Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Today is the Marine Corps Birthday. I thought I'd take a moment to reminisce on my first and last Marine Corps Birthday Ball experience. Ohh, the memories...
Matt had been recalled and returned for active duty 2 years ago in mid October. It had been almost a month since I'd seen my groom. He was stationed in San Diego for this round and due to technicalities of being recalled, I, his wife, was not allowed to reside with him. We scraped our pennies together (literally...he was not paid for over a month...due to "the wildfires"....sounds like a good excuse to us...er not) for me to fly out and spend the long Veterans Day Weekend with Matt.
I found a good deal on a pretty red gown and had it all packed to go. Not being a frequent flyer yet, I was not sure the best way to pack it. So, I carefully rolled it up into a large duffel bag. Haha, I knew it wouldn't be perfectly wrinkle or crunch free, but it actually fit quite well. I even tested it out prior to and it came back out in pretty decent shape. This bag only containing my gown was my carry on. Of course, the first plane I flew on was one of those little tiny air buses. They attached a red tag on my carry on. Oh no! I had a window seat and watched emotionally as they tossed my beautiful red dress disguised in a black sports' duffel bag onto the cart. I continued to watch the poor bag get piled upon with bag after bag, suitcase after suitcase. If my dress did not make it, I had no idea what I would've done. On my next flight, I was able to keep it with me...but obviously, had to squish it up once again to fit in the overhead compartment.
I saw my husband through the glass walls at the San Diego airport. I picked up the pace even faster (though I hesitate to run in airports for security reasons...knowing me, I would be stopped, thus delaying my reunion even longer). I even remember the t-shirt he was wearing. Anyway, we hugged, we kissed, all that stuff, got my luggage, and headed for the car. Ohhh the car. Did I mention we were scraping pennies? Well, another technicality of being recalled is they don't move your stuff or your car out since it's only for a year. We had to pay for a rental. Matt was not acquainted with the area quite yet and had limited time and money to look for a rental. This mid 90's Toyota Avalon looked like a beat up car from a shady used car lot. I wish we had a picture! The interior was ripped apart, and I believe a part of one of the doors was broken. The stench of cigarette smoke didn't squelch our young just shy of 11 month married love! Off to base we went to settle into our humble aboad for 4 days. Humble aboad. We stayed in Matt's barracks room. Matt (along with the rest of the recalled guys, married or not) were placed in the barracks with the rest of the single active duty guys and were placed with roommates of much lower rank. This is another sort of rule that was broken. Anyway, we have to be thankful that those particular barracks were styled so though the roommates shared a bathroom, they had separate little bedrooms. So many things were done "wrong", but God really provided for us despite it all. I stayed with Matt in his room. Yes, we broke another rule...did I mention we were scraping pennies? We couldn't afford a room at the hotel on base. It would have to do, so before I arrived, Matt got an inflatable mattress for us on the floor. You all can picture a super tiny college dorm room with one of those super tiny dorm beds. That's what he had....hence the queen sized airmattress that was squished between his bed and the wall, and the desk, and the wall. The stench and stains of the years and years worth of military bachelor life did not squelch our joy either. It was bad though! Each night we were serenaded to sleep with loud music and other rowdy, partying noises.
Friday night, we got ready for the ball. Matt helped me iron out that wadded up dress...he's so great! I wrestled with my hair, and we followed a couple of Matt's friends to the ball in our limosine, or pumpkin, or beat up rental. Matt and I spent a good amount of time together before it began on one of the couches down the hall in this fancy hotel. We arrived early because a.) we didn't know the way and had to follow and b.) we didn't want to be late. Unfortunately, we didn't talk much because we were both tired (I still was getting used to the time change), and we sat uncomfortably. At least, I sat uncomfortably, and by then, I didn't even care about the wrinkles! I was with my husband! The other guys did the exploring and partaking of the cocktail hour while we sat together and I gladly took a break from the heel walking. The plan was they'd show us the way to the ball room after. Well, the time came, and we followed them. This was a HUGE hotel. We even had to walk outside to get to the ballroom. We arrive and look for our name cards, but they are no where to be found. I can't even remember how they decided where we were supposed to sit, but we sat down with unfamiliar people. Reminder: Matt and these guys were recalled and had only been attached to their squadron and units for like a week. They had training and other check-in things to take care of first. Literally, almost the moment before it started, they realized we were at the wrong ball. We skedaddled out of there and had to run to the other end of the hotel for the correct Marine Corps Ball. I'm sure you can picture us! A few buzzed Marines in uniform, my prince, and me in this dress and heels running through the cold-ish (this was California) outside and through the halls of this giant hotel. Thankfully, the "correct" ball was a couple minutes late getting started, so we were able to zoom to our seats, sighing as we saw our place cards!
Matt and I had a decent time. I enjoyed the traditions of the Birthday Ball, with the memorials, birthday cake cutting, etc. The food was pretty good....and we had tons of cheesecake for dessert! Almost everyone at our table left before then, and we couldn't let perfectly good cheesecake go to waste! We decided to leave as the dancing began. I'm not a dancer (much to Matt's disappointment), and the environment was getting less comfortable.
We took our fancy shmancy mobile back to the barracks to spend the rest of the weekend together. Sunday, we went to church on base. Before church, an older woman came up to greet us. She introduced herself and told us about a food pantry available. I ended up in tears as she looked us in the eye and said, "The money you would use to spend on bread and eggs and milk, spend on something for just the 2 of you." I know, it's silly, but it brought me to tears. We were struggling...we were really struggling...without him being paid and the expenditure to fly out there, the rental car, food, all the things he needed that weren't provided for...things to make and eat food with like pots and pans (though he didn't have an oven, just a stove top and a microwave in the room), plastic ware and plates/bowls (mostly tupperware). Yes, I could have stayed home. However, I needed to be with my husband. We hadn't been married a year yet, and we were facing such separation...and unexpectedly too. So, for someone to reiterate how important it is to do things for "us" touched me to the core. So, we bought a teeny ice cream cake and celebrated my birthday a bit early back at the barracks. Yes, it was stinky in his room, but we enjoyed each bite anyway. We could've gone outside somewhere, but we needed time for just us...away from everybody else. We were a bit worried about Monday. My flight wasn't until evening, and I couldn't very well stay in his room all day. And, what if there was an inspection? He wouldn't exactly pass with a wife in the room. Crazy, I know. There were also safety issues of concern. Well, the Lord provided once again...and they were given Monday off since it was the weekend of the ball. This was unheard of! We were able to spend that day together, worry free...until my flight home.
This was a blessed time for us despite the awfulness of it, and I'm thankful for it. We were provided for in such huge ways as time passed, and now, my Prince Charming is home! Maybe I'll see if I can still zip up that wrinkled dress and surprise Matt when he gets home.
Happy Birthday! Thank you to all service members (of all branches) and family members for your service and sacrifice for our freedom!