The year was 1966. I was somewhat precocious as an 8-year old and it would prove to be my most memorable Christmas to date, not for its joy or the presents under the tree but for the one who wasnít there on December 25.
Steve, my oldest brother, was in Viet Nam. His letters were few and far between that year. We would wait for the mail every day and I vividly recall the postman looking down and shaking his head. On occasion, when Mom didnít think anyone saw her, she was off alone in some room, weeping softly, fearing the worst. She told me that happened every time she heard Elvis sing ìBlue Christmas.î He sang it a lot in 1967.
What I remember the most that year was the tree. It was white, they called it a flocked tree, treated with some substance to preserve it indefinitely. This was necessary this particular year because that tree wasnít coming down any time soon. Not until Steve could see it for himself.
January came and went and my brother didnít make it home and so we waited. And the tree stood in our living room waiting with us.
February. While our neighbors celebrated Valentineís Day, they must have wondered a bit to themselves about the family down the street with the white Christmas tree that stood at attention, waiting for Steve to come thru the door. Those who knew us understood. After Christmas we didnít turn on the lights. We told our friends, when you go by and see the tree lit up, you will know our boy is home with us.
March. No brother. at school weíd sing ìWhen Johnny Comes Marching Homeî and Iíd proudly substitute Steveís name in the song. But the tree didnít budge.
April. The frigid winter had given way to the balmier waves of spring. On my way home from school, I started down the alley that led to our back door. And then I saw him. There he stood, my brother, in the flesh, safe from bullets and bombs and hand grenades. The shouts must have been heard for three blocks.
That night, the lights went on and our family was all together again.
This post is dedicated to those families who are separated from loved ones this year. And say an extra prayer for Colts coach Tony Dungy and family, as they prepare to bury his son.