17: Darren’s Christmas Video

17: Darren’s Christmas Video

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Darren’s Christmas Video

When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses.

~Dr. Joyce Brothers

I hesitantly place the old videotape in the VCR. It’s Christmas 2015, and it’s been a long time since we’ve watched this video. My thoughts drift back to the day I found it in our mailbox shortly before Christmas 1990.

I remember holding the slightly marred manila envelope in my trembling hands, clutching it to my chest, for fear it would bear bad news.

Although I didn’t recognize the name on the return address, I knew it was someone who was serving in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division with my son Darren. It concerned me that Darren wasn’t the sender.

Darren had been deployed to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield that August; but we knew from his letters that the 82nd was preparing to go into Iraq at any time. The thought was frightening!

My husband and kids were there when I returned from picking up the mail. We opened the package and discovered, to our delight, that it contained a Christmas video recorded by Darren as part of the USO’s “Better than a Letter” project.

Attached to the video, was this beautiful handwritten letter dated December 4th:

Dear Mrs. Pullen,

Greetings from Saudi Arabia. This is John, Darren’s squad leader, with a gift for you. Inside is a VHS tape that Darren made last night. The reason I am sending it is because Darren is getting some eyeglasses made. You will understand why when you see the tape. I don’t know when he will be back so I’m making sure that it is sent out with the rest of the tapes.

This also gives me the opportunity to say thanks for all you have done. People like you and your family make all of us service personnel proud to be Americans. You have done a fantastic job raising Darren and I count him as one of my best troops and a friend.

If it does come to war over here you can rest assured that I will take care of him. Heck, without him we wouldn’t get those great cookies. As a squad leader I know how to take care of valuable assets like that.

Well, Mrs. Pullen, it’s time for some Army training. Enjoy the tape and have a Merry Christmas.

Sincerely,

John F.

Our hearts were full before we even began to watch the tape. What a blessing to have our son serving with such awesome fellow soldiers. I knew I’d never forget John’s comforting words.

As my husband placed the tape in the VCR, we gathered close to the TV to see Darren for the first time in nearly a year.

I didn’t make it much past “Hi, Mom,” before the tears were flowing. I never knew that a video could be so heartwarming and so heartbreaking at the same time.

Not many people owned video cameras back then, so having the opportunity to actually see and hear our son was extraordinary. Today it is commonplace for families to see their soldiers no matter where they are in the world.

We immediately noticed why Darren needed new glasses; his thick, black-horned-rimmed BCGs, or Birth Control Glasses (as the soldiers called them), were held together with duct tape, making them even more unattractive. But, to our eyes, he still looked extremely handsome in his combat fatigues, heavy boots, and desert tan.

Darren began by wishing us a Merry Christmas, and then addressed each member of the family with a special message:

“Mom, your poem was great, but it really made me sad. Please keep sending cookies; they are a hit with all the guys.

“Your letter was hilarious, Dad. Your spelling was pretty good, too.

“Timmy and Elijah, thank you for the drawings, they make me so happy; and be good for your mommy.” That was for his three- and five-year-old nephews.

“Sis, the guys love the pictures you send; but I’ll have to talk to you when I get home about showing too much leg.” He chuckled.

“I’ve been working out, Tim; I’m catching up with you.” He smiled, showing off his biceps for his older brother.

“I miss you so much, Granny!”

He went on to mention each of his siblings and asked us to pass on his wishes for a Merry Christmas to extended family and friends.

Our twenty-one-year old son had grown up out there in the desert. He spoke purposefully, choosing his words carefully, and taking time to organize his thoughts prior to changing topics.

He said it was difficult to believe they’d been there four months already, and that he had no idea when they’d be coming home. He was happy that new tents had arrived that day, and said they’d be spending both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on guard duty.

“We’ve been training hard, but in our limited free time, we play basketball in the sand with our makeshift hoops, and write lots of letters back home. I love you all; it’s real sad talking to you like this.” Ironically, the thirty-minute tape ran out just as he finished his sentence.

I think everyone agreed that Darren’s video was the very best Christmas present we received that year.

In February 1991 the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers went into Iraq. Thankfully, the war was over quickly; and after the liberation of Kuwait, the 82nd began its redeployment back to Fort Bragg.

Now it’s twenty-five years later, and we sit down to watch the video once again on Christmas, blessed to be joined by Darren’s sons Nathan and Andrew, who are home on leave from the U.S. Army.

Both boys were born after Darren was honorably discharged from the military, and this will be their first time seeing the video. Although I’m pretty sure they’ve heard all about their dad’s army adventures, it should be fun for them to watch.

John’s letter is still with the tape, so I pass it over to the boys and Darren to read as I turn on the VCR player.

“He was such a great guy,” Darren says, as he recalls his squad leader John. “He really did love your cookies, Mom.”

The thirty-minute tape seems to go by quickly as everyone laughs at Darren’s glasses and talks about how much the military has changed over the years. But, the boys look so much like their dad in their fatigues that the resemblance is almost uncanny. They thoroughly enjoy watching the video, and my heart is warmed by the sight of the three of them sitting on the couch together.

I look around the room at all the kids and grandkids and I’m reminded that we have so much for which to be grateful, not the least of which is Darren’s Christmas video.

~Connie Kaseweter Pullen

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