I grew up with my grandparents, my grandfather a retired Marine and my grandmother a proud and caring milspouse. Before I was born, they had crossed the country too many times to count, and moved more than I can imagine. My childhood was peppered with the usual military stuff: we shopped at the commissary, got Christmas cards from all over the world, and we owned curtains in every size and shape. Boxes of them.
I didn't really understand. I'd never moved; heck, I pretty much lived in the same house until I got married. Why would anyone need to own boxes of curtains?
After I got married, my husband and I moved three times in six months. The first house already had window coverings. The second, I carefully constructed some truly beautiful curtains out of old bedsheets and thumbtacks. At the third, I splurged and bought real hardware for the sheet. Every house, I've upgraded a little bit, but I've still never gotten good at the challenge of putting up new curtains every time we move. Those boxes of curtains started to make a little more sense.
About ten years ago, my grandparents finally moved out of my childhood home and into a retirement community. They boxed up four thousand pounds of stuff from their house and had it delivered to me. Unpacking those boxes was a real treasure hunt, as they had apparently put everything that they thought we might need in our transient life. My childhood violin, a table saw, boxes of sheet music for the piano. And curtains, several boxes of them. As I unpacked the now dingy and unusable fabric, I could hear the stories of my childhood, names of Marine bases, descriptions of houses, things that happened. Apparently Marines moved a lot during the forties and fifties, and these curtains had covered windows from Camp Pendleton to Quantico, and back again.
My grandmother passed away several years ago, and I never did find out why she held on to those curtains for so long. For a long time, I thought that it was her basic depression-era thriftiness, as you never know what size the windows will be in your next quarters. But as I consider my own growing assortment of curtains, I begin thinking of the houses we've lived in, places where babies are born, memories are made, and deployments are survived. And I begin to think that I truly didn't understand about the curtains at all. Maybe she didn't keep them for the windows, maybe she kept them for the memories.