I’m sitting next to the fireplace in my favorite chair listening to holiday music, looking at the ocean and making occasional attempts to “help” get ready for Christmas dinner. We went for a hike checking out our new trail signs and playing “spot the bobcat.” Our kids are home for the school break, some friends are visiting from the east coast and we have everything for the holidays but snow on the California coast.
My kids are now almost the age I was long ago at another Christmas.
So This is Christmas
As a 20-year old in Thailand in the middle of the chaos of the Vietnam War, my days were filled being a infinitesimal part of the synchronized machinery of maintaining, arming, and launching row after row of fighter planes parked in their revetments –
F-105 Wild Weasels, F-4’s, A-7’s, as well AC-130 Spectre gunships.
There was something both awe-inspiring and incongruous watching fighter planes with bombs on the wing racks take off two at a time. They would accelerate down the runway with full afterburners with sound you could feel in your chest, climb steeply banking sharply to avoid the towering thunderstorms and seem to fly through double rainbows so bright and beautiful they looked painted on the sky.
While I spent most of my time in an air-conditioned avionics shop, my forays out to the flight-line forever made the smell of JP-4 (jet fuel) an integral part of my life. I still associate the kerosene odor with the ballet-like choreography and precision of hundreds of bomb loaders, pod loaders, start-carts, maintenance crews and the cacophonous sound of dozens of jet engines and fighters purposefully taxiing to the runway. As I look out of the window from a seat of a commercial airplane and see the fuel trucks and baggage carts scurry about, the smell of jet fuel still makes me remember somewhere else.
Halfway through my tour of duty I got to go on vacation – what the military called R&R (rest and recreation.) All my buddies went to Bangkok or somewhere equally exotic. I decided to go to Ann Arbor Michigan to see my girlfriend. Normally you got 5 days off and then it was time to forget civilian life and get back to the war. Somehow (lost in the mist of time, or perhaps it was because my R&R would occur over the Christmas holidays) I managed to make my R&R 7 days.
One day I was in the middle of Thailand and the next I was hopping space-available military flights to snow-bound Michigan.
So This is Christmas
To my girlfriend Christmas was the high point of her year. Getting off the plane I was in a jet-lagged daze, standing out with very short-hair in a ‘70’s college town, as she met me by at the gate reminding me that having me back was her best Christmas present. As soon as we left the airport we began a 7-day frenzy of a full-immersion Christmas. (All of this was new for me, as I was raised by a single mother who never celebrated holidays- secular or religious, including events like birthdays.)
I still remember some of the things we did; making wrapping paper by tie-dying plain tissue paper, baking Christmas cookies and Gingerbread men and fruitcake. We made our own Christmas ornaments. I even believe, given how little money we had, we made each other our presents. We went caroling in the snow and had Christmas dinner with friends.
Yet with all of that holiday activity the one thing I still remember, the one thing I can still feel after almost 40 years, was regardless of the adventures you have, how important coming home to a family was.
Of all the goals I set in my life coming home to a family was the one I set standing in the snow that Christmas.
Duality of Man
On the flight back I had plenty of time to think of the contradictions of war with the messages of peace, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
From our family to yours.