A Soapy Hanukkah From Long, Long Ago

The Jewish holiday this year is from Sunday, December 6, to Monday, December 14. It brings back memories from 70 years ago. World War II was finally over in September, 1945, but it would take three or four more months before I‘d be shipped home from my base in the newly-liberated Philippines. 
As December approached, I was happy that the shooting and bombing stopped, and wasn’t thinking much about celebrating any holidays, Jewish or otherwise. Members of our unit lived in tents close by the Fleet Landing along Manila’s Pasig River. 

Among our boring daily duties was to help load and unload supplies on boats to be taken to Navy ships docked in the harbor. For us, the only thing resembling a holiday was when some kind-hearted crew member brought us some fresh food or a gallon tub of ice cream.

We had a mess tent, and dined on what nearby Army units ate, K Rations, including Spam and other canned and dried almost-edible food products. For fresh water, we had 50-gallon canvas containers, hung from trees outside our tents.

Our shower consisted of four standing boards nailed together as a roofless box, with another big water bag on top. Our head (toilet) was a trench with a 4×12 wooden box above, with 8 butt-sized holes cut into the top board. For those who had previously served aboard nice, clean Navy ships, this tent living in the war-torn city was quite a come-down.

When holiday season approached, guys from the ships brought us plastic Christmas trees, ornaments and holiday decorations, and our tents looked a bit less drab. We even got strings of small red and white signal lights that lit up our tent area at night.
The Christian guys were getting Christmas packages from home in early December. I was happily surprised when a carton of Hanukkah goodies from my Aunt Flossie arrived. She had mailed it from Philly in October, and although the war ended in September, it still took a month across the U.S. and then on a Pacific cargo ship to get to me.

As I opened the carton, I was ecstatic to see the typical Hanukkah edibles, including honey cake, macaroons, jelly candies, chocolate-covered matzohs and cans of gefilte fish patties. I looked forward to a tasty ethnic holiday feast. Then, disaster! Aunt Flossie had also stuffed in packages of perfumed soaps, shampoo and lotions.

What she didn’t realize was that everything in the carton during the month of travel had absorbed the heavy odors of the toiletries. All reeked and tasted strongly of soap, including the canned food. Even the hungry stray dogs that hung around our tents refused to eat any of it.

I sent a nice letter of thanks to Aunt Flossie telling her how much I enjoyed her generous Hanukkah present. My December holiday wasn’t a total loss. The Christian guys on my crew kindly shared their non-soapy Christmas goodies from home.

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