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Our Deep Bonds Have Deep Roots

One of the best parts of life as a military spouse is the deep bonds of friendship that form between spouses. At every duty station, I have been blessed by women with whom I have shared the joys and hardships of military life.

These women have helped me through some of the hardest moments in my time as an Army wife so far, and from them I have learned a great deal about thriving as a military spouse.

The stories of nineteenth century Army wives reveal that this bond between spouses existed just as much then as it does now. In some ways, I wonder if these bonds were even stronger back then, since Army wives on the American frontier endured so many hardships together without modern luxuries, which surely strengthened their ties of friendship.

They also learned from each other how to embrace Army life and how to survive all that it threw at them.   

 

Martha Summerhayes and Mrs. Wilkins 

 

Martha Summerhayes, who was introduced in last month’s post, was positively influenced by a fellow traveler through the Arizona desert, Mrs. Wilkins.

Martha recalled in her book, Vanished Arizona, that Mrs. Wilkins “represented the best type of the older army woman,” one “who had been so many years in the army that she remembered crossing the plains in a real ox-team” (Summerhayes, 25).

deep bonds

Martha Summerhayes

From Mrs. Wilkins, Martha learned how to handle the difficulties of Army life with courage and positivity, which will likely be the focus of a future blog post.

But in this post, I want to focus on how Mrs. Wilkins taught Martha to lean on the wisdom of more experienced spouses while learning the ways of the Army.

 

 

Doughnuts in the Desert 

 

In 1874, Martha and her husband, Jack, endured a prolonged and shockingly difficult journey to their Army post in Arizona with the Eighth Infantry (Summerhayes, 22, 24). Not least among their difficulties was their trek across the Mojave Desert to reach Fort Whipple (Summerhayes, 44).

deep bonds

Desert blooms

This monotonous, dusty, dirty journey left Martha frustrated, a fact that she freely shared with Mrs. Wilkins and her daughter (Summerhayes, 50, 45, 48-49). Martha’s frustration was hardly improved by their first camping spot.

The camp did have clean water available, but Martha recalled in Vanished Arizona that she “had not yet learned to appreciate that” (Summerhayes, 46).

However, other than the water, the camp was quite desolate and did very little to raise Martha’s spirits. Jack, on the other hand, thought this camping spot provided the perfect opportunity for Martha to demonstrate her cooking skills for an officer, Major Worth, who was to eat with them (Summerhayes, 45-46). 

Once the tent was set up, Jack sauntered over to Martha and suggested that she show their striker, Bowen, ““how to make some of those good New England doughnuts”” as a special treat for the bachelor Major Worth (Summerhayes, 46).

Martha was dismayed.

The idea of making doughnuts in the desert over an open fire caused her great distress, but she found she could not say no to Jack (Summerhayes, 46).

As she explained in retrospect, all the women she had ever known in New England and even in Germany had completely deferred to their husbands, and so Martha thought that was her only course of action.

But this was not without annoyance. As she wrote:

“I met the situation, after an inward struggle, and said, weakly, “Where are the eggs?” “Oh,” said he, “you don’t need eggs; you’re on the frontier now; you must learn to do without eggs.” Everything in me rebelled, but still I yielded. … “But at that moment I almost wished Major Worth and Jack and Bowen and the mess-chest at the bottom of the Rio Colorado.” (Summerhayes, 46).

With that dreadful feeling that all the other women were watching her and judging her, Martha mixed up the batter for the doughnuts, sans eggs (Summerhayes, 46).

 

But then, the desert for once saved Martha.

 

Out of nowhere, a sandstorm arose and destroyed all of Martha’s efforts (Summerhayes, 47)! 

Before she had a chance to begin the doughnuts again, the kindly Mrs. Wilkins quietly told Martha to abandon all hope of cooking in a desert camp. Mrs. Wilkins advised this on the basis of her own experiences: ““I am an old army woman,””

Martha recalled her saying, ““and I have made many campaigns with the Colonel; you have but just joined the army. You must never try to do any cooking at the camp-fire. The soldiers are there for that work”” (Summerhayes, 47).

Martha began to explain that Jack had asked her to make the doughnuts, but Mrs. Wilkins dismissed Jack quickly: ““Never mind Jack,” said she; “he does not know as much as I do about it”” (Summerhayes, 47). Mrs. Wilkins calmly and gently made it clear to Martha that there were some things only Army women understood, which is very true to this day!

 

Learning from Others 

 

Martha’s narrow escape from a doughnut disaster was a lesson in the mercurial nature of the desert, but mostly a lesson in relying on the wisdom of experienced spouses to guide her through difficulties.

Mrs. Wilkins’s kind, gentle advice saved Martha from embarrassment, and it formed a bond between the two women as they shared the hardships of Army life together.

deep bonds

Historical Army House

In some ways, I believe that reading the memoirs and letters from historical Army wives and discovering all the many commonalities that exist between spouses’ experiences in the past and our experiences now creates a bond that endures beyond the years.

From these women who lived so long ago, I personally learn courage and joy and am reminded to embrace the moment and enjoy this journey of military spouse life.

And to you, my reader, it is a joy to be on this journey with you as we adventure through this life together and as we learn from each other!

 

 

*For more posts about the rich history of military spouses, check out Anna’s M:M Author Page.

 

Summerhayes, Martha. Vanished Arizona: Recollections of the Army Life by a New England Woman. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platforms, 2017. First published 1911. 

 

 

 

 

Author

  • Anna Fitzpatrick Layer

    Anna Fitzpatrick Layer is an Army wife, a mother of two young children, and a historian. Anna met the love of her life, Jacob, while studying history at Cedarville University. Life took her and Jacob in different directions after graduation, during which period Anna obtained an MA in History from Villanova University. During grad school, she and Jacob reconnected and began dating again – even though he was deployed to the Middle East at the time! She and Jacob married in 2016, at which point Anna joined Jacob at Fort Riley, Kansas. In addition to Fort Riley, they have been stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Cavazos, Texas; Fort Meade, Maryland; and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Anna truly loves the adventure of military life and the chance it provides to explore new places! She has found great joy in getting to know other military spouses and in forging friendships by sharing the blessings and trials of military life. In addition to being an Army wife, Anna worked as an online history teacher for several years before becoming a mother. Now, she and Jacob have a three year old little girl, a 6 month old baby boy, and a Golden Retriever who thinks she’s the firstborn child. Anna continues to pursue her passion for history by researching the American Revolution and the Civil War and by collecting (and trying to find the time to read) as many history books as her patient husband will happily move. Besides her love of history, Anna also enjoys playing the harp, baking way too many sweets, studying the Bible, cuddling her Golden Retriever, knitting, and most of all spending time with her family.

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Supporting Our Military Children

Supporting Our Military Children

One thing that has been most important to me, as a military spouse, is figuring out how to best do this life while supporting our children with the changes and difficulties. When my children were very small, there were many times that my husband was away, and I had to parent my children alone.

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