Thanksgiving was always a different holiday for us when we were in the Air Force. Most times we chose not to go home, but celebrating as the four of us seemed boring. So we started taking in strays — those single airmen or young couples who would otherwise be alone for the holiday. Then it branched out to the chapel staff as well. At one point we crammed 25 people into our dining room. And I loved it all. It helped us when we were away from family and it helped make others’ holiday special too.
I know many of you are probably celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time away from your families. And unfortunately, in this time of COVID-19, you can’t really invite others in. I pray you are able to make the holiday as special as you can in the midst of this crazy year. And remember, we all have lots to be thankful for, even when we can’t celebrate with our loved ones.
The Good Chaplain and I, we would like to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. I hope the message below brightens your day. Enjoy.
See you next week.
What are some of your Thanksgiving traditions when you can’t be with family? Share in the comments below.
January 26, 1986, is a day I will always remember. It was the day after the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl. It was also the day the space shuttle Challenger blew up, killing all aboard. But I remember it as the day my in-laws had to rescue us because the Good Chaplain and I both came down with a nasty stomach bug. We couldn’t even get out of bed to feed our three-month-old twin daughters.
The Good Chaplain was not yet in the Air Force Reserves or on active duty. Thankfully, both sets of our parents lived about 20 minutes away and could help. I don’t know what I would have done if we already lived at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
Yes, I do. I would have called on neighbors and friends to help out. This scenario plays itself out all the time in the military world. I received several calls to please watch the children because the parents were sick. And it will happen. You will find yourself as either the caregiver or the person needing care.
As you prepare for life in the military, knowing it means moving away from family, you frequently ask yourself how you are going to cope in a variety of situations without your mom nearby. It’s scary, especially if it is your first move away from home.
As I did when we went on active duty, if you have children, you mourn the loss of weekends away while grandparents watch the kids. You also mourn the loss of family Sunday dinners, birthday parties, and holiday celebrations. It’s hard because you are leaving all the familiar comforts and going into the unknown once again. We actually moved two hours away from family before coming on active duty, so I experienced a few of those feelings before the big move out of state.
Be prepared for traveling during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to celebrate with each side of your family. We never had less than three Christmas celebrations once we got married, and sometimes more. Once we moved away, it was worse because not only were we traveling and lugging all the presents with us, but we had to drive all over the Chicago suburbs from one house to another. Yep, I’m whining about the hardships of being with loved ones over the holidays.
Also, be prepared to visit family for the majority of vacations. Rarely will you go somewhere exotic for a vacation. I remember one summer when we were traveling to the Chicago suburbs, one of the girls said, “We always say we are going to Chicago, can we actually go into Chicago?” Good point. We gave them a day in the city to do whatever they wanted to do. The family was invited but could not make any decisions on what we would see or do. Our nuclear family also discovered a place called Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia, and we made sure we spent some time there every year as our own little getaway.
And family visited us frequently as well. We knew who really wanted to see us and who simply used us to stop en route to other places. For instance, when we lived in Georgia and Alabama, we were the stop on the way to Florida. But when we lived in Minot, North Dakota, we knew they were coming to see us.
Family is important to our life in the military. I think I grew closer to my mom once we moved away. I was more intentional about calling her because I knew I wouldn’t see her for a long while. Plans needed to be made, and schedules coordinated. And money was also a factor since we were traveling further. But you manage to make it all work.
Next time I will shed light on the parents’ perspective on all this.
What was the worst part of moving away from home for you? Comment in the section below.
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When the Good Chaplain became active duty Air Force in July 1992, we had a decision to make. Did I want to find a job or be a stay-at-home mom? I was lucky to have the choice. The Good Chaplain entered active duty as a Captain and, sadly, his salary was the same as we both made in the real world. So I didn’t have to work. But my job was portable. I could write from anywhere. I elected to stay home and try freelance writing.
I had some success as a freelancer, but I didn’t try too hard either. I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of military life and “playing” with my fellow spouses. I did work off and on during the Good Chaplain’s career, but not until the girls were older. In his later career, I thoroughly enjoyed being a kept woman.
