(Note: This is the last post of my 3 part series on Mormons and Military Culture. You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here)
To the world, I can see how most people would think we were the most boring and uneventful people on the planet. I think Mormon culture is great. I love it. It really makes me laugh to think about how we are and how we must look to everyone else. I love being different. Makes me feel unique and special... and we are happy as clams (if clams are happy anyway).
One of the most misunderstood things about Mormons, is that we really aren't as judgmental as people think we are. If we seem aloof and quiet when we are in the minority, we are probably just feeling a little out of place and don't know what to do. We aren't really sitting there shooting dagger eyes at people yelling "sinner" in our heads... most of the time, we just don't know what to say when we are way out of our comfort zones.
I have fallen in love with the Army style of life. I love the community and getting to know people from all backgrounds, races, and cultures. I couldn't care less how people choose to worship, just as long as they are friendly... and a good sense of humor never hurt either! As long as people are respectful of me, I will go out of my way to be respectful of them. I think some of the best conversations I have ever had were with people who held different beliefs than I do. I love to learn about what makes different people tick... what gives them hope.
Now, I have never really felt uncomfortable around people of different faiths. Some of my best friends growing up weren't Mormons and my mom's family aren't members of our faith either (except cousin LoLo -- Love you, Lolo!) and I love them to pieces!! When we would go to California to see them, we were never weirded out that they were "drinking," and they were never weirded out that we weren't. Never mattered to any of us that we were all different and even today we are all pretty close.
I think most of the wives probably thought I was a snob at the first Christmas party Ben took me to for his unit. I didn't say much because I was really having a hard time relating to them. I usually can find common ground with people who have kids... children are ALWAYS a pretty safe subject to chat and joke about. But the women around me didn't have kids. We did talk a little bit about how we met our husbands, but conversation quickly went to subjects that I had no experience in like getting drunk, bar hopping and bar fights, their latest tattoos and other body modifications. I honestly didn't know how to contribute to the conversation, so I just sat there and pretended to laugh when they did even if I didn't get the joke... which I usually didn't. I wasn't judging them... just having a hard time relating, that's all.
I remember feeling sadness and telling Ben I felt I would never fit in. And it took me a while to realize that it was okay. That I would find the right friends, I just needed to be nice to everyone and the right friends would find me. And guess what? They did! I have loads of great Army/ Military wife friends now, and I don't even live on a post yet. The internet and this blog and other blogs have been an amazing way to met wives out there that have similar interests.
I wasn't sure what to expect, and I showed up with little expectations. However, it was a little awkward when all anyone was talking about was how drunk they got last year and their plans for getting even more "wasted" this time. Here I was, all dressed up, all studied up, ready to have some deep and/or important conversation when all anyone cared about was skipping all the formalities and getting down to the drinking. I read online that it was rude to take a drink with you as you walk past the receiving line and into the dinning hall. So I was super confused when there was a bar next to the foyer and most the people there were enjoying drinks and taking them through the line. Was I reading the wrong rules? After getting thrown off by that, I noticed after we sat down that there was two big bowls in the middle of the room. Next to one bowl there was every kind of bottled fruit juice. Next to the second there sat more bottles of alcohol I have ever seen sitting together in my life -- there had to be like 30 different kinds. I didn't have to ask Ben what it was... I had read all about it and heard rumors. "The Grog".
The Grog is some military tradition (at least in the Army) where they mix a bunch of drinks and other stuff together (by other stuff, I mean like socks). Then the soldiers have to drink it and all that. As they were throwing stuff in the bowl they told some story and recited some lines about the importance and symbolism of the Grog. I zoned out after the first few minutes. But I did keep an eye on the non-alcoholic bowl to make sure they didn't try to sneak something naughty in it. Then after all was mixed up, the soldiers and some of the ladies got glasses of it. I had punch and Ben had some of the non-alcoholic grog. And we did a bunch of toasts to people and groups of people. This was my first time toasting... EVER. I see it on TV all the time, but I always wondered if people did it in real life. They do, just in case my fellow Mormons were wondering. By the time the toasting was done, the majority of the people were pretty tipsy. I, on the other hand, was so focused on not vomiting from the horrid smell that wafted from the Grog that I didn't really notice how people were acting out.
Between the horrid smell, drunken soldiers and wives yelling crazy stuff and dancing right out of some of their clothes, Ben and I decided to skip out the rest of the night and come home. I was a little disappointed. I was expecting something totally different because of the impression I got from what I read online. I had a long time to think on our way home (it was an hour drive) and I asked Ben if military parties were always going to be like that. He told me that every unit is different, so we will just have to see.
Many of you have been wondering about my title of these posts: "Mormons and Military Culture... Kind of Like Mixing Oil and Water." Let me explain, now. I love making my own salad dressings. One of favorites is a vinaigrette, with oil and vinegar. I love to watch the different ingredients swirl together and if you use the right seasonings the colors can be beautiful. The only problem is, is that if you let it set for a while, everything separates, the oil and the vinegar and even the seasonings become layers rather than the beautiful tasty dressing I love... until I shake it up once again, that is. That's how I feel a little bit about Mormons and the Military Culture. The military seems to really like it's alcohol, bars/clubs, and other stuff Mormons aren't into... Mormons can seem like the ultimate party poopers sometimes... but they make the best designated drivers! Military culture is like the water or vinegar, and the Mormon soldiers and families are that oil. If the two can learn to be and work together, great and wonderful things can happen. However, if there is no effort made to respect one another that oil and water can just as easily separate into something not as good. We are different, but compliment each other and I think there is amazing potential out there.
The one thing I really liked and respected about the men and women I met that night, was that every single one of them that we talked to respected the fact that we didn't drink. Sure they teased a little, but it was actually pretty funny. And you know what? I didn't judge them either... of course, I was a little scared of when they got drunk, only because I don't know how to talk to people that way. But when I meet them again, we can pick up where we left off, being friendly.
I hope that I have helped some of you understand Mormons a little better as well. We can be a peculiar people sometimes, misjudged and hard to understand. Also, I am really grateful for the opportunity I had to learn more about the Army and the men and women that serve in it. I feel like I have been let in on a little secret, and you know what? I think I have.