The following first appeared in the Tribune on Dec. 26, 1995.
We were living in a tiny two-room apartment at the time of our second World War II Christmas. I was on a year's leave from Christian College, and Chub was a Coast Guardsman assigned to teach at the General Motors Institute of Technology. He taught men from the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines -- and some officers and civilians, too -- how to operate and repair the gray marine diesel engine used to power landing craft and other vessels.
He rented the apartment from an elderly couple, the Thorntons, who lived in the rest of the house. It was a cozy upstairs apartment with a west porch, nice on summer evenings. I had taught swimming for the Parks and Recreation Department at outdoor pools in summer and was then employed to teach at the YWCA in winter.
At Christmastime, we put up the same little artificial tree that I had carried on the bus, the year before, to New York City. Decorating it required about 15 minutes or less. We had been married six years and were quite aware of each other's cherished holiday traditions. We Meyerses celebrated on Dec. 24 because of Dad's schedule for milking the cows. We always had a freshly cut cedar from our woods because I had sold trees like that from the time I was about 9 years old until after Chub and I were in college. And we chose native cedars -- and still do -- because of they give the home their wonderful fragrance.
The Gerard family saved everything until Christmas morning. Gifts that came in the mail went unopened, and Santa's presents were in hiding. Chub and his five sisters were permitted to get up early and peek into the room where Santa had done his thing, but they were not allowed more than that brief encounter before they had a good nourishing breakfast. Then the fun began.
We knew, in Flint, Mich., that his sister Louise would remember us. She was my kind of giver -- gave her handmade crafts such as hand-embroidered pillow cases, towels edged with elaborate tatting and other unique things like that.
After we were in bed one night, Chub said, "Louise's package came today." I asked about that because it wasn't under the tree. "I hid it," he said. "We're not opening it until Christmas." After a few moments, I begged, "Couldn't we just put it out to help decorate that sickly little tree?"
He was adamant about saving it till Christmas morning, several days away.
"Where did you hide it?" I asked.
"Under this bed."
Then I reminded him of the time that Mrs. Jap Willingham had mailed us a shoe box full of fresh broccoli from her garden. It was wrapped in damp paper towels and wax paper and arrived in perfect condition. The mail delivery was one thing that was on time during the war.
Finally, he agreed we could take off the brown paper and put the gift out to liven up the room with the colored wrapping. We got out of bed and opened the gift. There was no holiday paper! There was a perfectly wonderful freshly dressed hen!
I won that one.