Monday, November 28, 2011

Beach Tale: “Christmas—Military Spouse Style” True Stories from the Navy Spouse Trenches

After 28 years as a military spouse, I can honestly say, no two Christmases have ever been the same.  The obvious difference is 18 different addresses over the 28 years, which means large artificial tree purchased for the large bay window in one house will not fit anywhere in the small transitional aparment.  Also, with operating temps what they are, at least 1/3 of the holiday seasons I’ve been separated from my husband.

All military families are faced with extra challenges during the holiday season.  Sometimes it’s geographically difficult or financially impossible to make our way home to join in traditional celebrations.  There are times the ship is deployed so the family at home has to celebrate alone.  Even when the ship is in port, some unlucky sailors pull Christmas “Duty”, meaning they have to spend a 24 hour period aboard that great big ball of steel and can’t be at home with the family.  So in true military spouse fashion we find a way to make the best of the situation, be it opening presents via SKYPE with our loved one an IA or finding ways to distract the children until our duty sailor can get off the ship that morning, or sharing the holiday meal in ship’s galley with the duty sailors (one of whom we’re married to). 

But we’re Navy Spouses, and hence have the ability to adapt to any situation.  Here are a few “stories from the trenches” on how some Navy Spouses have handled the challenges faced during holidays over the years. 

Oh, Christmas Tree!  Oh, Christmas Tree!
We had an heirloom Christmas tree stand…one that rotated the tree around while playing music.  It was handed down from my grandparents to my parents and then when they downsized to a small apartment, handed down to me.  It was so excited that first year I had it in my possession!  So we shopped for the perfect fresh tree (keep in mind, it had to look good from all angles since it would be rotating around) and when we finally found one we had the Christmas Tree guys give it a fresh cut straight across the bottom.  We came home and plopped our 10-foot Blue Spruce into the stand, tightening the screws to ensure the tree wouldn’t fall out while it was spinning.  Then we wrapped it in lights and adorned it with ornaments then sat back and watched while it twirled around.  What a beautiful sight!  The next morning my sailor headed out to sea for a few weeks, but would return before the holidays. 

At 2:17 that night I heard a crash.  My first thought was someone was breaking into my house!  I was scared to death. With my hand on the phone, I sat and listened for another noise to confirm my worst fears.  Nothing but silence.  After about 30 minutes I worked up enough courage to go see what had happened.  I suppose wise people that you are you’ve already figured out what caused the crash, but I still didn’t have a clue.  So I crept down the hallway, armed only with a heavy brass plaque (courtesy of my husband’s last duty station).  I tiptoed into the living room and there I found the beautiful Christmas tree tipped over—stand and all—with a sea of broken ornaments around it.  At least it wasn’t a burglar!  I stood the tree back up and cleaned up the mess.  I figured one of the dogs had knocked it over (they’d been tugging on gingerbread ornaments all evening), so I closed the room off and went back to bed.  About an hour later…CRASH!  This time a burglar?  Nope.  The tree had fallen over again.  I stood it back up (keep in mind this is a 10-foot tree—and heavy!)  I jostled it around until it seemed steady enough and I toddled back to bed.  When it crashed a third time, I buried further under the covers and ignored it.  In fact, I left the tree lying on the floor for two weeks until my husband returned home and we figured out we we’d shoved a cylinder-shaped trunk into a V-shaped hole.  Once we shaved the trunk down and got it fit in nicely, we got to enjoy the twirling tree for the rest of the season.  One of those things about heirlooms—lovely as they are, rarely do the paper instructions survive the generations! 

DUTY is a Four-Letter Word! 
Christmas is best experienced through the eyes of the children.  Nothing epitomizes Christmas Magic more than witnessing their faces when they first see what Santa has brought, sharing in their excitement as they empty their stockings and tear through the wrapped presents, squealing in delight with each new gift (except for maybe the pink pajamas from Aunt Iris!)  It’s what Christmas is all about.  So didn’t it just figure that our son’s third Christmas (the first year he was excited about a visit from St. Nick) that my guy had duty.  He was going to miss all the fun.  And I was going to have to clean up all that wrapping paper mess!  But one day shortly after Thanksgiving I had an idea.  A wonderful, awful idea.  What if we celebrated Christmas a day early?  I mean, our son didn’t know the difference between December 24th and December 25th.  Yeah, we could make it work.  And we did. 

Santa came early and our little family pretended it was Christmas Day.  All was well…until our very good military friends stopped by that evening with their four-year-old boy and nine-year-old girl (who still believed in Santa).  To describe it as “meltdown” was an understatement!  We had no acceptable answer as to why Santa had come to our house and not theirs!  They thought they had been missed!  So if you find yourself in this situation, go ahead and celebrate early.  Just don’t answer the door when friends come calling.      

Some Assembly Required!
Ah, Christmas Eve!  I sat by the dying embers of the Christmas Eve fire, in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, a sweet scent of hot cocoa in the air.  It was shortly after midnight, and I thought about my husband half-way around the world, already awakening to Christmas Morning…in Cannes, France.  Our son had finally succumbed to sleep, and I hoped to tuck myself into bed soon.  But first, I had to play Santa.  Fortunately except for the Big Gift, everything had been wrapped so was quickly distributed around the tree.  One last thing to do…I drug out the box containing a combination pinball machine/skeeball game/hoop-shoot and emptied it of all the pieces parts (I’d never seen so many pieces parts!) on the floor.  Not even the slightest bit daunted, I dug out the instructions.  First thing it said was, “May be assembled by one person.  Should be assembled by two.”  It was a little late to call on the neighbors, as helpful as they were while to me while my husband was deployed.  I thought about one Christmas as a child when I’d awoken to find a cardboard marketplace in pieces on the floor, a note from Santa that said “I’m sorry I didn’t have time to put this together but I have so many houses yet to visit tonight.  Please ask your parents to do it this morning.  Merry Christmas!  Love, Santa.”  Guess what I did?  Yup.  Made a note and forged Santa’s signature.  And don’t you know that sharing that “some assembly required” project Christmas morning kept us busy most of the day, masking my husband’s absence just a little bit.  


Jennette Marie Powell said...

Thanks for sharing this! Fun stories, and it serves as a great reminder of how much is sacrificed by those who serve - and their families. I'm grateful for them all!

Patricia said...

Oh, Jayne, I loved your stories. They would make a great novella about Christmas as a navy wife.