Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Memory #3: Christmas Bears

This time of year at stores throughout the country, there are bins of donated toys set aside for military families. Usually the cashier at the store will ask if you would like to donate a toy to a military family. Some people say yes, some say no. I usually say yes and if I have a choice, I pick out a big teddy bear to add to the bin, because I remember my teddy bear from the year we were a military family.

See, back when I was 11, my Mom was in the Navy Reserves and she was called up to active duty during Desert Storm. She didn't go to the Middle East, instead she went to work at a Naval Hospital in San Diego. My Dad was working in Iowa at the time, and Kasey hadn't started school yet, so he went to Iowa with Dad. Jen and I were in school, so my Grandpa Pat and Grandma Carol in Utah took us in for the school year. I missed my parents and my brother terribly. My parents both told me how important it was that I be a good example for my little sister and behave well for my grandparents, so I acted tough and didn't let on about how hard of a time I was having.

For Christmas, Dad planned to drive us from Utah to San Diego. We had a lovely road trip complete with a night at Circus Circus in Las Vegas where we played carnival games and ate cotton candy and caramel apples. When we got to the Navy base in San Diego, Mom had moved out of her dormitory into a family apartment so there was room for all of us. Mom had made some friends and we went over to their house for dinner on Christmas Eve. The friends were of Jamaican descent and they had a very traditional dinner. I remember feeling very sophisticated and grown up for trying all these new and exotic foods.

We set up a small fake Christmas Tree in the apartment and I know my parents did their best to make it feel like a regular family Christmas, even though it was the farthest thing from it. I was excited for Christmas, like any kid would be, but I was also a little sad, because we would be leaving soon and I would once again miss my Mom.

Christmas Day was filled with presents and treats and when my Mom left to work her shift at the hospital, we played outside in the warm weather, thinking of our friends back home in the snow and cold. When Mom came back that evening, she had some more presents for us. We each had a box filled with little toys from the YMCA/YWCA. Along with the toys, we each were given a big fluffy teddy bear. At 11, I thought of myself as too old for stuffed animals, but I did appreciate that someone out there cared enough about the kids of military parents to take the time and effort to put these gift boxes together for us.

We had a great visit with Mom that Christmas. We took a trip to the San Diego Zoo and even spent an afternoon in Tijuana, Mexico, but alas, the day did come when we had to pack up and leave. I remember my Mom making sure we were all buckled into the car safely and she kissed us all and said goodbye. We all had our teddy bears next to us, and I remember instead of being sad and crying, I snuggled with my bear and fell asleep. When I woke up later, I looked in the backseat to see my brother and sister both asleep, snuggling with their bears.

Desert Storm ended and military families were once again reunited. Our family was together again by summer and in the whole scheme of things, our family's sacrifice was far smaller than what others went through. We kept our teddy bears for several years. I got rid of mine when I packed up my room to leave for college. I'm not sure what happened to Kasey's bear, but Jen's bear has made it's way to her kids' toy pile. I hope Clint and Sandy keep it for a while and when they're older, I hope Jen tells them the story of how she got the teddy bear the year we had Christmas on a Navy Base.

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