limestone, Maine while my ex-spouse (who was in Operations Intelligence) had 24-hr. duty, every other day, was the worst part of the two-year stint. I spent most days, reading, playing 45 rpm records of Tchaikovsky’s music, memorizing THE RUBAIYAAT, and leading a pack of children under the age of six on hikes through the snow, sledding downhill with them in front of the apartment of the old farmhouse we rented.

A few years ago, I was transported back to that memory of my life as an Army wife through the writing of a good friend, Janet Faulk. Following a fund-raising event for Solomon House Outreach Mission, I read aloud Janet’s vignette about a serviceman’s wife to a group of musicians and writers gathered on the back terrace of Marsh House at Avery Island, Louisiana. The book in which the vignette now appears is entitled THE ROAD HOME and can be found on the Border Press site. It’s a charming sample of Janet’s work:

THE SCENT OF ONION
In the five o’clock blue sky of summer, my gaze caught five helicopters flying eastward in formation, snatching me back to the ominous whirling sounds of hundreds of helicopters taking off from Fort Rucker, the largest heliport in the country, my hometown. In 1970, heavy Chinooks filled the sky and shook the Alabama red dirt, making it impossible for snakes to rest. Trainer pilots taught maneuvers, preparing young men to fly away to that contradictory place, Viet Nam. I was thirteen and this war had caused conflict on the home front all around me. I was simultaneously out of it, an adolescent oblivious to the real world, and in it, engaging with anxious families left stateside, as if everything proceeded as life-as-usual.

I feel guilty about being so na├»ve concerning Viet Nam when I lived in such a highly-charged stronghold, the major “jumping off” place for everyone associated with military reconnaissance and helicopters – pilots, crew members, mechanics. But, maybe the young wives needed me and my innocence to create a sense of normalcy that helped them to survive the state of “not knowing” in which they lived. I babysat their small children while they went to ceramics classes, shopped, participated in exercise classes, anything they could do to fill their time while they waited. These modern-day Penelopes were in perpetual motion, and the waiting must have been unbearable. In early evening, I often walked with them as they pushed their baby strollers around the block, telling them silly jokes, boring them with descriptions of happenings in the seventh grade. I let one of them pierce my ears with self-piercers. I helped another clean out a china cabinet that held more dishes than I’d ever seen in my life. We never talked about the war, except maybe a young wife would say how long it had been since she had received a letter from her husband.

Near dusk on a cool Spring evening, Linda, one of the army wives, knocked on our door. She had received word that Wayne was coming home on temporary leave. She had baked cakes all day and would my mother please let me come and chop onions for Wayne’s favorite salad. “I don’t want my hands to reek when he holds them,” she said with a pleading laugh.

I pulled on a sweater and went. It was perhaps the most significant thing I’ve ever done for romance.
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