From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul


My religion is loving-kindness.

The Dalai Lama

It was 1971, and I was a senior in college. About two months after I started dating George, the man I was going to marry, he came over to my parents’ home and asked if I minded if he joined the National Guard. The Vietnam War had been going on for several years. I didn’t approve of the war but I only took part in one antiwar protest, a silent walk to a local park to hear a few speakers, and I never really gave much thought of him being activated if he did join.

George left for boot camp and schooling in March 1972 and returned in July. I was busy with student teaching and trying to finish my degree. We continued on with our lives, and George was never called in to serve in the war. He remained in the guards, and I supported him because the money was good and I could tell that he really enjoyed it.

In 1991, when the Gulf War broke out, I was really nervous, but luckily it ended in pretty short order. He said that, had it gone on a few more days, he was certain that he would have been activated. Before we knew it, he had been in for thirty-two years and was the first sergeant for his artillery unit, a job he really enjoyed.

Several legislators proposed that the retirement age for the military be dropped to fifty-five. We loved the idea, and it would only be another three years before George turned fifty-five. I figured that I could stand the wait— after all, I had managed to survive this long.

In November 2003, rumors flew that his unit was to be deployed. It was true, but he was not included. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was happy because he wasn’t going and because he had just retired from his full-time job. We would finally be able to spend more time together. Four days later, he came home from a meeting and told me that they had added another E8 position. I knew what that meant: My husband was being deployed. I’m too old for this, I thought. And so is he.

I had a broken finger, a cast on my hand, and my fifty-two-year-old husband was leaving me by myself. The good-byes were extremely difficult.

I went to work after he left, but I wasn’t sure what to share with my high-school students. I was reluctant at first to tell them what was happening. I wanted my professional life at the school to remain separate from my personal life. That didn’t last long. I felt a need to talk about what was happening, and, to my delight, the students were extremely supportive and fully understanding.

A few students had relatives or friends who were now over in the Middle East, or who had been there, and there were some who had family members who would be leaving soon. I found out that sharing was very therapeutic. They talked about their feelings about the war, and I shared stories about George, who I now called the “old man in the desert.” Whenever I found a student who had a relative being deployed, I gave them a “service flag” and a pin to wear. It made me feel good, and, hopefully, helped them to know that I understood what they were going through.

My colleagues were also very supportive. I had a habit of sending Tootsie Roll Pops to my husband, and his unit gave them out to Iraqi children. The librarian thought this would be a great project for the student assistants. I asked my classes to donate pops and to drop their loose change in my Tootsie Roll bank. The librarians decorated a box in the library, and I would check to see the progress each day. It was so overwhelming. Before we knew it, we had more than four thousand Tootsie Roll Pops, as well as other types of lollipops and Tootsie Roll Midgies. I mailed out eight large boxes full of candy, and the following Monday, we received another donation of a thousand more!

The students were wonderful—they rose to the occasion. They made the time that George has been away a heck of a lot more bearable. Next school year, we are planning on collecting school supplies and soccer balls, and my students have promised to stop by and ask about my “old man in the desert.” I love working with high-school students—they amaze me, they keep me young and help me forget that I am “too old for this.”

Diane Proulx

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