Looking back, my young life was filled with an endless series of boxes. Yes, boxes. Boxes to pack things up. Boxes to unpack. When you move 29 times, you end up with a bunch of boxes.
As an Army wife in the 1960s and 70s, my mother was an expert at packing. Army life in those days necessitated lots of moving around. She could pack up the whole house in a couple of days. Likewise, I don’t recall ever being in a new house more than three days before pictures were hung on the walls and boxes set out at the curb. Mama was a master mover.
I remember helping unpack boxes. There would be the rush of excitement upon finding a prized toy among all that packing paper. It was like Christmas all over again.
My mother was good at throwing things out. When faced with packing and unpacking an item again and again, you begin to question whether you really need that thing or not. Let’s face it, 29 moves will make you clear a lot of clutter from your life.
I now realize that there were some important life lessons packed in all those boxes. Let’s unpack a few.
- Marriage is a commitment. For a woman raised in a sleepy Southern mill village, following my father all over the globe was no small feat. Mama had to embrace a whole new way of life, leaving her family and friends for parts unknown. She summoned courage she didn’t know she had and followed my father without question or complaint.
Army life was really hard at times. Hard or not, marriage was a commitment that my parents resolved to honor, and together, they made it work.
When other Army wives went home to stay with family during their husband’s temporary assignments, Mama never did. She went everywhere the US Army would let her go. Even if it was only a 3 month assignment, Mama packed up our worldly possessions and off we went. She wanted to be with my father, no matter what.
In a world where marriages fall apart at the first bump in the road, my parents taught me that a commitment is a commitment, even when life is hard. You work at it. You face the tough times together. You talk about it. You love each other through it. You honor the commitment you made.
- Making it home. Some of our assignments landed us in nice locations with good housing. Others left something to be desired. Still somehow, no matter the size of the place or its location, Mama could make it home. After all, the three of us were together and that was all that really mattered.
I remember living for six weeks in a camper while my father was at Fort Bragg for training. We slept on Murphy beds that we folded up each morning in order to walk around the place. It was a tiny little camper, but Mama made it an adventure. I’m sure it didn’t always suit, but somehow, she put a smile on her face and embraced the challenge head on.
- Make the best of it. Just stop and think about it, Mama weathered 29 moves. I was the new kid at 25 schools. Some moves were easy. The neighbors were friendly, the housing, pleasant. Other places left us feeling isolated and unwelcome. In some places, the kids at school picked on me and made life miserable. Still, Mama would greet me at the back door with a hug and a snack, telling me it would be alright. Daddy would come home for supper, and the next thing you know, we would be laughing and eating together, with the troubles of the day forgotten. All would be right with the world once more. Together, we made the best of it.
- Stuff happens. The moving van arrives, only to find that the lawn mower is sitting squarely in the middle of the living room sofa, complemented by a lovely oil stain all over the cushions. On one move, the bedroom chest of drawers showed up with all of its legs missing in action. Several moves later, its companion dresser followed suit and arrived completely “legless”. How about the time when the crate holding all our belongings got soaking wet on a ship crossing the Pacific Ocean? Mama arrived in Seoul, Korea for a year long assignment with the five casual outfits she had crammed in one suitcase.
For all those frustrations, Mama rarely complained. She just shrugged her shoulders and started unpacking boxes. The reality is that things get lost. Things get broken. They are only things. You deal with it and move on.
- Family matters. We moved all over the world without an easy way to stay in touch with those we left behind. Snail mail and the rare, costly phone call were the only options. Still, we never forgot the importance of family. Although we lived far away, we talked about our loved ones, told family stories, and kept them alive in our hearts. When we were able to come home to South Carolina, we cherished those visits. We made the most of the moments we had together with our family. On one such trip, Daddy said something I have never forgotten. I was chattering on about how I could not wait to see my grandparents and cousins once again. Daddy said, “Friends are great, but this is family, and family’s different.” Family relationships are to be cherished, cultivated, savored. Those family connections still run strong for me and I cherish the blessings of a loving family.
- Keep the faith. Life does not always turn out the way you had it planned. Nevertheless, God is still good and He has a good plan for your life. Believe it. Lean on it. Keep the faith and God will see you through the tough times. My parents and grandparents lived that kind of faith. I watched them cling to their faith even when the storms of life rocked their world. Their faith served as their anchor and in turn, they taught me to keep the faith.
As I think of all those boxes, I am reminded of the old saying “Little eyes are watching.” I learned a lot from watching how Mama and Daddy dealt with the joys and sorrows of life. They clung to their values, their families, their faith. They found joy in the little things of life. They were resilient. They triumphed over tragedy. They persevered. They made the best of it and they taught me how to do the same.
It’s amazing what you can learn from a pile of boxes.