The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A year for the book of memories

The magic of Christmas in the children's eyes.Our tree is sparkling with ornaments and lights, and there is plenty of space beneath for whatever booty the red-clad elf chooses to leave. Unfortunately, the space will remain plentiful; the grandkids will not be stopping by to see what has been left for them.

It occurred to me last night, while chatting with my favored egg-seller, that I should be grateful for being here to complain about those who are only in my memories.

One of the happiest memories of my youth was waking to the sound of Dad, outside our window in the darkness of Christmas morning, shouting, “Hey, come back here! The kids want to see you.”

Bells jingled, and a joyful call echoed through the Thousand Acre Wood around our home.

“Ho Ho Ho! Me-r-r-r-y Christmas!”

We kids never saw the guy, but as we slipped into the living room, we quickly spotted the plate half-full of peanut butter cookies and the glass half-full of milk – and the pile of gaily wrapped treasures under a tree that had been standing outside the kitchen door when we went to bed.

Several years later, on deployment with a Navy patrol plane squadron, we were tasked with flying to Thule and Sondrestrom airfields, in Greenland. Our mission was to lead ice-breaker ships to the weakest ice so they could cut a path for supply vessels.

That’s pretty close to the North Pole, and as luck would have it, Santa himself was on the radio one day. We chatted some, about what I would like for Christmas, and whether I had any special requests for special people back home.

Spring passed, and my squadron came back to the states. One day I was visiting Mom and Grandma and they got a phone call. Fast forward to the part where an elder (about 16) cousin had declared to his sister (maybe six or seven) there was no Santa Claus.

Knowing I had spoken to the fellow, Grandma called me to the phone to assure little Wendy Sue that there was, indeed, such a personage. Happily satisfied, she went off to straighten the error of her sibling’s ways.

Other Christmases were not quite so festive, spent in the Combat Information Center of the aircraft carrier USS America. From there, we tracked ships, submarines and aircraft – some ours, some at least friendly, and some decidedly less so.

Much of the information was on large, vertical edge-lit plexiglass boards. Sailors on one side wrote backwards so decision-makers on the other side could read and render decisions.

During Christmases spent in port, the transparent boards were scrubbed clean, and several colors of “grease” pencils employed to create snow-blocked window panes through which could be seen a Christmas tree.

No one shouted outside the windows at a departing gift-bringer, but some watch-standers claimed to have caught him on radar.

Some years I spent with wife and kids, others I was deployed. Germany one Christmas. Spain another. Somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea a couple others.

But this year, the separations are different. There is a niece in Philadelphia, a daughter in Frederick, a son in Bonneauville and grandkids in Cincinnati. None of them will be ’round our tree this year. I think that’s the worst part, though not nearly as bad as standing outside a hospital while a loved one dies inside.

Here, then, a wish for everyone, that the tale begun this year soon be ended, its narrative relegated to the considerations of future policy makers.

Merry Whatever-You-Celebrate to all. May we all be grateful for the memories, and for all those who have helped us through the making of them.

Thanks for sharing the ride. I hope you enjoyed the journey. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share.


  1. A wonderful column John. I traveled with you though I was never there.
    Doug Pugh

  2. Wonderful read. Thank you.

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