Consultant, Speaker, Author & Journalist
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“Jeremy’s assigned ship at Christmas, an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea, represented an impossible distance from my friend, Shirley, who attended college stateside. Jeremy’s naval service during Vietnam kept them apart. Letters traveled painfully slow and often crossed.
“However, a plan emerged. Derek and I lived in Germany in a small, garret apartment off base. If Jeremy could get leave over the Christmas holiday, Shirley would visit us. The plan had challenges, nebulous at best. First, as the most junior man in his division, Jeremy knew the officer in charge would not promise him leave until the time approached. Coupled with the slow mail deliveries, Shirley never knew for sure if or when he would be able to make it to Germany. On faith, Shirley got her passport and plane ticket and joined us.
“On December 21, Jeremy’s ship pulled into Cannes, France for the Christmas holiday. The Navy granted Jeremy a four-day pass with written permission from the Executive Officer to travel to Germany. December 23 represented a ship workday. He got ready so he could get off the ship as early as possible the next day.
“Christmas Eve day arrived. Traveling military personnel in Europe were required to wear the uniform for identification. They were allowed to cross boarders without a passport if they carried the proper documentation. By 10:00 a.m. at last, Jeremy had permission to leave the ship and take the boat ride to fleet landing. Once ashore, it did not take long to make it to the train station for the short ride to Nice.
“Shortly after noon, a flight headed north to Bern, Switzerland. There he suffered the frustration of a long wait in the terminal for the next connecting flight. Switzerland as a neutral country behaved equally suspicious of servicemen from any country. An official told him and the other servicemen who were also traveling that they had to wait in a special roped off area, Jeremy’s view of Switzerland.
“Finally, he boarded the next plane to Stuttgart, Germany. On this short flight darkness arrived as they flew over the Alps. In Stuttgart after a short layover, the same plane would go on to Frankfurt. When he touched down in Frankfurt, the darkness and quiet felt like a mausoleum. Everything stops for the Christmas holiday in Germany. All native Germans were home celebrating. He found a pay phone and managed to call for a taxi for the airport and the train station.
“Forty miles north of Frankfurt, reaching Butzbach required a train or car. At the nearly deserted train station, Jeremy saw a train and one worker. He approached and still remembers what he said, ‘ Ist das der Zuge geht zu Butzbach?’ ‘Ja, ja. Shnell, shnell’ replied the worker. Jeremy ran and jumped aboard. No sooner had he climbed the steps to a passenger compartment than the train began to move.
“He breathed a sigh of relief and sat near another service man that happened to be on the coach. In a little while, a conductor came by asking for tickets. Jeremy had no ticket; but with a little negotiation in his broken German, he paid double the cost of the usual fare.
“Except for the ghosts, an uneventful train ride took him the rest of the way. The train stopped at two small stations. At each, a few bare light bulbs illuminated an old wooden platform. Imagining German soldiers in uniform saying good-bye for maybe the last time as they headed to battle occupied Jeremy’s stressed mind. The quiet eeriness of those stations made such visualization effortless.
“At last the conductor announced, “Butzbach!” The Butzbach station had a small platform and no visible terminal building. However, Jeremy had directions as to how to find our apartment. A short walk from the train to the center of the town took him back at least five hundred years.
“Built around a cobblestone square with the remains of the old well in the center, Butzbach looked like a picture postcard with buildings trimmed in gingerbread from a Brothers Grimm fairytale. All around the square, the steep roofed buildings were all fashioned of timber and stucco. Off the square to the right, a narrow alleyway led to the Piccolo Bar with a small neon sign over the door, the landmark Jeremy needed.
“He entered and found the tavern room filled with mostly American soldiers drinking noisily. One loud mouth wanted to pick a fight with Jeremy just because he wore a Naval uniform. Fortunately, when he heard that Jeremy had traveled a long way to visit an Army friend, he backed off and went back to his drinking.
“The woman behind the bar, the owner and the mother of my German friend, left the bar and took him up the three narrow flights of stairs to our apartment and knocked. No answer. They returned to the bar again. A young German fellow standing at the bar suggested that maybe we were at the Kirke. They could see it not far away.
“Around a few corners and down a little way, there stood the old Lutheran church, by far the largest building in the town. The German Lutheran Church, a 17th century building with exquisite high spire sand stained glass windows had a high stone wall around the outside with a wrought iron gate.
“Jeremy’s new German friend took him to the door, and they peeked inside. People filled the sanctuary with no room inside. He did not see us. The next best thing, he stood by the gate. When the
Christmas Eve service ended, everyone would pass through the gate. Jeremy waited. In a short time, bells rang out for midnight. People poured from the church, walking four and five abreast. The full moon clouded over briefly as huge white snowflakes began drifting down, sparkling like new diamonds.
“Shirley had been in Germany for three days already. She had heard nothing from Jeremy and anxiously waited for his arrival. In church that night, she enjoyed the music but could understand nothing of the rest of the service. So, she prayed. As she prayed, she found peace within herself. She came to understand that if Jeremy could not make it to Germany, everything would still turn out as God intended, her thoughts as she left the church.
“Then Jeremy spotted Shirley, a slim figure in her blue wool coat and tan beret. The ancient gate, decorated by the drifting snow, framed Jeremy in his dress blues. He let out a yell and grabbed Shirley around the waist, lifted her off the ground and smothered her with kisses. The crazy sailor and dark-haired American girl were a strange sight to the German parishioners passing by, but Jeremy and Shirley did not care. Christmas had begun!
“Big, white snowflakes covered the wall and the ground; yet, even with the snow falling, the moon still peeked out enough to spread more diamonds across the glistening snow. The best white of all, however, perched on top of Jeremy’s head, framed in the gate, as he swooped Shirley into his arms. With a wave to us, they disappeared toward the station for his bags. In true German tradition, we left to haul home our already purchased Christmas tree.
“By the time Jeremy and Shirley arrived, freshly lit candles on the Christmas tree spread a warm glow across our tiny apartment on the third floor above the Piccolo Bar. The Christmas tree decorations included carved ornaments from German craftsmen. The best glow, however, came from the faces of the engaged couple whose faith in the Christmas season had seen them through the anxiety of finding each other on the moonlit night, the first snowfall of the season, and a Christmas miracle to remember.”
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Hope that you have enjoyed D.K. Christi’s story! I love true stories!
Have a wonderful day!!