The time had come to rest. As I sat down on the crest of the hill and looked out over the lower rolling hills and valleys, it look as if everything had been wrapped in plush, thick green velvet that was punctuated by the juxtaposition of azure blue sky and grayer shadows cast upon lower hills by the golden sun. You could look for miles, the atmosphere void of any haze, while a gentle breeze crossed my cheek as though a lover had gently brushed my face. I thought about this incredible scene and wondered if I was looking out over Paradise because it was so perfect, except that Paradise surely would have trees on the top of this lush hill that I had sat on. Yet, he actual hilltop was surreal with its clean cut, green velvet cover with pale gray stones placed without pattern. The stones protruded through the green velvet and each looked as polished as a cherished gem.
To add to the surreality, I could hear nothing, not a bird, not a blade of grass touching the next or not a sound from the soft breeze. I began to feel slightly uncomfortable. This was Christmas Day and I felt I came to a place, possibly not in the traditional sense of what we call reality. I was here and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
A polished rock protruded through the velvet just behind me and so I reclined against it. In a very short time I had dozed off, one of those tiny naps that carry a dream that plays jaggedly because your conscious wakes you every few seconds, thus you adjust, fall deeply asleep and suddenly you awaken. My dreams brought me back home and reminded me that it was Christmas Eve for my family.
Momma would be in the big, old farm house kitchen scurrying around and putting slices of Grandma’s White Fruit Cake on the crystal platter alongside slices of my her own brandy-laden Dark Fruit Cake. She would also have plates of hand painted Christmas Cookies, Fudge, Peanut Brittle, chocolate-dipped miniature S’mores for me and squares of creamy, white Divinity with kernels of walnuts for herself. Probably she had already sliced the country, Ham and arranged a board with the sliced and chunked cheeses she and my Father chose from the gift catalogue.
Soon, Momma would fire up the old, tin Coffeepot, passed down from generation to generation in the family since the time they crossed the plains of Ohio and traveled westard to a new home. My Aunt showed Momma how to make the coffee years before and each holiday sh prepared the Ei Kaffee just as if my Grandmother were there. First Momma needed to mix an egg with the coffee grounds and then add a pinch of salt. Next she opened the old, cloth sack and poured in the mixed grounds, tied the bag tightly with a string and then dropped the bag into the pot just as the water came to a boil. Within a matter of minutes the house smelled of coffee brewing, but this cup of coffee would be as clear as the atmosphere around me.
As I continued to lean on the stone, my remembrances of our traditional, family Christmas brought the sounds of my sister playing the old, upright grand piano that was in the parlor along with the Christmas tree. The twinkling glow of the lights on the tree radiated across the room and glowed through the glass, french doors. My Aunt sat next to my sister and listened, the two occasionally breaking out to sing the lyrics of a favorite Christmas song. My Father sat quietly, with his head bowed in the living room. It was nothing reverent, he simply was trying to ignore the loud piano and voices. Usually, when they were in the parlor playing, my Father headed to the basement with a Zane Grey book tucked in his rear pocket.
Tonight, since it was Christmas Eve, as with all Christmas Eve’s he will sit with his head bowed and teeth gritted making it appear as though he enjoyed their antics. Anticipating what was to come next he rose and decided to join my Mother in the kitchen and snatch a cookie or two, just as my sister would stop and make my Aunt play the piano. It was always the same, first my sister played, then we would cajole my Aunt into playing. She didn’t have to ask what we wanted her to play first, after seating shebegan playing the Blackhawk Waltz, very perfectly with long fingers stretched beyond the octaves as they were to be played piannisimo forte. My sister and I would sit in awe watching her hands race up and down keyboard, never missing the span of keys to touch the two or four keys on each hand that went beyond the normal octave.
When Momma was done in the kitchen she lowered all the lights in the house so twinkling from all the Christmas lights were prominent. As she and my Father entered the the room my Aunt and sister knew it was time to open the presents and my Aunt rose to call my Uncle who was napping through all the playing.
As the gifts were opened piles piles of bright, colored paper and ribbon would make small hills in the parlor. The luminous colored areas on the paper picked up reflections from the Christmas making a kaleidscope of color that soon would disappear because my Father would hastely pick up the paper to crumple and force into his black garbage bag. My sister, Aunt and Mother always needed to quickly grab the papers and ribbons they hoped to keep. Then once again the room was calm and my sister would arrange all the gifts back under the tree, each in their opened box.
By the time they would be finished eating and the kitchen cleaned it was the time for good byes to be said till they see each of the next day. Kisses on Cheeks and thank you would be given as my Aunt and Uncle leave. As the door shut and the last good bye was sounded, my Mother would begin turning out the lights…….tomorrow would be even a better day than this one. It was the day to enjoy my Mother’s Christmas feast.
Laying there, on the crest of the hill, looking out over the green velvet valleys and rolling hills, a tear trickled out of my eye for the thought of being away for this Christmas. And, it was Christmas Day where I was, thousands and thousands of miles away from anything I knew and understood. The expanse of untamed jungle seemed foreign to me, yet, I thought I should be thankful for the pristine day and eery quiet that accompanied it. Now, it was later afternoon and we had been able to be peaceful on a day that we all cherished.
It was Christmas 1968 and I sat on the crest of a hill in Vietnam miles and miles from anything I understood. Surprisingly we were handed gifts from people we had never met, from families like mine back home. My package came from a family in Alaska. I was particulary curious what I might have from Alaska. Inside the tattered, brown paper wrapper, on through the mashed corners on the corrugated box was a plastic container sealed with yards of masking tape. Inside the container was thick strips of unusually tender, Elk jerky. Later that day, as I opened my can of Turkey for my Christmas feast and I thanked the family once more for the jerky. It was far tastier than the Army’s canned Turkey.
Not everyone was as lucky as I was, some got socks that were too small. Since today was the day my family held dear to their hearts, then it was the day that I needed to share my gift of jerky with everyone in my platoon. It was an act of generousity and caring about others that prompted me to do this, a lesson I had been taught as a child. If Momma were there she would have passed out the jerky and as I walked around I felt her at my side.