27 Memories for 27 Years That Linger Bringing Joy to my Life

Author: Linda Ambard

Ambard Family Portrait

  1. Eloping to Reno, NV on November 27, 1988, three days after Thanksgiving. Phil was upset Thanksgiving because of how my father was treating me (I was the first person EVER to get divorced in our family—total ostracization.) Phil didn’t care how people treated him, but it bothered him if people messed with me. As we drove back to Mountain Home Air Force Base (MHAFB) from Boise, Phil said, “We should get married.” We had already covered that ground…my answer was always yes. This time, he added, “as soon as possible.” He picked me up from work (I worked all night long at the gas station) and he thought we would drive to Jackpot. Getting married wasn’t that easy. Apparently one needs a wedding license from Wells, NV. We arrived at the courthouse 15 minutes late. We drove on to Reno. Did I mention there was a raging snowstorm and we arrived back at MHAFB one hour before Phil was supposed to start the NCO prep school? 
  2. The total shock people expressed and still show over the two of us eloping =’s priceless. People assumed I was pregnant.  I was not.  I just knew I was better with Phil than apart and he made my life exciting and full.  For two super traditional reliable people, we did it right.
  3. Lagoon- Our first real date. He asked me out 19 times before I finally said yes.  I wasn’t counting and it had become a game to me, but he was keeping track.  It wasn’t until he told me he wouldn’t ask me out again if I said no that I had a wake-up call.  Phil was a chicken to touch me. He kept waiting for me to make the first move—as if! I am very old fashioned. After sitting close to each other on all of the rides, he finally kissed me—Fireworks.
  4. The first time we ran together was the last time we ran together for 22 years. It crushed Phil’s ego he couldn’t outdo me here. Laugh.
  5. Working to have Alex and Tiger. The prayer was for two children, but the chances were 5% for one child in the first year after having major surgery to have them. I had my tubes tied after the oldest three.  While we were okay with being mom and dad to Patrick, Josh, and Emily, I looked at what a great father Phil was and knew I wanted to grow our family.  Alex and Tiger made us one big family.  I loved the size of our family and the fact Phil never once referred to any of the children as step anything, nor did they refer to him as step-dad.  He was dad.  I super love that all the kids got angry the media referred to them as stepchildren.  It still makes my heart swell to remember them messaging the media to knock it off because their father had never referred to them that way.  My children are brothers and sisters.  One for all, and all for one.  There is no halfsies.
  6. Finally getting orders to leave MHAFB and the gossip mill. We were so excited to be going anywhere—even Holloman AFB!
  7. The day we were all a family-Patrick, Josh, Alex, and Emily (before Tiger came along).
  8. Driving across the country to move to Germany the first time. We never had money for a vacation. We made it into such an adventure. Gerbert music played non-stop in the car. 
  9. Arriving in Washington, D.C. on the above trip and having everyone get really sick. Tiger threw up in front of the White House.
  10. Living in billeting for three months until we got our apartment in Landstuhl and then Phil deploying for six months right afterwards. I was living the dream in terms of being close enough to travel to so many countries. Our children toured Europe by scouting, sports, school trips (Paris for a week in the 6th grade, Amsterdam for a week in the 7th, London for a week in the 8th grade…), and Club Beyond. We lived in Europe for 8 years as a family and loved it!
  11. The Landstuhl Allwetterbad. Phil used to bring the boys every night after work. I worked there part time. He would come to all of the baby classes and we would use the boys to demonstrate the skills. Emily was on swim team. We bonded over smelling like chlorine. Chlorine still makes my heart go pitter patter.
  12. Reading to the children. We would lay on the king sized bed where I would read for two hours every night. Phil would come in and sit or lie next to us and just listen. He always said he liked the voices I made as I read the different characters.
  13. Meeting Phil in Southern France where he was on temporary duty (TDY) as an interpreter. We put the kids in sleeping bags and we toured all of southern France as a family. To this day, none of us can eat chocolate croissants!
  14. Coaching soccer. Phil and I coached together for many, many years.  It started as a way to get free soccer for our youngest two children and our oldest son, but we both learned to love the game. 
  15. The day Phil found out he was selected for Officer Training School (OTS). He wanted his commission so badly. He was tired of living in poverty. He was so proud…we were so proud.  I was at work in a meeting when I was told I had an important phone call.  My staff probably still talk about my reaction.  There I was jumping up and down and squealing like a little girl.  It meant leaving Europe and the first real job I had since becoming a mother, but it was everything Phil had worked toward.
  16. Two months after Phil found out about OTS and we found out that our oldest received an appointment to the Air Force Academy. Phil finally felt like people wouldn’t see us as trailer court trash.  One of the things about being a staff sergeant select with five children ages ten and under, people assumed they could tell us about birth control, make jokes about getting a television, or make judgments about whether we were on welfare—we were not because Phil didn’t believe in it because he grew up in a country that didn’t have it. 
