Christmas – Military Brat Style

Lionel "Southern Express" Electric Train
Lionel “Southern Express” Electric Train

The first Christmas I can clearly remember was 1959. I was six years old. My family lived in Glendale, Arizona.

Did I ever go to my paternal grandmother’s for Christmas? No. I never did that I can remember.

Did I ever go to my maternal grandparent’s for Christmas? No. I did not that I can recall. We never exchanged gifts or had Christmas dinner with extended family.

The closest thing I can remember about a visit to relatives was in December 1963. My father was in Vietnam on a one-year tour of duty. Mother, brother, and I went to my mother’s between Christmas and New Years, but not for Christmas.

The first experience I had with an extended family Christmas celebration was when I was dating my wife. In 1972, I went to her parents on Christmas Eve. We had a feast like I had never seen before. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and nieces were there. There weren’t any nephews yet. It was the most wonderful Norman Rockwell type of setting I had ever seen or could ever imagine. I fell in love with her family’s tradition. That’s another story for another time.

Ten years early, this time living on Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, I had a wonderful Christmas memory. My family always took a walk through the neighborhood on Christmas Eve. When living on military bases we would knock on neighbor’s doors and sing Jingle Bells, The First Noël, and Silent Night. Magically when we returned home, Santa had always visited.

This year he brought my brother and me an electric train set. Somehow between the time we left and returned the train set was delivered to a table, set up with landscaping, and ready to run. You could turn off the room’s light and see the light from the Lionel Electric Train. The train even had steam come out the smoke stack. It was the best present ever!

I played with that train until I married. The last time I saw it I helped store it in my dad’s attic just before I married. The train traveled many a mile with me to three more duty stations and then to the retirement destination. On my father’s meager pay as a Technical Sergeant of $325 a month plus another $105 a month hazardous duty pay somehow we lived well.

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