Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Home for Christmas
When our son, Nick, went into the Army in May, one of the things I thought as I said goodbye to him was that for the first time in his life, he wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. For some reason, that bothered me more than I thought it would.
That surprised me, because I’ve never been terribly sentimental about those holidays. When I was a kid, they were often days with obligations, where I couldn’t do what I wanted to or play with my friends. Because of that, the days often felt more like chores than celebrations.
When I went off to college, the emotional level of the holidays kicked up a notch. Going home then seemed to really mean something and was a way of reconnecting during the period between childhood and adulthood. The difference between home and college provided a yardstick for measuring my progress during that transition.
The Yearly Negotiation
In 1977, Kathe, my younger sister, and I both got married, and the holidays took on a hitherto unknown dimension. She was living in Seattle, I was living in Santa Cruz, our parents were in Glendale, and the in-laws were in Watsonville and Spokane.
At that point the holidays got complicated. We would try to get our whole family together for one of the two, and one of us would try to spend the other holiday with mom and dad. That, of course, had to be worked around our spouses’ commitments to their parents, the work schedules of four people and so forth. Planning for the holidays came to seem less and less like a spiritual family bonding experience and more like an acrimonious labor negotiation.
The parents are all gone now, and the kids are grown up, so it’s a bit simpler. The past few years we’ve either stayed home — Linda, Nick and I — or occasionally gone to Seattle to be with Kathe and her family. It has been considerably more low-stress than before, and there was the certainty that at least our small family would be together.
The Soldier Far Away
Nick’s going into the Army changed even that dynamic, and we just figured that, buck private as he was, he wouldn’t be able to get time off then. It looked as if, for the first time in 37 years of marriage, it would be just Linda and me for Christmas.
After basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Nick went to Fort Eustis, VA, for advanced training as a helicopter mechanic. If the class had started right away, he would have been done in late October and low man on the totem pole at his new posting after that. But the Army works in mysterious ways.
It turns out that they didn’t have enough people to start the class right away, so he spent a month at Fort Eustis doing janitorial duty every day, which I’m sure built his character no end. Once training got under way, graduation was set for the day before Thanksgiving.
Given Linda’s work schedule, flying out then wouldn’t have been feasible. But then the Army struck again. Nick was chosen to stay for additional training on the next generation of Blackhawk helicopters, and his training end date moved to December 14. At that point he’d have two weeks’ leave and wouldn’t need to report to his next post until the first of the year.
So he got the leave, and he’ll be home for Christmas, arriving late the night of December 18. Given the nature of the Army, it could be his last Christmas home for years, but I’m trying not to think about that. Let’s just enjoy this one.