At seven in the morning, the summer sun was already shining hot and bright. I found space among the passengers on the train platform. My husband, Francis, hastily parked my luggage at my feet, inadvertently nicking my toe in the process.
“Ooo, sorry Hon, but I’d better get to work … call me when you get to your mother’s.” He leaned down to give me a quick kiss good-bye, wearing his khaki uniform — buttoned, tucked, pinned and polished. In 22 years as a Navy wife, I’ve become quite accustomed to good-byes, but this one felt different.
I observed the other passengers waiting, and drew conclusions about their lives. A sleepy student, a hip grandmother, an arrogant businessman, a frumpy divorcee. It dawned on me that they had taken notice of Francis’ uniform, and deduced, “A military family.”
The uniform that I scrubbed ink stains out of, ironed countless times, hung on the back of the kitchen door, and often took for granted, had defined us for more than two decades.
The uniform dictates that I am a military spouse and our kids are “military brats.” It is a sign that Francis has dedicated his career to military service. It tells a tale of duty, deployments, separation, transition, challenges, hardships, patriotism, pride and adventure. The uniform speaks to the strength, resiliency, and courage of the people who wear it, wash it, and hang it on the back of their kitchen doors.
At our wedding in 1993, Francis was a young Navy Lieutenant and I was brand-new attorney. Within two years, we rocked our baby boy, Hayden, in base quarters in Monterey, California at the Naval Postgraduate School. In another couple years, we were in rural England, where Anna was born by an Irish midwife, and where Francis drove a beat up Fiat on dark, winding roads to stand the watch. A few years later, we were in Virginia Beach, where Francis completed a sea tour, three shore tours, and a year-long deployment to Djibouti, Africa while our family grew to include our youngest daughter, Lillian.
After a three-year adventure in Germany, where Francis worked at Africa Command, we found ourselves at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, where we could see dolphins, frigates and destroyers in the Atlantic waves just outside our base house’s kitchen window. Now, in Rhode Island at the Naval War College, we watch our children use their skills as military kids to succeed in high school and college.
A rooster suddenly crowed from behind a house across the tracks, bringing me back to the present. I gulped hard, remembering that at the end of the month, after 28 meaningful years of military service, Francis is retiring from the military.
“Where do we go from here?” I wondered, squinting at the sun’s reflection on the tracks. Francis and his uniform were long gone, and I was there, just another passenger on the crowded platform. Is this what it’s like in the civilian world?
“Stand clear of the yellow line, fast train approaching,” blared from the loudspeakers. Instinctively, I gripped my heart, as a flash of metal and momentum blew by, sucking the air from my chest and clearing the cache of my wandering mind.
With newfound clarity, I realized that our military identity lies deep within our hearts, not in outward signs and symbols. In a month, Francis’ uniform will be stored in the back of the hall closet, but our family will always be military, through and through.
The Number 95 arrived right on time, and as I stepped off the platform and onto the train, I knew that our military life was not coming to an end. We are on to the next stop as our journey continues.