It seems long ago that I spent the summers of 1967, 1968 and 1969 in Southeast Asia supporting the Vietnam War.
Winters of those years meant additional time away from the family on SAC alert or off on temporary in exotic places like Alaska. It was the typical life of an aircrew member and our families adjusted.
Then in 1974 I was assigned to a desk job at the Air Force logistics center at Oklahoma City. The workforce at the center consisted of about 20,000 civilian government employees and only a couple hundred of us active duty personnel.
The civilians adopted a "light duty" schedule during the Christmas and New Years holidays to coincide with local school schedules. We active duty military types did the same. School was out so we had two whole weeks to spend with our young family.
What to do? From my grade school days I remembered glowing reports of vacationing in Mexico during Christmas vacation by the McCormick kids who also attended our District 8 country school.
The plan was to rent a motor home for the trip south. We shopped only to find that the two-week rental fee about covered a year's payments on a late model used one. We purchased an almost new mini-motorhome which turned out to be a great way to vacation and travel with young children. Christmas Eve found us in the Mexican border town of Reynosa.
We Methodists elected to attend Midnight Mass in the city's large cathedral. Our family of five, dressed in Oklahoma Sunday clothing, the little girls in pretty dresses and ruffled stockings, must have stood out like a sore thumb among more common clothing of the majority of the parishioners.
We went an hour early, not understanding when Midnight Mass started, duh! The pews were hard and it was unheated and cold but the feast before our eyes watching people at prayer was heartwarming.
My children were wide eyed to see long lines of peasant dressed individuals in the outside aisles walking on their knees working their way to the little cubicles where several priests were hearing confessions.
We explained that those people were paying penance for past sins, an act of devotion that definitely was not in our children's protestant experience.
Some time before Mass began mimeographed song sheets were passed out, all printed in Spanish, of course. The song leader accompanied by a couple of nuns playing guitars directed the singing for all gathered there huddled in the cold.
It was fun to recognize the familiar Christmas carols and join in the singing in our terribly flawed Spanish. The ancient ceremony of Mass itself was beautifully done.
The white-robed priest could have been speaking Latin or Spanish as we knew not the difference. No matter the dignity and peacefulness of corporate worship transcends language and peacefulness descended on all present.
With Mass concluded the priest blessed us all and directed us to "go in peace." Then the celebration began. Firecrackers, sparklers, cherry bombs and rockets -- they had them all.
We enjoyed the raucous celebration as we walked back to our camper home away from home. Rather than going through the hassle of crossing back over the border to find a park on the Texas side, we elected to park on a wide boulevard right there in Reynosa. The furnace in the motorhome warmed our bodies, and we slept in peace, even though the pop of occasional firecrackers continued long into the night. Christmas day, we drove into the countryside on the only paved road heading south.
Mexican agriculture of the time was little mechanized and most fields were small. Goats and sheep were kept in enclosures made from woven sticks next to the small shacks where most people lived.
Larger, finer homes in the country were mostly surrounded by walled compounds. I was surprised that most of the corn growing alongside the road was still standing unpicked though the leaves and stalks were brown and faded.
The art of building smooth asphalt roads evidently had escaped the Mexicans of that time and our motorhome rattled and swayed as we drove well under the speed limit. Gasoline was purchased by the liter but at comparable price to that at home. The rural areas were unfenced and cattle had free range to stand or cross the road as they pleased.
Traffic was light to non-existent as most people seemed to walk from place to place.
One day I picked up a hitchhiker, a man about 30, and carried him the several miles to his village. My Spanish was poor, but I understood that he was walking home to his family. The motorhome was a new experience for him as he looked around and christened it "Coache" the name we adopted forevermore.
We toured the rural backcountry along the Gulf of Mexico for several days dry camping wherever the evening caught us. Any small town, Puebla, which had a market place we stopped to shop.
Before the trip, we had purchased a large quantity of candy canes which our children handed out with a Feliz Navidad (we say Merry Christmas) greeting to brown eyed children who magically appeared. Nancy, about 8 years old, quickly tired of people touching her blond hair, seemingly a fascination to a brown eyed, black haired population.
Those days in Mexico were an experience that our family often remembers. In writing this, I asked Ann what she remembers, and was surprised at the answer. She related that she had purchased gifts for each of us and when we opened them Christmas morning, she was the only one who didn't have a gift.
She later purchased one for herself, a mixer that she still uses today.
My shopping is finished this year and you can bet that I'll not let that happen again!
And a Merry Christmas to you and yours too. Observing the poverty of our close neighbors was for my children a real education of what freedom means in contrast to a corrupt government. Could we make such a trip today? Not on your life, in the current climate of drug wars and murders along our Southern Border.
It is a sad commentary in our world today such adventures are no longer prudent.
On the Internet recently, there has been some speculation former involving Sen. Bob Kerrey that our current Senator Ben Nelson may decide not to run for re-election next year.
Kerrey hinted that he may run in Nelson's place if Senator Ben bows out.
Hmm, the Senate Christmas break can happen at any moment. What do they take a month off from?
If McCook's favorite son happens to be in the area, here is a chance to offer Senator Ben in person your own opinion as to whether he should run again.
I thought Kerrey was a resident of New York, but evidently that wouldn't be a problem for a good liberal democrat.
That is how I saw it.