My friend and neighbor Alan is in the Army. His unit’s deployment to Iraq ended early, so he’s home with his family for the holidays, and I don’t think I could be happier unless I was one of them. I started thinking about how nice it would be if everyone got to be home for Christmas, and that got me thinking about a Christmas that I spent 500 miles away and 400 feet below home, during alert patrol on a Trident submarine.
Any Supply Officer worth his salt will make sure there’s prime rib and all the fixings for Christmas dinner underway. Someone always brought a few tapes or CD’s full of Christmas music. And despite being where we were (which was classified information, you landlubber), there wasn’t a finer group of people to be around than Blue Crew on the USS Pennsylvania (SSBN 735) from 1987-1991.
Christmas morning came, and the Captain called all hands to the Crew’s Mess. The Chief of the Boat was waiting for us, wearing a Santa hat and a set of canary yellow radiological anti-contamination coveralls. Beside him were several large gunnysacks. He wished us all a Merry Christmas, and announced that, before we got underway, the Wives’ Club had given him presents to distribute. As he finished up his list of all the married guys who had gotten a nice surprise from home, he revealed a little surprise for the bachelors among us too…turns out, that wonderful group of ladies had taken turns picking our names, and had sent us presents too. When I opened mine (a key chain with a ridiculously oversized alligator head bottle opener from Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, FL), I saw that it was from my friend Joni. I thought it was a remarkable stroke of kismet that she would have gotten my name…she was one of the few crew members’ wives’ that I knew, and I always thought the world of her. I guess the feeling was mutual, because the card she enclosed said that she had sought out who had pulled my name, and convinced them to trade with her. As the father of two boys, I’m qualified to judge what makes a magical Christmas, and that one still makes the grade.
It would sure be nice if everyone got to be home for Christmas. But if you can’t, my wish for you this season is that you can participate in the hope that this holiday is all about – wherever you may be. Oh, and Joni, my wish for you is always the same: that ALL your Christmases be as merry as you made mine in 1990.