Memories of a different kind of Christmas

Published 7:30 am Saturday, December 25, 2021

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The White Cliffs of Dover suddenly appeared in a movie on TV. The unexpected view brought to mind the day I saw them from a porthole of the USNS Patch during a leg of my journey with my two children to join my husband stationed in Germany. We left my parents’ home in Alabama on a cold December day and boarded The Patch.

There I was, a young mother who had never been out of the South holding my 6-year-old son and 18-month daughter tightly, trying to make sure neither of them got lost in the crowd.

Once we were halfway settled in our cabin and approached the dining room, I realized the scent of the food was a problem, a big problem, for me. I handed my daughter to the closest person next to me and threw up from the railing. After that, I took the seasick pills faithfully. I longed to drop down on my bed and retreat from the world. (If I had been traveling alone, I would have.)

The next day my little one woke up with a virus. When I took her to the dispensary, I discovered all children on the ship under two years old had a case of the same. She was miserable for several days and cried if I got out of her sight.

My son was a hardy soul. He stayed healthy except for a stomach ache. It lasted half a day. He loved to play with his little plastic Ben Hur figures. He spent a lot of time setting them up and having battles.  He remembers how they rolled back and forth on the floor in keeping with the motion of the ship.

Every day we had to move our clocks up an hour. Once a few days into our voyage, the weather was bad; we had to close the portholes. That night at bedtime, the waves were so rough that I had to fight myself for the courage to deal with it. Fortunately, both children fell asleep in a few hours. By that time I was so tired and sleepy, I decided to close my eyes and rock with the waves — if the ship went down, I would go with it I told myself. I finally fell asleep and awoke to a calmer sea.

The memory of that time remains vivid because we were still onboard Christmas Day. I made as many preparations as possible to ensure that both of my children found gifts in our cabin after a Christmas Eve party held in a decorated lounge complete with a Christmas tree. Uncle Sam had not forgotten the children. He sent Santa by helicopter to hand out a Christmas stocking stuffed with candy and fruit to each one.

Every time I happen upon anything about the White Cliffs of Dover, whether it is a song, a movie, television, or some details about the fascinating white cliffs, it takes me back to our time on the USNS Patch. It was the most different Christmas day of my life.