Homefront Journal: Our Own Foreign Country

Many military spouses have shared thoughts on the deployment experience,  which is notable for its moments of extreme highs and lows, heartbreaking departures, fraught communications and, ideally, a loving reunion. But what about all the moments and years in between that make up the life of a military family? Here, in an occasional series (“Homefront Journal”) chronicling the many seasons of a tour of duty, poet Lisa Stice (Uniform,2016) shares her thoughts on arriving at a new station, and what that means as a mom, wife, and writer. – Editor

by Lisa Stice (poet, Marine Corps wife)

“And even though we are in our own country, we feel like we have come to live in a foreign place”

Since my husband and I have been together, we haven’t lived as much as three years at each duty station. The pick-up-and-move lifestyle is a difficult one. Right when friendships are deepening, right when we’ve nearly unpacked the last box, right after we’ve nailed a new picture to the wall, the PCS order comes. When kids and pets enter into the mix of it all, it especially gets tough.

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Our last duty station was at Camp Pendleton, and we lived in south Carlsbad. Our little dog made the move there from Virginia when he was 12 weeks old, so he still considers himself more of a California dog. Lover of cool, rain-free days. Friend of every dog and person we met on our walks, and we went on so many walks. We’d take different routes, walk to different places because we had sidewalks everywhere.

Our daughter was born in California. Going out in the stroller all around the neighborhoods a few times a day was just part of life. She was patron of the Zoo and Safari Park, the trails of Balboa park, the beaches and lagoons. She took swimming lessons, even outdoors in February. She went on outings with her friend, Max. Grandma and Grandpa, just five hours away, spent many weekends with their only grandchild. She was spoiled with easy access to good weather, things to do and lots of people. We were all spoiled, which made the transition of this most recent PCS all the more difficult.

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Beyond adjusting to high temperatures and humidity, we’ve gone through (are still going through) a lifestyle adjustment and culture shock. With every move, I expect to learn how to adapt to our new station. In northern Virginia, I learned driving at certain times of day to certain areas might mean something that should take 30 minutes on the road would take three times as much, and I learned how not to get lost while changing Metro trains, and that parking always costs a lot of money. In California, I learned how to manage a dog and an infant in a three-story townhouse and how to get the trash to the dumpster with a dog leash on one wrist and a stroller handle in the other hand. I knew this move to the deep South would bring challenges, but I didn’t anticipate how difficult those challenges would be.

First came the thunderstorms that sound like the earth is being ripped apart; my dog’s calming treats, snuggle vest and prescription antianxiety drugs will never fully stop stice3his pacing and panting during those days he’s convinced the world is coming to an end. Then, it was the mother’s broken heart when my daughter realized her days would be spent mostly at the house, and she’d pull her swimsuits from the drawer and cry, lamenting the loss of swimming lessons and splash parks. My daughter has adapted the most. The discount and grocery stores excite her, now that she’s forgotten the zoo and museums. We’ve come to accept the lack of sidewalks and the weather that keeps us indoors most of the time.

 

Still, there are some things a person just can’t get used to. Because my husband works in an area of base that was just ranges a few years ago, we live quite a way from the other Marines. We’re in an area newly inhabited by a small number of Marine Corps families, in a town with not even a small motel to welcome people passing through. It’s the knowing we are unwelcome that is most difficult. I will never adapt to people staring at me like I’m insane or people responding with “Why are you telling me that?” when I chat in line at the grocery store. My husband and I will always be taken aback when someone in our neighborhood tells us how much he/she hates the military “moving in and taking over.” Like we’re occupiers of a foreign country. And even though we are in our own country, we feel like we have come to live in a foreign place with the rebel flags, no friends, family thousands of miles away. I want to say, “I didn’t choose to come here,” but I don’t say anything.

I don’t say anything, but I do write.

    *     *     *


stice_uniform_coverAbout the author

Lisa Stice is a Marine Corps wife. It’s difficult to say where “home” is, but she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog. She is the author of a poetry collection, Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016). You can find out more about her and her publications at lisastice.wordpress.com and facebook.com/LisaSticePoet.

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Get There Soon: Settling Down After a Nomadic Life

Reviewed by Terri Barnes (Author, Air Force wife)

Before I heard about Sarah Smiley’s latest book, I used the words of her title in a conversation about my new hometown, where my husband and I moved when he retired from active duty last year.

