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Always on the Road…Memories of a Marriage Spent Apart Together

anniverary 200926 Years Together: At Murphy’s of DC

The 1980s super-group Journey had a song called Faithfully. It is to this day one of my favorite songs for though it is about the life a travelling musician the lyrics are quite fitting for a military family.

Highway run
Into the midnight sun
Wheels go round and round
You’re on my mind
Restless hearts
Sleep alone tonight
Sendin’ all my love
Along the wire

They say that the road
Ain’t no place to start a family
Right down the line
Its been you and me
And lovin’ a music man
Ain’t always what it’s supposed to be
Oh girl you stand by me
I’m forever yours…faithfully

Circus life
Under the big top world
We all need the clowns
To make us smile
Through space and time
Always another show
Wondering where I am
Lost without you

And being apart ain’t easy
On this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy
Of rediscovering you
Oh girl, you stand by me
Im forever yours…faithfully

Oh, oh, oh, oh
Faithfully, Im still yours
Im forever yours
Ever yours…faithfully

If your read yesterday’s post you know that we have only spent 10 of 26 anniversaries together.  In those years we have often been apart.  In fact a mere 3 ½ weeks after we started dating I left on a 3 month tour with a Christian singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra.  Fort those that have heard me sing there is nothing to fear as I was the spotlight tech.  In this position I got to sing along without anyone having to hear me as I trained my Strong Trouperette III spotlight on the various soloists and while in Europe on the whole group.  This continued on multiple occasions after we were married during my military career, periods of 6-9 months were common, once a 15 month separation with a three week period together.  From May of 1996 until August 2003 we spent 43 out of 63 months apart.  This did not include the period of my hospital residency and civilian hospital chaplain jobs working many second shifts and overnights in addition to National Guard and Army Reserve exercises, training, official travel or schools.  Of course this put strain on both of us yet somehow we survived.

It is in the times like these that you find out what you as a couple are made of.  Both of us are somewhat independent spirits and though both natural introverts have strong personalities.  At the same time we both see the world through a somewhat warped prism and both have strong senses of irony which is strange because I take my clothes that need pressing to the cleaners.  I think a lot of what besides the grace of God, which the Deity Herself has seemed to has given both of us a lot of, many times in spite of me.

In the course of our marriage we have lived quite a few places and of course I have been to even more.  We were married in Stockton California, aka “Mudville” of Casey at the Bat fame or more recently the birthplace of the drive by shooting and 2500 square foot two story suburban marijuana farms and the highest home foreclosure rate in the country.  Stockton is a great place to be from and a nice place to visit family.  If the economy wasn’t so sucky and the crime rate so high it would be a really awesome place to live only a couple of hours from the San Francisco and the Northern California coast, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe, the California Wine country, Redwood Groves, Yosemite and many historic or natural venues.

That rabbit chase we first set up house in a little town called Eckelhausen Germany in the Saarland when my first unit the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) was based at a little Kaserne called Neubrücke.  Eckelhausen and Neubrücke  were ideal small bases in West Germany during the Cold War.  We lived off base in a small town overlooking a resort lake called the Böstalsee.  The town was so small that it only had a small Postamt (Post office) and one Gästhaus. The people spoke a strong dialect of German that approximated Appalachian English.  Not long after settling there the unit was moved to Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hessen.  We got our first dog in Wiesbaden, the little Wire Haired Dachshund named Frieda, or sometimes “Dammitt Frieda” or simply “little shit.”  In Wiesbaden The Deity presumed to started meddling in my life and renewing a call to ministry that I knew that I had back before I went on tour with Continentals.  I successfully parried the Deity’s call until we moved to San Antonio Texas when I was the Adjutant of the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences.  This was where the Deity really began to rain on my parade and Judy of course was affected as well.  She was supportive of the call to ministry and what we hoped would be the Army Chaplaincy, but really had not signed up for this.  She had in fact signed up to be the wife of a regular active duty officer who would spend 20 or so years in and retire at a comfortable pay grade.  Nope, the Deity had other plans.

