Many years ago when I was a young mother, I lived on an army base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Having come from Philadelphia and Washington, DC, I was unused to what I considered the lack of sophistication in the rural south. Life on an army base tested my resiliency, taught me a great deal about humility, and helped me to understand the value of community in the most profound ways that I have never forgotten.
In the winter of 1972, I flew from DC, having spent several years in Georgetown as my husband finished his doctoral work in economics. It was a lovely cerebral life but nothing stayed the same, as this was the Vietnam era and we all lived by the roulette wheel of the draft. I arrived on the base, alone with two very sick babies and a husband in the field. I stayed in guest quarters knowing not a soul and with no one to help. There is an old adage in the military that if the army had wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one. It felt a little true back then. I spent a long two days until a soldier recognized a harried mother and drove me to the army hospital and stayed with me as my children were treated. He then checked on us every day until my husband could come retrieve his non-issued family. Yet in a short time I had had my first taste of the kindness of strangers. From there, I would live for four years among women I would never have known in my former life, yet we banded together and took care of each other’s children, had huge communal sleepovers, and attended to the hardship of living much of the time alone in cramped housing with little money for extras. A lieutenant’s pay was scarcely able to support a family, but we did not lack for fun, friendship, and the ability to fix cars and ovens, paint and repair our homes, and manage the red tape of simple shopping and doctor’s appointments. We had to be general contractors and single parents all the while living with the uncertainty and dread of husbands who might be deployed with little notice.