I was only six, although I'm sure I would have claimed "Six and a half!" I don't remember any Christmases before this one, and not a lot about the ones that came after, especially now that there have been so many. Now I am ten times six and am not worried about the half year. Christmas 1956 was memorable because it was the worst and the best Christmas.
As was frequently the case, we (Mom, Barbara and I) were spending the Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa Davis in Martinez, California. It was already kind of a grim Christmas because our handsome daddy who hung the moon and created the stars was way far off in Saudi Arabia working for Aramco. He had been gone six months already, and we were all of us missing him on a cellular level. We had taken him to Stapleton Airport in Denver and watched while he boarded the airplane and it flew off to places we couldn't even imagine. This picture was taken just outside the airport terminal the morning he left. My mom always swore that if you looked at it closely, you could see tears in his eyes.
After he flew off, we drove around the state, visiting with great grandmothers and aunts, uncles and cousins and great aunts, great uncles and second cousins. It was on this trip that I formed my life-long attachment to Del Norte, Colorado where my great grandma Fouquet lived, as well as my great uncle Charles and his family. After everyone was visited, we drove home to Long Beach, California to try and live a routine life until Daddy came home or sent for us to go live with him in Saudi Arabia.
Needless to say, the only thing we two little girls wanted -- and I am sure that goes triple for my mom -- was to have Daddy home for Christmas. But this was not to be the year, and we were all being very brave and trying not to complain too much because it made Mommy so sad.
Then, very late on the eve of Christmas Eve there was a phone call. It was a long distance phone call so everyone had to be quiet. It was for Grandma; and when she hung up she went directly to her room and closed the door. You could hear the sobs from behind the heavy door. The call had come from Colorado. Her brother, Charles, and his son, Dick, had been killed that evening in a plane crash in Del Norte. Grandma left the next day for Colorado.
The story appeared on Christmas Eve on the front page of the Contra Costa Gazette. Charles had served on the Martinez police department for five years, and had been well known in the east bay area. Unfortunately, because the story was printed before all of the facts were known, it got many of them wrong, including the location of the crash which it placed 30 miles away in Alamosa.
A more accurate account came out a few days later in the Monte Vista Journal, again on the front page:
The cause of the crash, which killed four people including my great uncle and cousin, was never really known. But the darkness that it had brought to our entire family's Christmas was palpable, even to a child of six. I cried that Christmas Eve for my uncle and cousin, whom I had only come to know. I cried for my grandmother, who was so sad. I cried for my mother who was now sad AND lonely. And I cried for me because I missed my daddy so much. This was the worst Christmas, ever. Somehow I slept.
I don't remember exactly what woke me or where I was even when I realized that my Daddy was home, and it was not a dream! And it was Christmas! I was a great Santa Claus believer for a great many more years than most children because of this Christmas gift. My dad later told us that he had simply gotten so homesick that he couldn't stand being away from us any longer. He didn't know anything about the tragedy that had recently happened, but I can't help believing that the irresistible urge he had had to be home was a gift of what many would call the Holy Spirit. Dad actually rescued Christmas that year, and for the rest of his life he always kept it in his heart.
I'm not sure what else we got for Christmas that year. It may have been the year of the white vinyl jackets or the coonskin caps and other Daniel Boone accoutrement. I just remember knowing that Rudolph's red nose had guided Santa in delivering the best Christmas present ever! And so, as I face what will certainly be a different Christmas from those I've become used to, I know there are gifts aplenty. I am blessed with home and family and food in the pantry. These are all good things, and I take none of them for granted.
Merry Christmas everyone! May you know how very blessed you are!