Seminary as I hinted in other posts was hell for us.  We lost pretty much everything and it was only the grace of God and the people of God who saw some glimmer of hope in me that we made it through.  Now true, I worked my ass off in school and always at least one job plus the National Guard, often more than one job.  We saw what only can be described as miracles as we fought our way through seminary.  Those are enough themselves for another post.  We did seminary in Fort Worth Texas and lived there and in the Mid-Cities of Hurst-Euless-Bedford.  The entirety of seminary and my hospital residency was spent at the poverty line and we often didn’t know where the next meal, tank of gas or tuition payment would come from.  We then moved to Huntington West Virginia where I was a full time contract hospital Emergency Department Chaplain following my residency.  We thought that Huntington would be the final stop as it was the city and area that my family came from, I being the first born on the West Coast.  That changed in June 1996 when I was mobilized the support the Bosnia Operation.  When that happened my contract was terminated and another minister of the Pastoral Care Department’s Chief was hired.  After the 9 month deployment I went on very little notice for 6 months at Fort Indiantown Gap PA.  This morphed into a civilian position during the transition of the base from the Active Army to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  This position was a yearlong and I was able to move Judy up with me.  Following this it was back to unemployment and poverty in Huntington.

That changed in December 1998 when I was offered the chance to become a Navy Chaplain.  Now mind you back in our courtship Judy said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy, so I did it without consulting her.  Now men this is not a smart move, if I had asked her nicely and explained things she probably would have signed off on it.  However, like an idiot I nearly blew the marriage apart by doing it my way.  I wanted to go back on active duty and the Army told me that I was too senior to go back on active duty.  It was like I declared free agency and was picked up by another team, like going from the American League to the National League.  It was nearly 8 months later that Judy finally relented and moved to Swansboro North Carolina with me.  I really don’t blame her, she had a life and friends in Huntington, in fact far more than me and to move was painful and what I did by not being gentlemanly and asking her was both unfair and stupid.  It is my biggest regret in our marriage. At the same time Judy rapidly adapted to the life of a Navy Chaplain on a Marine Corps base and even at a Chaplain wives meeting helped break into the chapel so that it could be set up for the meeting when a Religious Program Specialist did not show to open it up.  Never underestimate a Navy wife and her best friend and evil twin, though they might contest which one is actually the “evil” twin.

From Swansboro and Camp LeJeune we went to Mayport/Jacksonville Florida where I was chaplain of a guided missile cruiser.  I arrived just prior to deployment and Judy remained in North Carolina until I returned.  This was kind of funny because I was calling the US looking for an apartment from a port call in Croatia.  Making a call I found out that the place I wanted had already been rented.  I can’t remember my exact words when I got this news but be assured that they were a colorful metaphor.  I called Judy totally disappointed on to find it was she who had scored the apartment.  Our stay in Jacksonville was only about 13 months after the deployment ended when we moved to the Hampton Roads area.  It finally looks like we are in the place we will stay after the Navy.

Judy has been with me across country, and a lot of places in Europe to include Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, France, Spain and the UK. She made it to East Berlin as well as Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  We have met many people and seen many interesting things.  Likewise we have experienced the reality of God’s grace in our lives.

Ours has been strange journey to say the least, but every day I know that it is worth it.  Today we had or 26th wedding anniversary.  We drove to DC.  One of the cool things was that Judy is trying out a pair of new hearing aids, which she hopes that Tricare will purchase when the time comes due.  The hearing aids are remarkable.  For the first time in her life she can hear words in songs played on a radio or stereo.  She can hear conversations going on behind her without having to look and she has heard for the first tie sounds like the letter “S” a pen scratching on paper, rain dripping down a drain spout and the richness of her guitar.  It has been quite an emotional day for her.  She is continuing to notice the nuances of sound and every so often she is overcome with all that she has missed over the years.  One of the things that she is discovering as she hears the lyrics to songs for the first time without having to read them is that I am a hopeless romantic.  A lot of my CDs are compilations of my favorite songs, many of which were picked with Judy in mind.   It was quite an emotional ride for both of us as she really experienced what is that hearing people hear on a daily basis.

She is beginning to write about in on her blog, the Abbey Normal Abbess which is on my links menu.  We would both appreciate your prayers as Tricare eventually makes the decision as to whether she will get them.  Tonight we had dinner with Judy’s cousin Becky who works for the US Department of Fish and Game Law Enforcement at Murphy’s of DC.  While on the way there we heard that Michael Jackson had died quite unexpectedly not long after Farrah Fawcett had passed away from Cancer earlier in the day.  I guess that we will remember this anniversary.

Anyway, it has been a long day.  Judy has passed out a while ago and it is time for me to get some sleep.

