The late December Chicago winds were blowing briskly. Neva June was baking her famous Christmas Coffee Cake…and Bill had just come through the kitchen door, with his motorcycle cap affixed to his head and his leather jacket zipped up as a guardian against the winter wind. It was December 23rd and the Brooks home was excited about the holidays. The 6 foot Christmas Tree was resplendent in the living room with its lovely ornaments and popcorn strung garland and bubble lights and red candles in the windows. This year Neva had invited her dear friend, Ivy and her family, to join them for Christmas dinner. There would be delicious roast beef and mashed potatoes. Oyster dressing and Turkey as well. Homemade sourdough bread and candied yams. Aunt Wanda was bringing Divinity and aunt Vema was bringing homemade fudge. Grandma Askew was bringing her outstanding Country Ham. The Brooks lived in Chicago…as far as the Southern Illinois family were concerned…but in fact they lived in Sauk Village…which was well south of the Windy City. This was a first for gathering for Christmas in the northland. Always before the Brooks had journeyed to Eldorado in Little Egypt. But this year…they were risk takers. The southern kinfolk had decide to travel to the big city.
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer was playing on the radio. It had not been but since October that the Cuban Missile Crisis had been escaped by the canny leadership of President Kennedy. Well…Neva June and Bill had thought that they might not live to see Christmas…and they had commissioned a Bomb Shelter to be dug in their backyard…but the ground had been frozen. Jay had practiced, ‘Duck and Cover,’ in his first grade class…and he had wondered how he and his classmates would be saved from an atomic bomb by simply placing their hands over their heads and crouching against the hallway walls.
Vietnam was raging with no end in sight. The United States was sending over our teenage boys shortly after they graduated high school. Many…never came home. We asked why…but there was no satisfactory answer for the wholesale death of our boys.
On Christmas Eve we travelled to see the movie, Lady and the Tramp, on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Santa Claus and his elves were on every corner. ‘Peace On Earth…Good Will Toward Men,’ was being broadcast on loudspeakers. We had Christmas Eve dinner at a fine Italian Restaurant. After dinner we were full of Christmas Cheer.
‘From 1962 – 1964 the United States lost 16,732 soldiers in Vietnam.