The military is supportive today of spouses working outside the home, but it wasn’t always so, especially for senior members of the officer and enlisted corps. In the summer of 1988, when the Good Chaplain did a tour as a Chaplain Candidate at Hurlburt Field in the Florida Panhandle, the deputy wing commander’s wife had a job, but she asked me not to tell anyone because she wasn’t supposed to work. I was flabbergasted. Women worked outside the house for a long time by then. She worked a night job so she could be free to attend to her “duties” as a senior officer’s wife.
Today it is normal for military spouses to work outside of the house, take care of the children, find time to do some volunteer work, and still clean the house. But it’s not easy to find jobs sometimes, especially if you need certification, such as teachers, nurses, real estate professionals, or other such careers.
Another obstacle to having a job or career is deciding whose job has priority. The average time in a location for officers is two to three years. For enlisted it is about four years. Many companies don’t want an employee who isn’t going to be around long. This happened to me twice in the Good Chaplain’s career.
The first time came when he was called to active duty from the Reserves. I worked at a local daily newspaper. I was the regional editor, number three in the newsroom hierarchy. But I was doing the job of the city editor, or number two, for almost a year. Then one lovely Wednesday morning, the bosses called me into the publisher’s office to tell me I was being promoted to city editor in title and pay. ONE week later to the day, the Good Chaplain was offered the position on active duty, something that shouldn’t have happened for at least another year.
The second time I worked at one of my favorite jobs at a weekly newspaper when the Good Chaplain told me we were getting a short-notice move. I’d only been in that job for 5 months. I said no for the first time in our military career. Of course, I did end up going and that’s when I started my career as a kept woman ever since.
I’ve known couples who live separately because of each of their jobs. Many can make it work. But it isn’t for everyone. My philosophy was the military separated us enough with deployments and temporary duty assignments. I did not want to voluntarily separate from the Good Chaplain. That is a decision for each couple to make — the military job or the civilian spouse job or both.
Whatever you’re decision, I pray it is the perfect one for your family. Personally, I advocate for the kept woman approach.
Life in the military is always changing, but somehow staying the same as well. I was going through some items the other day and came across “A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse.” The United States Air Force Chaplain School and several chaplains’ spouses published this little book in 1982. It came about to answer frequently asked questions chaplain spouses had during the orientation course. Wait! What? I never got to go to an orientation course at the Chaplain School. I feel cheated. I had to learn everything by experience, as many military spouses did.
Expectations of the the chaplain’s spouse haven’t changed much over the years. For instance, the primary role is still to support the chaplain and his/her career. What that support looks like has changed in the past several years.
One young wife asked me what I expected of her, since the Good Chaplain was the new senior chaplain of the base. She had a two-year-old, so I told her I expected her to support her husband and take care of her child. I was shocked to learn later that she did not attend the base chapel, even when her husband was preaching. To me, attending chapel and chapel functions counted as supporting my spouse. But I found out that many chapel spouses did not attend the chapel, but went to churches off-base because they offered programs for the children. The population of chapels was trending more toward retirees. But the argument that it did not have programming for children didn’t sit well with me. If they would bring their children to the chapel, the powers that be could justify having children’s programming. It was a “which came first…” situation.
It also seemed to say to other people on base that the chapel wasn’t even good enough for the chaplains’ families so why should others attend it as well?
So I see the role of the chaplain spouse as attending chapel and getting involved in some sort of chapel program, such as Bible study.
Some wives in the book were concerned about how their actions could influence their husband’s careers. This concern was real at one time. Even in 1992, when the Good Chaplain came on active duty, it was understood that the military member was responsible for the actions of his family.
The book answered this question by saying,
A positive attitude and support is invaluable and can enhance your spouse’s performance. Adversely, total lack of interest or support may also affect your spouse’s performance or attitude. –Page 35, A Practical Handbook
Page 35, A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse
No one can tell a spouse that they have to belong to any base group or attend any base functions. But I found involvement on base was helpful to myself and the Good Chaplain. Joining in is a great way to make friends. Often I shared things, without breaking confidences, which the Good Chaplain needed to know to help out a military member. Together, we covered most of the base and made a good team in building relationships.
Next time, I will reveal more goodies I found in this practical handbook.