Peace and blessings,

Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, marriage and relationships, Military

One Tough Poo…Memories of a Fearsome and Fat Wiener Dog

Mommy's Poo“One Tough Poo”  Drawn by Judy

If ever there was a little dog who took life seriously it was a fat little red smooth hair Dachshund named Greta, or Greta-Poo or simply “the Poo.”  Greta was the second of our Dachshunds, or as they are known in Germany Dackels.  We got Greta in 1988 when we were stationed in San Antonio.  We were visiting our friends across the street, Anthony and Kathy and they had visitors who had brought the remnants of a litter of Dachshund puppies over.  They were the products of a red smooth hair and a dappled smooth hair.  One puppy was already spoken for, Anthony and Kathy were looking at a second, and the third, the runt of the litter was in the arms of one of the visitors.

Judy immediately fell in love with the very sweet looking and pretty puppy. Looking at her in the arms of another woman Judy realized that she could not let the other person have the adorable little creature.  Judy immediately made an offer for the puppy which was accepted by the people who had brought her to Anthony and Kathy’s house.  Forty dollars later the puppy was curled up in Judy’s arms.  From that moment on we had the “mommy and puppy mutual admiration society.”  Greta quickly became “Mommy’s Poo.”  Greta’s sister “Miss-T” became the puppy child of Anthony and Kathy.  The two puppies though now living in separate homes still visited each other and played with each other.  Our eldest dog Frieda was sweet to the Poo.  She accepted the new addition to the family and after ensuring herself that Poo was trained appropriately in household security retired at the age of four years old.  Since Frieda lived to be 16 ½ this meant that she spend the majority of her life retired and complaining about our insufficiency in fulfilling her needs.

Poo was the most serious little dog that I have ever seen.  She took herself seriously and though a happy dog always was somewhat dour.  Frieda and Molly who we got towards the end of Poo’s life enjoyed being funny, but not Poo, and her very seriousness made her funny as hell.

Now Poo was a chow hound, in fact if you look under “chow hound” in the dictionary there is probably a picture of the Poo.  Poo seldom met a food that she didn’t like, or at least wouldn’t eat to keep Frieda from getting it.  As a result, though she was incredibly active she was fat.  She should have weighed about 18 pounds, but most of her life she spent between 20 and 23 pounds.  She looked like a red bratwurst and not a hot dog.  Poo’s first sin was a defining moment in her life.  Judy had left a freshly baked chocolate chip muffin on the arm of our couch and got up to refill her drink.  As she went back into the living room she saw Poo, now the little shit, charging off with the muffin toward our bedroom.  The very small and barely four month old puppy had the muffin in her mouth and was moving as fast has her little legs could take her.  Chasing her down Judy got the muffin back, but the incident was defining.  No food was safe if you left it alone where Poo could get it.

There were three other incidents of this particular “puppy sin” that came later in her life which are worthy of mention here. Both occurred when I was in seminary or during my Clinical Pastoral Education residency.  The first was when Judy put a cast iron pan which has the residue of freshly made refried beans on the ground for Frieda and Poo to finish off.  Now most of the time the two little shits would share whatever table food that we gave them.  This time Frieda decided that she did not want to share.  Now Frieda was a very strong animal.  She grabbed the pan by the handled and proceeded to run away with it, mind you this was a cast iron frying pan.  Poo was not about this prize get away.  As Frieda sauntered off with what she believed to be “her” booty Poo chased her down and tackled her.   They ended up sharing.  Another was when the “Free Dog” and the Poo were left at home when we left the apartment to take a blind friend to the store.  Now this was around Christmas and Judy had been baking cookies all the live long day.  Somehow we left the house with a couple of boxes full of Judy’s best on the coffee table.  How the hell we did that I will never know.  The coffee table was well within the range of both of our little shits.  As we pulled into our friend’s driveway we realized our mistake.  I rushed into our friend’s house and said, “Bert, quick, I need your phone.”  This was patently in the days before regular folks had cell phones.  I called our home number.  The answering machine went off, as I waited for my version of Bill Clinton to finish the message I wondered how many cookies the little shits had eaten.  My words, “Dammit, Frieda and Poo, you better not be eating the cookies or you’re both dead.  I’m coming home now!”   I ran back to the car and sped back to our place.  Dashing into the apartment I found that the cookies hand indeed been raided, but neither of our little shits was to be seen.  One was hiding under a table and the other; I think Frieda, was cowering behind the toilet.  I wonder what the look on their faces was when that answering machine went off with my voice telling them to get away from the cookies.  God if we had the money for surveillance cameras, it would have had to have been as funny as hell.  The third was when we had friends over for Saturday night pizza and Star Trek, the Next Generation.  I happen to make a very good large New York style pizza, thank you.  Anyway it was one of those nights when thunderstorms were crashing over the DFW Metroplex.  One of these boomers came over our area that night. I’m sorry, if you haven’t been through a North Texas boomer you have only been in the minors.  This was a cool one, we were under a tornado warning and the storms were bringing lightening, hail and massive thunder.  We and our guests decided to go out to the breezeway between buildings and watch what the Deity Herself was bringing upon the Metroplex in punishment for the firing of St Tom Landry by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  As we gathered to watch the last piece of pizza sat defenseless on the pizza pan which lay on the coffee table which we had all been sitting around.  The piece of pizza was rather large and a combination with pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and God knows what else. As we watched the storm the Poo saw her opportunity.  When I walked back in to grab a beer and I saw the Poo devouring the very large piece of pizza.  When she saw me she simply ate more frantically. It was if she was trying to shove it down her throat.  I called Judy and we both decided that it was hers.

