My mom, Nancy, is posting a different Christmas memory for 12 days. She gave me her blessing to repost them here. It’s amazing how a life story can be told through the lens of a certain day.
Fourth Christmas Day Memory – California Dreamin’
After getting married in September and a honeymoon road trip to Yellowstone, North Dakota and Minnesota to visit family, we checked in at Camp Pendleton around the first of October. We found an apartment in Carlsbad, all our meager possessions were still in storage, and we had little cash. My husband, Phil, had just been recalled to the USMC and we would not be getting a paycheck for at least a month. No phone, no television, no credit cards.
After a just a few days he came home and announced that he was being sent to Pickel Meadows for cold weather training for the next month or so and gave me what cash he had. It was something less than $100. Since I knew no one, my only company was our dog, Carey and our two cats, one of whom promptly ran away.
I spent most of the money not on food, but at a craft store, deciding to spend my time creating Christmas ornaments for our first married perfect Christmas together. I spent hours hand painting little wooden ornaments for our first tree.
My husband came home, we moved into base housing complete with well-worn housing furniture and suddenly it was Christmas. I don’t know where I thought we were going to find a Christmas tree – being from Oregon I guess I just thought everyone could go out and cut one down. Living near the beach at Camp Pendleton, the base a mostly sand and barren landscape, my husband just laughed and said we could just decorate our one foot high rubber tree plant.
There was no place to hang my ornaments (not to mention no fireplace for stockings) and I was a little sad having my first Christmas away from home in a place that did not look even remotely like it was time for Christmas. But Phil did have a surprise for me – he had gathered gigantic pine cones and greenery while at cold weather training and had kept them sealed in a bag. I opened the bag and smelled Christmas!
My mom sent us two little ornaments for our first Christmas – a green felt boy elf; and a little white girl angel. Somehow over the years, the elf was lost, but this year I still hung up the tattered angel on the back of my tree reminding me of that very sweet, simple and joyful first Christmas as I learned lesson #1 for any Marine wife. Adapt and overcome is not just a saying, it is a way of life. And Phil learned how important it was to his wife to create the traditions and rituals which help define our family and remind us who we are.
This year my family will celebrate with some of our old traditions and adapt new ones to accommodate new situations, new in-laws, and the complicated demands on modern blended families. Let us all enjoy the spirit and feeling of the love at Christmas no matter what it looks like.