by Michele Sabad
     I grew up on military bases because my father was in the Army. I’d love to say that my father’s mother, the only grandmother I knew, was a “military” grandmother, but I cannot. I never thought of her as a “military grandmother”, and I doubt she would have described herself that way either. She was a thrice-widowed prairie farm wife and school teacher who, when I once asked, “Did my grandfather (who passed before I was born) fight in the war?” replied, “No, farmers grow food and are too important to go die in war.” I was shocked; I thought soldiers were the most important. But my father didn’t want the farm life. He wanted to join up, but he needed his mother’s permission being only 17. Reluctantly, my grandmother did sign the papers, and the stage was set for my own military path as an army child, air force wife, and now air force mother.
     My grandmother? Despite reservations, despite not understanding a peacetime army life with families of “camp followers” attached, (she’d lived through 2 world wars, after all), Grandma was dutiful and wrote regularly since of course we never lived nearby. They were letters to be read by mom at the supper table, with news of cousins and aunts and uncles about whom my brothers and I had no recollection. At least I, being the oldest, did remember meeting my grandmother and her new husband when they visited us in Calgary before we went to Germany. Three years later, a posting to Goose Bay, Labrador had her letter asking, “Why is the army up there? Will you live in igloos?” By now, I was expected to write Grandma back myself, and a lifetime of routine correspondence began.
     It was like having a pen pal who lived in another world, a window to a life that my parents seemed to understand, but was foreign to me. Fields of crops always looked the same: wheat, canola, whatever. Like Air force and Army to my grandmother!
After Goose Bay, a posting back west meant a road trip when I was 12 to meet all those strangers called cousins and aunts and uncles. Thank goodness for Grandma, the matriarch, and those letters of preparation. Our ‘outsider’ army family was always a reason for a huge reunion farm picnic. Extra attention and as much cookies and pie as we wanted. “Grandpa Bill” always slipped us money. Relatives could be alright, we discovered, despite their strange ways. Strange. For example, Grandma said I was her favourite grandchild (I still have to count on my hands to remember how many she had), because she, 1. liked girls better than the boys, and 2. I had brown eyes. “But Grandma”, I remember exclaiming, “You have blue eyes!” Of course I could understand why girls were better than boys, but eye colour?  “Yes, I do, as do most of my grandchildren”, she said, “that’s why I prefer your brown ones.”  Thinking back, I think Grandma told each of her grandchildren a similar, if different story about why they were her “favourite”.

     Grandma and I continued our letter writing after Dad was posted east to Petawawa (now that I think about it, another reason I was a favourite – the constant letters.) To high school for me and one brother. Yes, Grandma came to my high school graduation, but in those days, the Ontario school system had an extra year of high school if you were streamed for University. I graduated Grade 13 the same year my brother graduated grade 12. He wasn’t “streamed”, so it was his legitimate high school graduation also, but Grandma didn’t believe that. She only gave me a present. We were tolerant of Grandma, though, and all our relatives and their lack of understanding about our military world.
I married. I went to University. I had children. (2 boys, to Grandma’s consternation.) I lived pretty close, just 3 hours away, for almost seven years on one of my husband’s postings. Grandma was widowed again, but still in her own home, in town now, with a large prairie garden. I wasn’t allowed to weed, as she knew I couldn’t tell all the plants apart.
     She told people my Air Force husband was in the army. She baked pies from crabapple trees and made jelly from the raspberry bushes, straining out the seeds. She bought gallons of French Vanilla ice cream just for me. We still wrote letters. By the time my husband was posted away, Grandma had moved to a care home. Her handwriting got shaky, but the letters continued until the end. I kept some of them.
Now I have grandchildren myself. I hope each one becomes my favourite, like I was to her. She wasn’t what I would call a “military” grandmother, but I forgive her that. Her lack of military understanding taught me much.


  1. Michelle Y. Green says:

    So, did I win a patch or pin?

    On Sat, Aug 1, 2020, 6:58 PM The American Military Family wrote:

    > americanmilitaryfamilymuseum posted: “by Michele Sabad I grew up on > military bases because my father was in the Army. I’d love to say that my > father’s mother, the only grandmother I knew, was a “military” grandmother, > but I cannot. I never thought of her as a “military grandmother”” >

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