Sunday was Veterans Day. We are a military family with my Grandfather, Father, Aunt, Uncles, Cousins, Brothers-in-law, and Sister-in-law all having served or currently serving. I am thankful every day for their service during war and peace. Maybe it’s because she helped raise me, but when I think about my Grandfather on Veterans Day, I can’t help think of my Grandmother.
Grandma and Grandpa got married when he was a 24-year-old sailor and she was a 17-year-old high school student living in rural Oklahoma. He was passing through and they ended up in the same diner. I won’t say it was love at first sight, but it was pretty close. They had my father just before my Grandma’s 20th birthday after a couple of years of trying and fertility treatment. He was their firstborn with two daughters following within a few years. My Grandfather earned a Silver Star during WWII and retired as a Chief Petty Officer in his mid-40s.
All that time, while my Grandfather was a sailor, my Grandmother was a Navy Wife. For me, Veterans Day is a time to honor not only those who have served in the military, but also those who served as military spouses. My Grandmother tells stories of making dollars go farther than anyone could expect, of getting dressed up to meet the ship to see my Grandfather for an hour before the ship left again, of teacher meetings where she was both father and mother. She drove three young kids across the country between Norfolk and San Diego more than once when the ship was going to a new port. I’ll never forget her telling me about one trip during a very hot summer. It was so hot that the backs of her legs blistered from the heat coming up through the floor boards of the car as she drove across the desert.
I can’t help but think of how strong and brave my Grandma was as a young wife and mother moving from rural Oklahoma to Baltimore for their first duty station. She had never been to a city so big, much less lived there by herself (essentially). She went to work in an ice cream parlor because she couldn’t imagine sitting at home alone with my Grandfather out to sea. The brother of the owner hit on her a couple of times despite her telling him to stop. After he hit on her the third time, she went to the owner and told him she was quitting. She didn’t need to put up with that mess from the owner’s brother and she had been very clear that she was not interested. The owner promised her his brother would stop, but she wasn’t convinced, so she left. She was 17 and needed the money, but had too much respect for herself to stay in a place where she didn’t feel safe or respected. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but she did it.
My Grandma had to be tough especially with my father who was a con man from a pretty early age. Once, when she was a million months pregnant with her third child, she sent my father to church by himself. A few weeks later, the pastor saw my Grandma and told her how impressed he was with my father despite his disability. Since he didn’t have any disabilities, she needed some explanation from the pastor. Apparently, everyone at church thought my father had hearing issues because he wore what they thought was a hearing aid. It was a transistor radio with ear buds that looked very similar to a hearing aid. He was listening to football games instead of the sermon. Grandma nipped that behavior in the bud. And many, many other behaviors too.
So, while I am forever grateful for the service of the members of our armed services, I’m just as proud and grateful for the women and men (and children) who take on the challenges and rewards of being the spouse of a service member. To all the Navy Wives (and Army, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force too), thank you for all you do. You guys are heroes.