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On this Christmas, the gift of home was what he needed

The sanctuary of Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh glows following the Christmas Eve Communion Service as worshipers file out to view a live Nativity scene. White poinsettias, a Christmas tree and candles in each window decorated the church, where worshipers gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The sanctuary of Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh glows following the Christmas Eve Communion Service as worshipers file out to view a live Nativity scene. White poinsettias, a Christmas tree and candles in each window decorated the church, where worshipers gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. rwillett@newsobserver.com

At my wife’s book club pre-Christmas party, the program consisted of some members volunteering to describe their most memorable Christmas.

In the interest of time, I did not share the details of my most memorable and loneliest Christmas.

It occurred during my World War II tenure in the Air Force in the South Pacific.

It was customary that after we had served a year or two in the islands, our troop carrier squadron would arrange for us to be flown to Australia for five days of R&R (Rest and Recuperation). My buddies and I were flown to the little town of MacKay.

We couldn’t have been more fortunate. The residents there welcomed us as if we were conquering heroes.

It was as if I were on the edge of paradise. There were T-bone steaks instead of our usual diet of Spam and lamb. And there was ice water! And, above all, ice cream! I gorged on milk shakes and banana splits.

And there were girls! Back in the islands. we rarely saw a woman, other than the very primitive natives who spoke no English and were off limits to us.

As for other women, I still remember a notice posted on the squadron bulletin board. It read something like this: “EMs (Enlisted Men) using the showers are directed to turn their backs as officers are escorting their dates past the showers on the way to and from the Officers’ Latrine.”

But now on R&R, we were back to civilization, if only temporarily. And suddenly, it was Christmas Eve! And the town’s officials had arranged for a street party for us visitors.

In summertime temperatures, I looked up at the full moon and star-studded sky with the dominant Southern Cross constellation especially brilliant. I wondered if that same full moon would be shining down on Surry County.

I also hoped that my mother would not be alone on this night, although she probably was and would be thinking about her four sons and five grandsons in uniform who were scattered around the globe.

Everything was going great until we came to the sing-along. I got through “White Christmas” fairly well:

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

But when the small group of musicians launched into Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” I felt tears sliding down my cheeks:

I’ll be home for Christmas

You can plan on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents on the tree

When my mini vacation ended, I was flown back to my outfit in New Guinea.

At the next mail call some days later, I received a Christmas package from my mother.

She had sent a pair of loafers, coveted low-cut street shoes – a comfortable contrast to my military footwear.

Inside each shoe was a bottled Coca-Cola. I passed the bottles around to my buddies who each took a sip, a nostalgic reminder of home.

On this Christmas Eve, I thank each of you for your gift to me, the gift of readership, whether recently or long-standing.

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