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Christmas tends to bring out memories of all shapes and sizes

Guest Commentary


Last updated 12/20/2018 at 7:30pm

During our last family reunion, some of my siblings and I relived some of our childhood Christmas memories.

We were not the most affluent family in town. Dad raised 10 kids on a factory worker’s pay, so to provide special holiday memories, our folks sometimes had to be creative. We all remembered the time some of us had begun to doubt Santa Clause. We drove up to Grandma’s that Christmas Eve, and when we returned, Santa had been there. We believed for at least one more year.

Who could forget Mom’s silver tree? I think she found it in a garage sale; she surely wouldn’t have bought it new. It looked as if it were made of thin strips of aluminum foil wrapped on wire.

The ensemble included a rotating disc with four windows of colored plastic. A light shone through the disc such that the tree turned from red to blue to green to yellow. It was ghastly, but mom loved it. I know she kept it for over 30 years.

Brown cardboard boxes triggered some fond memories. One year, dad brought home some oversized boxes that had previously served as shipping containers for large kitchen appliances. With his guidance, we took them apart and taped them together into one huge piece.

We painted the entire surface red with white stripes to resemble bricks. Then we folded it until we had constructed a cardboard fireplace. We hung our stockings on it for several years — except for the year of the unwrapped box.

It was about two weeks until the big day, and we hadn’t seen any presents, so were beginning to worry. Then dad arrived home from work with this big box. No wrappings or markings. He announced that our presents were inside, but we couldn’t open it until Christmas morning.

That became the most bedraggled picked-at box you have ever seen. We were all curious but policed each other such that, despite temptations, it stayed closed until after breakfast on Christmas Day. I don’t remember what was inside, but I recall two presents for each of us. There were six kids at that time, and a dozen store-bought presents was a significant financial outlay. In our self-centered youth, we never asked what Dad and Mom got for each other.

My siblings talked of some of their more recent Christmases, but I only listened. I could have told them about the Christmases I spent in Vietnam.

I could have told them about the Christmas I dragged an evergreen tree all the way across the Pacific until I delivered it to its owner on Christmas Eve. The officer’s club staff decorated it so everyone could enjoy it. The dining room offered a big turkey dinner on Christmas Day, but we had a mission to fly. Then we rotated to another location. By the time we returned, the tree was long gone.

I could have told them about the Christmas before the big Tet Offensive. We were refueling fighters that day and flew a double mission. Once again, we missed the turkey dinner.

I could have told them about the big Christmas offensive when most of my old refueling outfit was deployed to Guam and Okinawa. They spent Christmas Day refueling B-52s flying round-the-clock strikes against Hanoi. It was just another day at the office.

I could have told them, but I didn’t. I find those Christmases hard to talk about. We have troops overseas this Christmas. The dining hall will prepare a turkey dinner, and a select few may get to see a special USO show.

For the most part, however, it will be just another work day. They will fly their missions or go on patrol and try to avoid ambushes and IEDs. When they get home; they will, more than likely, not want to say much about their Christmas this year. Most will prefer better memories.

Frank Watson is a retired Air Force Colonel and long-time resident of Eastern Washington. He has been a free-lance columnist for over 19 years.


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