One of the first things that people note about the military is that there is a rich history, full of ritual and tradition. The uniforms, the medals, the salutes and ceremonies. Ah, don’t we all just love a man in uniform, after all?
Thanks to my friend R, I have learned even more about Army tradition. There are certain colors that should be worn to balls and other formal events, depending on the type of unit (cavalry, infantry, etc). The colors of the roses that are given to the spouses (formerly always female) also mattered, as well as the numbers of the roses that were presented. R could tell you all about these things, and heaven help the unit that doesn’t keep with tradition if she is a part of it.
I’ll admit that I have enjoyed many aspects of this Army life over the years. The snappy salutes, the traffic-stopping respectful pause when Retreat is played on post… I love that the National Anthem is played before every movie on post, I love that there are right and wrong ways to wear uniforms, and I love the spit and polish of “what right looks like”.
However. And you probably knew that was coming, huh?
The Army has a way of making it impossible to have firm, or sometimes even repeatable family traditions of any kind. We are really good at keeping dates flexible (Christmas Day in January? Sure, why not? Valentine’s Day date the day after “Christmas”? Well, ok to that too.) But sometimes it is easier or even necessary to let a day slip past and softly mourn a little bit as we just get on with life. Sometimes, the traditions we would like to keep are those that are lost the soonest.
This year, My G was home for the second Valentine’s in a row – which never, never happens. From the time we were married, he has been at Gunnery, STX, NTC in California, deployed, in Korea, on TDY (temporary duty not earlier named), in the field for something other than Gunner or STX, or simply not home because the unit had stuff going on. We joke that the Army hates our birthdays, our anniversary, and Valentine’s especially. One memorable year on Valentine’s, he received orders to Korea that changed our entire retirement plan – so romantic.
We have had absolutely no romantic tradition, no way to consistently touch base with each other just to remember romance or even friendship. We’ve had date nights (thank God for friends who have loved our kids), we’ve had time that we’ve grabbed together when kids were at school and we had unexpected time off, we’ve had the odd lunch together. We’ve created that time – but really, no tradition at all. Not just for us.
Our Christmas traditions are always ones that can be done without my husband, without the girls’ father. Viewing the lights, making Christmas mints, hanging stockings. No matter what house we have or where he is, there are things that “we’ve always done” but that usually have been created by us and that include him when they can.
There’s a certain sadness to that.
This year, the thought occurred to me that we might be able to really create and keep some traditions now. This post-Army life may, depending on our individual career choices, offer more tradition than we’ve ever been able to enjoy before. It’s been a long time coming, and it feels tinged with a little bit of bittersweet. Some family traditions are meant to be created when the children are young, so they become part of the family foundation when the kids are older or when they bring home their own families. Some family traditions seemingly build upon each other like bricks, forming safe barriers against the world outside.
But here we are, heading into a new life. Kids are older, so are we, and some things have passed their golden time. Our foundations of tradition are, perhaps, not as strong as in other families – but they are there. And now, perhaps a little hesitantly and unsteadily, we are able to consider what we’d like for this post-Army family of ours. And what traditions we want to create, keep, and cobble together from all that we’ve seen and lived through before.
For us, the first step came this year on Valentine’s Day – or, actually, the day before. Everything is too busy the “big day,” so last year we went out to breakfast together on the 13th. This year, we did the same. And as we made our plans, as we realized the Army was not going to be able to call him away this time (or ever again), there was a bright flicker of something besides romance in our eyes –