Becky Fish, a Wilton mother of four, is counting her blessings this Thanksgiving. She’s looking forward to spending the holiday with her husband Mike and their children Hailey (10), Dylan (7), Tyler (5) and little Michael, who just turned 1 November 9.
Her husband, a volunteer firefighter and national guardsman, will deploy to Kuwait sometime between the end of December and the beginning of January 2012. He’ll be gone for at least a year. That’s a long time to be away, but it could have been worse.
Mike was supposed to leave December 2 for a mission in Afghanistan, and had already come to terms with the fact that he was spending the holidays away from home. Thankfully that has changed. The Fishes learned two weeks ago that Mike is, instead, headed to Kuwait, and won’t depart until after Christmas.
“I was so upset when I thought he would miss everything, that he wouldn’t be here for Christmas,” Becky said. “We have a baby (Michael) and he was going to miss a lot of those firsts, his first steps and his first words.”
“It’s hard putting my kids through this,” Mike said, explaining that this is his first deployment as a father. But he’s definitely making the most of the extra time he’ll have with them.
Since Mike received the news, he’s watched baby Michael take those first steps and last weekend walked with Hailey and her Girl Scout troop in the South Glens Falls Christmas parade. This Thursday, he will get to have his grandmother’s yam pie, a once-a-year specialty that, for him, tastes like home.
“This Thanksgiving is going to be kind of special. I’m really happy he’ll be home, even though it won’t turn out to be a very good Christmas,” Becky said.
Oftentimes the good comes with the bad, and for the Fishes that couldn’t be truer. Just after they learned about Mike’s new assignment, the family also found out they had been robbed. Someone duplicated their bank account information and took everything.
“We went to go grocery shopping a week and a half ago and [found out] there was no money,” Becky explained. “It was all stolen.”
Michael said it wasn’t much, but it was all they had.
“When your account is in the red, it affects you pretty hard,” he said. “They took a lot of money from us and it was the last little bit we had; thank goodness we had some family members that helped out.”
Their bank is investigating the problem, but in the meantime the Wilton family is living check to check, and, for Becky and Michael, the timing couldn’t be worse. It’s getting cold outside and they’re already struggling to feed their children. With the holidays and high heating bills ahead, the Fishes face an uphill climb.
“At this point, we don’t have a way to give them anything for Christmas. I don’t know what we’re going to,” she said.
Becky said she is borrowing money from family and friends. Just before our interview she met up with a friend who gave her food for lunch: “Literally, it’s that bad; I’m selling stuff, anything that I can do to make a few dollars to buy them food for the day.”
Thankfully, the Wilton Fire Department has come together to help the Fishes make ends meet (they did so even before their Christmas money was stolen). The crew held a benefit spaghetti and meatball dinner on November 5, raising $550 too offset their heating bill. Becky will receive the money once Mike has left for Kuwait.
“Mike is one of our firefighters. With four children, it’s hard to make ends meet on a military pay check, and we wanted to make sure they had money to get through the next year,” said Bill Morgan, chief of the Wilton Fire Department.
Mike, who has been with the department since 2006, is the first post Vietnam era member to be deployed, and Becky is a former member.
“The fire service is a family; we’re just looking out for our own,” Chief Morgan said. “The monies will be used to pay their heating bills; it’s going to help them survive as a family.”
Despite everything they’re working against (Mike’s deployment and their financial struggles), the Fish family feels they have plenty to be thankful for. Both Becky and Mike expressed their gratitude for the help they’ve received from their community and family. And they’re especially grateful to be spending the full holiday season together as a family – “it’s extra special,” Becky said.
What’s more, once deployed, Mike will attain “active duty” status, which means a regular paycheck to send home.
“You never know when it’s coming, but I signed up for it, so I have to take the good with the bad,” he said. “I still have things to be thankful for: I’m home for the holidays.”