Twenty years ago, while my husband was on a one-year tour in South Korea, I landed a job as an historical interpreter at Heritage Hill State Historical Park in my hometown of Allouez, Wis. There, I found myself working as a “pretend” lieutenant’s wife, and as a schoolmarm, in 1836 Fort Howard.
Growing up in Allouez, my brother and I often visited Heritage Hill. We toured the park while on school field trips. When guests visited, we brought them to the state park and walked through the buildings and viewed the living history. During the Christmas season we especially loved to visit and see the ladies making candy canes, and the blacksmith hammering away inside his fire-warmed shop. We loved buying old fashioned toys and candy at the general store.
It was a pleasure to work at the park in my early adult years. I enjoyed the job so much, that I almost felt guilty receiving a paycheck. Living a parallel life as an actual Army wife while interpreting life on the historic Fort Howard was fascinating to me.
While acting the part of a lieutenant’s wife, I would share with visitors about traveling for weeks along the rivers and Great Lakes to reach my husband’s remote post. I couldn’t talk about Wisconsin, as the territory hadn’t yet achieved statehood.
The meals that the sergeant’s wife made on our lovely wood burning stove were limited to foods that were grown in our gardens, stored through the winters, and purchased or traded with other settlers. I grew fond of cabbage while working at Heritage Hill.
Eventually the summer season passed, and the groups of school children made their way to the park, as I had done when I was younger. If I wasn’t tasked to teach the children about making corn cakes over a small fire in the captain’s quarters, I was teaching them a class in the school house.
For a variety of reasons, I eventually decided to leave my job and join my real life Army husband in South Korea. Since his tour wasn’t sponsored, I had to live on the economy in my own apartment.
I was moving from the life of a lieutenant’s wife in the 1836 remote post of Fort Howard to the other side of the world, to live outside the remote post of Camp Hovey, South Korea. Coincidentally, the apartment I rented in South Korea had issues with heating, so I slept wrapped up in layers of clothes, under several blankets, much like I might have 150 years prior at Fort Howard. I traded my wood burning stove for a counter-top double burner unit. Instead of a hired camp follower washing and hanging my clothes to dry, I washed my own clothes in a small agitator unit, spun them and then hung them on a drying rack myself.
We military spouses live a life of uncertain adventures, and have done so for hundreds of years. We pack our lives into suitcases, crates and packing boxes, leaving one home to blaze a trail to the next posting, wherever that may be.
When we land in the new territory, we miss those we’ve left behind, yet we still reach out, network and make friends in our new location. Thankfully our modern military families have more access to food than the settlers did in newly formed outposts. We can now also pick up a phone and easily call friends, or text them, instead of waiting weeks for letters to be sent by post.
Much has changed for military families in the 200 years. Our sense of adventure, resourcefulness, and supportive military communities still keep us strong, though.
Hundreds of years ago we supported our soldiers as they left home to forge paths into the continental Wild West. Today we support them as they hunker down in the Middle East, hopefully forging pathways to peace in some very tumultuous lands.
Our soldiers’ missions have changed, but we still cheer them on while trying to live our own lives, too. We go to school, work, raise children, make friends, and often move our households. We learn to adapt to many different lands, people and situations.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I had no clue about what my future would hold as an Army wife. Looking back on the last 25 years, I’ve learned a lot, but wouldn’t change a thing.