color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: Christmas in July

Monday, July 25, 2005

Christmas in July

In December 1966, on the deck of an aircraft carrier off the coast of Vietnam, sat a helicopter with its crew of five on "stand by". These stand-by assignments were really "sit stills" -- you had to be in the chopper and ready to fly a CAP (combat air patrol) at a moment's notice and many times it was eight hours of sitting and waiting.

The pilot of the helicopter was a 24-year old lieutenant fresh from the farm fields of Illinois via flight school at Pensacola. His crewmates, some younger but none much older, sat and stared out at the pitch black trying to make out the shape of the fueler that had pulled alongside earlier in the day but which melted into the blackness of the ocean at night. Occasionally one of the crew would flip on their red-lensed flashlights to check the time. There was little radio traffic through the headsets and all conversations were conducted at a whisper given the EMCOM (emergency communications only) status -- the wind rushing by the open side panel of the chopper the most persistent sound.

About midnight, a lone sailor approached and slid an armful of packages and letters across the floor. "Mail call," he whispered, turned and departed. Under the red glow of a flashlight, the parcels were divvied up to their recipients, the largest of the parcels passing to the pilot.

The large box revealed a tin of homemade fudge from the local church, cookies from his mother's closest friend, and a smaller gift-wrapped box. Inside the Marshall Field & Co. box from his parents was a small tabletop sized Christmas tree about 15 inches high -- the stiff artificial fir adorned with small, painted wooden ornaments, shiny gold ornaments, and green and red ribbon bows. The pilot set the tree on the floor next to his seat and they all admired the quaint little tree under the glow of the red light until a slight knock elicited a few notes from an undetected music box within. Twisting the base, the tree began to play "Oh, Christmas Tree." Sitting alone in the dark, 10 months into a 14 month tour, away from home at Christmas for the first time for some, they sat in the dark and listened to that tree turn for the next few hours, eating fudge and cookies, trying hard not to let each other hear their sniffles.

That Christmas tree traveled with my Dear Husband for the more than two decades of his Navy service and was the only Christmas decoration in many an aircraft carrier's bunkroom over the years. To this day, almost 40 years later, it occupies a place of honor in our home each Christmas. Every Christmas Eve, the story of how the tree came to be is told -- our now-grown children still insisting that he tell the story even when we protest that "everyone knows the story!" It has become a tradition in our home and one in which our children willingly participate. The first time DH's parents heard the story was the last Christmas Eve his sweet father celebrated and they told the story of how they had traveled to Chicago from their small farm community to buy "something nice" for their oldest son -- never imagining the impact such a small gesture would have on generations to come.

When our oldest son joined the Navy, his first duty station was overseas. We decided that the tradition of receiving a musical Christmas tree for the first Christmas overseas in service to our country needed to be continued. We spent many an afternoon all through that October and November nearly 9 years ago scouring malls and shops for just the right tree. In my best calligraphy, we marked the bottom in jeweler's gold with his name and the year, just as I had done to the bottom of my husband's tree.

This past Christmas Eve, just weeks before our youngest son deployed to Iraq, the story of the little Christmas tree was told and as the story concluded our soldier exclaimed, "You know that means I get my tree next year!" I nodded in silence and left his Dad to respond, "You bet!"

So here we are in July, 100 degrees outside -- most of the nation gripped in record heat -- already searching the web and catalogs and year-round Christmas stores for just the right tree to send. We don't know what it looks like yet, but we'll know when we see it!

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.


At 7/26/2005 5:44 AM , Blogger Stacy said...

You sure can make this mom cry. This is a great idea though. I will start now shopping for a small tree to send to my son. This will be the first christmas that I have ever been away from him. We are not going to have much of a christmas, at least not until he comes home for good, then we will have christmas for days and days.

At 7/26/2005 6:05 AM , Blogger Melinda said...

Geez Louise! Nothing like crying in to my Cheerios this morning...well, they are M2's Cheerios, but she understands. :)

What a wonderful tradition your family has, even if it is bittersweet. We had our tree up until almost Easter this past year...the girls insisted.

Good luck in your tree search--the right one will find you.

At 7/26/2005 6:51 PM , Blogger Call Me Grandma said...

Now that is a good story.
That reminds me of something I read over at Erik's blog last week. He was talking about care packages. He said just seeing a familiar brand name label makes a soldier, sailor etc. feel closer to home. It is the smallest gestures that mean the most.
Home is where the heart is.
God Bless our troops, and dear Lord bring them all home soon.

At 7/26/2005 8:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd made it through all my blog reading tonight without a tear for a change & here you ruined it. What a sweet story & what a great tradition for your children (and probably their children)! My son served on a submarine & I could only send a shoebox his first Christmas away. Had to have it to the XO in early November before the cruize. His sister & I bought every tiny gift we could find & wrap & friends & family sent cards that I could include in the box. A really tearful Christmas for everybody that year. God bless you & yours!

At 7/26/2005 9:35 PM , Blogger Some Soldier's Mom said...

yes, I'm not sure what this Christmas will be like... he's our youngest and this will be the first Christmas he won't be here... I think I'll get through the shopping and wrapping and packing ok (that will get me through October LOL), but already I can feel that I don't have the energy or will to decorate or celebrate... although the other children and my brother and sisters will know how hard it will be and ALL of them will probably come to cheer me up and keep my mind off of it LOL... that's IF the medical student isn't working and if the Navy son isn't on a cruise, etc. so we'll have to wait and see...

At 7/27/2005 3:33 AM , Blogger StoicMom said...

Well, thanks for making me cry first thing in the morning. I had already decided to send Sprout a little tree this year, his first away from home at Christmas. Hey...let's all start looking and if anybody finds a good one, let the others know.

At 7/27/2005 3:37 AM , Blogger StoicMom said...

BTW, does anybody have any suggestions for what to send for a 21st birthday overseas? I need to send a box in a couple of weeks.

At 7/27/2005 6:02 AM , Blogger StoicMom said...

Well, that didn't take long. Here's a site for some mailable Christmas trees.

At 7/27/2005 12:56 PM , Blogger StoicMom said...

Also, go to and click on the Keepsake Ornaments. They have a music box Christmas tree.

At 11/21/2005 6:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story & Tradition! It takes so little to make our Soldiers happy..and you know when 1 recieves a box,it is shared with the whole platoon/ knits these bands of brothers closer together,especially during the can also go to and they have different pkgs you can send..and it gets right to them and within about a week...I sent some to Afganistan,,and the guys loved it!!! I also sent a pkg to my son in Oki..I made it large so he could share with the others...he said Mom..they could smell the chocolate thru the box...these stories make me cry and mskes me realize even more how very thankful & grateful I am for our Brave Troops..God Bless them & keep them safe!A marine Mom


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