The summer military moving season is upon us, which means it is probably time to say good-bye to some very good friends. There will be farewell fire pits, hugs on the driveway, and even a few tears.
However, moving requires cleaning out the pantry and refrigerator, so this otherwise sad occasion may also come with parting gifts.
Admit it; you have a bottle of mustard, a can of cooking spray, a block of creamed cheese, or some other food item in your kitchen that you did not purchase. We know you did not pay for that jar of Spanish olives, did you?
I’m not accusing anyone of being a thief. To the contrary; I’m merely pointing out a unique aspect of military spouse culture: It’s all about giving.
You make friends at each duty station, and even if friendships are brief, each friend bequeaths to you fond memories of afternoons chatting on the patio during deployments, of the time she took care of your dog when you visited your parents, of the night you brought her wine and Dove Bars because she was crying over her husband’s new orders.
But her final gift to you is something that, even though it will last for many months to come, seems so thoughtless, perfunctory and random: that bottle of cocktail sauce that was in the door of her refrigerator.
Receiving a bag of turkey meatballs may seem like an insult, but this simple gesture between spouses is actually quite poignant.
You certainly do not need her half-used tub of margarine, but it is a lasting symbol of her appreciation for your support and friendship. She gave these things to you because that’s what we do — we share travel tips and power tools, hairdressers and babysitters, laughter and tears, the challenges and rewards of military life.
And, we share leftover Shake ‘N Bake.
Your military spouse friend didn’t mean to offend you with that jar of capers. In fact, she tried very hard to salvage the food in her kitchen by concocting strange casseroles and feeding them to her family. She layered them with melted cheese and cracker crumbs to disguise the can of French-style green beans, that pack of hot dogs with freezer burn, and that bag of stiffened mini-marshmallows.
However, her family eventually was fed up with her magical mystery meals, and that’s when she thought of you.
Funnily enough, I can’t remember the countless duds and delights I gave to neighbors and friends before our last eleven military moves. The stress of each move has a way of blurring those details. In my haste, if I gave away old bottles of Worcestershire or moldy blocks of cheese, my sincerest apologies.
Ironically, I have an uncanny memory of the many kitchen items given to me in my 23 years as a military spouse. I never did manage to find a use for them, but I was nonetheless grateful for the cocktail onions my friend Natalie gave me. I was touched by the frozen chicken tenders from Eileen, the maple syrup from Michelle, the grapeseed oil from Bud, and the homemade spaghetti sauce from Mercedes.
Useful or not, I recognized each item given and received for what it was: A tiny memento of our friendship.
So, when you see that bottle of Catalina dressing on your refrigerator door that no one in your family likes, don’t be annoyed. Instead, remember that in our military community, when you give understanding, camaraderie, and support, that is exactly what you will get back.
Well, that, and a jar of horseradish.
Sure, watching your friend’s toddler while she goes to her prenatal appointments can be a pain. Yes, the monthly potlucks can sometimes be a bore. No doubt, getting a phone call from a worried squadron wife right in the middle of the Bachelorette can be really annoying.
But think of it like this: She may have given you a lousy bottle of ketchup that cost only a buck-seventy-five, but the unspoken understanding and support your fellow military spouse offered when you were in need was nothing short of priceless.