Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, even growing up in Florida where our only chance of having a white Christmas was a trip to the beach. It was always the one time of year that both sides of my family came together.
I don’t have many recollections of Christmases before my parents divorced. The only one that especially stands out in my memory was when we were living in an amazing old house in the historic district in Tampa. I was a huge Star Trek fan, and that Christmas, Santa brought me the Star Ship Enterprise with working transporter and genuine, working communicators.
After my parents divorced, my sister and I always spent Christmas Eve with my mother. Everyone would gather at my grandma’s house to eat, drink and be merry. My cousins would be there, my biker uncles who looked like members of ZZ Top would be there and everyone would have a great time even though we didn’t exactly have a lot in common.
My excitement would build to a crescendo as the night wore on, until finally, I would work myself into such a tizzy, that I would have to disappear and throw-up.
Finally my dad would arrive and we would go to my other grandmother’s house and spend the night there. Oftentimes, my dad would wait until Christmas Eve to buy a tree then we would decorate it which always made the night fly by.
My dad always did Christmas right. He’d wait until my sister and I finally drifted off to sleep before putting out presents from Santa even though I tried to catch Santa in the act every year. I don’t remember how old I was before I knew Santa wasn’t real but it was later than most; somewhere between ten and twelve I think.
My first two years in the Army I was able to come home for Christmas, however, the third year, I was not. My unit was a forward deployed combat unit that was supposed to serve as a speed bump should the Russians decide to invade Western Europe. We were required to keep a certain percentage of combat strength at all times and since I went home the year before, it was my turn to stay behind. I remember being so incredibly lonely it defies my ability to put it into words. What made it worse, my family thought I was coming home since I had surprised them the year before by showing up unannounced so I didn’t get a single present or card – zero, zilch, nada. That one still hurts when I think about it, no other holiday was a real big deal on either side of my family so I built Christmas into the end all, be all of holidays.
Fortunately, we had a great company commander who asked the married NCO’s to invite lower enlisted troops that were relegated to spending the holidays in the cold lonely barracks over for dinner. Sergeant Raines was my host, he and his wife invited me and my roommate Bill over to have dinner with his family and even had a couple of small gifts for us and plenty of cold beer. Thank you Sergeant Raines.
The following Christmas my unit was waiting to deploy to Operation Desert Shield so no one was allowed to take leave. On Christmas Eve, my future wife, who was dating a friend of mine at the time, showed up at my door in a white fur coat and looked absolutely amazing, like an angel from heaven. My friend, who lived next door, wasn’t in his room so we went to a gas station just off base and she bought me a burrito which was the highlight of my Christmas. We started dating shortly after I returned from Desert Storm but that’s another story. My buddy Shawn and I spent Christmas night trying to find an open bar to dull our lonely senses, if memory serves, we couldn’t find one which was probably a good thing.
We finally got the call that we were deploying on New Years Eve ending months of nervous anticipation. We had shipped our equipment several months prior and were now just waiting to coordinate our trip to Saudi Arabia to coincide with the arrival of our equipment. My dad made the trip to Fort Polk, Louisiana to pick up my car because I wanted my sister to be able to use it rather than put it into storage. We got to spend some time together but those days prior to our departure are a blur.
So there we stood, my father and me, outside my company headquarters. It was an unusually cold and dreary day for Louisiana, one that reminded me of winter in Germany. Understandably our conversation became rather awkward, neither one of us is particularly loquacious to begin with. What do you say other than I love you to someone you may never see again? My dad and I are both rather hard men, at least on the exterior, but we both shed a few tears that day, it’s a day that’s etched in my memory forever. A few hours later, I was on my way to Saudi Arabia, combat.
Hard to believe but less than a year later was one of the most memorable Christmases of my life. Not because of any particular gift I received or some spectacular locale but because I took the girl of my dreams, the girl I knew I was going to marry, home to meet my folks.
Twenty years have passed since that Christmas and there have been many memorable Christmases since and I’m sure there are many more to come. Whether we were hosting Christmas or spending Christmas on the road one thing has always remained the same, it’s still my favorite day of the year.
I feel blessed that God has bestowed upon me so many cherished memories on Christmas day but the biggest blessing of all is the reason we celebrate the day – his only begotten son, Jesus Christ.
Never forget the reason for the season