So I am sitting on a cold Montana morning. I starting thinking about some of my childhood Christmas memories.
Every Christmas Eve we would go out to my Grandpa and Granda Olson’s house. For those of you who have been following my blog know of them. That was always a fun time, my cousins would be out there, we would play down in her basement then, have a great meal, then open presents. Her house was not that big, but it was very cosy. Growing up in Central Wisconsin, it was always cold at Christmas. I remember when we would drive home the car we had would have vinyl seats, it was always so cold. Everyone would go out and start the cars and let them run for a little while before we left. We only lived two or so miles from there so the car really never got warmed up before we got home. Then we would go to bed, it was no problem going to sleep as we usually were so tired from all the playing we did with my cousins.
The next morning as soon as it was getting light out we would be up ready to open presents. Mom would make breakfast. My sister and I would play with whatever toys we got. Then we would get dressed and go to my Grandpa and Grandma Gower.
This was not as fun, it was more of a eat fest. My Grandma was a great cook, but a very nasty person. Everything was very negative. She never had a nice thing to say about anybody. The gifts we got as kids were things like socks and stuff. I don’t think she ever would consult my parents, not like my other Grandparents would. That coupled with the biting sarcasm and smell of BO from my cousin really is not a good memory. It is the equal but opposite of my other grandparents.
Christmas memories, favorite and otherwise
Santa forgot the batteries
I was about seven or eight. I got this really cool helicopter toy, It had a helicopter which you could fly around on a tether from a center mount. It had a set of controls, you could take off and land as long as you could fly in a circle. It was powered by batteries, the only problem was Santa forgot the batteries. That is what my parents told me. I was crushed. So my dad helped me set it up in the basement, then I had to only imagine what it was like to fly it, as there was no stores open in my little town on Christmas.
Mom and Dad are Santa
I was about nine years old. It was a week or so before Christmas. My Dad brought this big sheet of plywood into the basement. Our basement was not finished, that is where I did most of my playing in the winter as a kid. He had it set up on some sawhorses and was painting it dark green like grass. I asked him what he was doing, he said it was going to hang his tools on it. I remember thinking that it was kinda big for his little workshop, but OK. Then I asked if I could help.
Christmas morning came, I came downstairs and under the tree was this big box, I unwrapped it and it was a slot car race set with a note saying “I set this up for you in the basement, Love Santa”.
But the writing was very eloquent, it was my mom’s. She had wonderful penmanship! I realized at that time mom and dad were Santa. Now if my dad would had written it, I would have not found out, at least until much later!
I went downstairs, and there it was. The AFX race set, constructed on the board that my dad was painting to hang his tools on, that very one I helped him paint!
The gift that keeps on giving, at least has endless possibilities
The first year that Lego’s came out I got one of the starter sets. It was the erector sets of my generation. I remember sitting on the living room floor that morning starting to build things from the little book that came with it. I don’t know how many hundreds of hours I have spent sitting on the living room floor. Building things. The neat thing about that was the endless possibility for gifts. From that time forward I got Lego sets for birthday, Christmas for the next seven or eight years. I had such a large collection of Legos that my dad had to build me a bigger box to keep all of them.
The best gift wasn’t a gift
I look back and think about how some of the best things I got were not gifts at all. This happened at our house. It was a Christmas where my folks hosted both sets of Grandparents on Christmas. I guess I was ninth or tenth grade. It was after all the dinner was eaten, the gifts were opened and such. My Mom and Grandma Olson were sitting at the table in the kitchen talking. I was sitting there just listening to people. I think I was escaping the other room which had my Dad and his parents my Grandpa and Grandma Gower. Anyway, I was reading a book or something. I think I got a new digital watch (which was a really big deal back then) and I was reading the book on how to set it. I remember hearing my Grandma tell my Mom how I have grown to be such a handsome young man. I remember that I must have blushed, because I felt a little warm. But then I remember thinking, could she be right. I got up and went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Thinking is, ‘Is she right?’ I always had such a low self image. Those little words spoken to my mom, I am sure she did it knowing that I was within earshot. That was the way my Grandma Olson was, sly like a fox. That is probably one of my favorite memories.
The surprise leave
The last Christmas I spent at home was the year I joined the Navy. I joined in May, went to San Diego for Boot Camp, then to Great Lakes NTC for school. I finished my school just before Christmas. My orders when I left San Diego was for me to report to my Ship when I finished school which would have been 12/23. But when I finally finished all the schools and got my final orders to my ship they said I didn’t have to report until 12/28. I had almost a week off and could go home for Christmas.
I had a friend at Great Lakes who I joined the Navy with, we drove to Central Wisconsin. He lived about 20 miles from where I did. I called my Grandpa and Grandma Olson and they came and picked me up and took me home, I told them I wanted to surprise my Mom and Dad. We walked into the house, it was dark and empty. The surprise was on me, they were not home. They were out to eat that night which was their usual Friday night event. Grandpa knew where they were, so we drove there.
I walked in, my parents were sitting with some friends of theirs, my Mom’s back was to the door so she didn’t see me walk in. As I walked up, Ronny, my Dad’s friend asked my Mom “Joan, is David coming home for Christmas?” She started to say, “no, she didn’t think so” and I put my hand on her shoulder she turned and almost knocked the table over jumping up.
Every time I see one of these surprise homecomings on the news about a service member surprising his or her family I think of that day.
Persian Gulf Christmas
The last Christmas I am going to write about is the one I spent on the USS Callaghan in 1988. We had just spent the previous 90 days on Tanker Escort duty in the Persian Gulf. This was before the first Gulf War. We spent all day turning over our duty supplies and stuff to our relief ship, the USS England. We were going to be exiting the Gulf and heading to SW Asia and home.
I have been in touch with two of the three of these great guys. (I am the young chap in the middle.) All those times underway on deployments seemed to take forever and now there it is 29 years later.