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A Christmas When Life Overshadowed Death
Report to Moderator Old 05-31-2002 09:23 PM
MMC Editor
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By Theresa M. Danna

My most memorable Christmas was the one my family didn't celebrate.

About a week before Christmas Day, 1970, I was spending a leisurely Saturday morning in a manner many 12-year-old girls do-cuddled up on the couch, wearing yellow flannel pajamas, eating a bowl of cold cereal, watching cartoons.

Dad was working, Mom was Christmas shopping, my two teen-aged sisters were sleeping, Grandpop was relaxing in his bedroom, pipe smoke circling his aged body.

My peripheral vision caught a car turning into our dirt driveway. Thinking it was Mom, I paid no attention. Suddenly the front doorbell rang. I jumped. Only strangers used our front door.

I placed my cereal bowl on the end table and slowly approached the door. I forced it open, barely leaving enough space to see my visitors. A chill painted my body as the cold New Jersey air blew in. As I peeked around the edge of the oak door, one of two Army soldiers asked if my parents were home.

"No, but my mother should be home soon," I tried to maturely answer. "Maybe in 45 minutes."

They exchanged glances and decided to return a little later. By the time I had the door closed, the phone was ringing. My married sister who lived behind us had seen the government car from her kitchen window.

"What did they say?" she nervously asked.

"They wanted to talk to Mom or Dad."

"I hope it isn't what I think it is," she said. It finally hit me. My insides twisted. My brother, Joe, was thousands of miles away in Vietnam.

"Don't they just send telegrams?" I tried to calm myself and her.

"Not for officers." She paused. "Don't tell Mom anything. I'll be right down."

Meanwhile, my other sisters awoke. There we all sat in the dining room and kitchen-waiting.

Mom returned, cheerfully displaying a green-and-red doormat that read "Season's Greetings." Moments later the doorbell rang...

Joe had died in a helicopter crash days before. All that remained were his dog tags, the element of positive identification. For the first time in my life I saw my Dad cry. Oddly, at the time, that scared me more than the loss of my only brother.

A few days later, on Christmas Eve, an even greater paradox left me wondering what life, and death, are really all about.

For on the day Joe was buried, the sound of taps eerily lingering in the frigid cemetery air, Joe's young wife gave birth to their second daughter, appropriately named Josette, meaning "little Joseph."

So, ironically, it is with fond memories that I recall Christmas of 1970, the holiday my family was blessed with the miracle of life to help ease the pain of death.
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