The Astronaut Wives’ Club

We don’t generally watch network television as it airs anymore, not out of some moral high ground because television is trash (side note: it’s totally trash, and that’s why I love it), but because it always airs when we’re putting kids to bed and emptying the dishwasher and trying to put together whatever broke during the day. For the past eight years and counting, we’ve been off the cable/satellite grid, and we now rely on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu for entertainment. I made an exception for the new ABC drama, the Astronaut Wives’ Club, despite its terrible title. (Shouldn’t it be the astronauts’ wives’ club? And why no apostrophes in the original title? America! Get it together!) 

Why was I drawn in to this new show, after years of catching up and binge-watching after the fact? We live in Houston now, and I have two school-aged children, and so a marginal interest in the space program, at a minimum, seems appropriate. Also, there’s something about a network of spouses that get together based on their family member’s profession. In their case, it was the astronauts, of course. In my case, and for most of my family, it’s the clergy. There is an incredible network of clergy spouses (no longer clergy wives alone, of course, now that women’s ordination is mainstream) here in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, and I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am for it. Some of the spouses are priests themselves. Some have been married to priests for decades, and some are just starting out. Many are married to “second-career priests,” which means that they have had a long marriage, but not necessarily as a clergy spouse. The Diocese of Texas has large enough numbers that there’s a “critical mass” with enough people and resources to form a good-size community. A few of us laugh at the same horribly inappropriate jokes, and some of us have been in this gig just long enough to have a healthy dose of cynicism, while still (I hope) retaining enough sensitivity and a soft underbelly for the important work of our spouses.

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After the terrible events of last week, it was the posts from other clergy spouses that shone out from the shouting pundits and the depressing statistics. One friend reminded us: “What shall do we do in the face of unthinkable darkness? Remember that you are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Shine light into the world my friends. Pray for the victims’ families and friends. Pray for Roof and his family and friends. Pray for all of us. And then stand up, dust off your knees, and go shine some light into your corner of the world. Make a new friend today. Give a bigger tip to your server. Surprise someone with a cup of coffee. Call an old friend. Be light. Shine in the darkness. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Another friend posted this prayer from our bishop: “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your Martyrs of Charleston. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, sheep of your own fold, lambs of your own flock, sinners of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.” The same friend also posted this from Brené Brown. Yet another clergy spouse posted a goofy picture of herself in middle school, because she was just too sad to say anything else. 

These are my people. These friends struck just the right tone last week. Instead of wringing their hands or spouting off what they didn’t know, they shared what they did know, which is plenty. They knew that we’d all dust ourselves off and maybe put on some under-eye concealer and go to church on Sunday morning, because that’s what we do. We go to church, and then we might come home and read the newspaper, where some of us read that it was the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney’s wife who called 911 on the night of the awful events in Charleston at Emanuel AME Church. The New York Times reported on Sunday (6/21/2015): “At about 9, gunfire and terrified cries shattered the evening calm. In the pastor’s office, Mr. Pinckney’s wife, who had been waiting patiently with their younger daughter, turned off the lights, locked the door, hugged her child close and called 911.” We clergy spouses have sat in those offices and waited with our children. We’ve stretched out behind the desk and maybe slipped off our shoes after a particularly long coffee hour. We’ve dusted off the family pictures on his desk with the hems of our shirt, and taken inventory of the travel mugs that should be taken home and washed. We might not work there, but we’re there a lot. A community of clergy spouses is damn near necessary to understand both the enormity and the mundaneness of it all.  

And so … what does it look like when another group of spouses get together to support one another while their family members go off and do something important? We might not be sending anyone off to the moon, but we’ve sent them off into the very real world of death and love and budgets and people. My curiosity got the best of me while I tuned in to ABC last week to watch the astronauts’ wives. 

But I have to admit, a big draw for watching the ABC drama was for the glorious mid-20th-century food. Highlighted in Bon Appétit, the colorful conglomerations scream post-war housewife. In one scene, a reporter asked one of the wives, “Is that a family recipe?” She deadpanned, “yes,” even as she was reading the instructions off of the package of lime Jell-O. This is the generation that gave us potato chips on casseroles and the Tunnel of Fudge bundt cake for the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in 1966 (would anything be named that today??). Ten years after the space race, the world was introduced to 1970s Weight Watchers recipe cards. It was a glorious time for disgusting food.

I was a little afraid that the Barefoot Contessa’s summer pudding with rum whipped cream (from Family Style) would turn into a similar monstrosity. (You knew this had to get back to Ina at some point, right?) I was so wrong. Even though this looks like something that could have come out of the June 1964 edition of Ladies’ Home Journal, it does not have the artificial colorings and flavors that our foremothers used. Instead, it’s all berries and sweetness and bread and goodness. It may look a medical school experiment gone wrong, but it tasted delicious. We could all use a little more summer berry pudding with rum whipped cream in our lives.

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And even if you’re not into summery berry desserts, do something nice for someone else this week. If you happen to know a clergy spouse or someone else who might have a weird supportive role to an even weirder job, open a door for that person, when his or her hands are full with kids and backpacks and the stole that was left at home by accident. Smile, instead of scowling, when she re-introduces herself to you when you’ve already met her three times (or better yet – remind her of your name and wear a name tag). Sit next to him when nobody else seems to know what to say to him. Be that light on the hill.

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