Friday, January 16, 2009

Misty Watercolored Memories

"As care givers it is so easy to be caught up in the activity
of giving care that life moves on
and we are less aware of our own
feelings, memories, desires, prayers.
A picture, a song grabs us, captures us
and at least for a few moments or minutes
we honor ourselves through reflecting our personal memories. "
Jack Cook

Dad needs new glasses. He can get them free from the Navy. Despite the price of gas going up, he opted for hard-earned (25+years) and no cost over right-down-the-road at the mall. (Does anyone but me see a strange kind of synchronicity in discussing hospice and getting new glasses all in the same week?)

We've been barking at each other a lot over the last couple of days. Elizabeth Kubler Ross might say we're experiencing the anger stage of grief. More likely we've both just realized that we are running out of time to master the fine art of communication so we keep trying. I've found, however, when we hop in the Luther-mobile, turn the radio up and head down the road, there is a comfortable quiet between us.

We've been to the dispensary before. It was a drill to see if either of us could remember the routine. Funny how some things never change! Military procedures vary little over the years.

We found the clinic. While waiting for the paperwork to be done, Dad got a far away look in his eye. "I know it was real," he said, "but it was so long ago that my time in the Navy almost seems like a dream." I suggested if he went out to the quarterdeck of one of the ships at the pier and smelled the combination aroma of diesel fuel, salt air and boat juice it would all come back to him. He replied with a hearty no thank you.
After talking to a guy in a flightsuit who was also waiting for his own new lenses, I began to wander down my own memory lane. Twenty years of life as a Navy wife flashed before my eyes:
  • Wives club meetings; long lines at the commissary ... dispensary ... gas station;
  • officers and gentlemen in khaki colored uniforms;
  • Helo pilots in green flight suits and patch-covered flight jackets (my ex getting chewed out by an admiral for wearing his off the base);
  • deployments that seemed to last forever;
  • a water-bearing appliance (refrigerator, toilet, washing machine) breaking down on day two of said deployment with me sitting in the middle of the floor adding my tears to the growing puddle;
  • standing pierside holding onto small children waving American flags as an aircraft carrier pulls out of port for said deployment, tears of lonliness running down my cheeks long after the ship disappears over the horizon;
  • being reminded by another waving wife who had seen more ship departures than I could yet imagine, that the big gray watercraft in front of us was a "ship" not a "boat" (I wondered then, as I wonder now, does that distinction really make a difference to a 2 year old!);
  • standing on the tarmac, holding onto small children, waving American flags as a squadron of helicopters flies home in formation, tears of joy and relief rolling down my face;
  • attending PTA meetings, Cub Scout camp outs, and parent/teacher conferences alone; sharing the "adventure" - praying it would soon end;
  • moving across country or across the street too many times to count.
For a few minutes, memories swirled together in a kind of patchwork melange. When the nice man (what, no Navy nurse barking orders and demanding to be called mam? What's the Navy coming to?)behind the desk told us that Dad's glasses would be mailed to him in a couple of weeks, I was jolted from my reverie. Remarkably many of recollections, once raw and painful, had lost their bite. Like my father, those years seem almost like a dream. A dream I can look back on and smile, not a nightmare I thought would never end. Yes, there were hard times. Times when I cried myself to sleep. Times when I blamed Uncle Sam and John Paul Jones for every one of my problems.
It's true, however, what the sages say about time. It does heal wounds. I know this because even though the times were rough, what I remember now are the people that helped me get through them. Even when I thought I was all alone there were other women who shared the challenge of being married to a man who was married to the military. Somehow we survived, individually and collectively. Some of the marriages fell apart, that's no big surprise. But women of character survive and move on. Barbara, Peg, Catherine, Becky, Julia, Carole, Diane, Donna, Pat, Cheryl and others whose faces I can still see but whose names I've long forgotten. Bless them!
Wow! All that remembering and a pair of glasses too. Luther and I enjoyed the time together. I think it was a good day.

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel like singing "Anchors Away"?

Merry ME

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