Warming Up to the Gremlins


The day after Sampson departed for his current deployment, I took a wary look around the house and held my breath for a moment. All right, I wondered, which major household system will cease to function now that he's gone?

I didn't have to wait long to meet my very own pet deployment gremlins, as they took up residence in my furnace about a week later. At just about the time I was hearing about Sampson's adventures in various exciting and picturesque ports, I was scouring the Internet for HVAC tutorials in an effort to become an instant expert -- or at the very least, a non-ignoramus -- in what could be making my heater work sometimes, but not others. It was driving me crazy, but being a typical independent-minded (read: stubborn) military wife, I didn't want to call anybody until it was blazingly obvious that I couldn't come to my own rescue on this one.

It stayed cold, and my heater failed to miraculously heal itself. I found myself with my cell phone in hand, staring at the number for our across-the-street neighbors, a civilian family of folks who have been ceaselessly kind to us since we moved in. When they heard Sampson was deploying, they made me promise to call if I needed anything at all. They were busy people, though, and surely they had better things to do than look after me.

I don't like "needing" things from people. It goes back to that stubbornness again, a trait my mother will assure you I possessed in abundance long before I ever met my Navy husband. I had embarked on this separation enamored of the idea that I was a strong, practical, clever woman who would power through deployment without being a burden on anyone, and now here I was with an increasingly chilly house and a problem I didn't know how to fix.

I stuffed my pride into the depths of a cardboard box still yet to be unpacked from the last PCS, and I called my neighbors. Turns out it didn't hurt nearly as badly as I thought it would.

My neighbor, by lucky coincidence, has years of professional experience  in heating and cooling systems, and he assured me that he was happy to come over and take a look at my misbehaving heater. I thanked him profusely as he took the whole thing apart and tracked down the problem, and he told me that he would not take any money for his labor. He waved his hand and said something that both humbled and honored me.

"I never served in the military myself," he said as he squinted at the igniter that wasn't igniting, "so I try to do whatever I can for military families. You give up a lot for us, so fixing your furnace is the least I can do."

As evidenced by the wealth of stories -- good, bad, and hilarious -- in the "Civilians" category here on SpouseBUZZ, the military/civilian interface is far from seamless. It is fraught with potential miscommunication, misunderstanding, and thoughtlessness on both sides. For me, though, this selfless, neighborly act from a civilian family who "gets it" outshines the bulk of the inane and/or ignorant comments I've heard from those who have trouble wrapping their heads around military life.

Ergo, I would like to thank the deployment gremlins who invaded my furnace. Who knew a broken heater could lead to such warm feelings of support? I'm almost glad the little monsters stopped by.

...uh, gremlins? Just don't take that as an invitation to move into any other appliances.

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