Home for Christmas

She told the story every year with a warm smile on her face.  Sometimes her eyes got a little bit misty.

“It was 1943, and the War was on, and your father was in the Navy, on a ship somewhere in the Pacific.  We never knew where he was.  Like all the other boys I knew, he was in danger every day.  We lived for the mail, we were terrified of unfamiliar visitors in uniform.  A telegram sent us into a panic.  And ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ had just been recorded by Bing Crosby.  It was Number One on the Hit Parade.”

That’s how Mom started the story every time.

Of course I’ll Be Home For Christmas was Number One that year.  Everyone, or just about, was hoping that someone they loved would, in fact, be home for Christmas.  That all the boys would be home for good.  But all too many people were disappointed.  I doubt there were many dry eyes when that song came on the radio that year or for the next few.

Mom and Dad got engaged right around Pearl Harbor Day, but the War lengthened their courtship significantly because Dad enlisted shortly after the attack.  It was to be a long war, and a long engagement.  But Mom was in love with her handsome man.  If possible, I think that Dad was even more so.

Mom, Circa 1943

Mom, Circa 1943

 

My Dad was drop-dead gorgeous, and I have heard that in his single days, he was a bit of a ladies’ man.  Every girl in town, it seemed, had a crush on Dad.

Dad, Circa 1943

Dad, Circa 1943

 

In fact, my Aunt Sally once told me that she had been manning a booth at a church bizarre one Saturday in about 1995, when an elderly woman came up to talk to her.

“Are you Freddie E’s sister?” the woman asked Aunt Sal.

“Yes I am.  Do you know my brother?” Aunt Sal responded.

“I did,she sighed.  “I haven’t seen him since we graduated from high school in 1935.  Sixty years ago.  He was,” she stopped to think of just the right word, “… He was dream-my.”

“He still is,” Sally quipped.

One day not long after after Mom had passed, Dad and I were looking at some pictures I hadn’t seen before.

“Dad,” I told him with wonder looking at a particularly good shot, “You should have gone to Hollywood.  You’d have been a star.”

“Nah,” Dad said.  “Mom would never have gone with me.  And once the war was over, well, I wasn’t going anywhere else without her.”

Dad circa 1935

Dad circa 1935

Dad never quite got over feeling lucky that he had Mom.  And he never stopped loving her.

But back to Mom’s story.

“It was Christmas morning, 1943, and I went over to visit Dad’s mom and dad.  Grammy E’d had symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease for seven or eight years at that point.  She could still move around (she was later, when I knew her, almost completely paralyzed), but she could barely talk.”

Mom continued.  But your Dad’s mom was singing ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  Well, she was trying to sing it, any how. She kept repeating that one line, over and over again.  ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’  I thought she was crazy.”

“You see,” Mom would say, “Your father had somehow managed to get Christmas leave – he was coming home!  He wanted to surprise me and wouldn’t let anyone tell me he was coming.  He was expected any minute, and there I was, trying to leave.  But I couldn’t stay.  That song made me cry; Freddie was so far away, and in so much danger.  I couldn’t bear hearing it.”

So Mom left after a while, she had other people and her own family to see.  Later Dad caught up with her and they spent most of Christmas together.  Both of them always smiled at the memory.  Dad was home for Christmas that year, just like in the song.  It was a magical year for them both.

Mom was always touched by Dad’s surprise and by his mother’s loving gesture in fighting back the paralysis that was taking over her body to try to get her son’s girl to stay.  To sing when she could barely speak.

“I’ve always wished I’d stayed.”

We lost Mom on Easter of 1997, and Dad really never got over her passing.

The song and Mom’s story took on an even more poignant meaning in 2000.  Because on Christmas of that year, Dad joined Mom again for the holiday.  He went “home” to Mom for Christmas again, joining her in the afterlife.

Even through the sadness of losing Dad on Christmas, I always have to smile when I hear that song.  Because I can just see the warmth in Mom’s eyes now as she welcomed Dad home.  This time, I’m sure she was waiting for him with open arms.

