Christmas Heroes

Christmas brings back my last happy memories with my father. Growing up as “Daddy’s little girl,” it was no family secret that we shared a special bond. Dad served in the Navy in my early years, and I enjoyed hearing sea stories and exotic tales of places he visited. One time he brought home from a Navy cruise a three-foot-tall wooden table shaped like a monkey, which my brother and I named “Baboo.” My mother hated it. Mom’s detest for this furniture-creature among our early Colonial style décor made Baboo that much funnier to me, at six-years-old, and my way more mature older brother at seven. Dad’s sense of humor never stopped, and to this day when I think of him, I see twinkling blue eyes, shiny round cheeks, and a grin that made his entire face smile — just like that last Christmas.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Edward J. Ormond, U.S. Navy

Lieutenant Junior Grade Edward J. Ormond, U.S. Navy

Whether consciously or not, I followed in my father’s footsteps and joined the Navy.  Fiercely proud, my dad visited me at every duty station he could. And when I came home, Dad always wanted me to stop by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter Home, Omaha Beach Chapter Number 7, in Bowie, MD, to show me off to his friends and colleagues in the local veterans’ organizations. Every Christmas, the DAV held a holiday party for the residents of Charlotte Hall Veterans Home. Each year, one of the big highlights of the event for the Charlotte Hall residents was the belly dancer. One of the DAV members’ daughters performed an eye-popping routine in an I Dream of Jeannie-styled outfit, with hip scarves and jingle-coins. What belly dancing had to do with Christmas most of us never understood, but the octogenarian veterans who seldom got out enjoyed it, so no one really asked.

In 1999, my dad hinted to me that it sure would be nice if I could wear my uniform to the party. My dad knew how much I hated wearing my uniform in public, so I knew he must have really wanted me to. I was proud of the uniform, but hated the attention it brought. Grumbling while dressing, I gave in, because after all, I WAS Daddy’s little girl. I donned my Service Dress Blues, put my hair up, packed some presents, and met my dad at the DAV hall, which I had frequented since I was ten years old.

When I arrived, I became an instant celebrity. The gentlemen from Charlotte Hall fought over who got to have their pictures taken with me. I signed programs and listened to stories from veterans who told me they never met a Lieutenant Commander before, and especially not a girl one. The guests barely noticed the belly dancer and wanted to know how the Navy treated me these days. One of the guests told me with a wink, “I can’t wait to put this picture in my room so all the other guys can be jealous!” The whole time, my dad looked on, with that wonderful, knowing, smile and beamed like the brightest Christmas star.

At the end of the event, I helped the veterans onto the bus which would drive them back to their home, and a wheelchair-bound World War II Army veteran even snuck in a quick peck on my cheek. I waved goodbye as my newest friends pulled away, trying to hide the tears in my eyes. How had my dad known what a special gift he would give me by encouraging me to wear my uniform that day?

When I came back inside, my dad still smiled, ear to ear. He recounted every comment, every conversation, every event, and every laugh. He only paused in conversation to ensure he introduced me to anyone still there who didn’t already know I was his daughter.

At the time, my father did not know how very ill he was, and neither did any of the rest of us. Days later, he entered the hospital unexpectedly for emergency surgery and died shortly thereafter. For the first few years afterwards, I viewed Christmas as a sad time — a time of tremendous loss. But as the years have gone by, I now look back and count the many blessings of that last Christmas.

I had a wonderful gift in my father. Among many lessons in life, my dad taught me compassion, and instilled in me from childhood a sense of respect and honor for our nation’s heroes. During that last Christmas, I lived up to my dad’s expectations. I made him laugh and smile. I rejoice in the fact that the last official event my father and I shared focused on giving, and caring for others. And finally, the Christmas blessing I will never forget is the memory of seeing my personal hero so proud.

This story first appeared in “The Heart of Christmas” (Sparkle Press, 2012). Wishing everyone the very best in this holiday season.