Growing up, I remember what it was like to have my father away on tours of duty while he served his twenty years in the Air Force. My siblings and I accepted it as a way of life–we really knew no other. But I do remember envying friends who had fathers at home all the time. I do remember wishing he was home to attend a band concert, fix a bicycle that had broken, or help me with homework. I remember longing for him to be home, so we would be “normal” again.
When he did return, the time always flew too quickly before it was time for him to return to duty.
As a child, I never really thought about what it was like for my parents, especially my father.
My mother did her best to raise five kids on her own, but there were times she succumbed to the difficulties and the loneliness. I remember an argument she and my father had once when he was preparing to leave for another trip. He’d just finished packing a tennis racquet when she said, “Looks like you’ll be working pretty hard with that tennis racquet. I think you like getting away.”
In the last 6 months, as I’ve been reading dozens and dozens of letters my mother and father wrote to each other from 1957 to 1976. Those years encompassed most of my father’s 20-year service. Through their words, I’ve discovered and “experienced” their sacrifice.
Here are a few excerpts from letters my dad wrote to my mom:
11 February 1961
I just this minute got some mail from you–the Valentines. I’m so happy, and they mean so much to me now. Please kiss my darling girls for me. I do think of you–that’s all I do. I get a lump in my throat a dozen times a day, and even tears in my eyes. Believe me.
# # #
2 March 1961
Tonight is movie night but I am missing it. I’d rather write to you! Mainly I’m writing this particular night because I want to this go back on the C-54 which is leaving in the morning. That way you will get it a lot sooner. I hope you are getting mail a lot better than I am getting yours. I have not had a single letter in 13 days. I tell you, it gets pretty hard to take.
How are the children doing? I hope they are not too much trouble to you. Do they speak of Daddy often? I hope so. I hope they will remember me when I return.
I’ll close now, my sweet. I miss you very much. I’ll be so glad to see you again. Please write soon. Be good to the girls.
I love you,
# # #
5 August 1965
It sure was nice talking to you last night. I was kind of worried not being able to get a hold of you. Why didn’t the baby sitter answer? Anyway, I had given up getting a hold of you and went to sleep. I had just dozed off when you called.
Boy, I’ll tell you, Honey, these first two days have been tough. I can’t remember ever being so lonesome for my family. It isn’t that I’ve been gone that long, but it hurts to look ahead to the next ten weeks. Sure seems like a long time now, but I’m sure it will get a little easier as time goes on. It had better, or I’ll never learn anything at this school.
Yesterday about dinner time, I’ll swear if I could have talked to you, I would have said, “Get in that Pontiac and head for OKC.” But I calmed myself down and told myself that this was our decision–stick with it.
I just want to say that I love you and miss you so very much. I wish I could prove it a little more when I’m around home. I know you must miss me, too. (I hope so.) But at least you have the children. (I can hear you laughing at that remark!)
But try to appreciate them. I miss them so much.
Lots of love,
# # #
These excerpts are but snippets of the variety things they wrote about. In a time before email, cell phones or the internet, they maneuvered such challenges as car repairs, taxes, gifts, relocations, health issues, problem teenagers (me), checking account balances, insurance–you name it. But amidst all the mundane goings-ons of married life and parenting, there were many, many expressions of love and longing.
Because they are letters my mother kept and gave to me, most of the letters are from my father to my mother. Fortunately, I know some of what my mother was thinking and feeling both from the few letters I have that she wrote, and the responses my father wrote.
The letters are treasures. I’ve learned more about about who my parents were, beyond just being parents. They were a husband and wife, full of long distance longing and reunions that sometimes didn’t live up to the mountainous expectations that had built up while they were apart.
I regret that it took me so long to read the letters. Why I didn’t is a whole other post . . . or maybe a book. (Working on it!)
There are many kinds of sacrifice, and the separation of families is certainly one.
Thank you for your service, Dad. Thank you for your letters that have shown me you missed us as much as we missed you.
And thank you, Mom. I know it wasn’t easy raising five kids with my Dad halfway around the world. Most of all, thank you for saving the letters and giving them to me.