100 Comments

Filed under Family, History, Humor, Mom, Music

100 responses to “Home for Christmas

  1. Pingback: Heartbreak | FiftyFourandAHalf

  2. Pingback: My Silver Lining – Shining Again | FiftyFourandAHalf

  3. This is beautiful, Elyse.

    Like

  4. Pingback: Our Own Waterloo | FiftyFourandAHalf

  5. Pingback: The Green Study “Worst Job I Ever Had” Contest: 2nd Place | The Green Study

  6. Pingback: The Green Study Holiday Humor Contest: 2nd Place | The Green Study

  7. Beautiful writing Elyse, in a wonderful post. I love the photo of your Dad when he was a sailor – His personality shines out brightly right now in that image. The 1935 shot of your Dad is also great, with such great contrast between light and dark, yet still catching the sparkle in his eyes, and the brightness of his smile. Your Mom’s image when she was so young in 1943 is striking also. Thanks for sharing all this with us Elyse – it’s straight from your heart and it’s beautiful.

    Like

  8. Wow, Elyse! What a beautiful story…and you did such a fine job telling it. I never put that song in the proper context before. I won’t make that mistake again.

    And, yes, dreamy! He had what I call “smiley eyes”…my favorite. You must miss them dearly.

    Like

    • And all I inherited from him were the bags under his eyes…. his eyes absolutely danced with mischief!

      Glad you liked the story, Angie. It is near and dear.

      Like

  9. What a poignant and powerful story… Your parents were soulmates in life and in death. I must say they were both beautiful, soulful people and they passed on that warm quality to you… Glad we met.:-)
    Eliz

    Like

    • Thanks, Eliz. It is my favorite story, I think. It did take me a while to get or perhaps to accept the connection. But it now makes me feel pretty good. Home for Christmas. Just right, somehow.

      Like

  10. Pingback: Unbroken Circle | terry1954

  11. The best stories make you smile and shed a tear too. This did that for me and is wonderful.

    Like

  12. Great story. Your dad was a good looking man. The naval photo reminded me of my dad was also in the Navy and wore a beard much like your father’s.

    Like

  13. GOF

    Beautiful story…thanks for sharing it Elyse
    Perhaps my own parents had a similar history but they never spoke about it and they died before I asked. Aussies have wartime memories rekindled when we listen to the songs of Vera Lynn.

    Like

    • Glad you liked it GOF. It is hard to get all the stories you want to get from your parents. By the time I was interested in them, they couldn’t remember.

      Also, my father loved to tell silly stories and he would make them up. I will never actually know how he met my mom because he made up a different version every time I asked (“Oh, I was walking down the road and she ran after me and wouldn’t let go.”…)

      Are there any others who might know some of your parent’s? I find that I don’t remember many of my own with my two late sisters. So I’ve taken a page from Dad’s book and I make them up from time to time.

      Like

  14. Oh Elyse, this is so sad and happy and lovely – I’ve got tears in my eyes. What a great thought -that your parents are both home, together now for Christmas.

    Like

    • Thanks for that nice comment, Peg. I get a big lump in my throat every time I hear that song. It’s so sad and hopeful and lonely, all at the same time. It must have been a hard song for folks to listen to way back then.

      Like

  15. Wow! I bet that song has special meaning to you. What a well-told story!

    The first thing I thought of when I saw your mom’s picture was that something about her made me think of Judy Garland. Your dad was a handsome bloke and does remind me of a movie star, but I can’t figure out who… I’ll think of it tonight. Probably about 3:00 am…

    Like

    • I always thought that Mom looked kind of like Jean Simmons (although she WAS quite a singer) and that Dad was a cross between Spencer Tracy and Red Buttons. He had more the Red Buttons personality (unless you were in trouble).

      Glad you liked the story — and welcome back!

      Like

  16. Such a sweet story, Elyse. I’d leave a longer comment, but can’t see the screen through the tears in my eyes.

    Like

  17. A really lovely story, and a beautiful tribute.

    Like

  18. It sounds like it all happened exactly the way it was supposed to. Bittersweet memories for you, I’m sure, but they sounded perfect for each other in this world and the next. Plus they brought you here!! what more could anyone ask for???

    Like

  19. What a beautiful memory! Love is such a powerful force and everlasting.

    Like

  20. What a sweet story. Their generation went through so very much – that song meant so much more than a plane ticket and a week off work.

