My grandmother was a military spouse, not by choice, but by circumstance.
She married my grandpa after World War II and he was promptly drafted into service. I never really knew my grandma even though she passed away when I was in my early twenties because she dealt with dementia that robbed her of most of her personality, then her memories, and finally her ability to function.
So, when I began dating a sailor, I didn’t think about my grandma too much. It wasn’t until my grandpa began talking about his time in the Army and their adventures during that time together, that I was truly reminded of my military spouse roots.
My grandma’s story is the story of so many military spouses throughout history—women who made the most of their circumstances and did truly remarkable things.
Even though I never knew my grandma well, I often find myself thinking of her and wondering what she would do in my position. Thinking about the stories that my grandpa and my mom have told over the years have made more and more sense the longer I’ve been a military spouse.
4 Things I’ve Learned from My Grandma, an Accidental MilSpouse
My grandpa spent boot camp in Georgia. He went there alone. But he wasn’t alone for long. My grandmother showed up in Georgia just a little after, suitcases in tow, and found an apartment he had when he started his training. When she stepped off the train, she had never been in Georgia before and it was the furthest from home she’d ever been. She hadn’t even been able to contact my grandpa to let him know she was coming.
I admire the tenacity of that woman—who got on a train and traveled hundreds of miles to a husband who didn’t even know she was showing up. She was committed to her family and committed to keeping it together, even though it was clearly out of her comfort zone.
Use Your Skills
As a military spouse who has harnessed the internet to build a career with continuity and who can take her work with her, I am in awe of the women who came before me and who were able to start over time and time again without the network or information of the internet.
After boot camp, my grandma followed my grandpa when he was sent to West Germany during the Cold War (she was intent on not leaving his side!) and ended up finding work with the CIA. Before that, she had been an interpreter between interrogators and prisoners at a POW camp holding Germans. When she was in Georgia, she taught high school chemistry.
Her example reminds me not to pigeonhole myself, to be open to possibilities and realize that what I’m doing right now isn’t static—it’s part of a longer journey. And I have time for that journey.
Find the Opportunity Where You Are
My grandpa has often told stories about knocking around post-war Europe with my grandma in tow. It sounds very romantic to me, but I imagine they experienced the same emotions and trepidations that I have. They were 3,000 miles from home in a war-torn country, just a handful of miles away from East Germany and the USSR in a time when tensions were extraordinarily high.
Yet over and over again, my grandpa asked for leave so they could travel around the continent. He even won leave time by competing in strength competitions against his CO. He remembers visiting France and watching people carry home baguettes and staying in a hotel on the edge of a lake in Belgium.
Now that my grandpa is in his very late 80s, those memories remain with him and he often reminds me to enjoy the time that I have now and not wait for a better time.
Remember that Life Goes On
For the majority of us, our time with the military is just one season of our lives. We will be part of it for 4 or 10 or 20 years and then it will be over. Sometimes, I find myself being overwhelmed and frustrated at what the military throws at us. At other times, I’m reminded of the opportunities and exciting things we’ve been privy to because we are a military family.
And many times, I feel like my life is in a holding pattern. During those times especially, I remember that my grandma was able to construct a very full life after her time as a military spouse, with a prestigious career as a chemistry teacher and successful family who was happy and well cared for. That’s comforting and calming to me, especially when I feel like I am falling behind.
It’s so easy to assume that the lives and values of prior generations are drastically different from that of our own. But that’s truly not the case.
The things that bind our families together now—love, commitment, loyalty—are the same things that created strong families then.
The past stories and personal histories of military families can help us learn and grow. We only need to look for the lessons in them.