Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve, 1944 by Dean Harding McGarity

On Christmas Eve in 1944, the war in the Pacific Theater was raging. I said goodbye to my husband, Steven Turner, at the train station in Los Angeles, California. We had been married only a year. A photographer and chief petty officer in the Naval Air Forces, he was off to San Diego for his next assignment aboard an aircraft carrier.

Amid a horde of people—men in uniform and women crying, hugging and calling goodbyes—I stood, holding back tears and panic as he stepped on the train. He turned at the last minute and shouted above the din, “I’ll be home for Christmas, I promise.” “Promise,” I mouthed. Steven smiled his lovely honey smile and nodded.

I went back home to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and took up my job at the local welfare office. I lived with three other “war brides” in an old antebellum home presided over by a dear, elderly lady.

I waited for his letters, letters that often told of distant islands under a different sun, of Japanese suicide plans that missed their mark, of loneliness and longing.

The “brides” and I felt blessed to have one another, sharing our fears and loneliness, offering comforting words when letters didn’t arrive, keeping one another company at the movies or on long walks, keeping a radio vigil when news came of battles in far-off places.

Suddenly, the war was over—Japan had surrendered! We laughed and yelled and ran down the street, talking to strangers and even hugging them. Then we settled down to wait.

Time passed, and the letters came telling me about Japan and POW camps they flew over, dropping food and supplies. This was good work, I knew, but I wanted my husband home.

And then it was December and Christmas Eve. I stayed late at work, packing food baskets that would be distributed the next day to some of our clients. I returned to an empty house. The “brides” had gone to their homes for Christmas. I would go south tomorrow to have dinner with my family.

My landlady and I ate a solitary meal together, and she spoke of Christmas past, and I thought of Christmas last. Finally, sadly, I climbed the stairs and went to my room. Later, listening to the radio, I heard Bing Crosby singing "I’ll Be Home for Christmas." The music made me weep.

It was almost midnight and still I could not sleep. I moved over to the window seat and looked out at the street. The icy moon seemed to light up the world.

A car turned the corner and came slowly down the street. It was a taxi, which stopped in front of my house. Curious, I leaned against the window. A tall figure emerged from the back. The driver came around the car and shook his hand. Suddenly, I knew.
Miraculously, I knew.

Forgetting my feet were bare, I ran down the stairs, out the front door and down the sidewalk, not even feeling the freezing concrete beneath my feet. He turned, opened his arms and picked me up. I was laughing and crying. He asked the cabbie, “Will you please bring my bag into the house? This lady has begun to go barefoot in freezing weather.”

Then he whispered to me, “I promised, remember?”
And the year we’d spent apart vanished like a fleck of foam.

—Dean Harding McGarity
Duncanville, Texas

Author Dean Harding McGarity with her husband, Steven, Christmas 1945

I received a lovely note here at "Oh, By The Way" from Ms. McGarity on my original posting of her story and photo (here). Thank you Ms. McGarity, for sharing your touching story with us. If you liked this story, perhaps you would like her book COMFORT ME WITH APPLES, available from Amazon here.

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