    Like

    • That’s the wonder of our fighting men and women during the first half of the 20th century. Coming home meant sailing on a ship – a fancy. 25-30mph cruise liner if you were REALLY lucky, a regular old 15-20mph freighter if you weren’t. From France, or from the Pacific, days on the water just to reach a coast. Then train rides across the continent – again, if you were lucky, an express to your home big city, and even more days, switching trains and finally to buses, home to the farm. 2 weeks could mean less than 24 hours with a loved one, yet hundreds of thousands of them did just that. Otherwise, it was two weeks (average) to get a letter from home after you’d written – unless you were on some rock in the Pacific Ocean, and then it was anybody’s guess.
      I’m not disrespecting today’s generation – I have HUGE respect for our veterans. But a 500mph jet airliner or a Skype call home just doesn’t feel as tough on the soldier as a hand-written letter crawling its’ way around the world. And imagine what it was like for an Aussie or Kiwi, serving with Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in Europe, or even worse, North Africa or Italy. A long war, a long way from home……

      Like

      • I never knew where Dad actually came from for this leave. I’m fairly confused about it. He did two tours in the Pacific, I know (including one on the USS Monterey with future President Gerald Ford — http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/28/opinion/28drury.html?_r=0) He was also stationed in California for a time, and Maine. But my impression was that my mom said he was in the Pacific.

        Not only that though, my Dad’s stories (which were frequently totally invented) were about the fun he had hitching rides, looking up his name in a phone book and copping a meal (we must be related! he’d say.)

        But I’d be bitching!

        Like

        • It wouldn’t be unheard to have him in the NE, especially shortly after December 7, 1941. Pearl was doing SO much work in both repairing the damaged ships, and transferring cargoes from West Coast ships to trans-Pacific cargo ships, the East Coast did a lot of work, then sent the ships through the Panama Canal to the Pacific. Several battleships were patched at Pearl, steamed to the East Coast, were repaired there, then steamed BACK to Pearl. And there were just SO many ships, from the huge battlewagons and carriers to small cargo ships and navy landing ships. For an idea of traffic, look up “LSTs explode in Pearl Harbor” from 1944 – a number of Landing Ships, Tank were destroyed or damaged in an ammunition explosion, so there are TWO sets of ships still on Pearl’s bottom. If you can get me ship names, I know of a few different websites that traced the ships throughout WW2 – I’ll see if I can look them up and let you know where your dad was.

          Like

          • John, you are so sweet.

            I know he was on the Monterey — during the typhoon he and a buddy rescued another sailor who was washed overboard and got medals for doing so. I don’t know the name of the other ship. I know where he was, I just don’t know the chronology. Or, exactly where he was when he surprised Mom.

            Dad was really funny about his war experience. He did not want to talk about it. So he would tell us silly stories about his shore leave. I think it touched him far deeper than he wanted to admit.

            XX

            Like

            • That wouldn’t surprise me, my own father did something similar about his time in Korea. I know there was a huge typhoon in the summer of 1944, I think it sank a couple destroyers, but it tore the HECK outta many ships, including a couple carriers if memory serves. No worries, the offer stands open. As you get info, you can shoot me an Email, and I’ll see what I can dig up. No problem – it’ll actually be fun for me!

              Like

    • Thanks, Lorri. It really was an amazing generation. I just read that Senator Inouye of Hawaii, a Japanese American who, along with his family was placed into an internment camp and who left it to go fight in Europe. Do any of us in our generation or our children’s generation have the gumption to do that? Somehow, I doubt it.

      Like

  21. Tears are flowing now. oh. I shoudn’t have read this when there are no tissues left in the house! Love those old photos. Such a sweet thought, imagining them together. I will be thinking of you this Christmas, Elyse. I know it must be hard for you.

    Like

    • Sorry, Darla. I should have a hanky warning, shouldn’t I. I’m not quite sure how to do it. Then again with today’s beautiful post you fooled me, too. And so there I was, still at my desk, sobbing over your words. So I guess fair is fair!

      Seriously though, I am OK. Writing has made it easier to bear, as has time. It’s been 12 years. Now, while I miss Dad I think that realizing the connection between this story and his Christmas Day passing (which took me much longer than I care to admit) makes it seem just right. Funny, isn’t it?

