Spring Cleaning the Army Way – 1973-76
I find it extremely difficult to concentrate in the spring. When opening a cupboard, I am compelled to stop and clean out each shelf. Chipped dishes are tossed in the garbage, glasses are sorted according to height, and any broken utensil or damaged small appliance is history. Refrigerators, stoves, and ovens must be thoroughly scoured. Every last crumb from the toaster and each wayward drip down the side of the blender is removed. Floors are polished – carpets are cleaned. If I walk into a closet, I have to sift through the clothing that hasn’t been worn during the past twelve months. If it no longer fits, it goes to the thrift shop. The remaining items are sorted by tops and bottoms, long sleeve or short, dresses or gowns, and color-by-color, which, of course, transitions from light to dark. Entire rooms call me to rearrange them. I absolutely love rearranging furniture and derive great satisfaction in knowing that I have successfully achieved the most harmonious grouping between chairs and tables, sofas and lamps, paintings and mirrors. Whew!
I call this unsettling condition the PCS Syndrome. For all of you civilians out there, PCS is the military acronym for Permanent Change of Station, which means that when the Army needs your spouse in a different job, at a different Post, in a different city, state or country, the entire family has to pick up and move. My PCS Syndrome is a product of my thirty years as an Army wife and it hits me every spring without fail. The feeling creeps into my psyche around March and strengthens throughout April and May. If I haven’t acknowledged the tempest by Memorial Day, then, I
become quite crazed in June until every file has been purged, every nut, bolt, and paint can in the garage has been returned to its proper place, and all the clutter in the attic has been reorganized. If I have been diligent, by the Fourth of July, I am redeemed. My life is back in order, my house looks refreshed, and I am ready to begin my next adventure.
Between 1973 and 2003, I moved our family twenty-five times to places as familiar as Washington D.C. and as foreign as Saudi Arabia. We lived in homes as humble as the second floor of a German pig farmer’s house to a magnificent 10,000 square foot residence in Kuwait, complete with a separate kitchen for slaughtering our own goats. I was not the first Army wife to move so frequently, nor will I be the last.
My record for the greatest number of relocations in the shortest period of time occurred while we were stationed in Germany – four moves during our first six months in the country. Doing the math, that calculates to one “take it down, wrap it up, place in a box, ship to it to a new residence, open the box, unwrap your possessions, and put them all back in a new house” – every forty-five days. Did I mention that quite a few of those moves were made without the assistance of my husband?
Our family mantra quickly became, “Bloom where you are planted!” or in the words of my oldest son, “Home is where the Army sends you!”
I married into the Army in 1973 just as the last of our soldiers were returning from Viet Nam. Our country was entering an unprecedented period of peace at that time. The news of draft-dodgers and war protestors on the front pages of our newspapers began to wane. Images of Woodstock and “love-ins” became less frequent. The lyrics in the music of popular folk singers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Carole King, Pete Seeger and Judy Collins shifted to calls for social, political and environmental change. The ethos of our country during the previous two decades, one that sensationalized the wasteful loss of life in an unjust war, began to shift to a more positive approach – one that began to acknowledge the sacrifices of our military and their families.
I was beginning to have second thoughts about being an Army spouse as we drove closer and closer to our first assignment at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The last few miles proved to be an enlightening journey down the Dixie Highway littered with pawnshops, tattoo parlors, liquor stores and cheap motels on both sides of the street. I was relieved to finally turn in through the imposing gates of the famed Army Post, as we drove past beautiful historic brick homes that surrounded the lush green Parade Field.
Decorating our love nest was quite simple since we owned just one bed, one dresser, one kitchen table, and four chairs. Bricks and boards served as bookcases, television stands, and knick-knack holders. Four, two by three, stereo speakers doubled as end tables, and plant stands. A discarded ammunition crate, once sanded, painted, and topped with a sturdy piece of glass, made quite a lovely coffee table in those days. Burnt orange, olive green, and mustard yellow were all the rage in the 70’s and it seemed we were given at least one large appliance in each color as wedding gifts. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon how you looked upon it, my sturdy olive washer and dryer and mustard dishwasher held on long after peach, teal and cream came and went. Our assignment in Kentucky lasted a mere nine months; ending just about the time I had finished making the last set of draperies.
We arrived at our second duty station, the University of Wisconsin, in July of 1974, where the Army sent my husband to pursue his Master’s degree. Protests against the war were still fairly common at UW during our first year there, even though the rest of the country had moved on. So, in an effort to fit in with the other students, my Army husband grew a mustache and abandoned his short military haircut. Looking back at photos from those days is really quite comical considering his regimented undergraduate experience at West Point and his natural military bearing. However, by May of 1976 the need for a disguise was no longer necessary. The shift in attitude away from the Viet Nam war provided a more respectful perspective on the relationship between historic and current military events by both his fellow graduate students and his professors. Our stint in Madison, Wisconsin turned out to be the second longest of our thirty year career – twenty-four months. I actually planted one hundred tulip bulbs during our first fall and was around long enough to watch them bloom the following spring – a rare gift in the life of an Army spouse!