The Poo was also serious about home defense.  She was committed heart and soul to defending the realm.  This was in stark contrast to Frieda who after her retirement would have watched Genghis Khan and his hordes march off with everything we owned provided that they paid her.  Poo on the other hand was devoted to the protection of her home and her mommy.  As a still very young dog of maybe a year and a half she surprised a Pit Bull which had come up on our lawn.  We were at the time living in a neighborhood near my seminary regularly featured on the TV program COPS.   We had gone out to check the mail and Poo came out with us.  The unwitting Pit Bull was in our front yard, which since we were both poor and without time to mow it ourselves it was rather high.  In fact it was higher than the Poo.  Our little shit saw her unsuspecting victim before we did.  She bolted off the porch and tore through the high grass barking up a storm.  The Pit Bull had no idea what was going on.  He couldn’t tell from where the ferocious roar was coming from.  Just before the Poo could reach him he bolted, tail between his legs down the street.  The Poo heeding Judy’s “Dammit  Poo get your ass over here!” returned obediently to the porch, satisfied that she had done her duty.

Well things progressed in the Poo’s life, she ate, got fat, and defended the realm.  While I worked in my parent’s hometown of Huntington West Virginia as an Emergency Department Chaplain in a local teaching hospital’s Emergency Room we frequently spent time with both of my grandmothers.   My parents had long before retired from the Navy in Mudville, sometimes known as Stockton California and it was by either chance or the Deity Herself and Her providence that I landed the job after my residency.  As it were it gave us the chance to spend a lot of time with both in their sunset years.  One day while visiting my maternal grandmother with Frieda and Poo we got ready to leave.  Now both of the dogs responded to voice commands so we would let them walk to the car when we left.  As we walked out the door onto the porch the Poo took off flying down the steps.  She took off across the yard and made a right turn into the side yard.  We heard a “yelp!” and then saw a black chow tearing out from the yard screaming as it raced away from my grandmother’s house.  Following close was the Poo.  It was like a Messerschmitt 109 diving on a B-24 and pumping it full of holes with its 20mm nose cannon.   As the chow raced away, the Poo heeded our call to turn around. As she ambled back our way we saw something in her mouth.  It was a huge mouthful of black chow fur.  Our tough little Poo had taken the fur off of a chow nearly 4 times her size and weight.

Mommy's Poo portrait rs for email“Classic Greta Poo…with every roll of fat shown” Drawn by Judy

After Frieda died in 2001 Poo continued her ways, she stayed active and when we got Molly she was determined to still be the Alpha-Poo but Molly wouldn’t be bossed around and the Poo had to make a grudging peace with the new little shit. Poo remained a fighter her entire life.  She would never back down from a fight and was determined to defend the realm.  We lost her in June of 2003 while stationed in Jacksonville Florida after she had battled cancer and paralysis.  She was one tough Poo.  She was her mommy’s baby and absolutely devoted to Judy.  We do miss her.  She and Frieda were there with us in our toughest times.  Now the tradition of a little red dog defender of the realm is carried on by Molly, as ferocious as Poo but nowhere near as obedient.

So life continues for us, defended by 15 pounds of hell and terror.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under dachshunds, Loose thoughts and musings