(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
I sat cross-legged that summer afternoon on the linoleum tile kitchen floor with my knees pressed against the kick plate at the bottom of the screen door, my forehead was against the screening in the lower half. It was a big, old wooden door with two screen panels between wide wood frames. The screen was metal and the wood had been painted a dark hunter green some number of years before with what was probably a lead based paint, but that didn’t trouble us then. There was a small discontinuity in the weave of the screening that I had been worrying, but Moma had seen me and indicated in no uncertain terms that I should cease. So now I was just making screen marks on the end of my nose. I shouldn’t have been doing that either as I had been told before not to lean on the screen and bend it. We were experiencing a mid summer afternoon that was hot and very heavy with humidity. So heavy, in fact, that beyond my nose and the back stoop there was a steady rain coming down. Out the back gate, in the center of the cement alley was a rivulet of runoff that just cried out to me for splashing. I didn’t know why I couldn’t be out there playing in it. I wasn’t going to catch cold in the middle of a Philadelphia summer. I was a five year old, only child, and currently bored out of my feeble little mind. But, I had to stay put until the rain stopped, Moma said. I had to just wait.
Huge chunks of our lives are spent in waiting. Sometimes. like on that summer afternoon, it is because of some event beyond our control. On some occasions we do it to ourselves to avoid feeling rushed. I was raised in a Military Family. That implies huge amounts of waiting that is never under the control of the family of the service personnel. Furthermore, you cannot, under any circumstances, be late. The latter part sometimes involves some strange manipulations of one’s time. Early on I was taught to count backwards from a due date to allow as much time as I would need to be ready to go, and later to get myself there. It also means that one doesn’t get to all family gatherings, because to return on time might be too iffy.
Every year during the holiday season we seem to have at least one of the Big Holidays that are effected by a storm. I cringe for all of the people caught at various travel terminals waiting for weather to clear. I recognize their discomfort at cooling their heels wherever their trip has been interrupted, but what troubles me is wondering how many are going to miss that all critical report time for wherever they need to be at the end. Even though I have lived in the Civilian World for all of my married life, I still have to have extra lead-time to prevent an unexpected event from making me late. When Walt and I go on trips, I want to arrive the day before we are to begin whatever we have thought to do. We always leave a day at home between expected arrival and our next commitment. It is something that has been ingrained in me ever since I can remember.
It’s not always reciprocated by others, though, even the Military itself. My father was deep sea Navy. We would often take him and his sea bag on board a base, down to the pier and see him aboard, then watch the ship steam out to sea. Once, however, when I was about eight, he was part of a small group that was to be flown out to a carrier. I don’t remember just why, or that I was ever told why, but that was the way the orders were cut. He was to report to the terminal on Coronado Island at a set time. My brother was pre-school age, and it must have been summer because I was there, also. Had it been winter, I would have been in school, but our parents had taken both of us. As we were in Southern California, the time of year is difficult to place. I do remember the terminal being very stark with linoleum floors, hard chairs, no amenities, and very large windows looking directly onto the runway. Each family had a chair or two with the sea bag alongside. The women were all in dresses, as were the girls. Women still didn’t go aboard Base in slacks. The children were expected to sit quietly and wait for the men to be called for their flight. We soon grew tired of watching the planes take off. “How much longer, Mommy?” became a frequently heard question. The younger children would begin squirming until their mother lost her grip and then would attempt to run. Whichever parent was closer, or could react more rapidly, would grab the little miscreant. Mostly, the mothers held the little ones because the men were in uniforms that should not get wrinkles and there was still no perm-a-press fabric. One did learn how to give and get hugs and kisses without wrinkling shirts or messing up creases in slacks or putting fingerprints on cap visors. Though some of us, could be me, learned that fingerprints on visors could be forgiven, but never appreciated, if they were laid on the visor upon returning home. The kids in my age group were mostly glued to their chairs and vigorously kicking their legs. The older ones were standing in small groups and talking quietly. Another thing, one did not speak loudly enough to cause anyone to look in your direction. The morning passed, and from somewhere in her purse, Moma found some crackers. There was a water fountain on the far side of the room. Mid afternoon we were told to go home. The plane would not be taking off that day. We would try again same time, same place the next day. There were two differences the following day: Moma had packed more snacks in her bag and the men were called once, boarded on the plane and returned to us. By then this very bleak room was terribly wearisome and we children were becoming quite irksome. Boredom had set in for the children and worry for our parents. Again we were returned home only to present ourselves on the third day. By now all the adults were spouting every adage they could think of about the situation: Third time is the charm; or There are only two kinds of pilots — young daredevils and the old and careful. Late morning of the third day, a white haired pilot and his crew walked through the terminal to a very large plane waiting right in front of the big windows. Soon the men were called, after one last round of hugs and kisses they hoisted their sea bags and began to head out the door and to the plane. This time we all watched as it taxied to the runway and began its run westward and into the air. We all stood just outside the terminal doors and watched until the plane was out of sight. Dad didn’t come back again until the next spring. That I can place because when he came home, Moms’s precious orange tree was in bloom.
Usually seeing him off was quick. It was the coming home where we waited longer. War ships are large and usually need to wait for tide and harbor pilots to lead them to the pier. Several years ago, I got to revisit a military return when our youngest son came home from Iraq. It was very familiar, but a bit different. For one thing, it was our son not my father. The Marine Corps has a person called the Family Readiness Officer for each deployed unit who keeps families informed of the date and time of their loved ones arrival. When our FRO called with our son’s arrival time we made the nine hour trip from where we live to Jacksonville, NC. The troops were to be trucked from the place of disembarkation to their assigned area on Camp Lejeune. There were several companies returning the same day; and, we were given a window for the arrival time for his company. Between their assigned barracks and office area was a lovely grassy area with the very tall pines that are characteristic of that part of the Carolinas. They provide little shade, which, of course, moves through the course of the day. We moved our blanket several times in an effort to avoid too much sun. The FRO had seen that food, soft drinks, and several activities were available for the families that were waiting. We spent from late morning until early evening waiting for his company to come. The entire time was a wonderful, extended family picnic. Our son’s group was in the last convoy of trucks that day. Then, we waited for them to store their weapons and get into formation. Then, they were dismissed to go to the baggage trucks where they were to collect their sea bags and packs. As with all of these arrivals, the waiting is interminable, but polished in the end with an inexpressible joy and pride. The waiting here is always worthwhile. Since then we have had two other returns for him. One we got to be present and enjoy. The other we had to wait until he could visit us.
If you have a family member or close friend in any of our Military branches I strongly recommend to you the wait you endure to welcome them Home. I don’t know if you will get the picnic atmosphere or the starkness of a parking lot where there baggage is dumped and they jump off trucks, or to watch them disembark from a plane or ship, but it is a high better than any drug induced euphoria.
The last word:
When I suggest to Suzy that she have patience, she usually responds, “How long is that going take?”
Keep your sense of humor.