It was bitterly cold and I was a long way from home.
Christmas 1985 was in Pirmasens, West Germany that year. West Germany then because The Wall was still up. The barracks at Husterhoeh Kaserne was old and drafty as hell but the floors had been shined up like a new jump boot. We all knew to be pretty careful walking around because one false move, buddy, and you're down for the count. Paste wax ain't no joke.
I was waiting for a package from home but here it was Christmas Day and it still hadn't gotten here. The military postal service would still be delivering today if they had gotten anything in on Christmas Eve so no soldier would have a package waiting. They were a pretty awesome postal service back then. I was sorely disappointed that I missed out on Christmas with family and now my Christmas would have to wait until I could get my package and share it with my family, even if only in spirit.
I got dressed and took a walk.
I could smell something cooking from the day room kitchenette so I headed that way. Laughter and smiles greeted me from a few soldiers who had gathered together to cook up some mac n cheese and a few other small dishes, most of it straight out of a can. I stood in the doorway and watched their camaraderie for a few minutes before I headed outside to brave the bitterly cold wind.
(I was in building 4437 and my room caught ALL the wind from the banana buildings!)
I met up with Andy and Mark, who, in their usual winter attire of shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops, were on their way to get a pizza. I declined their oh-so-generous offer of a slice and beer and went, instead, across a small bridge outside the Kaserne which lead to the back streets of Pirmasens. I took the long way getting into downtown Pirmasens and wrapped my coat a little tighter.
It was Christmas. I was homesick.
The day was bright and sunny without any wind (surprise!) and people passed me right and left, arms full of packages, purses and happy but strangely quiet children. Delicious smells from the restaurants as I passed by made me hungry but I kept walking until I got to the Schlossbrunnen, the city's beautiful circular fountain with their famed bull, xxx, sitting quietly atop. I stood and watched the water for a while, clicking off a few photos. I don't have the photos anymore but I still have the memories, sketchy though they might be at times.
It was, after all, 26 years ago Christmas Day.
I made my way to the Eingang zur Fußgängerzone Hauptstraße. Germany has a different smell; a different feel about it that I can still remember. It's the smell of wonderful - the smell of unique. It's amazing to me that even to this day when I remember the freshness of the air in Germany, my heart melts.
And I believe with all my heart that Germany remembers me, too.
The shopping area was mostly deserted and most of the shops closed but I managed to find a small cafe open for just a few hours and ordered a small coffee. It was perfect to sit and watch the people come in and out - a man drinking a coffee and reading a newspaper. A woman with shopping packages drinking from a tall glass and dressed so warmly in a pea-green fur-lined coat and black boots. A young man in his 20's coming in for a Pirminator, Pirmasens special beer only sold during the holidays. It was rumored that the beer came straight off the top of the vat and was highly favored among the citizens of Pirmasens as well as the soldiers who lived and worked there.
I was missing my family. My home. My holidays. It was the first time I'd ever been away from home and I truly wanted to be there to share in the spirit of Christmas with them. I had already bought gifts - I can't remember what I got anyone except Jimmy. I had bought him a black bomber jacket that had a map of Germany on the back of it. I didn't realize that he'd be growing like a weed and would only be able to wear it a short time. I was proud to get it for him.
I finished my coffee and took a stroll around the city looking at the Christmas displays and passed by the small shops with their tempting pastries and smoked meats and fresh-baked breads. I ate at one of my favorite restaurants then headed back to the barracks. I had hoped that a package would arrive from mom while I was out but I guess it was delayed a few days. I had no presents to open. No homemade fudge or cookies to share with the soldiers I was stationed with. No cards, pictures or letters to display.
Man, I was homesick!
I got back to my room and made some coffee. I tried to read but couldn't. I'd already cleaned my room so that was out. I laid on the bed and decided to take a nap but couldn't.
Then.......a knock on my door.
There stood the CQ Runner who had a package for me. Actually, he had another guy help him carry it in. I was so thrilled, I think I kissed them but I'm not sure. I dove in while they went back to their post and the first thing that I saw was......
My Christmas Tree!!!!!
It was so pretty and already had little ornaments on it!
I kept looking and must have pulled 20 packages out of the box. Packages wrapped with pretty paper and ribbons and bows and just wonderful to look at!
I was a happy soldier!
I read all the cards 3 or 4 times - the letters many more times than that and had polished off most of the cookies by that time. Mom had sent me a tape of Elvis Christmas songs so I played it and sang along with "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and couldn't help but smell the house filling up with mouth-watering scents as she and dad cooked the Christmas dinner, complete with fresh coconut cake for dessert. I couldn't help but see the Christmas tree that mom puts up every year that would rival a Macy's decorations any day. I couldn't help but see family and friends coming in and out of the house all day, enjoying each other with hugs and laughter and a bit of fussing by mom not to put their cups on the coffee table because they would make rings and telling people not to step on the dog.
Mom's Christmas village, the nutcracker and snowmen collections and the Old World Santas filled my mind and in my mind, I walked every square inch of the house, picking up small objects in my mind and holding them close to my heart. I laughed and cried for days but that special time will truly be burned into my heart forever.
Forever....and then some.