      I know that with small children you must be hugging them a little tighter tonight. Give them one from me too.

      Like

      • I am glad to know you are OK. Time and writing has saved me on many occasions!

        And I will give them a hug from you. Although, I really haven’t stopped
        hugging my daughter all weekend. She’s the same age as the victims so every time I look at her sweet face it’s hard not to break down (I’ve done all my crying in private, but still I am a wreck)

        Like

  22. It’s a beautiful story. 🙂 Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Like

  23. Darn you, I always LOVED “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as a melancholy song, with the image of a soldier in the snows of 1944 France, sitting on his helmet, writing a letter home to his loved ones. Now you’ve given me a reason to love it as a HAPPY song. 😉
    A wonderful, sappy, romantic story. I love it. 😀

    Like

  24. Thank you for sharing this beautiful memory.
    I’m going to stop reading and writing for a while now and just think about it. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Like

  25. This was a Wonderful and Beautiful story. thank you

    Like

    • Glad you liked it, Val. It lifted my spirits quite a bit — I’d been working on it for a while, put off posting it on Saturday and then finished it up last night. It makes me feel a bit better than I have since Friday.

      Like

  26. You’ve commented before on how the holidays suck for you because of how you’ve lost loved ones on them.
    I wonder if the holidays aren’t a chance for a celebration of their love…

    And either way, a wonderful story, and it’s easy to see how their daughter is so cool, having been surrounded by such love!
    ( /sappy )

    Like

    • Thanks, Guap. The holildays are not my favorite time of year, and it is because folks I care about kick the bucket. But I think your way of looking at it is closer to how I started looking at it just beginning last year. Coincidentally, it was when I started writing about it.

      I’m glad you like their story — and me! XX

      Like

  27. Jueseppi B.

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    Thank you Ms. Elyse for this post. Reminds us what Christmas is really about.

    Like

  28. What a great story. Your mom must have been shocked when he surprised her.

    Like

  29. Beautiful story. The war was a tough time. I am glad that your Dad made it through.

    Like

    • Thanks, Kate. Isn’t it hard to fathom what folks went through during WWII? Could we be so strong, so brave, so willing to give up everything? I’m not so sure.

      I’m glad Dad made it too — otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this!

      Like

  30. What a great story and a sweet testament to your parents’ love for each other. Thanks for sharing this, Elyse.

    Like

  31. What a sweet story. And your dad was Dream-my 🙂 Your mom is a beauty, too!

    Like

  32. Michelle Gillies

    It was a wonderful thing to wake up to this heartwarming story. I can’t thank you enough for sharing it with us. I agree your Dad really did have a face for Hollywood and this piece is FP worthy.

    Like

    • Thanks, Michelle. I actually finished it up just before going to bed and I think I slept more peacefully because of it than I had in a couple of nights.

      And I do think that Dad couldda been a contender!

      Like

  33. Beautiful words for not only the holiday season, but for life! … and the peace you have comes through loud and clear. … and another one worthy of FP!

    Like

  34. Le Clown

    Elyse,
    I have no words. I’ll suggest this to the FP Gods. It was a perfect read so early on today with my coffee. Thank you.
    Le Clown

    Like

    • Tthanks, LC. I’ve been working on this one for a while and while doing the final editing yesterday (between comments with you) it really helped me feel better. Love always does!

      Like

  35. So beautiful, Elyse. Thank you for sharing some of their love here!

    Like

  36. Such a beautiful story so lovingly told. Thank you for telling us the significance of that song during those years for many. Your dad seemed to have the eyes and smile that would melt any heart.

    Like

  37. Thank you so much for sharing them with us .. and the significance of that beautiful song.
    And yes, he was dreamy!!
    MJ

    Like

    • Thanks MJ. One of my earliest memories was of my mom hanging a picture of a guy in a sailor suit — Who’s that?” I asked, breathlessly. “That’s your dad when he was in the Navy.” I was in love. Sadly I don’t have that picture.

      Like

  38. This is an amazing Christmas story and a wonderful way to start my day.
    Ps: Dad does have a Hollywood smile!

    Like

Play nice, please.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s