McChord Holiday Bazaar a bonding tool for military spouses
December 5, 2011
McCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- Jessica Morales values sewing as far more than just a handy household skill.
To the 12-year Army spouse, it's a hobby, a relaxer and a stress reliever. It's a way to deal with her husband's deployments, a chance to honor her Japanese heritage and an opportunity to craft products that make others happy.
Morales is like most of the other craft enthusiasts who showed up to the McChord Holiday Bazaar at the McChord Field Community Center Dec. 1, all devoted to their chosen interests, which often serve to take them away from the chaos of the world -- away from everything.
But here, at this annual event, things like sewing, stitching and painting bring them all closer to people -- to other military spouses, to complete strangers and to anyone willing to chat a while, if nothing else.
"I like to meet new people," says Morales, a Monterey, Calif., native, standing just feet from a card table piled high with sewn dolls. "I like to get out there, because I'm normally a very shy person, so to come to something like this -- we all have something in common."
Morales, a mother of four with an online shop called Noguchi Designs, has come to the bazaar on McChord each year since its inception three years ago. Here, she sells Japanese kyoko dresses for children, sewn toys for babies who are teething, and dolls of varying fabric textures that stimulate the touch senses of infants and toddlers alike.
This year, she shared a booth with new friend and fellow Army spouse Christina Pruitt, a designer with a similar drive to create. The two spouses, who live next to one another in a secluded neighborhood near Yelm, Wash., who met just this summer, brought something unique to the event.
"We call it C and J Designs and Crafts," says Morales, explaining that the acronym represents each of their names.
On a second table adjacent to the first sits a vast collection of painted, glittered and etched beverage bottles, some adorned with colorful ribbons -- center pieces, as Morales calls them.
The two decorated the recycled bottles together throughout last month and had them on sale for passersby.
"It's new and it's fun, and we get to try it out this year," Morales continues, adding that she and Pruitt salvaged old items that would otherwise have been trash to make their products.
It's just one of several things Morales and Pruitt have in common. Their children go to school together, and their husbands get along. They live in the same isolated community, on a mountain where there are no gas stations -- no stores. But they have each other.
"She puts a smile on my face," says Morales. "There's nothing like having a friend. Yes, I have my husband, and he puts a smile on my face, too, but it's nice to have a female friend to break away with."
"It gave us kind of a chance to bond together, and we're both very creative people, so it all just came together so wonderfully," says Pruitt, an Alpharetta, Ga., native, of their month-long onslaught of crafting, staying up late to watch movies and sharing a bottle of wine in the process.
Pruitt, whose husband is new to the Army, says through their friendship she and her husband have amassed a great deal of knowledge on a community still very new to them both.
"She's been able to give us advice about the military because she and her husband have been in for so long," she says. "It's just really nice to know someone who's been through those things before, since I haven't yet."
All throughout the community center ballroom, packed with 34 different vendors, military veterans and spouses from all different walks of life have found the same social enjoyment as Morales and Pruitt.
"I've already gotten numbers from people so we can network," says Army spouse and two-year bazaar veteran Erica Watt, standing next to a table of hair bows she made from old fabric, recycled paper and unworn clothing. "It's good for spouses to be connected."
Today, Watt has made a friend from the Air Force community: Air Force spouse Ellen Drake, a first-time bazaar participant.
"I don't really have a connection with the Air Force, and since we're a joint base now it's also nice to have a chance to meet a different service member's spouse," says Watt, a Lacey, Wash., native.
In between customer visits, Watt and Drake sit at their tables facing one another, talking and laughing. Watt makes flowers as hair accessories and Drake crochets hats and dishrags, but both automatically have at least two things in common: Crafts and the military.
"My husband doesn't really work with any married people," says Drake, "so it's kind of hard to make friends with other couples with kids, but being here today we see other peoples' crafts, and I'm making friends."
"It's a good opportunity for her to network," says Sgt. Nathan Watt during a visit to his wife's booth. "Just to build community and morale -- to give them something to do while their spouse is deployed."
And that sentiment certainly isn't lost on Erica.
"Our spouses aren't guaranteed to be here, so to have that kind of connection outside the comfort of our families is nice," she says.
And while the Air Force and Army spouses sit at their booths and chat, good friends Morales and Pruitt are enticing browsers by talking up one another's craftsmanship.
They're enjoying the fruits of various hobbies that most other times help them escape the world. But today, they're more immersed in it than anything else.