As I stood in line to pay for my neoprene boots at Tractor Supply Store on Black Friday, the dulcet tones of O, Holy Night wafted through the air and transported me back to the evening before, listening to a conversation about the life I married into almost eleven years ago — that of military spouse.
Put four Army Rangers around a campfire, and conversation will inevitably turn to tales of the highs and lows of training. Never combat. Always training. And tales of less-than-ideal parachute jumps are inevitably punctuated with varying degrees of profanity. But in a way, these harrowing stories and colorful language have become dulcet to my ears because many of the stories are now so familiar to me and each of the voices has underlying tones of mutual respect and the bonding of shared experience. Listening took me back to holiday evenings of my childhood spent sleepily listening to the steady and comforting hum of aunts, uncles, and my parents talking in soft voices. That combined with staring into a camp fire made it impossible to think of work, and my stress drifted away on the curling smoke of the fire.
I was an outdoorsy kind of girl long before I met my husband. As a child, I never saw the point of staying at home playing with dolls when there were trees to be climbed or woods to explore. The freedom I felt wandering through the pastures and woods of my childhood and the connection I felt to my father when “helping” him string a fence or tend the vegetable garden are so strong that I still feel more at home in nature than at a party of any kind. My poor mother spent 50 years trying to turn me into a lady, and all she got was a rebellious tomboy in hiking boots.
Now that we are back in the city, I long for the country. The evenings around the camp fire — one with army guys, one with our daughter — were the epitome of my ideal life. I’m not thrilled about the possibility of running into another rattlesnake, but the woods are still where I feel at home.
Last weekend, during one middle-of-the-night trip to the outhouse, I looked up in awe at the stars and forgot why I was outside in the cold — or even that it was cold. On our last morning there, another outhouse visit presented me with an opportunity to see an incredible sunrise. Memories of my 2:00am encounter with a hissing possum make me laugh. Don’t get me wrong — I want indoor plumbing in our retirement house, but I also want the chance to pause life and star gaze. That is my holy night. That is where I feel closest to God.