Our daughter was born in July and when the calendar flipped over to December, I excitedly took her to Camp Pendleton for her first Santa picture. Each year thereafter, until she was too old for Santa pictures, we faithfully visited the sweetest Santa and Mrs. Claus there ever has been. Traditionally, I take those sweet pictures and place them in chronological order across our fireplace mantle for display throughout the holiday season.
During my husband’s military career, we were stationed in San Diego, CA. We attended church near our home, and through the years, we became friends with an elderly couple who attended church there also. This sweet couple, in particular, loved our daughter. They were wonderful to her. They were Pearl Harbor survivors.
Norm and Gerry would share with us, their amazing stories of that frightening and deadly attack. When the bombs dropped on Hawaii, Norm was on a different island than his family and for weeks, did not know if they were dead or alive. The fear that his family may have died affected him so deeply that it haunted him throughout his days.
As the first bomb hit the ground, Gerry sprung into action. Like a mother hen, she gathered her wee ones and sought shelter for them. She was nearing the delivery of her fifth child, yet she formulated a plan and implemented it into action. She hid her children in a baseball dugout protecting them from explosions and flying shrapnel. A soldier running by stopped and gave Gerry his loaded weapon. Realizing that she would probably use it to shoot enemy soldiers, he paused and explained that should the Japanese invade, she should use the weapon to avoid capture by taking her children’s lives, as well as, her own.
Trembling, and with tearful emotion, Gerry would share with us the agony she experienced as she struggled to find the strength to kill her children to save them from capture and horrific torture. She would express the importance of seizing every opportunity to vocalize and demonstrate our devotion to those whom we love. The impact of her experience was overwhelming to us and demoralizing to her.
My daughter is now an adult woman. Her husband serves in the United States Navy. His duty station? Hawaii! As my daughter prepared for transfer to Hawaii, we often reminisced about the Pearl Harbor experiences of our dear friends, Norm and Gerry. My daughter is now a mother of two and expecting her third. She often talks about the places she has searched out and visited near her Hawaiian home that so profoundly affected Norm and Gerry’s lives.
My husband and I were in Lowe’s this weekend when our phones dinged alerting us that we had a text from our daughter in Hawaii. We gleefully anticipated adorable pictures of our grandchildren. The forwarded emergency alert that Hawaii was under an inbound ballistic missile threat and that residents were advised to seek immediate shelter horrified us.
Instantly, I sent a text back to my daughter to follow the directive and get her family to safety. My next text was to friends and family for prayers and a plea to help us prepare for the worst. My husband and I immediately began planning for evacuation, rescue, or recovery options.
The crisis was short lived as my dear friend, a retired Navy wife, instantly researched the alert and notified me that it was a false alarm. At first, I was so focused on saving my grandchildren and daughter that I could not fathom her report. How could such an alert be cavalierly sent across the Emergency Broadcast System? She was insistent though, and with her history of accuracy, the odds favored her. Within minutes, the threat dematerialized.
This morning I approached my computer to compose my bereavement article. I could think of nothing to write save I thank God that I did not lose my daughter and her family Saturday morning to ballistic missiles. I thank God that they were not dodging bombs and searching for adequate shelter as Gerry and her little ones did in December 1941. Moreover, I thank God that we live in a time when communications are immediate and I was not called upon to wonder whether they were dead, alive, or captured. The reality that my family is intact is glorious. The painful emotions that I could have lost them uncomfortably linger.
As the holiday season has drawn to its yearly close, I find myself packing up joyful decorations and placing them back into the attic. How impactful the Santa pictures of my sweet daughter are this morning as I look at Norm, dressed as Santa, and Gerry, dressed as Mrs. Claus, gently holding my sweet daughter so long ago. I wish I could reach into those pictures and once again be with them.
As Santa and Mrs. Claus, these two were strangers to us, but they shared the “Meaning of Christmas” indiscriminately. Years later, once we knew them as friends, we understood the profound meaning of the Savior’s mission and their urgency to share it, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Norm and Gerry have long since passed, but their wisdom and good works endure.
Today, I thank God that Saturday was a false alarm for my family and our country. I wish it could have been the same, December 1941, for Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Tracy Renee Lee,Managing Funeral Director of Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City, Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and Certified Grief Counselor. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and grief briefs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery.
It is my life’s work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
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