Most of yall know that I spent 6 years in the Navy..I absolutely loved it. I spent the bulk of my enlistment on board the USS LaSalle. We were forward deployed to Gaeta Italy and I had the opportunity to travel all around the Med, Black Sea, and the Adriatic. And as Christmas approaches memories of 5 holidays spent away from home flood back. The first was by far the worst. I joined the Navy on Dec 17th and shipped out to Chicago just before Christmas, my gosh, who joins the military in Dec….hindsight is 20/20. And further more, who goes from Florida to Chicago in Dec? Chalk that up as a lesson learned. Bootcamp Christmas was by far the worst, I didn’t know anyone and the messdecks in GreatMistakes aren’t the most culinary of institutes. Second Christmas wasn’t so bad, I had made some friends and a lady from NAS Gaeta kinda adopted me and a couple of my shipmates….and she made a MEAN rum cake (is it legal to use 151 in a cake?), if ya know what I mean. By my second Christmas overseas I had become very good friends with some locals in Italy and one in particular, Antonio, became a very close friend. This is one of the most memorable of all my military Christmas’s. Well, Antonio invited me to his folks house fer Christmas dinner..and I thought to myself, “what a great way to learn how other countries celebrate Jesus’ birthday”. I’m gonna give yall a word of advice, if you ever eat Christmas dinner in Italy…..PACE YOURSELF!!
I couldn’t understand much of the conversation but Antonio interpreted fer me what I couldn’t pick out through my limited concept of the language and the intense body language used by Italians. What I do know is that these folks were by no means wealthy but they had such a loving and hospitable spirit. They welcomed me with open arms as one of their own.
Now I’m gonna tell you why I said pace yourself, Antonio’s Ma brought out the biggest dish of lasagna I’ve ever seen…and I ain’t talkin about no Stouffers either. This stuff was legit, the absolute best ever loving dish of pasta I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I tore that stuff up with hearty appetite much to the amusement of all present. As I finished my second helping Ma brought out another dish, sausage with onions and God only knows what else……holy smokes, this was better than the lasagna and I was quickly running out of storage space. And of course each round was served with some sort of local vino, sagrantino, cabernet, and pino grigio were the ones I recognized. By round 3 & 4 I was miserable, but Antonio said I couldn’t stop or his Ma would take it as an insult or some such thing. So what could a man do???? I kept on eatin. Finally came the tower cake and limoncello (not sure if I spelt that right). I ain’t lying, I couldn’t move fer about 3 hours I was so wonderfully miserable. Antonio finally had to walk me down the alley like a danged dog. But it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I bonded with a local family and shared Christmas, or I should say they shared Christmas with an otherwise lonely sailor. I hope that one day I will be able to thank this family again face to face, it meant so much since I couldn’t be with my own dad, mom and brother.
Now many of our deployed troops and sailors won’t have the luxury I had of being with a family (I know our fellow troops and sailors are family but nothing replaces home) this Christmas. It can be very lonely and very sad day. And I know that mess decks meals with shipmates are truly memorable, but again, nothing replaces home.
But there are many organizations and church groups who do what they can to lighten the holiday fer them. I would like to encourage all of you to somehow assist by sending care packages to our troops. Even the smallest of gestures is greatly appreciated when separated from loved ones. And I’ll tell you one thing that never gets old when you’re deployed……JERKY, AND LOTS OF IT.
I ask that you try to watch this 3 minute video (one of my favorites) and try to not cry on your keyboards.