“We’re not from here,” I said, “but we got here as soon as we could.”

The next day I was introduced to Sarah’s new book, Got Here As Soon As I Could: Discovering the Way Life Should Be. It was not the first time Sarah’s words about her military life encapsulated my own. In her columns and books, she’s been doing it for years.

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Sarah’s family and mine are separated by a few hundred miles and more than a decade. She found her forever home in Maine. Mine is in South Carolina. Her children are growing, and mine are grown.

Yet, we have much in common. We’ve both moved around a bit. We’re homefront veterans of multiple deployments. We’re military brats turned military wives and writers of the military experience.

Part of this experience is finding a home, choosing a place after a lifetime of having our place in the world chosen for us. Sarah and her husband, Dustin, live in Bangor, Maine, and plan to remain there after Dustin’s upcoming retirement. Some of the columns in Sarah’s new book pay homage to their adopted home state and the reasons they adopted it, but the book is more about the qualities of home than the location.

Like Sarah’s previous three memoirs, this one is told in excerpts from her syndicated column, drawn from her own life and the lives of her husband and three sons. Her other books are mostly about marriage, deployment, and parenting, all with a military flavor. She makes readers cry by baring her soul and her own insecurities. She makes them laugh out loud without resorting to punchlines or hyperbole. Sarah’s seamless writing and compelling stories are all here, but her focus has shifted. Her family has reached a turning point common to all military families, the transition into civilian life, but her book isn’t a “how to.” No tips here on choosing a forever home and putting down roots in five easy steps.

It’s a “hope to” for a nomadic culture seeking a sense of place. Sarah’s story of falling in love with Maine gives military families assurance that home is out there, waiting to welcome us after a lifetime of wandering.

She expresses the dilemma of those who have lived everywhere, yet are from nowhere: “Ironically, the one place that has ever really felt like home for me is the one place I can never actually call ‘home.’ I’ll never be a Mainer, always ‘from away.’”

Here, in my new corner of the world, the term is, “from off.” No matter how long we live here or how much we love it, we’ll always be from somewhere else. In spite of this poignant truth, Sarah’s stories indicated that the Smiley family can be at home in Maine, even if they’re not Mainers.

While reading Got Here as Soon as I Could — and you should read it — you may feel the attraction of Maine, because honestly Sarah makes it sound like a little slice of heaven. But her words hold more important attractions: love and marriage, a boy and his dog, neighborhood and family, a man and his coffee cup. This book is a celebration of the qualities and affinities with which a family can transform a strange town into a home, no matter where it is.

Get there soon.


Buy Got Here as Soon as I Could


 

About the Author:

Navy wife Sarah Smiley is the author of a syndicated newspaper column and of four memoirs: GOT HERE AS SOON AS I COULDDINNER WITH THE SMILEYS, I’M JUST SAYING, and GOING OVERBOARD.

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In 2014, Sarah was awarded the American Legion Auxiliary’s prestigious national Public Spirit Award.

Sarah has been featured in Parade Magazine (Mother’s Day cover feature), The New York Times Magazine (“Confessions of a Military Wife“), O Magazine, GoodHousekeeping, Military Spouse Magazine (cover feature) and Newsweek.


 

About the Reviewer:

Terri Barnes is the author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life and is the special projects editor at Elva Resa Publishing.

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A well-respected columnist, Terri is the writer and creator of the weekly Stars and Stripes column Spouse Calls, which first appeared in 2007. Now published in print editions worldwide and online, Spouse Calls serves as a voice for military spouses and families, through personal stories, incisive interviews, news analysis, and interaction with readers. Terri has been a member of the Washington, DC, press corps and has contributed to several other books about military life. Her work has appeared in Air Force/Army/Navy TimesThe Huffington Post, and Books Make a Difference, as well as newspapers, magazines, and base publications in many of her adopted hometowns around the world.

Terri’s expertise in military life comes from long experience. Her father was a Vietnam veteran and career military man. She married her Air Force husband, Mark, in 1985. They have three (redheaded!!) children, Will, Jessie, and Wesley, born in military hospitals in Texas, Guam, and Arizona, respectively.

Terri  is a cum laude graduate of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she studied journalism. She and her military family have lived in eleven states, two foreign countries, and one U.S. territory.