My grandmother was an Army wife.
More specifically, she was a World War II bride–an English girl who fell in love with an American soldier stationed near her small village. They were married in 1944 in a country church.
They set up their first home within a bike’s ride of the base where my grandpa was stationed. She spent many nights worrying about him riding home in the dark. No lights were allowed because of the ever-present threat of bombings, and riding country lanes in the dark was not the safest of endeavors.
My grandpa was not the only one who served. My grandma actually donned a uniform as well! She participated in the war effort on the homefront.
Their first child was born in England–my Aunt Janet–a child who was not to spend much time at all in the country of her birth. When the war ended, it was time for my grandpa to return to his home–and take his small family with him.
From my grandma’s account, she was well-prepared to leave her family and cross an ocean into the unknown. Before she was wed, her mother helped her to fully realize that marrying an American soldier meant eventually leaving everything familiar to follow him to his home.
So leave she did. And by herself even! She was not able to go at the same time as her husband, so she came over on the Queen Mary, a luxury liner that had been refit for troop transport, and then used to transport a ship load of war brides from all over England. She and her 9 month-old baby girl then crossed the country by train–from New York Harbor to her new home in Sacramento, California.
My grandfather was not able to meet her when she arrived in Sacramento, so she was greeted by her in-laws…all strangers to her. In a small house near the banks of the Sacramento River, her little family struggled as many did during those times when husbands and fathers could not find steady work after returning from war.
While living there, they added a son–my dad.
Her one complaint during those years were all the bugs that found their way into her home. Living right on the river made pesky insects all too common.
I say “one complaint” purposely, because my grandmother was a woman who could always focus on the positive and did not ever seem to let things get her down. It would be 20 years before she had the chance to visit her family in England, but she made the best of her new life in the States, retaining her sense of humor and sunny outlook.
By the time I was old enough to be aware, her marriage was falling apart and she had been working for years at the American Can Company in the San Francisco/Oakland area. She lived alone in a small apartment in a section of Oakland that could, at best, be described as unsafe. Yet she walked everywhere, and got to know the neighbors she could.
Throughout my growing up years, I remember her being at every major event in the life of our family and I was always glad to hear Grandma was coming to visit. Her circumstances never caused her to be bitter, and she was a comforting and encouraging presence.
(This was taken shortly before her health began failing)
I am sad that my children did not get a chance to get to know this amazing lady. She went to be with the Lord on June 4, 2005.
When I think about the kind of military wife I want to be, I want to follow my grandma’s example.