Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve, 1944

Christmas Eve, 1944

I wanted something
to warm me up.
I asked the waitress
for a cup of coffee.
There is none.
Then I asked her
for a cup of tea.
“But it’s on the menu,” I said.
“There’s a war on Mister,
ain’tcha heard?”

The man on the radio
with the RKO voice
reports that Glenn Miller
is still missing--
not a scrap of the plane
can be found.
Where is he?
Somewhere with
Amelia Earhart
having tea.

©JEF 1986

Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican, 1944

American soldiers at Christmas Eve Mass, the Vatican, 1944

Christmas Eve letter from soldier, 1944, via Macy at Picasa Web

On Christmas Eve in 1944, the war in the Pacific Theater was raging. I said goodbye to my husband, Steven Turner, at the train station in Los Angeles, California. We had been married only a year. A photographer and chief petty officer in the Naval Air Forces, he was off to San Diego for his next assignment aboard an aircraft carrier.
Amid a horde of people—men in uniform and women crying, hugging and calling goodbyes—I stood, holding back tears and panic as he stepped on the train. He turned at the last minute and shouted above the din, “I’ll be home for Christmas, I promise.” “Promise,” I mouthed. Steven smiled his lovely honey smile and nodded.
I went back home to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and took up my job at the local welfare office. I lived with three other “war brides” in an old antebellum home presided over by a dear, elderly lady.
I waited for his letters, letters that often told of distant islands under a different sun, of Japanese suicide plans that missed their mark, of loneliness and longing.
The “brides” and I felt blessed to have one another, sharing our fears and loneliness, offering comforting words when letters didn’t arrive, keeping one another company at the movies or on long walks, keeping a radio vigil when news came of battles in far-off places.
Suddenly, the war was over—Japan had surrendered! We laughed and yelled and ran down the street, talking to strangers and even hugging them. Then we settled down to wait.
Time passed, and the letters came telling me about Japan and POW camps they flew over, dropping food and supplies. This was good work, I knew, but I wanted my husband home.
And then it was December and Christmas Eve. I stayed late at work, packing food baskets that would be distributed the next day to some of our clients. I returned to an empty house. The “brides” had gone to their homes for Christmas. I would go south tomorrow to have dinner with my family.
My landlady and I ate a solitary meal together, and she spoke of Christmas past, and I thought of Christmas last. Finally, sadly, I climbed the stairs and went to my room. Later, listening to the radio, I heard Bing Crosby singing I’ll Be Home for Christmas. The music made me weep.
It was almost midnight and still I could not sleep. I moved over to the window seat and looked out at the street. The icy moon seemed to light up the world.
A car turned the corner and came slowly down the street. It was a taxi, which stopped in front of my house. Curious, I leaned against the window. A tall figure emerged from the back. The driver came around the car and shook his hand. Suddenly, I knew.
Miraculously, I knew.
Forgetting my feet were bare, I ran down the stairs, out the front door and down the sidewalk, not even feeling the freezing concrete beneath my feet. He turned, opened his arms and picked me up. I was laughing and crying. He asked the cabbie, “Will you please bring my bag into the house? This lady has begun to go barefoot in freezing weather.”
Then he whispered to me, “I promised, remember?”
And the year we’d spent apart vanished like a fleck of foam.
—Dean Harding McGarity
Duncanville, Texas


Author Dean Harding McGarity with her husband, Steven, Christmas 1945


Nicole said...

Oh, that's wonderful!
Your poem, the letter from a soldier, and the beautiful story from the "war bride".

I think this was a beautiful Christmas post.


Dean Harding McGarity said...

Hi Jeff, this is Dean Harding McGarity,so pleased you liked my Christmas War Story. It is all true. And thanks to Nicole for your kind critique. If you enjoyed this story, check out my book, "Comfort Me With Apples" on Amazon.

Jeff (Geoff) said...

Ms. Harding McGarity,

What an honor to receive a visit from you! I absolutely love your story and the direct yet moving way you told it. It captured a time and a place that I was not alive for, but a time and place which lives in photos, newsreels, music, anecdotes, and stories as lovely and touching and human as yours.

I plan on re-posting it in December along with your comment and book info!

Thank you so much for sharing your memories and your life. I appreciate it and as you can see, others do too.