Not Your Grandma’s #MilLife

My grandma was my person. She got me. She saw me. She was always — no questions asked — in my corner. I spent nearly every day at her house under her and my grandpa’s care until I started kindergarten. After starting school, I rode the school bus to their house every afternoon until my mom got off work and came to pick me and my brother up.

For basically 23 years of my life, there wasn’t a week that went by that I didn’t see her. When I married my Marine and left my hometown, there wasn’t a week that went by that I didn’t call her and my grandpa. In fact, just before my first PCS as a new Marine spouse, I bought them a web cam so we could still talk “face to face.” We never once used that web cam, though. She said it was too hard. It was too hard to see me and not be able to touch me. And, any time she would be with my parents (who would video chat with me), she would say one word, tear up, and walk away.

That was over 11 years ago.

In the last few weeks of 2018, I had my last conversation with my grandpa, a retired Master Chief with 31 years of Navy service under his belt. He made jokes about “hurry up and wait” (always loving that he could use his military jargon in our conversations), he told me to be good, and he told me he loved me, like he’d done since I was little. It was brief and lighthearted like all our conversations, so it seems fitting that it was the last — I found comfort, as always, in his consistency.

By the time I talked to my grandma again in December 2018, so much had changed. She was grieving the loss of her husband of 67 years, and I was in Japan, not only grieving the loss of my grandpa but the loss of five souls from our squadron. My parents turned the camera on my grandma, and we looked in each other’s eyes through the screen. Our eyes welled with tears. My instinct said to comfort her, but when I opened my mouth, all that came out was, “It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know what to do. What do I do?” She stopped me by saying, “Darling, I know. They need you there, and you are just right where you need to be.”

Six months later, in the summer of 2019, I was preparing to spend a month stateside — I would see my grandma on this trip. I couldn’t wait to hold her and talk about all that had changed in her life. But, before I zipped the last suitcase, I had my last conversation with my grandma — I just didn’t know it was the last. I’m sure deep down she hated the fact that it was over video chat, but she’d come around a bit after more than a decade of talking her into it. She told me that I made her proud. She told me she loved me. And, she told me what a good military spouse I was.

And that, that right there, being called a “good military spouse” by my grandma, a military spouse of the Greatest Generation, made that title forever a part of my narrative. It will always be something I pour energy into, and it’s why, on the long flight between Japan and the USA, I found myself comparing what a good military spouse looked like in my grandma’s generation of spouses versus my generation.

The Good Military Spouse: The Wedding

I’d always known my grandparents were married on Dec. 24, 1950 — we celebrated it every Christmas Eve. But what I didn’t understand until this summer was why, and the answer was so obvious that I can’t believe I didn’t suspect it. As I mentioned, my grandpa was a Navy man, but my grandma had a short stint in the Women’s Army Corps. What happens around the holidays? Leave, that’s what — they were both on leave. They were practical, maximized their time, and got married. Not much has changed here as far as I can tell. My husband and I got married at a courthouse between his winging and his unaccompanied training in Little Rock, Arkansas. Why? Well, we loved each other of course, but we were also practical.

The Good Military Spouse: The Career

I’m not talking about the service member’s career here, although my grandma did everything that came with the territory to support my grandpa in his career — she dressed up, showed up, supported junior spouses, volunteered, and held down the home front solo so much that we often said in jest during their retirement years that we could tell when they’d spent too much time together. The only thing that’s changed here is the white gloves. These aren’t so much coveted today as mocked. And sure, we show up to mandatory fun, dress up for balls and changes of command with an air of tradition, but with fewer expectations. We’ll be there if we can, and at the end of the day, no one’s promotion hinges on whether we attend the potluck.

What I am talking about is the military spouse’s career. My own is very chameleon-like. I started as a teacher. When there were no teaching jobs to land after that first PCS, I did the only other thing you can do with an English degree — I wrote for pennies about my experience as a new military spouse. That led to a DoD-contracted writing and editing job and an interest in graduate school. My grandma, as I learned on my recent travels back home, was a career chameleon herself. She worked in the Navy Exchange in Corpus Christi, Texas. She worked her way up from salesclerk to buyer. And, after grandpa’s retirement, she and my grandpa managed condos in Port Aransas — who knows more about hospitality and comfort away from home than a well-seasoned military couple?

The Good Military Spouse: The Support System

Let’s start with the here and now. We have Daddy Dolls, Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Month of the Military Child, milspouse hiring preference, and the Interstate Compact. Dual-military families aren’t uncommon. We have family readiness and base resources coming out of our ears (whether we use them or not). In many cases, snail mail is literally a last resort during separations because there are far faster options (even face-to-face video chatting that would have driven grandma to tears during a deployment). We have GPS and translators on our phones that make navigating new areas much easier.

My grandma and her fellow-generation military spouses had telegrams, snail mail, and the occasional phone call. They frequently went months without word of whereabouts of their loved ones — in fact, no news was good news. Military family support likely looked much different. Above all, they had a survival instinct and they had each other. They leaned on each other. If they were having a hard time adjusting, they didn’t enlist the services of a Military and Family Life Counselor, they vented to trusted friends or just kept a stiff upper lip and swallowed frustration.

The Good Military Spouse in a Nutshell

There are obvious advancements that separate us, but the fact of the matter is that’s sort of where differences start and stop. Good military wives are, at our core, adaptable, resilient and always ready to lend a hand to others before patting ourselves on the back.

I will never apologize for putting energy into supporting my husband because it isn’t just for him. Sure, I want him to love what he does, but supporting him means supporting our military community and those crushing that home front life with my kids and me. So, like grandma, I will show up, support, plug in, adapt and handle things at home like she taught me (with the modern conveniences). If doing that makes me a good military spouse, then I guess I’ve earned the title. We all have.

Kristi Stolzenberg
Written By Kristi Stolzenberg
Marine Spouse

Kristi started writing for Blog Brigade as a new Milspouse in 2008, and all of a sudden, she’s a seasoned (but not overly salty) Marine spouse.

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