For we of advanced years, holiday time has reasons to be merry. The radio air briefly quiets down from the annoying noise pretending to be music, and we hear the pleasant seasonal sounds of actual melodies. Instead of squawking by the current Madonna, we get hymns about another Madonna.
And wonder of wonders, our TVs also briefly stop blasting screeching visions of murdering zombies. Instead we get beloved old classics such as Miracle On 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life and Holiday Inn.
Which brings me to my rant of the day. The latter movie, released in wartime 1942, starred crooner Bing Crosby, and featured one of the most popular songs in history, White Christmas. A year later, also during World War II, Bing recorded the nostalgic, I’ll Be Home For Christmas.
Every holiday season, my memories clearly go back to that song’s effect on me in 1944. I was a 19-year-old sailor at the Navy base on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Just a month later, I was assigned to a Navy troop transport and on my way to the war in the Pacific.
On Christmas Eve, I hopped a tram and rode into the city. At first, I was with a bunch of other teen sailors who strutted around trying to look like old salts. Later I wandered away by myself and strolled through some residential streets.
As I passed houses, many with open windows, I could hear people singing Christmas carols. I passed one where the voice of a radio announcer introduced Bing Crosby’s I’ll Be Home For Christmas. I stopped to listen, and the song affected me deeply, especially the last line: I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.
I still don’t know why. First of all, I’m not Christian, and at the time I didn’t have a home. Before joining the Navy at age 18, I spent 11 years in an orphanage for fatherless boys. If my feelings on that San Francisco street could have been analyzed, the lyrics represented my dreams for a home.
My deepest wishes for this holiday season relate to memories of that lonely teen sailor of 70 years ago. I pray that all of our servicemen and women around the world can be home with loved ones for Christmas, even if only in their dreams.