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Calling Home

Family. That word conjures up images or thoughts. For some, they think of those they live with, others may think of parents or loved ones outside of their household, while some immediately focus on children and grandchildren. There are living family members, and those we’ve grieved. Whomever or whatever comes to mind, family has a lasting impact. 

Our world has undergone an unthinkable health crisis with the COVID pandemic. Lockdown kept us in the safe confines of our homes with social distancing imposed, as fellow columnist, T. Marie Bertineau, shared in her column, isolation was not the hardest part, to which I agree. My retired parents are social and enjoy their daily outings. This apple fell far from that tree. I worried that they wouldn’t be able to sustain a lockdown as well as I could. 

Anna with her abuela.

In the early days of the shelter-in-place, I remember thinking how grateful I was that my grandparents were no longer living to endure this crisis. They each battled enough in their lifetimes: wars, illnesses, poverty, and racism. Days rolled into weeks and weeks turned into month after month of uncertainty. Soon, I found myself longing for the wisdom of my grandparents. 

My abuela would have undoubtedly helped us stretch our pantry items into delicious and comforting meals so we wouldn’t have to leave the safety of our home for groceries.

Anna dancing with her abuelo.

My abuelo, a WW II veteran, would have remained updated with what was being reported globally, nationally, and locally.  He would have advised his seven children, nine grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren on what he gathered from various sources of media and perceived to be the truth.

My paternal grandma was a single mother of eight, having outlived two of her children and a spouse, a grandmother to twenty-something, countless great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and now, great-great-great grandbabies. She would have reminded us that this too shall pass, but not without some lasting effects. She would have said that fear is always an option, but not to expect something beautiful to come from living in that state. Similarly, my grandma would have reaffirmed that no one is invincible, and ignorance never wins. The entire family would have had homemade sets of masks sent to them. Most of all, my grandparents would have expected our family to look out for one another and our neighbors. 

Anna with her grandma.

I recall going into summer longing for some respite, but seeing hate and racism take center stage. As I stated earlier, these were the things my grandparents endured as Mexican Americans. In an instant, I saw the fear in my children’s eyes as local protests clogged city streets and freeways. Then, unexpectedly, we received word that my mother-in-law died. She was just here and then she wasn’t. My husband lost his mother, and my children lost a grandparent. I knew abuela would have pulled out her prayer candles and kept them flickering from morning until night. 

Throughout the pandemic, I learned how easy it is to become mired down in doom and uncertainty. It is strange how these events can change everything that we thought we knew about ourselves and our family. This was not the time to run, but instead, be still and listen. My comfort with being distant was no longer acceptable. I could hear my grandparents telling me to connect. 

Anna’s parents’ dog ready to answer the evening call.

My children and I have made it an evening ritual for the past year to video call my parents to see them, their dog, and so they can see their grandchildren. Our calls are so expected now that even their dog meanders around them in the evening anticipating the ring of the phone.

Placing a call to my parents on speaker as I drove or accomplished another daily task, was how our conversations previously occurred. They often worked when I phoned them, and it was easier for us to converse without stopping our daily grind. Now, we all sit and actually take the time to see one another, albeit through a screen. Initially, I thought the connection was for my children and my parents, but I make them laugh and I look forward to that each day. That heals my soul too. 

I wholeheartedly feel the pandemic has some lessons in it for humanity. As an educator, I teach my students about social awareness by looking inward first, then using that self-awareness to bond with one another. As a strong family of classmates, we are then able to bless our greater community with our unconditional love and respect. I realized I gleaned that outlook from my grandparents and how they approached life, despite adversity. 

It’s been decades since I hugged my grandma, and over a decade since I laughed with my abuelo. Next year, will mark ten years since my abuela left us. I would love a phone call with my grandparents again. The pandemic has reminded me that despite the years, I still remember their wisdom and what it felt like to be in their presence. I miss my grandparents tremendously and the days of being called their grandchild.

Photo Credit: J.Rodriguez

Anna Rodriguez is a wife, mother, and elementary teacher. She is completing her first contemporary novel set in California’s Central Valley. Family and friendships are important themes for Anna’s work because of the influences they have had on her life. When Anna is not writing or hanging out with her family, she can be found reading or searching for music to add to her eclectic playlist. She will complete her MFA in Creative Writing in the summer of 2021.

Twitter: @solwithinanna

Staying Connected

At one of my recent Veterans Writing Groups sessions we wrote about staying connected as a family both while on active duty and after being discharged from the Armed Forces

One man wrote that current technology helped him stay in touch with his family members via Zoom so he didn’t have to deal with getting reacquainted when he got home. He did relate that his niece was dismayed when he appeared on camera with a gun in his lap. He explained to her that he was on duty while talking to her so had to have his gun with him. When he returned from Iraq she was shy around him until he explained more about where he was stationed and what the Americans’ function was. She relaxed when he told her he didn’t have to shoot at any specific person. He also wrote that he talked with his brother, “in person,” meaning on Zoom, about sports, family news, and sharing jokes. Afterward, he could repeat what was appropriate with other soldiers so it gave them something to talk about besides whether they were going to get mortared that evening or not.

My WWII veteran friend that died in November wrote about being reported missing to his parents when he wasn’t. He had gotten separated from his platoon when he and a buddy did some unauthorized exploring and didn’t know their platoon was moving to a new location, they left without them. He wrote about the fact 70 years later and could laugh, but he also remembered well the angst he caused his officers and parents at the time. He did a few extra days of KP for his exploits as the Army wasn’t impressed with his wandering away from where he was supposed to be. I only knew him as a refined older gentleman, in his 90’s, and have difficulty imagining him as the young cut-up he was. He related that being in the Army during WWII did help him mature a degree so he got along better with his father after he returned home.

A Vietnam veteran wrote about finding it difficult when he returned from active duty to talk to his family about how many countries he had been to as a pilot. They knew all the places existed, but with no familiarity, didn’t have much interest in listening to details about the locations. He said he purposely didn’t talk about the many dangerous close calls he had in the C-130’s he flew because it frightened his mother and there were comments made about that’s what he “used to do,” flying that is. When he tells other veterans his stories they have a better understanding and interest because they often know someone else who has said something similar and have also traveled more than the folks back home. The Brotherhood gets it.

A woman who had been a military wife wrote about how her small children quickly adjusted when her husband was away on duty. When he returned they still wanted only her to answer their every need and whim because that was their routine. It made him feel unnecessary in the household. She admitted that switching back and forth from being in total control of the household to other times not being wasn’t easy. As parents, working as a team was challenging for them for the same reasons. They would get into a comfortable family routine after her husband had been home a while and then he would leave again. The military way of life is not an easy one.

I found that my extensive travel made it somewhat difficult to chat with family and especially friends from my home town. My family was one thing because I sent letters home: a carbon copy to my father, one to my aunt, and one to each of three sisters so they were up to date on my daily happenings and how the kids were growing but they still didn’t have a grasp of my going to dinner in London while they went for a burger in their rural New York locales. At my 25th high school reunion, a free drink ticket was given to the person who had the most addresses since graduation. When I said I had over ten the reaction was that I was embellishing a might. Actually, it was more than that, but most of them had maybe one or two. That was 25 years ago and people were still staying closer to home than they are now, but few families move as often as a military household does.

Any move away from family can make keeping up to date on each other’s daily lives difficult thus creating a realm of unfamiliarity. If you haven’t experienced military life, have you had another separation from family you found you had to work through once you were close again? Share your experiences in the comments.

Sue Spitulnik is an ex-Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at her blog,