Christmas is here. And what memories it brings.

As I was growing up, Christmases were often stingy. My mother was usually drunk (she was an alcoholic), my father was in prison, and I was working at parttime jobs so that I’d have enough to eat and clothes to wear. I promised myself that when I had a family, we’d celebrate Christmas properly.

And we did. I ended up with four children who enjoyed Christmas to the hilt. We always had a big, beautiful tree, lots of decorations, plenty of holiday food, and wonderful gifts. Unlike me, my children grew up looking forward to and reveling in Christmas. It was the best time of the year.

Those days are long since past. My children are grown and have families of their own. All indications are that their Christmas celebrations are full and rich. Good for them.

But for many years now, I haven’t spent Christmas with any of my children. There have always been a variety of explanations, but I’ve also been suspicious that the unspoken reason was that while they were growing up, I was so often absent. So many Christmases I was away “on business,” assisting American and friendly troops on the battlefield with signals intelligence data. I spoke seven languages and was an expert at tipping off the friendlies as to what the bad guys were up to. My skills were in constant demand. So maybe my children got used to doing without me.

Those years when I was on the battlefield at Christmas have left me with totally different memories. Those of us in combat barely acknowledged the season. Young soldiers and Marines homesick for their loved ones hid their feelings—they didn’t want to appear weak and unmanly. Sometimes there was a special meal provided by our suppliers, and every once in a while a gift sent by someone in the states would appear. But for the most part, we ignored the day rather than acknowledge the hurt of being away from family. Once in a while I’d hear a disgusted “Merry Fucking Christmas.”

This year, of course, there is no question of me getting together with anyone for the holidays. The pandemic condemns me to solitude. So Christmas is just another day. It’s a workout day (I lift weights every other day), so my afternoon will be taken up. Other than that, I’ll read, write, cook, and clean as I do every day.

But the day will be special in one way: I’ll have a top sirloin steak for dinner. My oldest daughter sent me four superb frozen steaks as a Christmas present.

I’ll enjoy myself to the fullest.

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