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CHRISTMASES PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

Ed Ross | Monday, December 19, 2011

Each of us who celebrate Christmas in America, at one time or another as December 25 approaches, thinks about Christmases past, present, and future. We string Christmases past together in our minds as if they were bulbs on an old strand of Christmas lights. There are those that glow dimly or not at all because they hold unhappy memories; and there are those that glow brightly with happy ones. We wonder how brightly Christmas present will glow when it becomes a Christmas past and how many more bright bulbs we’ll add to the string.

The first bright bulb in my string of lights is Christmas 1949. I was four and we lived in the basement of a cinderblock building in Swissvale, Pennsylvania, beneath the small restaurant my mom and dad owned. They and my older brother worked hard in that little restaurant, but I was too young to appreciate the situation. That year, in addition to the few small gifts my brother and I received, dad saved up and bought our first TV set, a black-and-white 13-inch Philco.

TV programs didn’t begin until five PM in those days, so we had to wait till then before we could watch anything on it. Howdy Doody came on at five after a fifteen minute test pattern. I watched them both from start to finish with amazement that night, and I was delighted with that TV more than any of the personal gifts I received.

Little children, of course, get the most out of Christmas because they are unencumbered with the realities and hardships of life. They may abandon or discard the gifts they receive for Christmas days or weeks later, but they don’t forget the attention and love that was given with them. Children of poor families receive less than children in wealthy families, but little children have not yet learned the difference. Those Christmases will always glow brightly regardless of their circumstances.

Two Christmas lights in my string flicker dimly. The first was my loneliest. In December 1966, I crossed the Pacific in a troop ship with 3,500 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade of the 9th infantry division, landing in Vietnam on December 23. We settled into division base camp south east of Saigon and awaited the ships carrying the 1st and 2nd Brigades arriving the following week when we would begin combat operations. I spent Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Day alone sitting on a sand-bag wall smoking cigarettes and wondering if this Christmas was to be my last.

From the Revolutionary War to the Afghanistan War millions of Americans have had similar experiences. Separated from their families, they look back on their Christmases past and appreciate even those that don’t glow brightly. They don’t think about the presents they gave or received or what they would give and receive it they were home. They think about the people they love and wish they could be with them. The last U.S, warrior has left Iraq, and most will be home for Christmas; but there are many more still out there in Afghanistan and around the world.

The second flickering light on my string was the scariest. In late December 1983 I was in Beijing, China, where I was stationed with my wife and two children as the assistant U.S. Army Attaché at the American Embassy. I had just been diagnosed with end stage renal disease and would be medically evacuated back to Walter Reed Army hospital in Washington, D.C., ten days later. I had almost no kidney function remaining, was in great pain as toxins grew in my bloodstream, and had no idea what lay ahead. I had to leave my family behind in a harsh and unwelcoming country knowing that my career in the U.S. Army was about to come to an abrupt end, if not my life.

That Christmas I learned what seriously sick and dying people go through at Christmas time. They worry about themselves and the personal challenges they must face alone. They also worry about the challenges wives, children, and parents must endure and what their lives might be like without them. It only adds to their pain and suffering. The secular and religious joys of Christmas offer comfort, but they rarely change the course of events.

There are a few other Christmases on my string that don’t glow with full brightness, but I have long forgotten why. I have been among the very fortunate. I have five wonderful brothers and sisters and their families. I have been happily married for nearly 43 years to a magnificent and most loving woman. I have two wonderful adult children I couldn’t be prouder of. I have decades of bright Christmases to remember.

This Christmas my immediate family will all be together after a string of Christmases when we weren’t. This time a new son-in-law will join us and soon, hopefully, will grandchildren. We’re traditionalists. We go to mass on Christmas Eve and open our presents in the morning; but it won’t be the presents that make this Christmas long glow brightly on my string. It will be the love that binds a family together.

My great concern, however, is how brightly the future Christmases on my children’s and grandchildren’s strings will glow. America’s future is in doubt. Our economy is in crisis. American’s standard of living is falling. A rapidly changing world full of ethnic, religious, and political conflict threatens “peace on earth, good will to men.”

Still, as Christmas approaches, I remain the optimist. I know that as American families and friends gather together this Christmas, whether they celebrate it as a secular or religious holiday, they will give each other the strength, optimism, and determination necessary to keep America strong and prosperous and keep their personal strings of Christmas lights burning brightly for generations to come.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thank you to all EWRoss.com’s loyal readers.

  

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