13: The Christmas Surprise

13: The Christmas Surprise

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

The Christmas Surprise

You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.

~Dr. Seuss

“Merry Christmas, darling. I love you, and I promise this will be over soon and we’ll be together again.” My voice was quivering ever so slightly that night, despite my attempts to hide it. I tried so hard to protect her from the things going on around me, and like all good soldiers, I had to put up a brave front for loved ones back home.

But this time, I had a much different reason for hiding my emotions. It was not fear, but rather an overwhelming excitement that threatened my calm demeanor. For as I hung up that phone half a world away from my sweet Southern belle, the single most expensive call of my life ended, and what would become my greatest adventure began. And if my plan came to fruition, this Christmas would be like no other before or since.

At the time, I was a twenty-year-old staff sergeant stationed in Southeast Asia, compelled by duty to the field of war, far away from my loving bride of three years. Our communications during that year consisted of infrequent handwritten letters and even more infrequently traded cassette tapes.

Words cannot even begin to describe how much I craved hearing her sweet voice in person. We had already missed so much time together during that very difficult year; our wedding anniversary had come and gone, celebrated only with those same letters and tapes.

And now this was to be our first Christmas apart in the six years since we first met. While the military made an admirable attempt to provide us with a Christmas experience, I had determined that neither distance, nor oceans, nor even war would prevent us from experiencing the joy of this holiday together.

As I hung up that phone in the USO, I walked out of the dilapidated building to a waiting bus for Bangkok, carrying the money I had put aside each month for the trip. As the bus bumped along the twisting jungle road, I had ample time to dwell on the adventure I had been planning almost from the beginning of my June arrival in Southeast Asia. Everything leading up to that day was scripted, down to the tiniest detail — the bus, the flight, even that last-minute phone call.

I boarded my flight in the enormous Bangkok airport only four days prior to Christmas. The first leg of that almost twenty-four-hour journey would take me high above the lush, bombed-out hills of Cambodia, barely skirting the war zones of Vietnam. Our brand-new Boeing 747 would skim over the high, chiseled mountains of Asia and glide carefully down between the tall apartment towers built into the side of the mountains surrounding Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, our first stop. I experienced more than a few uneasy moments during that landing, as our aircraft bounced down the runway, wings dangling precariously on either side over the waters of Victoria Harbor. After a short layover to take on passengers, we returned to the air, headed for an uneventful flight to Tokyo, and then eastward across the Pacific to Honolulu. During what seemed to be an unending journey, the amber sphere of the sun seemed to set multiple times in the sky as we traversed the deep blue expanse below. And the closer the plane came to delivering me into the arms of my love, the more excited I became.

After leaving Honolulu, the sun set one last time, revealing before us in the darkness a large, low dome of light glowing dimly at first in the black, distant east. At once equally amazed and confused by this phenomenon, and knowing that it was far too early for the sun to be rising ahead of us, I slowly began to recognize that the glow in the darkness ahead was actually the mainland of Southern California, still hours away. With each passing moment, the light grew closer and more pronounced, drawing us ever so slowly into its beauty. The closer we got, the more nervous I became, and the more my resolve began to waver. I couldn’t wait for the surprise. By the time we reached Los Angeles International Airport, I had to hear her voice.

“Hi hon, how are you?” I asked.

“Wow, our connection is so good. Why are you calling again?”

“Hon, there’s a reason the connection is good; I’m in Los Angeles.” Dead silence greeted me on the other end of the line. “Did you understand me?”

“No…” she said.

Slowly, I repeated, “I’m in Los Angeles.”

The words no sooner left my mouth than I heard “Mama, HE’S IN LA!” I don’t remember much more of the conversation, nor do I recall very much about that last hour before landing in Phoenix. I do remember running into her waiting arms. We kissed, I lifted her off her feet, and as we clung to each other there in the airport terminal, it felt as if I had never left her side.

We did not sleep that night; in those early morning hours, as we lay in each other’s arms, oblivious to all around us, talk seemed to flow much easier than any time before or since. It was as if we were meeting for the very first time, getting acquainted once again. And for the next thirty days it was Christmas. That was the most wonderful present I ever gave her, and I don’t think the glow from the surprise ever wore off.

~Rus Franklin

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