It was just another harried Wednesday afternoon trip to the commissary (that’s a military grocery store). My husband was off teaching other young men how to fly. My daughters were going about their daily activities,knowing I would return to them bearing, among other things, their favorite fruit snacks, frozen pizza, and all the little extras you never write down on a grocery list.
My list, by the way, was in my 16-month old daughter’s mouth, and I was lamenting the fact that the next four aisles of needed items would have to wait while I extracted the list from her mouth. And in the middle of all this, I nearly ran over an old man.
This man clearly had no appreciation for the fact that I had only 45 minutes left to finish the grocery shopping, pick up my four-year old from tumbling class, then get to school where my 12-year old and her carpool friends would be waiting.
I knew men didn’t belong in a commissary, and this old guy was no exception. He stood in front of the soap selections, staring blankly, as if he’d never had to choose a bar of soap in his life. I was ready to bark an order at him when I noticed a small tear on his face.
Instantly this grocery aisle roadblock transformed into a human. “Can I help you find something?” I asked. He hesitated, then told me he was looking for soap.
"Any one in particular?" I queried.
"Well, I’m trying to find my wife’s brand of soap."
I reached for my cell phone so he could call his wife, and as I pulled it out he said, “She died a year ago, and I just want to smell her again.”
Chills ran down my spine. I don’t think the 22,000-pound mother-of-all-bombs could have had the same impact. As tears welled up in my eyes, my half-eaten grocery list didn’t seem so important. Neither did fruit snacks or frozen pizza.
I spent the remainder of my time in the commissary that day, listening to a man tell the story of how important his wife was to him; how she took care of their children while he served our country. A retired, decorated World War II pilot, who flew missions to protect Americans, still needed the protection of a woman who served him at home.
My life was forever changed that day. Every time my husband works too late or leaves before the crack of dawn, I try to remember the sense of importance I felt that day in the commissary.
Sometimes the monotony of laundry, housecleaning, grocery shopping, and family taxi driving leaves military wives feeling empty; the kind of emptiness that is rarely fulfilled when our husbands come home, then don’t want to or can’t talk about work.
We need to be reminded at times of the important role we fill for our family and our country. Military wives aren’t any better than other wives, but we are different.
Other spouses get married and look forward to building equity and putting down roots. Military spouses get married and know they’ll spend years in temporary housing, so the roots have to be short for frequent transplanting.
Other spouses say goodbye to their spouse for a business trip and know they won’t see them for a week. Military spouses say goodbye to their deploying spouses and know they won’t seem them for months, or a year, or even longer.
Other spouses get used to saying “hello” to friends they see all the time. Military spouses get used to saying “goodbye” to friends they’ve made in the past couple of years.
Other spouses worry about being late to Mom’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Military spouses worry about getting back from Japan in time for Dad’s funeral.
I will say, without hesitation, that military spouses pay just as high a price for freedom as do their active-duty husbands and wives.