Monday, November 7, 2011

Beach Tale: Navy Spouses, Then and Now

          After 28 years of navigating the murky waters of navy Spouse Life without a compass, I recently discovered there IS a Navy Spouse Manual!  And it’s plum-full of good advice, a real How-To manual on what to do and not do in various aspects of being a military spouse.  Welcome Aboard—A Service Manual for the Naval Officer’s Wife was penned by Florence Ridgely Johnson, wife of an Admiral.  Okay, so it was written in 1951 and its age shows when it talks about an Ensign making $129 a month (which wouldn’t even cover dinner and a movie in today’s world.)  It makes the life of a Navy wife sound incredibly romantic, a social merry-go-round of formal calls, fancy teas and elegant dinner gatherings.  But times have changed…and to prove that, here’s a sampling of how things worked then (1951) and now (2011). 

On the topic of Social Calls:
Then:  There are 14 “rule” to a Social Call, to include dropping by unannounced between 4:30 and 6:30 any day of the week, wearing formal attire (to include hat and gloves) and limiting the visit to twenty minutes.  Every newcomer to the wardroom wives was expected to call on the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, and every wife in the wardroom was expected to call on a newcomer, within two weeks.

Now:  Today’s navy spouse is lucky to have half the boxes unpacked within the first two weeks, so any uninvited visitor should arrive wearing a baseball cap and work gloves, ready to help organize the garage.  And that’s if anyone is even at home in the afternoon and not at soccer/ballet/swim team/horseback riding practice.  On second thought, forget the social call.  Send a tweet. 

In the topic of What to Wear:
Then:  “We try always to have on hand a costume suitable for travel—something plain and tailored, of a dark or neutral color.  Orders to new duty are often most unexpected, and if you have nothing but light clothes and no time to spare from packing to buy others, you will feel ridiculous if you have to travel in something suitable only for the porch.” 

Now:  As long as they cover the important body parts, “porch clothes” are perfect for seven days of driving in a car with screaming babies/food-slinging toddlers/morose teenagers/carsick cats/neurotic dogs/full contingents of gerbils.  Dark colors are still recommended because they hide food stains and pet fur, and can be easily laundered—if you can even find a Laundromat in Winslow, AZ.  And not to worry, there is a Wal-Mart in just about every big city, and any clothing emergencies can be taken care of quickly.

1951 Simplicity Pattern

On the topic of How to Enjoy Your Husband’s Cruise
Then:  “At home you will need something other than housework to keep you occupied.  If you know how to sew, this is a good opportunity to make the clothes that you will need for the next season, without being interrupted to cook lunch or find a collar ornament.”

Now:  Who does housework while the ship is gone????  Not me.  And forget the sewing, too.  Retail therapy is the best way to pass the time while the active duty member is at sea for seven-month stretches.

On the topic of Alcoholic Beverages When Hosting a Party
Then:  “Drink mixing is the ‘gentlemen’s department,’ but in case you should sometime have to mix a drink in your husband’s absence, here are the ones you are most apt to be asked to produce:  Highball, Martini, Gibson, Manhattan or Old-Fashioned.”  And while not stated, it is inferred a good hostess will have the drink recipes committed to memory so that she can engage the guest with light and witty banter while she concocts the libations. 

Now:  Keep it simple—beer and wine.  And if you ant to get fancy, stock up on Williams Sonoma’s Margarita Mixes (Alphanso Mango, Tropical Pineapple or Key Lime are perennial favorites.)  A person of either gender is capable of adding the Tequila and ice and cranking up the blender.  And if your memorization skills leave something to be desired, the directions are right on the label. 

On the topic of Packing for a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) Move
Then:  “Navy packers will pack everything that you posses if you want them to, but I have never let them do it all, for I want to be able to find things with the minimum of trouble on the other end.”

Now:  It’s comforting to know that after 50 years, some things remain the same.   


Julie Glover said...

I love reading those wife manuals from the past. Your take on then and now was great. Tweeted the blog post out!

If Love Was Water, I'd Give You The Sea said...

This made me laugh!! Do you know that I was 'issued' a Navy spouse manual when I got engaged?? The ROTC CO's wife gave it to me, I remember reading it and being scared out of my mind!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! My grandmother was a Navy Wife of yesteryear and still says some things to me that you know she read in a similar book! While I take a break from unpacking from our first PCS (which we had movers pack half of) I could not agree more or find the last one any funnier!

Rachel Smith said...

What a great look back! Makes me somewhat glad to be a modern Navy wife. Although there is something to be said for meeting everyone and getting to know the spouses (wives then) before you pack up for the next duty station! :)

L and T Hyde said...

This was funny!!!! Between the "OMG, No Way and What!" remarks as I was reading this post it made think.....hmmmm as much as I love the '50's time frame I don't think I would of survived as a military spouse back then. Can you imagine "L" being a spouse during that I think they would have had to write a separate manual just for me, lol. Thank goodness im living during the "Now" era! Thanks for another great post :0)

Jayne Ormerod... said...

I think the reason the navy spouse manuals were issued was because you were expected to follow the rules! Meaning your behavoir and participation were inclduded on your sailor's fitness report (the scores of which dictate your promotability!) Seriously, if you got a speeding ticket on base or didn't participate in the fundraiser (usually a fashion show) it reflected negatively on your husband! So it was good to know the rules going in.

Jayne Ormerod... said...

Rachel, you are right, while the "manuals" are gone, so is the commradarie that was such an integral part of being part of a wardroom. Back in the days before email and cell phones, you HAD to be involved with the other wives as that was the only way you got any word about the ship's activites. For instance you might hear they were going to pull into port next Saturday so you dropped all your plans and sat waiting pathetically by that phone in case a call came through! Even worse on their end as they would stand oin line for an hour or more just to get their chance at a pay phone to place their "collect call" (do you young people even know what that is?) and we would pay about $5 a minute for a phone call! And trust me when I say you didn't want to miss those!

Patricia said...

I loved this post, Jayne, for several reasons. I am not familiar at all with the Navy, although my dad was in the Navy but he was out by the time I was 4 or 5, and I find it incredibly interesting to look at how things have changed over the years. The life you describe was SO my parents in the way they thought and dressed and acted socially. Although times have surely changed, I miss the friendships that happened in neighborhoods that is fairly non-existent today. We know all our neighbors which in and of itself is unusual and we actually TALK to most of them and know about their lives - another oddity. I wonder how it is across America.