I'll Be Home For Christmas (And So Will The Rest Of My Unit)
A Christmas Story From Ft. Eustis, VA
What would you do if suddenly, on Christmas, nineteen young men showed up at your front door, ready to have Christmas Dinner? And you only had a twenty-pound turkey? What if these nineteen young men had just happened to have come home from Iraq? I spend my life traveling around the country, looking for and listening for stories, but sometimes, I don't have to travel very far to find a good story. I hope you enjoy this one from Ft. Eustis, Virginia. Some names have been changed to protect the guilty! Merry Christmas.
Photo: US VA
An Unexpected Homecoming
My son joined the army, went off to boot camp, and got stationed in Iraq. His deployment was even extended four extra months. You better believe we prayed 5 times more than usual during those days. We knew he was supposed to come home in November, but we couldn't count on anything. I mean, we'd already planned for his arrival in the summer, gotten tickets to go meet him and everything, but had to cancel. Well, November came and went. Still no word. The day before Christmas, yes, Christmas Eve, the telephone rings. It was my son.
"Mom, I'm coming home for Christmas."
"Oh, Sweetheart! I'm so glad." I tell him.
"One thing, Mom. Can I bring a few friends? They're on the plane with me, and if they don't come over, they'll be spending Christmas alone on base, because we're getting in so late."
I immediately tell him, "Of course! All of you boys deserve to have a good Christmas dinner."
Now, I told him that. The problem, I think, was the phrasing I used. "All of you boys."
I hear the doorbell, and my daughter answers, excitedly. "Mom! It's Jack!"
And sure enough, there is my son at the door. I fuss and tell him, "Honey, you don't have to ring the door bell."
"I just wanted to surprise you, mom."
I tell him, "Come on in. And these must be the friends you were telling me about."
"Yeah, some of them. This is Peter, Paul, and Ira."
"Well, it's nice to have all of you. I need to just go add one more chair to the table."
Then, the doorbell rings again. My daughter calls to me, "Um, Mom! We have some more visitors."
When I came back, there were more soldiers at the door.
"Mom, this is Matthew, Mark, Luke and Chuck."
I'm losing count of them all at this point, now, but I don't want any of them to feel like I can't handle it. So I continue to greet them. "Ooooh. Nice to meet you. I'll go get a few more chairs."
Before I even make it to the dining room, the doorbell rings again. My daughter answers and calls to me, "Mom! Here we go again. We're not finished yet!"
The doorbell kept ringing, and more and more boys came into my home. It was almost like those circus clown cars, where they keep coming out and you don't know when it will stop. When it finally did, nineteen young men stood in my living room, waiting to eat Christmas dinner.
My daughter whispers to me. "Mom? The turkey only weighs twenty pounds? What are we going to do?"
And then I look at all of their smiling faces, and tell my daughter, "What they've been doing for the past two years. Improvise.
I ask her to help me pull the chairs away from the dining room table. We'll let the boys bring them into the great room, around the fireplace. Between the furniture already there, plus the chairs, and the comfy carpet, everyone has a spot. Then I tell my son, "Why don't you turn on "A Christmas Story", you know, "You'll shoot you're eye out, kid".
"That's my favorite mom! Thanks for getting it!"
While they watched the movie, I went through my pantry to see what I had that would feed everyone. Feeling satisfied that I could somehow make it work...
I went upstairs to my sewing kit, and counted out nineteen clothespins. - Then cut nineteen pieces of plaid ribbon...
about three inches long, grabbed nineteen pipe cleaners, cut nineteen little triangles, and snipped nineteen pieces of red yarn. About twenty minutes later, I came downstairs with a crop of clothespin elf ornaments, and brought them to the boys.
"You are my son's extended family. That means, you are my extended family, as well. And everyone in my family has an ornament on this tree. I'd like for you to share in my tradition."
I had each of the boys paint his own face on the clothespin elf, and sign his name on the leg.
And now, every year when I hang those ornaments, I remember that Christmas. It was the year of turkey and dressing, frozen pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, beans and rice and homemade waffles. And nineteen young men, who will forever be in my heart.
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