At some point in a marriage, a military spouse faces a delicate dilemma: How to incorporate her partner’s military awards, sword, deer head, bowling trophy, stereo speakers, bar lamp or autographed sporting equipment into the home decor.
In nearly 24 years of marriage to my husband, Francis, I’ve learned that solving this domestic quandary involves compromise, diplomacy and, when all else fails, trickery.
After each of our 11 moves, I set about making each new house our home. The vast majority of the unpacking and home decorating was left to my discretion as the work-from-home spouse, and I always made a sincere effort to find spots for the treasured belongings that would make each member of our family feel comfortable.
Sometimes, however, I had to prioritize. After our move from Germany to Florida a few years ago, I was unpacking a box labeled “master bedroom” and came upon an interesting item.
Despite the fact that Francis is squeamish about blood, has never hunted and is afraid of my kitchen cutlery, he bought himself a full-sized reindeer pelt one night at a German Christmas festival. He was not quite sure why he made the purchase, and admitted that it might have been motivated by the half-dozen mugs of mulled wine he’d consumed that winter evening. But, he insisted, he must’ve had a perfectly good reason at the time.
After finding the pelt in the moving box along with our prissy floral bed linens, I wondered how it would fit into our new bedroom’s decor.
On one hand, I thought displaying the enormous hide might add the Nordic charm of an igloo — all we would need was an ice machine and a dog sled to give our bedroom a real Tundra vibe. On the other hand, I knew Francis might take the Eskimo theme a bit too far — turning the thermostat below 50, sleeping in a parka and offering to massage me with whale blubber oil.
I shuddered at the thought, and stuffed the reindeer pelt under our bed.
A few days later, I found the hide spread out in the middle of our bedroom floor like a fresh kill. The dog took a few sniffs and stayed away from the strange flat beast in case it might suddenly attack.
Several times, I hid the pelt in hopes that Francis wouldn’t notice, but he always did, and put the wild animal skin right back in the middle of our bedroom floor. If I tried to reason with him, he declared quite simply, “I like it,” and wouldn’t discuss the matter further.
While there have been many battles worth fighting in our marriage, I knew that this was not one of them. In his 28 years with the Navy, he brought home countless souvenirs and memorabilia. Some items were special enough to become a permanent part of our decor. Others had a short time on display before being relegated to a cardboard box in the garage.
There was the airplane propeller, the English cricket bat, the Yemeni sword, the German beer stein, the Middle Eastern vase, the Korean chess set, dozens of Navy plaques and framed certificates, and scores of African items from his yearlong deployment to Djibouti — wildebeest horns, warthog tusks, woven baskets, tribal warrior figures, Masai clubs, fertility masks, bongos and carved wooden animals.
For husbands like mine, these items were more than just clunky, dust-gathering souvenirs. The items represented experience, virility and adventure. Despite the fact that Francis had no sober memory of its purchase, I knew the reindeer pelt was his manhood splayed out on our bedroom floor for the whole world to see.
The hide stayed put for a few months before Francis conceded that it clashed with the rest of our stuff and agreed to store it for a future man cave. Three moves later, the pelt is still in a box.
In the meantime, I won’t sneak the hide into the trash or slip it into a Goodwill donation. I’d never throw away Francis’ manhood just because it doesn’t match the bedspread.
Besides, the pelt is a little reminder of my husband — it doesn’t say much, it lays around a lot and it sheds.