The drive on the California freeways was harrowing as I tried to control the tears of goodbye and the ache in my heart as my stomach churned with “morning sickness.” To think my husband had not been allowed to take me to the airport, turn in the rental car, and see me safely board to fly home seemed like an unbearable burden. My emotions were ragged, and my weak faith hidden from me on the trek.
Nothing about growing up on a small farm in Ohio had prepared me for anything that was happening – not flying, not driving on freeways, not handling rental cars.
But that wasn’t what was handed to me.
After arriving home, I started the agonizing process of adjusting to living under my parents’ roof again. They were gracious and protective and there was no other place to be with a baby on the way and alone, but I had spent time living independently and I was different as I came back.
My husband would be in training in California for nearly a month and each day he would call on the phone and we would talk (often with long pauses) as I insisted, they really could not assign him to duty overseas when I was pregnant. I was so young and despite knowing history had required that of other couples many times over, my emotions were in charge and that was not of concern to me.
That last call near the end of February was the hardest. We knew it would be the last one and we couldn’t find enough words to describe how our hearts were crushed. Neither of us wanted to say goodbye because it sounded too final, too fatal, so we agreed we would use the Spanish word, hasta luego , meaning “until then.”
Our long-distance bill for those short weeks totaled a whopping $200 and back then that was unheard of. The phone company called to see if we wanted an extension to pay for it.
What lay ahead was 13 long months of uncertainty during which my husband would face danger and I would bring our first child into the world.
Waiting is hard.
Waiting costs something.
Waiting is sacrifice.
The months of waiting were filled with writing letters every day on both our parts. We would never have chosen to be expecting our first child thousands of miles apart, but the anticipation of that new life growing within me became the focus and the hope that pushed back the fear that could easily engulf me.
My days also meant adjusting to my changing body and the uncertainties a first-time mother experiences. There was no ultrasound pics to assure the condition of the baby or when it would first be born. My doctor changed the due date three times starting with late July and ending with the beginning of September.
I did some student teaching, spent time helping my mother with canning, preserving, and freezing things from the garden, sending unique boxes of goodies to my husband in the hope they would arrive in good condition, and writing letters about what it felt like to feel our baby move. We talked about names as well and I struggled each night to fall asleep.
When my husband sent me a small reel-to-reel tape recorder so we each could exchange tapes to hear each other’s voices, I was so blessed. It had been months by then and I was aware I was frantically trying to recall exactly what my husband’s voice sounded like. It was hard to imagine it seemed to be less clear in my memory as we went along.
My tape recorder was invited into the delivery room by my doctor when the time came in mid-August to meet this new addition to the family despite objections from the nurses attending him. As a result, the first cry of our new baby, a son, would be recorded and sent for him to hear about a week later when the package would arrive.
The biggest surprise came a few days later when I was called to the nurses’ station to take a phone call. My husband had received news of our son’s birth from the Red Cross and stood in line to be able to use the short-wave radio relay system to hop across ocean and land to the United States where a short-wave radio operator placed a phone call to me. I was stunned and the nurses all sweetly disappeared to leave me with privacy to talk.
Privacy? That was funny given that I needed to speak in short wave language using words like “over” and “out” and every short-wave operator halfway around the world was tuned into the conversation. Even so, hearing his voice again for the first time in six and a half months was the sweetest sound.
From the time our son was born until my husband returned our letters focused on how much we loved and missed each other and what it would be like to be a family of three. I shared our son’s milestones and sent photos and small reel-to-reel tapes, but none of that eliminated the reality that danger and potential death was a part of my husband’s daily life and I knew that as well. One evidence was how difficult it always was to go to sleep or get back to sleep after feeding our son.
I also had a calendar where I marked a big X on every day that ended because it meant we were closer to my husband’s return.
Waiting is hard, costly, and a sacrifice. My husband was missing all those milestones of our son.
Finally, in late March I received the phone call I longed for letting me know my husband was safely back in California. He told me he would be returning March 26 and the arrival time was listed for 6AM. That year it also happened to be Easter Sunday morning.
I could say the wait was over, but on that morning when I went to the airport in a new yellow dress my mother had helped me sew, I once again waited. I waited for the plane to arrive and then I waited for him to appear in the plane’s door. He was the very last person to get off the plane.
We would have 30 days leave to begin our family life before the next duty station, but the lessons we learned in the first three years of marriage, living together only nine months of that together and not all at one time changed us both forever and taught us much about waiting practice.
Some of those things will be in the last of this short series – Waiting Practice Part 3.