Every year before Christmas, I would think about what gift my veteran husband would love most. He was never a man who was a ‘gimmy gimmy gimmy’ gift seeker; he never threw hints my (or our kids) way. He was always thankful for the treasures he had accumulated over the 48 years we were together, and he was happy just being together with family, so it was a little difficult figuring out what would bring him joy and a big smile across his handsome face.
Little did I know (how could I?) that our life together would end twenty-five years or so earlier than I had expected. In retrospect having lost him in 2016 as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange, I now look back at some of the gifts I did or could have given him in the best and worst of financial times for us and I can’t help but consider that sometimes the most inexpensive things were the ones he appreciated most…gifts from the heart seemed to be the most special overall though I would have bought him the world if I could have…he was such a genuine loving man who valued freedom, life and the fact he was able to come home from the “Hell hole”…Vietnam.
Inexpensive isn’t a word that always represents ‘cheap’…it really equates to what a spouse can afford. When we first married, Billy wanted to give me everything I never had growing up…my first bicycle, my first stereo and I in turn did the same…he had always wanted a Harley Davidson, however our budget would not permit the top of the line…a Golden Eagle…but he was happy with the Yamaha 650…it was black with purple accents and we’d ride together sometimes with my arms around his waist…not so much for fear of falling off but just because I loved to touch and feel his strength as a man…my hero.
Because he had always wanted me to be a stay-at-home Mom to give our son and daughter the best care and attention possible, we weren’t wealthy and my work was childcare for other working Moms in our home and selling a little Avon here and there. One year I remember after we had bought everything we could for our children who were small at the time, we had little left and ended up buying each other toboggans from a local seafood market…but it was good enough. It was kind of sad but at the same time rich…rich in that we were happy to have something so minute value wise it made us laugh and hug and kiss each other just because we loved each other so much. It was all okay…really it was.
Christmas time in our home was about the Lord Jesus Christ coming into the world only to die on the cross for us and a nativity scene was important to us both. It represented sacrifice…and sacrifice is something that is generated from love…true undeniable love whether for each other or for our country.
In the first year of our marriage (July 1968), we became pregnant in October, and I remember as if it was yesterday that Billy had bought me a long-quilted robe with a zippered front. It had a multicolored paisley design, and it was comfortable with plenty of room for a growing tummy. One night after dinner, we laid on the floor almost under the Christmas tree. It was one of those crazy silver trees with the pie shaped lighted wheel that spun around changing the color of the tree; it wasn’t grand or beautiful, but it was our first tree as a married couple so it was special just the same.
I remember that he told me how much he loved me and the fact his happiness at becoming a father come summertime and he also told me how much he loved my parents. That surprised me…not because I thought he didn’t but more because it was spontaneous. He explained that he loved the way they showed their love not only for me but for him too. He talked about how he felt no love at all when he came home from Vietnam with the much talked about animosity toward Vietnam veterans. As if it was yesterday, I can see his sweet face now, changing colors like that silly tree and the tears that discreetly made their way down his cheek. He was a proud man, a quiet reverent man and that was a moment in time that I will never forget…I thought about how most of us at least think about gift giving even if a little bit and how big the gift of him being at home in America with a new wife and little one on the way was so precious to him…he was safe…he could shut his eyes at night and not worry about the troops he was responsible for. No mortars screaming in his ears…no cries for help…no friends and brothers dying in close proximity…he was ‘home’, it was Christmas and his thankfulness for God bringing him home was all he had hoped and prayed for over the last two years.
So, unlike many of you who may read this blog and who are fortunate to have your veteran at your side…no matter how old either of you are…no matter if you served stateside or fought in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Desert Storm or anywhere else…you are blessed.
You can hold each other, even if the other’s hand is shaky or withered and even if there is no hand to hold because it was lost serving our country, I am here to say I am happy for you to be together. If you have a mother load of money in the bank to spend any way you want or if you were like we were back in the 60’s struggling financially, you have the opportunity to thank God for the greatest gift of all…His love and for the gift of each other…much of everything else is insignificant.
My suggestion for a gift for the veteran you love?
- How about a Bible with his/her name (or both of your names) inscribed on it?
- How about a surprise of washing or detailing his truck or car?
- What if you took his dog(s) to the vet and had them groomed in time for Christmas and all the company that may come over?
- What if you framed one of your favorite letters while they were deployed, that either you or your better half wrote to each other?
- Do you have military related Christmas ornaments on your tree? There are so many…or how about a Christmas tree decorated solely in a his/her military theme?
- How about planning to install (when he/she isn’t home) a beautiful American flag with the pole concreted it in the ground and lighted so the red, white, and blue they fought for flies freely in your front yard (if your subdivision won’t forbid it of course).
- What about a nice (reasonably priced) piece of military jewelry?
- How about contacting a comrade he/she served with and arranging for a surprise lunch or dinner with them even if it must take place after the holidays?
- How about a P.O.W. flag?
- A collection of books they would like about fishing, coin collecting, grilling out or gardening?
- A journal in which to write their private notes, remembrances or an album that will feature all the things that make him/her happy, with pictures of ‘back in the day’ photos of them ice skating, working on their car, playing sports and happy times.
- What about a card with an invitation for a romantic weekend getaway with notes about warm bubble baths, champagne, chocolates, and whipped cream (tee hee) to the destination of their choice?
- Would they like a box of their favorite movies? Movies that inspire them? make them laugh? Military themed movies? ‘How To’ videos? Maybe they’ve always wanted to learn wood crafting or another hobby they never got around to.
- How about tickets to the Daytona 500?
- And there’s always a fishing charter with five of his/her buddies?
- How about their favorite food gift?
- Maybe gift cards to someplace they frequent often like the hardware store or tackle shop.
Maybe an envelope with a one sheet simple note inside that just says, “I love you my darling forever and always. You make me happy…you make me whole. Thank you for loving me the way you have for as long as we’ve been together. I thank God for you every single day. You are my hero, you always will be, and I will always be proud of the sacrifices you have made for me, our family and our nation.” Or something like that anyway…
Well, the list could go on for days, couldn’t it? Maybe you’ve already given each one listed above…but what really, truly matters is that you give your veteran your time, attention, admiration, love, and the respect he/she deserves.
Hug each other this Christmas, forgive misgivings and misunderstandings that have happened in the past or caused heartache between you. Life is too short to hold grudges or not to forgive someone you love that may have made a terrible mistake. Merry Christmas and God bless you all!