  17. Finding our family dog in Bitburg. Tiger had been praying for a dog. We felt we didn’t need a dog on top of five children at home. I was running in the farm fields of Germany in the pouring rain just after the bases closed to anyone but authorized personnel. I see this dog standing in a cage barking. I ran by wondering about it. A half a mile later, I turned around and picked up the cage. She had been abandoned 8 miles out. I thought I would drag her to the base and give her to the vet clinic. By the time I got back to the base, I had her named. She was my dog. I remember calling Phil from the Youth Center and asking him to pick up some dog food. He said to me, “Linda, what have you done?” He showed up to get me from work and the dog ran right over to him wagging her tail—smart dog!
  18. Mallorca after Phil’s OTS and before his school. He had 9 days off. He flew in and we flew out within hours. Reconnecting on the beach was wonderful. I remember my boss telling me that if the Air Force inspectors walked in, he wouldn’t be able to give me the time off.  I remember knowing that I would quit if need be. We spent 15 out of 18 months apart then due to TDY, OTS, and training after OTS.  In the end, I didn’t have to quit, but it was the first time I recognized that sometimes people are more important than any job.
  19. Ireland-going to Ireland with the youngest three. Even Phil wanted to be Irish when we were done. Emily was cranky because she only saw old people on the trip. We made jokes about leaving her at the nunnery.  We were on a bus tour and we were the only Americans. We had so much time together.
  20. Our first cruise. Phil loved that he could eat as much as he wanted at every meal. What most people didn’t know is he always over-ate on cruises and gained 10-15 pounds, but then he would work out like a fiend.
  21. Phil was on a classic reading phase when he died. Phil was never much of a reader, but he made it through Wuthering HeightsTo Kill a MockingbirdThe Hunger Games series, and he was starting Sense and Sensibility (his choice).
  22. The day we went to Parent Weekend for Patrick and someone called to ask if Phil could come and talk to the department chair. Phil thought he was in trouble because he had showed up to the Parent Weekend in his only pair of jeans. We didn’t realize what a big deal it was.  Every other person was in uniform.  When the department chair tapped his shoulder and asked to speak with him, he went white with fear.  Next thing we knew, Phil was selected for an Air Force Institute of Technology sponsored master’s degree. Eventually he got an AFIT sponsored PhD. I am so thankful for that extra time he had with us and that we were in Colorado Springs for nine years.
  23. Buying our first house-Phil felt like we had finally made it when we got our first house and we moved off base. We had the house in the right neighborhood and it was big. Phil was so proud. He wanted this house. I caved in even though it wasn’t my dream home.
  24. Phil’s one and only marathon. I goaded him into running the Mesa Falls Marathon. He swore he would never again run another unless it was the Paris Marathon. I guess he will always have Mesa Falls.
  25. Family Holiday Meals-Phil loved the traditional family meals and rituals. He would never stop eating or talking about them (maybe because once I started back to work this didn’t happen every night?)
  26. Planning for the Venice Cruise-We had never been away from our children since day one. When Phil got to Afghanistan, he wanted that romantic trip. He wanted to talk about this trip every phone call.  One thing I am thankful for is he died still having that dream vacation he hoped for.
  27. The white hankie-Phil made me laugh a lot. When he would mess up, and he would say that it was often (not really), Phil would wave a white hankie, Kleenex, tee shirt, etc. or he would tie it to the antenna of the car. It worked each and every time. I laughed and all was forgiven.  He was funny and few knew it.  He would use all of his languages to chase me all over the house.  He could make me laugh no matter what else was going on in our lives.  I think the laughter is one of the things I miss the most.

I am thankful that Phil taught me what it was to be loved well and how to love well. Our last face to face conversation is a testament to being loved well.  Phil was supposed to deploy December 24th, but a freak blizzard shut down all of the major airports in Europe for almost a week. This allowed him to spend Christmas with his family and it delayed his reporting until January 11th.  Phil’s last Christmas gift to me was the Goofy Challenge at Disney World.  It was supposed to be to get through the first few days, but it ended up with me missing his last weekend at home. I offered to defer, skip, or for him to come with me.  He insisted I go so he could spend one last weekend with our baby.

I came home about midnight.  The cab was set to pick him up at 0330 hours.  We spent those hours just being together and talking.  As the time drew near for him to leave, he insisted on the what ifconversation.  I wanted nothing to do with it.  I made jokes about Raul the Pool Boy.  We did not have a pool, nor did I know any Rauls.  He got exasperated and stopped me with one question—“Linda, if you die first, would you want me to be happy again?”  Well—duh.  He loved me enough to give me the gift of knowing no matter what, in life and in death, what we had was pretty darn special.  I am thankful for the man who loved me well for what would have been 27 years on the 27th.