I’m spending Christmas at a friend’s wee place on the edge of Hood Canal on the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympics are hidden today, but were sparkling when I arrived yesterday after crossing Puget Sound on the ferry from the Emerald City with the Cascades as backdrop.
After dropping my family off at the airport the night before, with dinner at Chuck’s before that. (Word today has it that Adrian did take off the cape to sleep, but not the cuffs, and donned it again up awakening.)
Today, Christmas, I reluctantly got dressed at noon and went for a two and a half mile hike at Twanoh State Park next door.
As I walked through the deep damp wood, I realized this is probably the first Christmas of my life I haven’t at least talked to my mother by phone. It feels strange. My mind drifted back to the letters my father wrote to her during the war. So long ago. My children are older than they were then.
When I got back to the couch, I looked them up. Christmas is such a time of nostalgia. It’s what makes it special and, for so many whose present doesn’t measure up to the past, sad. My next writing project is to do something with these letters and the story of a family separated by a war. All of them missing each other. They are all gone now, and I miss them.
December 25, 1942
Ann Arbor, Michigan
(My father was home in Ann Arbor from NYC where he was in officer training; his love was at her home in Tennessee.)
Merry Christmas, Stellajoe. I tried to call you this afternoon but the operator said that it wouldn’t go through for 3 hours because of over crowded lines so I waxed patriotic & cancelled it. I would liked to have talked to you & wished you a Merry Christmas. I wish I could celebrate it with you. I hope that I can the next one. I hope that the war will be over. I hope that you’ll love me as much as I do you. For if you do your name won’t be English.
Christmas 1943 they had been married for nearly a month and were living in Texas together. They did not yet know that in two weeks he would get overseas orders, something they didn’t think was going to happen at all. But his sister, a nurse already stationed in Italy, wrote to them. And they wrote to his parents.
December 26, 1943
Dear George and Stellajoe,
Another Christmas has come and gone. May we not be separated for another! Everything possible was done to make the day pleasant but nothing could quite eliminate that feeling of loneliness.
Love and best wishes to you both, Helen
Christmas Day 1943
We have had a very nice Christmas. Can’t say that I don’t miss being home, because I do. But if we have to be away, me and wife couldn’t have done better than to be married.
I hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season. It would be nice if we could all be together in one place place, but it is good that a few of us at least could be together.
How much we’ve enjoyed your fruit cake, cookies and jam. We’ve been rationing them so they wouldn’t be all eaten at one meal. Thanks so much for sending them.
Thanks too for the wedding gift. Do you mind if we save it for a while until we can buy something we’ll need? It’s too hard to know what to buy now – when we think we might have to be moving around.
Christmas night, 1944
Near Paris, France
In a way it’s a shame that the weather was arranged as it was. Yesterday the Air Forces were every way hammering the jerry. And I presume the same was true today. The war reached a peak of fury right on Christmas. Not a pleasant Christmas for those doing the fighting. And even less so for the jerrys. But I’m not wasting any sympathy on them, even on Christmas day.
This abnormal life – such as being away on Christmas – sometimes gets me down. And it’s then that I thank God that I have the love of my wife, of my family, and family background to fall back on. I suppose it’s sort of like a religion. I feel so sorry for those who can’t have memories and visions of a future to live on. Homesickness, and an inability to tell right from wrong, is the inevitable result. That has taught me to be more tolerant of waywardness than I ever was before. War is a terrible thing, and that is one of its worst features.
I was hoping to write you a long and interesting letter, but I just am not in the proper mood. But I can tell you this: I love you, dear wife. My Christmas was much happier because I have you to love. I love you wherever you are and wherever I am! Next Christmas I hope we’ll be together, and every Christmas thereafter.
December 25, 1945
Well, Christmas is almost over. Like I wrote mom, we haven’t had it half bad here. Christmas was a very welcome and happy holiday. But even so, I’ve spent most of my time thinking about and remembering Christmases past. I can almost see what’s going on each hour at home. And the rest of the time I’ve been dreaming of Christmas next year and the years after that. That’s a bit different because you’re in those dreams and Christmas will be our own.
Merry Christmas, Mama and Daddy. I hope you are together again forever and with the family you loved so well.
3 thoughts on “The First Christmas without My Mother”
Such a year of firsts for you. A new experience at an unfamiliar depth. It doesn’t surprise me that new stories are emerging as you move more fully into yourself. No words for how much I love that letters are at the root of it all. Gretchen, thank you for telling the story as only you can,
(That cape is just spectacular !)
What a lovely post for Christmas. It’s been a holiday for remembering and missing loved ones for me as well. Thank you! Cathy
Sent from my iPhone
Blessed Christmas, Mom and Dad!