For fourteen years, we snatched and wrestled every holiday from the tight grasp of my husband’s career as an active duty Army soldier. It required careful planning, months in advance, all the while crossing our fingers we would not be the family chosen to stay for “on call” duty. Year after year we triumphed in that department-when he wasn’t deployed of course.
Those Army years were the toughest and yet the most treasured of our lives. I can recall every single holiday celebrated in family housing with strangers who had become family.
The year we moved to Germany we packed every warm sweater we could find to fit from a local thrift shop and kissed our families goodbye in Florida. We spent 14 hours on a plane arriving three weeks before Thanksgiving to live in military provided lodging. It was an extended stay hotel of sorts filled with other young military families transitioning from the U.S. to the Bavarian area of Germany. A cozy suite with floor to ceiling windows and a self cleaning toilet seat cocooned us as we explored our new home city. We were wide eyed and marveled at everything European while drinking gallons of strong coffee every morning. With our new neighbor “family” we did our laundry together in the basement and watched each other’s kids so loads could be transported up two flights of stairs. Our cars had not arrived yet so we walked with each other miles each day exploring, shopping and again drinking more coffee and eating loaves of fresh baked bread.
The adventures during this season of our young adult lives remain vivid as they are by far the best stories we share with friends and family today. I think it’s because we experienced them with people we were thrown together with mysteriously by the “Powers of the Army” but who later became our chosen family. We were all in our early twenties and completely naive so it never dawned on us perhaps we should take more caution, perhaps we should guard ourselves and not give our hearts and emotions over so freely to strangers. Our connection sprung from a human place of recognizing the need for a family unit. It didn’t seem to matter that we knew nothing in great detail about each other except the fact that we chose to be each other’s family through a beautiful winter season. So in our tiny suite, a full holiday meal had been prepared complete with a turkey, cornbread stuffing, baked mac and cheese and candied sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. We had brought our traditions to Germany with us and founded a new family there.
As the weeks passed by into December we joined again to walk together in the first snowfall of the season-snowflakes as large and fluffy as I’d imagined they would be in Europe. I sat in front of those enormous vintage Bavarian windows for two hours and soaked in the wintery scene of snow layering the landscape to a cotton candy appearance. I’m a Caribbean island girl so to me this scene was celestial. From my cozy perch, I thought of all we had experienced in those first few weeks…the walks, the train rides, new sights and smells of the city, cobble stoned streets, warm apple cider, freshly cooked sausages, hot fries sprinkled with that zesty red powder but most of all our new friend family. Our life’s journey would add new family members as a military family. I realized I would need to make room for more in my life-I would need lower emotional walls. I was then a fresh faced 22 year old toddler mom and today, 22 years later, at 44, I’m grateful to have learned those life lessons so young in life. Those first German weeks taught me to embrace life in a way that leaves room to add more family friends, more hot cups of coffee and long walks, and even more loaves of fresh baked bread and hot zesty fries.