Home for Christmas
It was just a week before Christmas when it happened. I, like many other not-so happy travelers was making my way through the crowded hallways of the airport with nothing else on my mind but getting home to see my family. I had been gone almost two weeks now; an all-time length for me, and I was convincing myself that I had been gone so long I wouldn’t even remember my wife.
In Colorado, it is expected to snow from Easter to April, though not necessarily during Christmas. Even now, some dry snow, the kind nobody likes, was sticking to the tarmac and ground with a persistence that had to be admired. As for me, I had just gotten off Terminal B, my third flight in as many days. For my children it is exciting to travel in the airport; for me it’s just plain torture. The only part of the entire thing that was exciting was the final landing; and getting to think; “Finally! I’m home.”
That and getting my Coffee.
Coffee was my lifeline. When I was in Phoenix, or Seattle, or someplace far from home, I could always be counted on to make my way to the nearest Starbucks and get some Coffee that tasted just like home. Now, I was technically already was home, but that wouldn’t stop me from getting a double espresso Marciano. I pushed my way around a large family, dragging my brief case along with me, and stopped in line with a relieved sigh.
Ahead of me, I looked on with interest. Some soldiers coming home from Iraq for Christmas were standing just up before me. Five of them, all decked out in their camouflage and carrying packs that looked like they weighed more than me. I smiled abstractedly.
That’s nice, I thought. They’ll be home for Christmas.
Behind me the whole line that previously had been running like the Pony Express had come to a halt; one of the soldiers had yet to get his coffee. He was young, that’s what surprised me most. At oldest, I would have put him at 25, and he was staring at a bowl of bananas on the counter as though he had never seen one before.
They can’t have many bananas over in Iraq, I thought, staring at him even as he stared at the banana.
“How much is a banana?” The kid asked, to the impatient women at the counter. She was wearing a green visor and looked very fed up indeed.
“A dollar sixty three,” the woman said flatly.
The kid fished a wallet out of his pack and began digging around. I saw several flashes of green, but I knew he couldn’t have more than twenty dollars in there. A dollar sixty was just too expensive to someone who only had twenty dollars to get home to wherever he was going. The kid shook his head sadly, put away his wallet and went to stand with his comrades to get his coffee at the other end of the shop. I stared at him.
“Excuse me?” The counter-woman said. “Are you next?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, snapping back to reality and ordering my usual. The woman punched my order into the register.
“Will that be all?” She asked, almost rudely. In my hand, I held a crisp five dollar bill. I stared at the soldier, who was collecting his coffee, and back. And at the soldier. And at back again.
“On second thought,” I said, “give me one of those bananas.”
The woman handed me a banana and I heard her try to catch the next person’s in line, a woman, attention. But the line wasn’t paying attention to her; they were watching me, some of them I noticed, were starting to tear at the eyes.
I strode over to the soldier, and noticed he had gotten a coffee with much whip cream, Carmel and chocolate on it; the kind that can give you diabetes with one sip and the kind that tastes so good it should be illegal.
“Excuse me,” I said, tapping the kid on his shoulder. He turned around, baleful brown eyes staring down at me. I hadn’t realized he was so much taller than me.
“Thank you for you service,” I said, holding out my hand. He shook it and I gave him the banana.
“Thank you, sir.” He said. “I appreciate it, sir.”
I shook my head, insisted that it was min pleasure and then got to watch him sit down at a nearby table while I waited for my coffee. Believe me; I had never seen someone enjoy a banana nor a coffee so much.
When I travel now, I remind myself when I am feeling short tempered or fed up, that I have been away from my family for a week. That kid had been alone from his for over two years. I remind myself, that I should be grateful for my coffee every morning and that sometimes in Iraq, a banana can be a treasure. To this day, every time I see one of our soldiers I go up to him, and thank him for his service to our country. I get the same reply every time.
“Thank you, sir.”
Always the ‘sir.’ Why, I must have been called sir at least three times a sentence by one of them once. I always ask them of their family; I ask them where they were stationed, and if they were happy to be going home. The answer was the same for that question too.
“Yes, sir, very happy, sir.”
Since when have I deserved to be called sir? Now on Christmas, I watch my children and I imagine what they’ll be when they grow up. Will they be soldiers? Business men? Athletes? Mathematicians? I don’t know, but every year I hope and I pray for our soldiers that have made it safely home, and I pray for our soldiers who are still out there, representing our country.
And as for bananas…let’s just say I never took one for granted again.