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The War Before

One of the hardest things for me to hear from people when my husband is gone or deployed is, "I'm sorry." 

I understand that this is because many people don't know how to respond or what to say.  And I do appreciate very much that there is at least an effort to reach out to me, even if the people reaching do not know really what to say, how to act, or what to do.

To be quite honest, it takes a lot of gumption for them to ask, because when AFG is gone my emotion roller coaster gives no guarantees as to what my reaction will be.  I might smile and feel loved, I might get angry at feeling like someone was casting me in the victim role.  I might not even be listening!  I do try to keep my reaction, if negative, inside.  It's just not fair to snap people's heads off when they might very well be trying to help.

Things happen during deployment.  Military families understand that, because we've all been there. We even have our own Murphy's Law for Deployments.  We learn early to laugh, curse, or kick a pillow and move on.  We have to - it is the only way to live.  Civilians with little exposure to or experience with the military life don't always understand this situation.  When I need to explain to them why I don't consider myself a victim of anyone or anything while AFG is deployed - even when his mother is naked and biting people, even when family members die, even when my car explodes in the Wal Mart parking lot - when I need to explain this, I explain to them about The War Before.

Both of my parents were active duty Air Force - my father is seven years older than my mother, and so he was in Vietnam before she even graduated high school.  But they weren't married yet, so those stories don't register with me like the stories my grandparents told me about World War II while I was growing up.

My grandfather joined the Army as soon after Pearl Harbor as humanly possible.  I never heard my Grandmother mention anything about discussion - it was done because it needed to be done and as we all know - when we say "someone" should do something, that "someone" is usually you.  My Pop was not alone, either, as most of his friends and male family members were busy raising right hands and signing on dotted lines, too. 

Eventually, before shipping out to the South Pacific, my grandparents were stationed at Victorville. 

They did not have base housing, they did not have a housing allowance.  They did not have deployment pay or email or even regular telephone access. 

My grandparents rented a tiny little house that wasn't very well built just outside the base.  The floors were made of concrete - no linoleum, no carpet, no wood.  Just concrete.  And the concrete wasn't laid very well, either.  It made little hills and dips and valleys in many places.  My grandparents didn't think anything of it, though - my Pop's first house, the one his parents lived in when they first came to California before 1920, had dirt floors. 

The night before my Pop shipped out, my Grandmother made the biggest and best dinner she could think of.  She cooked and cooked and cooked all day, cleaning and scrubbing and making that little shack shine.  My Pop contributed to the dinner by splurging on a bottle of wine that cost an entire dollar.

As my Pop walked into their house, something happened.  He tripped or slipped or got butter fingers.  Something happened - and the bottle of wine fell  and shattered on the floor.   

My grandmother told me later that she was proud of what they did next - they got down on their hands and knees and drank that wine off her floor (my grandmother has always had a house that is so clean even Howard Hughes would have felt comfortable there). 

She was proud - proud that she didn't waste that wine.  Not angry at the bad construction of the house.  Not outwardly inconsolable that her husband would be leaving (for over two years, although she didn't know it at the time) the next morning.  Not raging at the heavens that she was hundreds of miles from her family and would have to move everything they owned back over the pre-highway road system after my grandfather left all by herself.

I don't think I've ever in my life exhibited that much strength.

When I get very frustrated with  how life is going, I sometimes ask my Grandma for stories about her life as a wartime wife.  "How, Grandma?"  I ask her.  "How did you go for months without hearing anything from Pop?  How did you keep from going crazy trying to run a ranch all by yourself?  How did you cope with raising my Uncle when his Dad was gone for so long?"

"What else could I do?" my grandma replies.  "It's not like I had a choice about whether to make dinner or not.  The roof wasn't going to fix itself.  And besides - everyone else was living the same way, too."

Those things happened so long ago, many people don't have even a black and white photo memory of what it was like.  I can't even imagine - my experience doesn't even come close.

When I want to fall down in an unending fog and just give up, throw up my hands to the heaven and scream over and over again, I think about my Grandma, the military wife.

I have a lot to live up to.

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