Men - A Widowers Lessons Learned from a Warrior Princess
A widower’s tale is often a sad one, here I refuse to indulge the temptation to do so. No, my friend this is a tale of learning and celebration. I dare say with Zena’s consent from beyond even a chuckle or two. Zena, military wife, and my Warrior Princess, that she was transferred unaccompanied, to the Everlasting Post in Heaven, 4 years and 27 days ago, 23 years 10 months and 9 days since we married, and 24 years, 6 months and 8 days since we met. It is a clear sign of how well she trained me that I remember these figures, and yes I did once make the fatal flaw of forgetting to get a card on her Birthday! Notice I said once guys, the hurt it inflicted was a wound I would not be responsible for again. Not because she couldn’t bear it, she was after all a very tough gal, no it was because I couldn’t bear to cause such hurt. Therein lies the message, for both men and women alike, the woman or man you marry is not the one who changes you, it is their love.
She understood this earlier in our marriage than I did, and she taught me through the love of her example every single day. The trap I think most young couples make is that they set out to change the one they love, and even worse, insist on it in some way, relentless in their pursuit of ‘change’ instead of reinforcing the foundation of their love.
Another example how lessons like these are delivered; is highlighted when during the 80’s the Army was in the “Close the Window of Vulnerability” phase through increased funding of training exercises. This meant almost continual deployments for a Tactical Air Traffic Controller, since each division had three Brigades, doing a deployment exercise at least once a year. For each three week exercise, my Air Traffic Control Element would deploy two or three weeks in advance of the brigade to learn the Airspace, then spend a week or so handling the incoming traffic, the three weeks of the exercise, then a week of working the traffic out, before redeploying to home station. Thus a three week exercise turned into two or three months for us. Add in four month deployments to Honduras, Alaska, etc and you have a year in which you actually spend 92 days on home station.
When I returned from one of these deployments, my Zena was of course waiting when the bus pulled into the unit area, after hugs and kisses with her and the boys she looked me dead in the eye and said “Hold out your hand” I hesitated since she had that tone that indicated I was a bout to be schooled. When I hesitated she said “Go on Hold out your hand Sergeant!” knowing she now meant business I followed instructions. In my hand she placed a nickel folded my hand on it and said. “I have a job for you Mr. Paid Professional; get done with your stuff here and I’ll see you at home.” To which I replied, “Yes Ma’am.” For the next two hours while putting away weapons and equipment I puzzled over this conversation. When I got home, she had sent the boys to our neighbors for ‘care’, and I asked her “What’s this about Mr Professional and nickels?” She looked at me again dead in the eye and told me to wait there, she went in to the bedroom and I figured she had a special nightie or something she was putting on, when she came back out and said “I found your T Shirt.” She opened her robe and there it was, A t-shirt I had bought in jest when I was young, dumb, and single, I had actually worn it a couple of times with good results but stopped when in the early 80’s as gays were coming out of the closet in droves, guys started trying to hand me nickels. I folded it up and tucked it far away and forgot about it. The t-shirt said “Mustache Rides 5 Cents! A paid Professional!”. She then handed me a dollar and said “Keep the Change Big Boy, but you’re gonna earn your keep from now on lad!”. From then on the phrase “Pennie for your thoughts” always got a response from me “They’ll cost you a Nickel”. The nickel also became our ‘signal’ since like most girls I think, she was too much of a ‘good girl’ to be ‘aggressive’ in initiating romper room activities. Since I like most men are thick in the skull as we are, often missed the subtle hints and therefore lost countless opportunities to really please her. She found the way to give the hint since when I came home at the end of the day, and changed out of uniform, if I found a lone nickel on the dresser, I knew I had ‘work’ to do.
The first and best lesson from the Warrior Princess was, draw the line, and know what is what. By that meaning we both agreed early on that there was a line in our relationship we could not cross. For us both it was infidelity. Had there ever been even one instance on either of our parts, it would have been the end. It was in fact the only behavior we would not tolerate. (Note: Family Violence never came up as an issue, in as much as it was inconceivable to me to ever do her physical harm, I suspect if it had that would have been a line crossed as well) If it is so with you, make sure you both know it and then be prepared to hold fast to your standards.
She taught by example for me to consider stuff I otherwise would not have in my duties, as when things came up that had to do with the Military, her first question to me always was “What about their families?” From Red Cross messages to Team Deployments and everything in between it was always her first question. Coupled with her penchant for Greeting Cards, it came ‘home’ to me in Iraq when we suffered our first wounded on Camp Volunteer, I gathered the guys and took a picture of them with a get well soon sign and emailed it to them. The electronic jpg greeting card was born on my camps and we then did them for Christmas and other Holidays for the troops so they could send them to their families at home. There are thousands now of these on someone’s mantle or at there bedside, because she taught me how important this connection was.
Her lessons learned even extended to the layout of our home. Early in our marriage we had a TV in the living room, and we would watch shows and she would try to talk. Not a good plan. Instead of beating me about the head and shoulders, next time we moved, she designated a room in the house as ‘The Lounge’ This room did not have a TV, and was meant for conversation. If our quarters did not allow for this she made it either or, meaning when she needed to talk the TV got turned off and we looked each other in the eye. It did not matter if it was a good talk or discussion of a problem, either way TV was for watching, talking was done eye to eye.
Another of her great lessons was what we called “Listening Louder”, I had told her of an instance in basic training when my drill sergeant was conducting mail call. He was calling out the names but was uncharacteristically speaking at low volume. When one of the troops said he couldn’t hear, Drill Sergeant Jenkins looked up and said “Well Listen Louder!”. She took that to a whole new level as she realized that I listened best when she spoke the softest. It worked the other way as well I might add.
Another common relationship lesson that needs modification ties right in with the last two lessons above, “Don’t let the sun set on a problem” is bunk. Though, it has to be applied carefully. Sometimes it does serve a greater purpose to wait on the discussion, when you can do it calmly. If you know the problem is going to make you both scream and shout, then waiting for a next day perspective can be beneficial. The key here is do not hold the ‘stony silence’ in the interim against the person, recognize their restraint is going to help lead to a solution.
The final lesson learned I’ll talk about today, is “Each Day is a Gift”. We learned in the deployment process and through the losses incurred of accidents, illnesses, etc. That each day we had together was a gift straight from God that deserved celebrating our love for one another. Each time I deployed, and each day I went to work on station or after I retired, when she was awake, (in the Army my days often started very early), we kissed like it would be our last. On days I had to leave early I would kiss my finger tips and gently touch her lips and say I love you. Once in a while it would wake her, but I never missed a day. The last thing we would do at night was a kiss with a sleep tight wish for each other, even when we were stewing about something.
I leave you with three songs that were jointly some of our favorites, when we celebrated Zena’s life, these were three of the songs we used to do so, and hold lessons in themselves for living the day. I hope you enjoy them…