More stories from readers recalling holidays spent in unfamiliar surroundings.
Here are a few more stories we received on the “Far from Home for the Holidays” theme that we weren’t able to print in the magazine.
I eagerly joined my husband, Chuck, in 1952 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was stationed at the Sandia Army base as Corporal in the Ordnance branch of the Army.
The Southwest was a part of the United States I’d never traveled before, and stepping off the train in Albuquerque opened my eyes. As far as I could see there was brown wasteland desert, and massive mountains surrounded the city. A rush of heat caught in my breath as I realized I wasn’t in Minnesota anymore.
We lived off base among other servicemen and their wives in row houses nestled at the foot of the Sandia Mountains. Rain didn’t come often, but when it did, it brought torrents of water down the mountainsides, washing snakes into the vicinity of our row houses. Luckily, we managed to keep them from getting inside. Sand storms were frequent, and I swept sand, which blew in under the doors and poorly sealed windows, out of the house daily.
We made many friends living in the row houses. Couples were there from all different parts of the country, and we were intrigued by all of the accents. We traveled to many places when the men had leave or a weekend pass. We enjoyed visiting the art galleries in Santa Fe, picnicking in the mountains and driving to the Grand Canyon. Our group became very close.
Having friends made the thought of the upcoming holidays a little easier to reflect upon. At Thanksgiving, one couple prepared a turkey in a paper bag. That was a method I hadn’t seen before, and I questioned the procedure. Much to my surprise, though, the turkey was deliciously moist and evenly browned. The rest of us brought side dishes, and we had an outstanding dinner.
The approach of my first Christmas away from home made me sad. I was used to having snow underfoot while doing my holiday shopping. It was customary to see snow drifts piled high in front of houses and to see children happily building snowmen or tossing snowballs. What would Christmas be like this year?
I tried to get into the spirit of the holidays, but it was difficult. Not only did I miss my family, but I also missed our holiday traditions.
Chuck and the rest of the men had the evening of Christmas Eve off, but they had to report for duty Christmas morning. We had decided to invite all of our neighbors over for Christmas Eve dinner, so I had bought a few decorations to make our small quarters festive. We hung garland over the door entryways and placed candles on the tables. We bought a small pine tree and placed it on a table near the window, then we decorated it with lights and silver icicles.
Everyone arrived at dusk, and we began the evening by singing some favorite Christmas carols. Our voices were strong as we sang “Jingle Bells” and other upbeat carols, but when we started singing “Silent Night,” our voices softened, as though all of us were thinking of a different time and place.
We had ham and a few other dishes for dinner, then, after dessert, our friends left us with cheery wishes.
As I was picking up the dirty dishes, I glanced out the window.
“Chuck, look! Is that snow falling?” I hollered.
“No, it can’t be. You don’t see snow around here except in the mountains,” he said.
“But, look,” I said. “It is snowing.”
The yard light cast a glow over the row houses, and we could see snow flurries gently falling to the warm ground before melting.
“Why, you’re right,” Chuck said, looking over my shoulder.
We stood at the window and watched the magical sight, and tears began to burn my eyes.
I turned to my husband and said, “Merry Christmas.”
He kissed me, then said, “Merry Christmas to you, honey.”
What a wonderful Christmas it turned out to be.
Betty - Kansas City, Missouri
When my brother, Harry, joined the military during World War II, his wife, Virginia, remained in Stockton, California. She contacted me and wanted me to move to Stockton and stay with her, telling me that the jobs there were a dime a dozen. So, I packed a suitcase, hopped on a bus and joined her. I immediately found a job working in the office at The Pullman Company, a train depot.
Our living quarters consisted of one bedroom in the home of the sheriff of Stockton. He and his wife were both very nice people.
This was the first time I had ever been away from home, and it was fun for the first few months. However, then Christmas started creeping up on us. When we helped decorate a five-foot-tall Christmas tree at the sheriff’s home, homesickness hit me. I suddenly had feelings that were very difficult to explain. Nothing made me happy. I was ready to give up everything – my job, being with my sister-in-law, doing all the fun things we did – and head home.
I purchased a bus ticket and went home. After spending a few days with my family, I began feeling normal again. Suddenly, I had a different feeling about being out on my own, so I went back to Stockton. I was happy when I arrived at The Pullman Company and my job was still open. I never again experienced that bad feeling of homesickness.
Susan - St. Joseph, Missouri
When my husband and I married, our parents insisted we spend Christmas with both families. Therefore, we had to hurry from Mass to get to my parents’ house 60 miles away for Christmas dinner, then spend a short time opening gifts with them. Then it was back in the car to drive another 50 miles to my husband’s parents’ house. At the end of the day, our children still hadn’t had a chance to enjoy the gifts Santa had left at our house, and instead of being joyful, they were tired and cranky after spending much of the day in the car.
I vowed then that when our children were grown and married, I would never insist that they come home for Christmas.
We were actually eased into celebrating Christmas on a different day long before the first child married. It began when our oldest daughter was in college and was a member of the marching band. The football team was playing in a Bowl game out of state over the holiday, and the band accompanied them. So, we had our Christmas celebration after she returned. The next year she was working for a bus company that was open on Christmas, and she volunteered to work so her co-workers who had children could spend the day with their families.
When our son married, I wanted our daughter-in-law to be able to spend Christmas with her family, who lived out of state and came home every other year for the holidays. That being the case, we celebrated that year on New Year’s Day. Then one year, our younger daughter, who worked at a nursing home, volunteered to work Christmas Day so those with families could be home with their children.
Those years were all fine with my husband and me, because we were all able to be together to celebrate, even if it wasn’t on Christmas Day. In our home, Christmas is never a date on the calendar, it’s the day when all the family can be together to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.
Marilyn - Monticello, Iowa
I left my parents and home in Michigan a couple of months after graduating from high school and found employment in Wisconsin. When Christmas rolled around that first year, I took a bus to Wisconsin, which I still considered home, and spent the holidays with my family.
After about six months in Wisconsin, I joined the Air Force. I went home for Christmas my first two years in the military, even though it meant flying military standby, hoping there would be an empty seat left after all the passengers had boarded.
At home, Mom always chose a big, fragrant pine tree and decorated it with all the handmade ornaments my sisters and I had made while we were growing up, and Christmas dinner would include nothing that wasn’t made from scratch. Each year, I anxiously looked forward to seeing Mom, Dad, my sisters and their families, and a cousin or two.
When I was 21, I got married and spent my first Christmas away from home and my family. My husband and I were stationed in Minnesota, so we had a white Christmas, but a Christmas for two was completely different from the family gathering I was used to. I adjusted to the new way of the holiday, and after we had children, we developed our own holiday traditions.
I still fondly remember the holiday celebrations we had in the little city in Michigan where I grew up more than 40 years ago. As life changes, we have to change with it, but we will always have our memories.
Mary - Abilene, Texas
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