The holiday season is in full swing. Christmas music plays on every radio station. Houses twinkle with lights and festive decorations. And NORAD is getting set to track Santa’s journey. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
However, it’s not exactly wonderful when the military tells Santa to bring you boxes and a moving truck for Christmas. And that’s exactly what Santa brought me for my very first military Christmas. Yes, I was introduced to military life with a Christmas PCS.
I was a MilSpouse for all of 90 seconds when a moving truck drove off with all our belongings two days before Christmas. I looked around our tiny apartment, our last dwelling as a civilian couple, empty but for the nervous excitement hanging in the air. Military life had to be awesome, right? After all, we didn’t pay a dime for those movers to pack up everything we owned. We didn’t have to lift a finger as they lugged all those boxes down to the parking lot from the second story. I was loving it so far.
It wasn’t until we reached our first duty station and checked into a hotel on Christmas Eve that I realized it was Christmas Eve. I scanned the hotel room. Where was the Christmas tree? Where were the presents? Where were the twinkling lights? Where were the stockings hung with care? Where was Christmas?!
Oh, that’s right. Christmas was in the moving truck.
I was a newbie. It somehow didn’t occur to me that everything the movers packed up would be inaccessible for an indeterminate amount of time. I didn’t think to hide essentials in the bathtub during the pack-out so the movers wouldn’t box them up. And it didn’t fully hit me until the next morning that, for the first time in my life, I wouldn’t be spending Christmas with my family, that I was responsible for producing my own holiday cheer.
“Merry Christmas,” my husband whispered as we opened our eyes Christmas morning.
I burst into tears.
Is this what military life was all about? Waking up in a hotel room on Christmas day because we had to wait for our names to move up on the on-base housing list? Wishing my favorite red sweater wasn’t hiding in a storage unit somewhere? Spending holidays away from family? Trying to find a restaurant that was both open and serving a halfway decent Christmas dinner in an unfamiliar town where you don’t know a single person? At that point, I couldn’t care less about free movers.
I was not loving military life one bit.
But after hiding under the covers in my non-festive hotel room for hours wishing I was at my parents’ house eating cookies and drinking eggnog, my husband forced me to get dressed and drove me to the one restaurant he could find that was both open and serving halfway decent food.
Somewhere along the way that night, I began to accept the adventure that would later become one of the most defining attributes of my military life. There I was on Christmas, sitting in a dilapidated bar famous for its annual “Mullet Toss,” a beach hangout where visitors signed the walls with Sharpies. Instead of eating my mother’s Christmas feast and drinking fine wine, I was throwing back nachos and Bud Light. Instead of humming along to light Christmas carols, I was listening to drunk strangers getting drunker. And I couldn’t help but laugh.
Is this what military life was all about? Making the best of a less than ideal situation? Learning to embrace the suck? Finding a way to smile through the tears? Turning a new experience into an adventure?
Maybe military life wasn’t so bad.
And maybe Santa brought me a whole lot more than boxes and moving trucks that Christmas.
Have you ever PCS’ed during the holidays?