Friday, December 24, 2010

The Feast of Stephen

I returned from a jolly week of drilling on a barge up the Columbia Gorge to note that it is Christmas Eve. And one of the things that has always been especially poignant for soldiers is holidays far from home. And that, in turn, made me think about my bride and our little Peeper and Missy warm and snuggly in their beds, inside our little house strung with lights and full of presents and cards and the other impedimentia of the Season, and contrast that with the last time I was far away from home on a Christmas Eve.

Ft. Kobbe, Panama, December 24, 1986

It was a practice in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) (Light) 187th Infantry Regiment for the unmarried sergeants to volunteer to take holiday duty for the wedded guys. So that's why I found myself standing on the landing outside the dayroom of the HHC barracks Christmas Eve day dressed tastefully in holiday-green tropical fatigues and a santa-red beret being violently abused by a Panamanian taxi driver.

It seems that one of our American heroes had, in an excess of Christmas cheer, commandeered the driver's services to motor all around Panama Viejo attempting to find a shapely little elf who would supply a Christmas stocking that he could fill.

Not surprisingly, given his slobberingly drunk condition, the only attentions he could find came from ladies who expected to receive green, folding presents in return, which struck our young hero as more than a little Grinchy.

This seeker of the true Spirit of Christmas imbibed some Chistmas spirits and then resolved to return to his only REAL family, his buddies at HHC 2/187, only to find on arrival that one of Santa's little ho-ho-hoes had lifted his wallet during his importunations. Or he had left it on the bar. Or whatever.

The upshot was, anyway, that he now had nothing to give the infuriated driver whose worn taxi now reeked of cheap perfume and drunken G.I. Worse yet, he turned out to be nimble as a monkey - even drunk - and had shinnied up the mango tree in front of the barracks and was hiding in the branches lobbing the occasional overripe fruit at both the driver and the taxi windshield.

The street in front of the barrack reeked of mango juice and the combined noise of a furious taxi driver and an intoxicated arboreal G.I. This, in turn, drew a small crowd of pre-Christmas revelers, who took turns abusing both parties and shying additional fruit at the taxi when the driver wasn't watching.

I managed to pay off the driver, scatter the crowd and talk the monkey-boy out of the tree just as one of my other single friends came sauntering down from his post as battalion staff duty NCO.

"I see life in the slums is still exotic and vigorous, even on Christmas Eve" he sneered.

SGT Chief: "Little you know about it, lolling about up there at Battalion as you do. It's like a freakin' Jerry Springer show down here, you know. Oh, and a Merry Christmas to you, too, jackass."

BN SDNCO: "Yeah, well, lucky for us that the first Christmas happened in Bethehem, not Fort Kobbe, eh?"

SGT Chief: "Why's that?"

BN SDNCO: "'Cause where the hell'd you find three wise men and a virgin around here..?"

It was an old joke but I was still chuckling as I ran back up the stairs to the dayroom to share warm Coke with the three guys watching football.

This year, as they have for the past nine years now, American soldiers are preparing for a holiday in faraway places much less entertaining and far more hazardous than my Panamanian Christmas Eve two and a half decades ago. I'm sure that they share many of the same feelings I did then: loneliness, regret, some pride in a hard job well done in demanding circumstances, but mixed with others I didn't; fear of death or wounding, anger and grief at lost friends, hope that their own homecoming will be soon and safe.

As do I.

So Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah...however you say it, however you celebrate it, all you young - and not so young - men and women in the hard places far from home; I hope you will all be home soon to enjoy this time with your families.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night...


The Wanderers' Daughter said...

I was about to say, "And why is it that you're not a writer for a living?" ...and then I thought about the word "writer" and the word "living", and realized they are mutually exclusive. Unless you've written Harry Potter, I guess.

In any case, happy holidays to one of the best writers I know. From our family to yours.

Lisa said...

Hear, hear -- may they all return safely.

[My vote for your most amusing post of the year: "Midnight at the Oasis". Thank you for sharing your spirit and humor.]

. . . "Santa's little ho-ho-hoes" ;)

FDChief said...

WD: And to you and your husband and that aetherial little sprite you have been gifted, my hopes for a joyous Christmas and a wonderful 2011.

Lisa: I am privileged to have such friends and such riches. Peace and joy, anamchara, and the best of the night of mysteries.

basilbeast said...

So, I'm here overnight at my hotel, nothing nowhere near as exotic as your Panamanian adventure or as lonely and fraught with dangers as our present soldiery are experiencing in far-flung lands, but I do have a modern-day Christmas story to tell.

I come in to start my shift at 10 yesterday night, and our front desk tells me about an 8-year old girl, too experienced for her age, abandoned by her mother who is passed out drunk in her room. So he let her in the back office to keep an eye on her the best he could.
A Nativity Story of a Mother looking for a place to have her child, but with a twist.
The 11 PM guy comes in, and the 3 of us discuss the story and what to do. Hardly 3 Wise Kings with gifts.
Our HPD come in to take care of the matter, not at all like the Herodian butchers of the Holy Tale.
God bless the Mothers who can't take care of their kids, and God bless especially the kids who can't find the care and love they need.
Thank God for parents with kids who love and care for them, and the kids who return love and affection.

May God bless you all ( whether you want it or not! )