Army

Celebrating Christmas

Kate's Choice   

Kate's Choice

 

Christmas is here in less than two days. Every year I think about where I've been during the year and where I might be headed in the coming year. I prefer to leave my goal planning for after Christmas though when all the reminiscing about the past year has settled down with family and friends. The Christmas celebration for me is the culmination of the year's activity and time to unwind and let it go.

As an ex-army spouse, Christmas was usually associated with posting time. We would pack up our home early in December and our belongings would be sent to our new posting and then into storage while we waited for our new home. So Christmas was usually spent with extended family or friends while we travelled to our new location. That's army life.

When my then husband left the service we celebrated Christmas at home. It was a lot of fun preparing by baking, buying presents and decorating the tree with my son. We had my sister and her family over for Christmas Day and had a great time reminiscing about the year behind us. Somehow, we never wanted to talk about the year ahead and that is probably why I don't think about the coming year until after Christmas. In the army days there was always the settling in to our new home to be done and learning as much as we could about our new location.

After eleven years of marriage, my characters in Kate's Choice, Kate and Dusty understand the stress separation puts on a marriage and how living away from family can leave a hole deep inside that feels as though it will never be filled. It can be especially difficult at this time of year when the soldiers are serving overseas. My first wedding anniversary and Christmas was spent alone in Brisbane. It was the first year I lived in the city and I found it difficult to make friends. I had to change a few things about myself in order for me to meet new people. I joined as many interest groups as I could and this helped immensely. From then every time we were posted, joining interest groups and looking for work were my priorities.

Kate and Dusty's Christmas after Dusty came back from Afghanistan was difficult. Both had much to deal with personally, and in their relationships. This is the fallout of army life and it puts so much strain on a marriage. If you are with a service family this year extend patience and grace toward them. If they exhibit unpleasant behaviour, it is because there is something deep inside them that they are battling and are not sure how to deal with it. Emotionally they could be fragile. Take the time to listen to them and hear what they are saying. They could be calling out for help. I have been in the pressure cooker and said and done things I wished I hadn't. It was a call for help that those around me understood and I am so glad they practised forgiveness toward me to help me get through that difficult time.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes all we need is a listening ear. Take the time and you might just make a friend or save a life.

Have a wonderful Christmas break wherever you are and whatever you are doing. See you the other side of Christmas. By the way, if you haven't already liked my Facebook page, click here: https://www.facebook.com/authorLauraOConnell/

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Accepting The Invitation

I like getting dinner invitations. It means I don't have to cook and I have company during dinner. Yay! But being the guest means you have to be an adventurous eater and have a sense of humour.

Many years ago when my husband was in the army one of his mates, Pebo invited me to dinner at his home with his wife, Cherry. Frank had been away for several weeks on exercise and I was in need of company. I accepted Pebo's invitation and I was excited about not having to eat on my own. I took wine to compliment the meal. When Frank is away I never cook a roast meal, so I thought about the lovely smells of a roast beef with baked potatoes, pumpkin, onion, carrots, peas and gravy. You know what I mean. I walked up the steps of Pebo and Cherry's home and sniffed the air. Nothing. Not one little whiff of the juicy roast I had expected. Okay, maybe it would be a BBQ steak or chicken. Mmm, nice. That was just as good as a roast.

I followed my hosts into the kitchen. Pebo took the wine and filled three glasses. Still no smells that would make my mouth water. Anyone who knows me, is amazed at how messy I am when I cook. No matter how hard I try I can't help getting food from one end of the kitchen to the other. Pebo's kitchen though, was spotless. So what was for dinner?

Pebo and his wife took me into the lounge room where we drank our wine and all the time I was wondering if I was supposed to bring the meal. I was so hungry my stomach growled loud enough for all to hear. Oh no, I got it wrong! With my face turning red, I asked if I'd made a mistake and was supposed to bring the food.

'Oh no,' Pebo said brightly. 'We're going out in sympathy with Frank, tonight.'

Call me stupid or whatever you like, but did that mean I wasn't eating tonight? Frank had told me there are times when the soldiers on exercise are so busy they don't get time to eat. Oh dear, I knew I should have stopped in my Saturday busyness to eat lunch. Whenever we had people over for dinner I cooked a special meal. Too bad, tonight I wasn't eating, so I gulped a few mouthfuls of wine instead. My head was already going dizzy.

Food that warms the heart.

Food that warms the heart.

'Does that mean we're not eating tonight?'

'No, Laura. I'll go and prepare it now,' Pebo said.

Oh good, food at last.

I took a few more sips of wine and within fifteen minutes, my head was spinning. Pebo came back into the room carrying three plates. I sniffed the air, still no nice aromas. Pebo had a smirk on his face and placed the three plates on the table. He called Cherry and me over. He stood behind a chair at the table gesturing for me to sit. To my horror, the food on the plate consisted of the army ration pack. This had to be a joke.

My fuzzy head fuelled my sense of humour and I sat down laughing. It wasn't until Pebo refilled the wine glasses, sat down and ate with gusto that I realised the dried biscuits, tinned bully beef, dried out cheese and macaroni on the plate in front of me was my dinner.

Pebo and Cherry chomped away as if they were eating the roast beef meal I had conjured up in my mind. I picked at the food and ate what I could. Pebo proudly told me he and Cherry often ate ration pack to identify with the soldiers out in the field. Identifying with my husband while he was in the field left a lot to be desired. I excused myself and went home.

Pebo and Cherry got posted soon after that and we never saw them again throughout Frank's army career, but it will be a meal I will never forget. Have you ever accepted a dinner invitation and it left you feeling less than satisfied or bewildered?

Tribute To Our Heroes

I write this post on the eve of Anzac Day 2012. Whether I agree or disagree with why Australia sent her best men and women to fight wars half a world away is irrevelant. The important thing today is to remember the sacrifice these men and women made believing they were striving for a way of life that meant freedom for the people they fought for.

Thank God for their courage.

Thank God for their courage.

Men and women with big hearts laid down their work tools to answer the call "Your Country Needs You". Prepared to put their lives on the line for others, they were someone's husband, father, son, brother, uncle, nephew, friend or lover, who were out in the muddied trenches with the rats; ducking from the bullets that whistled over their head; not sure when they would find time for their next meal let alone a cup of tea; tired, wet and exhausted as they lived and fought in the rain soaked trenches; men bleeding to death next to them crying out for mercy from the pain of a wound. The women weren't in the trenches, but they dealt with the wounded men and in their other support roles, they died, too. A huge sacrifice. If they survived, most of the returned soldiers lived with nightmares; some without limbs and other psychological problems too numerous to mention.

I'm not sure how and if the human cost of war can be counted. Not only do we need to consider those who have died on the battlefield, but there are those on the home front who have to suffer long after the war is over. In many cases for the rest of their lives. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common among returned service men and women. As a society we need to uphold these heroes and support them in any way we can because it is the leaders of our country who make the decisions that war be declared, not the soldiers. Surely there has to be a better way.

On April 25, my husband and I will gather at the cenotaph with thousands of Australians and New Zealanders to pay our respects. There are many more thousands who celebrate our way of life in their own way on ANZAC Day, too. Whatever way you commemorate ANZAC Day, let's do it so that we do not forget, so this terrible massacre never happens again.

Thank you to all service men and women, your courage is second to none.