November is the month of All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead, and Veterans Day. It’s the month when the clocks fall back, and we experience long, dark nights. When the wind blows, it cuts right through our coats like a knife and slithers around our fireplaces’ chimneys and makes the ivy scratch on the side of the windows.
November is election month with political memes springing up all over the Internet. One caught my attention: it spoke of persisting. I like that word persist; it is what our museum does each and every day. November is also Military Family Appreciation month, something we do each and every month: Honor the memories and collect the stories of our military families.
November marks the beginning of the holidays, and families return home to gather around a splendid dining room table -– unless as a military family, you are far away from your loved ones “back home” and cannot join them for the holidays.
In November, as director and founder of the museum, I begin gathering information for the end-of-the-year reports that we as a nonprofit must file with various state offices. I also start writing my end-of-year newsletter, highlighting our museum’s high points and low points, accomplishments and goals.
I’ve done this since 2011, marking years of many donations, and few donations, an engaged board, a less engaged board, many volunteers and fewer volunteers. Still, we persist.
It is not easy running a nonprofit museum-– especially one that is unique in all of the country. Few people understand what we’re doing, and over and over I must explain our mission and our vision and who we are. We are not the Blue Star Mothers, we are not a military museum, and we don’t have guns, tanks, or bayonets.
We do have letters from sons in basic training to their mothers; we have WWI telegrams from the Red Cross notifying a family that their son is missing in action and presumed to have been hit by poisonous gas. We do have hundreds and hundreds of folios and first-hand stories going back to World War II written by the parents, the spouses, and the children of military service members. We have over 800 books covering military and military family topics.
Our museum’s mission is to be a place where people of varying backgrounds come together to share experiences and stories and dialogue with the world. Our museum’s cozy living room has become a place to do just that. We welcome differing opinions and civil engagement. We acknowledge that the word “military” to some people is a real turn-off. We understand that walking into our museum may trigger people who have had unpleasant experiences with the military; we’re pleased that our museum brings happiness to those nostalgic for their past military life.
But… it is hard to continually write grants, to invite foot traffic into the museum, and find support and sponsors for our various programs… Still we persist.
Years ago, on a dark night, I became aware of flashing lights from an ambulance parked in front of a house across the street from us. A dual-veteran couple lived there, and the wife had been extremely sick with service-connected illnesses. As the ambulance rolled away, I saw the husband standing in the middle of the street, alone, and I knew instinctively his wife had died. All I could do was go out there and hug him and hold onto him while he wept in the street. It was a terrible, terrible night.
On another dark night, while my husband was TDY and unreachable, I came home from work to find my beloved 16-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, Maggie, dead in her bed. Part of me was relieved, because we had known it was time to put her down, but had waited, not wanting to. Part of me was devastated that she was gone–my faithful friend of many years.
In that moment of panic and sorrow, I thought maybe I should call someone, tell them about Maggie, and relieve some of the burden and sorrow from myself. But, I wondered, who would I call, what would I say, and what difference would it make? So, I took a deep breath, and pulled myself together.
I made a big pot of spaghetti which was Maggie‘s favorite food, and put some in her dish, I lit a candle and put it on top of her crate. I poured myself a glass of wine and sat and talked to her, while eating my own spaghetti well into the night. I was used to my alone-ness and dealing with things on my own, and if I could not get through this by myself, I’d fall to pieces.
This November, our museum released our short documentary, “Love Song For the Dead.” Its theme is that service impacts veterans and their families long after their active duty ends.
Every day, somewhere in the world, a military family, already struggling with alone-ness, faces a crisis –big or small– – brought on by the virtue of simply being a parent, spouse, or child of a military member. And in that crisis, they manage to pull it together, and get through it. It’s not easy, and the scars may last a lifetime, but at that moment, they pull together and do what they need to do to get through.
Our museum acknowledges and honors all those military moms and dads out there, all the families and extended families who live their lives, weathering crises and the every-day bumps and bruises and carry-on — as military families. Their sacrifice and their service to this nation should be marked in time and history. That’s what our museum does. That is why we persist.
If you would like to help us in our mission, by volunteering, serving on the board, or donating money, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Circe Olson Woessner
Because we understand that people experience and learn things differently and to make our museum more interesting and accessible, it is important that we provide a variety of exhibits and hands-on activities covering many different topics.
Two recent projects combine audio and video recordings and music –and a great deal of creativity.
Last month, we finished shooting our short documentary musical film Love Song for the Dead: Honoring the Sacrifice & Service of New Mexico’s Military Families.
Having never made a movie before, we didn’t know what to expect. As with many things that happen with our museum, however, we lucked into a college intern with a film degree who was looking for a short gig, and we received some grant funding from New Mexico Arts, the RFTW Benevolence Fund, and from Highlands University. We also had several of our board members motivated to work on the project.
The idea behind the movie was to create a ten-minute documentary using stories from service members and their families who have experienced the loss of a loved one and to compose a song using elements from each of their stories weaving them together into one complete work.
In June, over two days, we filmed seven family members and four local musicians at the museum.
Christopher Killion, the filmmaker and a veteran, skillfully blended the narrative and the music together to make a cohesive piece. Chris also inserted images shot in various locations in New Mexico, such as the National Cemetery in Santa Fe and the Sandoval County Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Bernalillo.