My favorite Christmas dinner

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Christmas 1973. The Vietnam War had just ended a few months earlier and my husband's whole unit, the 173rd Airborne Division, had returned en masse to Fort Bragg, N.C. It was mostly made up of men in their early 20s and most of them had already used up their leave when they returned stateside, so they couldn't go home for Christmas.

My husband was one of the few young enlisted men who was married and had a house on base. Our two toddlers were the spoiled Army brats of his troop.

So it just seemed natural we should invite those who couldn't go home to our home for Christmas. Now these guys had been through it all, the offensives, dying buddies, Vietnam bawdy houses, etc., so I was more than a little apprehensive about the way they might act in my home and around my babies.

As it turned out, a finer group of gentlemen I could not have entertained. Every man who entered the front door brought two presents, one for us and one for another person. Two guys showed up with T-bone steaks for everyone. One soldier started grilling the steaks while a couple others helped me finish preparing the meal, which consisted of mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, stuffing, corn on the cob, roast turkey with all the trimmings and for dessert, Cherries Jubilee.

I can't tell you how homey it felt, working in the kitchen, serenaded by robust young voices singing Christmas carols.

Brandied eggnog and other drinks were served, but no one got rambunctious, except for my 9-month-old son, who decided now was the time to walk. Suddenly he was running tippy-toe from one soldier to another, with them all laughing and shouting encouragement.

Then it got very quiet. Curious, I went out into the living room. It was like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting. There, sitting cross-legged by our Christmas tree, were two young soldiers, my babies snuggled all safe in their arms, sharing their memories of Christmas at home. Soon all 20 of the men were gathered around the tree having a wonderful time, handing out presents and sharing their own memories of Christmas past.

We sat down to eat. A huge black soldier, whom everyone called "The Rock," said grace. At the end he thanked God for allowing them to make it through the war and then he thanked me for allowing them to be in my home for Christmas. Then we ate dinner and, I swear, that was the best Christmas meal I ever had -- and every one of those soldiers told me the same thing.

Margot Easley lives in Stagecoach after living in Carson City and Yerington. She is a Realtor for McCall Realty. She enjoys horseback riding, painting, working with animals and traveling.


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