Mrs. Right Stuff

When John Glenn stepped from space onto the Cape Canaveral tarmac last Saturday, she was there. Waiting.

Tears of pride in her eyes. Doublemint gum in her pocket.

The cameras clicked and a brief press conference held. Then, before being whisked off for more tests, Glenn locked his wife of 55 years in a long embrace.

When the hosannas for America's oldest, newest space hero eventually fade, Annie Glenn will still be at his side.

Yes, John Glenn demonstrated once more that he has that jet jockey nonchalance. His 3.6 million mile odyssey was carried off with the aplomb we expect from those with the Right Stuff.

But what of Annie's grit?

The spouse who stays behind when their partner goes away - on a business trip to Biloxi or on duty in Bosnia - understands her strength. The voyaging mate has a mission and is part of a team effort. But the spouse left behind often returns to an empty house. Or dirty diapers. There's no marching band. No hero's welcome.

For those, like Annie, it arguably takes a deeper courage to support their partner's ambitions than to take the journey.

Most of us don't have to watch our mates ride atop a couple million pounds of volatile chemicals - twice. Or be supportive - overcoming a speech impediment to campaign at his side, as Annie did - through the public humiliation of two failed Senate bids and one presidential campaign flop.

But the emotions are the same.

Glenn knew what Annie was experiencing. The night before the shuttle launch, he gave his wife a pack of gum. A reminder and a promise. Glenn and other Marine pilots used to tell their wives before a dangerous mission: "Just going to the corner store to get some gum."

That's one stick, Annie, you've earned the right to savor.

* With no Wednesday paper, due to Veteran's Day, Learning is graciously sharing space today with an abbreviated Homefront. We'll be back at full strength next week.

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