Two or three weeks after returning from Fallon, our command detached on the USS Roosevelt to begin our shipboard training for cruise. During this time we were told that in the two weeks we had off after the training excercise we would be given a short leave and opportunity to go home within reason before we would possibly deploy early in support of Opporation Iraqi Freedom. My roommates had already left for their deployment and I drove myself to the shipyard after cramming myself full of my favorite local Chinese food.
Our three weeks out flew by for the most part, and I signed up to take the last leave period since I had no children I wanted to see wake up on Christmas morning. I knew it would be lonely being my first Christmas away from my family, but looked forward to my week I would have with them shortly thereafter. It was strange with half of the command gone at one time and the nights at home were even lonlier. As Christmas Eve approached I had no plans and was assigned duty but no watch for Christmas Day. I drank myself to sleep on the couch in front of the tv and woke up to “A Christmas Story” playing for the annual twenty four hour marathon I always demanded we keep on until someone else finally fought back. This year there was no one to fight with though, just me.
I knew my family was together, waiting on me to get home to celebrate, but also enjoying my mother’s home cooked meals I treasured because nothing in our small town was open on Christmas Day. A light snow began to fall, and I watched it out of our third floor window as it covered the walkway with a glittering mist. Although I had duty, I decided to start drinking anyhow as I figured it would be my only hope at getting any sleep that night as well. About four or so that afternoon a friend called and asked me what my plans for the evening where. I responded I was staying in. He did not give me that option.
He was at my house within thirty minutes and taking me to eat with two other mutual friends in Richmond. When I arrived I was nervous but I enjoyed our evening together and was thankful that I was not completely alone for Christmas. We cooked lamb and other side dishes and drank and played with pet rats. I learned that Christmas that family is who you make your family. From that date on, every holiday I did not return home for leave, which was often, I would prepare a meal for anyone that wanted to join us for the evening.
It became a tradition we all loved and looked forward to. I would prepare the traditional dishes my family taught me to make and others would bring their favorites. Usually someone bought a turkey for me to prepare, and always a keg of beer. I would cook for three days getting our masterpiece ready and then we would enjoy our weekend eating as much as possible. We always took the watch plates of food at the command, and tried to include as many as we could feed or fit into the house.
While we had our ups and downs at the command during our time, we really did bond as a family. The connection I still have with many of the former shipmates I was stationed with will never be broken, we will always have each other’s backs and help or be there for them in any way possible. For so long I was afraid to be me around my former service member friends, but the more I am myself the more support I get from them. They encourage me to be a better person and friend and I will be forever grateful for the time I had with them and the relationships we still have today.