A Winter Memory on a Summer Day.

My good friend Charlie suggested a cure for my writer’s block, “Tell us about your most memorable family holiday.” Well that’s easy, It would be Christmas. Specifically I think it would be Christmas of either 1980 or 1981. Now, I know Christmas is the major holiday for most people,  as it should be. But  Christmas in my family was kind of different for many reasons.
I guess the first reason is that my family didn’t travel at Christmas. The year I was born my parents told their parents, that would be my grandparents, that Christmas should be spent at home, and if they wanted to spend Christmas with their grandchildren they could come to our house. Now, both sets of Grandparents had grandchildren all over the country so some years they would come for christmas, some years they would be off visiting other grandchildren. That was fine. The point is, we never had to decide what place we were going for the holidays. THe holidays were, ALWAYS, at home for my sister and I. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how truly special that is. How truly tough it must have been for my folks to make that commitment and stick with it through pressure applied from various family members. It was just the way it was.
The other way that Christmas at our house was somewhat different was that my parents collected strays. Although we were not military, the town we lived in was home to a very large Air Force base (Offut Airforce Base) and most of the people we socialized with were military, or military dependents. Every year there would be several people that we knew that wouldn’t be able to travel to be with their families for Christmas, and somehow Mom and Dad would find out about them, usually a friend of a friend…Or perhaps somebody they worked with. So they would get an invitation to Christmas Dinner. It was not unusual for us to have 20 people for Christmas Dinner.  Four or five of them might have been blood family, but for that day each year, they were all family.
And what dinners they were!! It was not until many years later when I had been to several SCA feasts that I had comparable meals. Mom and Dad would cook turkeys, usually two, and usually a ham, as well as several other dishes (to this day I still think my Mom makes the best dressing/stuffing in the world), and most everybody else would bring a dish; either a vegetable dish, or  desert, or some kind of drink. There would be so much food we could have probably fed large portions of Ethiopia for the day. However, the food was just a reason for us to gather at the table (ok, in reality there were usually three or four tables put end to end) and socialize. Another tradition my parents always insisted on  was that EVERYONE ate at the table. There was not a “children’s table” downstairs. We’d eat, and talk, and tell our version of “no shit, there we were” stories.
So, what made that one particular Christmas so memorable? Well, It was one of the last that my family would have in Nebraska. We moved in 1983.  The more I think about it the more I’m sure it was 1981 and it was  a true Nebraska December day: Bright and sunny, clear sky, and bitterly cold. I don’t remember the exact temperature, but I’m sure it was somewhere around 20 below zero without counting the wind-chill factor.
That particular year we had 23 people for Christmas Dinner. It wasn’t the largest number we’d ever had share the day with us, but it was close to it.  People started arriving around 11:00,  and we sat down to eat at 3:00 P.M. My main gift that year had been a video game console, the top of the line Atari console and several games. Gods, Atari? How many years has it been since anyone heard that name?
About 23 minutes after unwrapping it I had it installed on the television in the family room, and for the rest of the day, right up until it was time to go upstairs for dinner I was playing my games. I played with Kris, my sister, and as guests started arriving, I played with various guests. One of the games was a type of target shooting game, and I/we were having a lot of fun.
One guest was an Air Force Lieutenant  named Duncan (I never knew his last name). He was a friend of Major Springer, our next door neighbor who was also attending along with his wife. . Major Springer and his wife always came to dinner because their families were in Arizona, and I don’t think they liked them much. Duncan was a Jr. Lt. , not married, and so young that i now realize he couldn’t have been out of college very long. As we were playing, blowing the bejesus out of something, he told me that his family was in Georgia, and for some reason he didn’t have enough leave to go visit during the holidays. He didn’t really have a lot of people he knew in Bellevue. I think he said he’d only been there a few months.
So, he stayed downstairs with Kris and I playing Atari most of the day, and tromped upstairs to eat when the call came out to take our seats. The dinner was huge, as always, and we had a lot of fun. Afterwards it was back downstairs to the family room to play some more, at one point Duncan and I took turns playing against Dad and Major Springer. Whipped their combined behinds as I remember. It was a a GREAT day. But the truly memorable part didn’t happen until about 9:00 PM that night.
You see, Duncan and the Springers were the last people to leave.  Duncan shook my hand,  and hugged my sister. He told us that we reminded him of his brothers and sisters  and that he had enjoyed himself. Then he turned to my parents, hugged my Mom, and shook my Dad’s hand and said, “Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher. You have made what was shaping up to be a very lonely, depressing day into one that I’ll remember, fondly, forever. Thank you”.
I never saw Duncan again. Soon after that I heard from Major Springer that he had been transfered to another base. But I’ll never forget the way his voice almost broke from the emotion he was feeling as he thanked my parents.
See, that is what I think the holidays should be about: It shouldn’t be about the presents (oh, I like presents, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the Season). Nor should it be about stressing about what part of the family you are going to  spend time with and what part you are not. Nor should it be about trying to outdo the neighbors for brightest lights. It should be about spending good times with good people, and building good memories. It should be about helping those that for whatever reason can’t be where they want to be. I think it was at that particular Christmas I began to truly understand that.

Thanks Charlie. I had not thought about that Christmas in a long time. Thank you for causing me to think about it tonight.