Ms. Eversmann's response to this question:
"What does ‘keep the home fires burning’ mean to me?"
Superwoman and the Fire
In 1978, I was 8-years-old when Charles of the Ritz launched the Enjoli perfume commercial with the iconic line, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan.” Anyone who saw the commercial remembers it. The feminist “superwoman” of the 1970s is still seared into my brain with her frying pan and slinky dress. Her various roles throughout the day remind me of today’s Army wives who navigate each day’s rituals and nuances juggling home, work, and often, children. Additionally, the commercial’s capable, competent, take-charge woman represented an element of sacrifice. Even with her 8-hour perfume, she was still expected to be a 24-hour woman. When does she get a break?
So when I was asked what “to keep the home fires burning” means to me, two thoughts immediately came to mind — sacrifice and Superwoman. The historically seminal idiom is just as much in the zeitgeist today as it was in 1914 when the British patriotic First World War song first trended. Today's Superwoman needs to be working 24 hours while her husband is off fighting wars for our nation. Fires need wood and stoking — or they smolder and die.
From 2005 to 2007, I was an unwitting participant in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). I was an Army wife and ostensibly, a Superwoman. The war was a force against my marriage, my motherhood, and, most importantly, my fierce independence. For a moment in 2005, I felt like one of Nora Ephron’s 1962 Wellesley classmates about whom she spoke at a commencement speech. She said, “…We weren't meant to have politics, or careers that mattered, or opinions, or lives; we were meant to marry them. If you wanted to be an architect, you married an architect. Non Ministrare sed Ministrari — you know the old joke, not to be ministers but to be ministers' wives.”
I never wanted to be a soldier, but I did want to be a leader in some capacity– so I married a leader, who just so happened to be in the Army. Did you just hear the clock tick back to 1962? I was raised in a civilian family, had a college degree, and had been a successful career woman. Then, because of 9/11, I found myself steeply immersed in military life. Willingly, and happily, I gave up corporate life to raise our daughter, but was living a shadowed portrait of what an Army wife should be.
My learning curve was steep. Military life is tough on marriage and families. My husband, Matt, always used to say, “It’s hard to be a great door kicker and a great husband and father.” Now what does that mean, you might be thinking? It’s because the Army demands that you love it like a spouse. You live Army. You dress Army. You pledge allegiance to the Army. And unless you are truly a successful polygamist, it’s hard to keep two lovers happy. All the time. When your husband carries a gun for a living, and belongs to a sacred brotherhood of gun-toters, and lives depend on that brotherhood, the home front can take an inadvertent ancillary position. Then throw in an unpopular war or two and voilà, Superwoman must show up.
I didn’t fit into the Army wife culture, at least, not in the beginning. Remember my fierce independence? It ran contrary to the Army esprit de corps where conformity is necessary — to keep the hierarchy in place and ultimately to save lives; independence could appear detrimental — to a marriage, to the unit, to the brigade. Admittedly, I presumed that the Army wanted to make me into an Army wife (whatever I thought that meant). I made harsh value judgements (even though this caught me by surprise because I’d always considered myself compassionate) and I felt that as Mrs. First Sergeant, I’d lost my identity (no one asked me my opinion about the war only asking me what Matt thought).
The rules had changed and no one told me. It was expected that I would keep our home fires burning. Educated to think independently and seek diverse environments, a crisis ensued because there seemed to be a quasi ‘third-culture-kid’ aspect to my life. I no longer fit into civilian life but I hadn’t coalesced with the other Army wives. I didn’t speak mil-speak (the Army has so many acronyms that it really felt like a new language). It was one of my loneliest times even though I had my loving husband and beautiful, healthy daughter.
Knowing that I had to acquiesce to the military way of life or I’d sit in the mud and rot, I decided to embrace the new rules. Humility had not been a strong suit of mine, but I knew that if I was to transcend my hubris and create opportunity, I had to change. That’s what prompted me to learn the difference between a brigade and a battalion and a “cav" unit versus an infantry unit so I could have legitimate conversations with other Army wives.
Things began to change when I surrounded myself with other Army wives who were miracles of courage. They took care of me and supported me. I listened and learned from the other log-carriers and fire-stokers. Superwomen started to mushroom around me. Had they been there before? Of course, they were — at the cookouts, the coffees, the Family Readiness Group meetings — but I was too busy being a spectator in my own life to realize I had to go out and get my own lasso of truth, indestructible bracelets, and red, white, and blue shield before they granted me access into the sorority.
There is an unconditional link between Army wives that I call the Female Predicament. They are the unsung heroes who are left behind on the homefront while their husbands fight on the front lines. Again, quoting Nora Ephron, “Be the heroine of your own life” takes on a huge significance when your husband is fighting on the front lines of a war. Because the sad reality can be that your husband doesn’t make it home or may be wounded in ways that change him physically and or mentally.
As a community Army wives lift themselves up. Often disenfranchised by the Army in the past, Army wives have learned the invaluable lesson of womanhood: support each other. Always. Invite other Superwomen into the warmth of your fire and they will share theirs. Now there are blogs, magazines, and websites geared at military spouses. A Glamour magazine recent cover article featured First Lady Michelle Obama stating that America's servicewomen, veterans, and military wives—Superwomen—need our help with their fires. For Army wives, the narrative that connects their independence is fundamental. It revolves around a shared interest in sustaining life at home and a commitment to something far greater than themselves, our Nation.