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Since graduating from college, and commissioned in the Army in 1985, I’ve moved 18 times. That’s a lot of moving in 23 years. The first few times I moved, I didn’t even need the Army to do it for me. I was single, and, almost all my worldly possessions fit neatly into the trunk of my Honda Civic. Besides, why on earth would I want to buy furniture when I could buy clothes? In 1988, when I married my husband, I’d acquired some furniture, but I didn’t even own a TV. My husband always says that was his lure; he had a TV, VCR, matching dishes, and, the holy grail, a washer and dryer.
As a couple, we began accumulating stuff and we also began to have a family. Our household grew rapidly, in head count and personal possessions. I left the military, and we began moving around based on my husband’s career. Each time we moved, the Army would arrange for packers to come in and pack our things and then movers would transport them to our ultimate destination. Our decorating style could most aptly be described as vintage Wal-Mart with “Little Tykes” and “Fisher-Price” themes throughout the house. I really didn’t care much about our furniture. It was all about function, not form, plus it had to withstand the onslaught of four children all born within five years time. Having nice stuff wasn’t my thing; teething marks, sippy cup spills, errant crayon marks and wayward Cheerios were.
As our children grew, they became neater. However, neater is not necessarily neat. As we began to replace our original furniture pieces, I actually bought a white couch at one point — it didn’t last long. But, in truth, we were actually able to start buying nicer furniture and, “oh no,” stuff I actually cared about.
As we filled our home over the years and completed assignments, I realized I could look at a piece of furniture or art and remember where, when and with whom I had bought it. We have Italian furniture, the price negotiated with our friend Ermanno, in Italy, over a wine filled lunch, an old church pew, bought with my friend Susan at a Kansas City antique shop, and a rug from Afghanistan, bought by my husband when he was deployed there. The rug was brought to me by our friend Tom when he came back to Italy on R&R, sadly, he is no longer with us. All these items, and many more, bring memories; some good, some funny, some sad, all the stuff of life.
I had always prided myself on not fretting too much when the movers came to take our household goods. I figured I could replace or repair anything that was damaged or broken in the process. Somewhere along the way, that all changed. It became apparent to me, as we were leaving Italy in 2006, that I had become the thing I never wanted to be: someone who freaks out about her furniture. What was wrong with me? I felt so materialistic. After all, it was just stuff, wasn’t it?
When I thought about it, I was able to pinpoint why my worries had shifted. I believe that our stuff becomes so important because it takes on another dimension in our lives. In the military we rarely get to “put down roots” anywhere. In the absence of that permanent “home,” our furniture and possessions become a surrogate for that. They are the one thing, other than ourselves, that stay with us as we move from base to base, around the country and the world. They help weave the common thread through our years in the service. They tell the story of our military lives, where we’ve been what we’ve done and seen, even what we hope to do. From Korea to Georgia, from Hawaii to Europe, Washington State to Texas, they are our roots.
We leave a little of our hearts in each place we live and our possessions allow us to take a little of each place with us on our military journey.
Angela Owens is an Army spouse of over 20 years and also a former Army officer. She and her husband, their four children and three pets moved to Brooklyn this past summer from Ft. Polk, Louisiana. The Owens have been assigned all over the country, to include Hawaii, and also in Europe. Angela was born in the Bronx, and raised on Long Island.
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