Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Koda Christmas: Author, Arlene R. O'Neil

Christmas Memories-Precious Love

What we experience in the past is either brought forward with us in life or banished and forgotten. It is the memories of previous Christmases that I love now. Those years when I was a child, when my son was a child, his first Christmas and those that followed, are what I now hold dear to my heart. Times and circumstances have changed, yet every year I pull out the memories of Christmases Past.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were always filed with family, food, presents, music, laughter, and relatives. Those two days of the year were amazing, a time when everything came to life! Prior to the actual event, Dad would string the lights outside, in the snow and ice, perched precariously on a ladder, while Mom made cookies and hot chocolate. Excitement built as Christmas Eve arrived.

Those memories can be called to mind quickly for me, and then blended with the first Christmas Eve at my house after my only son Tanner, was born. I carried on the traditions set forth by my parents, of a tree surrounded by presents, of tables filled with food, and of carols bursting forth from the stereo. My house was abundant with love. My living room overflowed with a tree way too full and much too tall! One year I bought my tree late and all that was available on the lot were the frozen ones - still tied with bale twine. I stood one up. In comparison to the sky, I thought, “Yes…this will fit nicely in the living room.” Lo and behold I ended up with a tree like the Griswold’s in “Christmas Vacation!” Lop a little off the bottom, a little more off the top, and after a few hours it stood nicely in its stand, nailed to the floor. It wasn’t however, until it thawed and grew from the living room into the dining room that I realized I needed to shop for a lot more ornaments!

Then of course there were the years when Christmas dinner took on an entirely new meaning. I had my husband’s family as well as my own for a sit-down dinner at 1 o’clock for about 30-35 people. There were a few friends who had nowhere to go and were invited also, which made the count vary from holiday to holiday, so I always made more food than I first planned. As the years passed away so did some of the guests, and I found it difficult to cook for only eight or ten people. Thus the “drop in” holidays were born. I still had the traditional family dinner, but now it was followed by a full buffet for my son’s friends, from 5 o’clock until whenever. Teenagers would drop by, eat, play Nintendo, watch TV, or just hang out. This tradition lasted until my son joined the Army. Then life took a drastic change.

Alone… my first Christmas without my son. My husband had passed years ago, and while those years were difficult, somehow as long as Tanner and I were together, we were strong. Now my son would be in the desert for Christmas wearing Camouflage instead of Dr. Dentons.  This is a point where memories collide – the good with the bad. It must have been the end of November when reality actually set in. My son would be in a war zone and there was nothing I could do…or was there?

There were 189 Soldiers in Tanner’s unit and I set out to make certain that each had at least one gift to unwrap Christmas morning. This was the start of “Operation Tanner Claus.” By sending a few emails, putting a box at the local coffee shop, and a lot of help from online friends, I managed to collect over 600 gifts for the troops! There were Christmas trees and lights, toys and candies, cookies and energy bars! All were shipped to Iraq by December 10th and arrived in time for the holiday!  A few years later, “Operation Tanner Claus” would be reborn and sent to Afghanistan, this time with over 1,000 presents – each tagged “Thank you, Soldier!” The joy of having friends over for a “wrapping” party every Sunday, of sharing pizza and soda while listening to Christmas music, of packing the car filled with boxes for the post office, are the memories I have now of Christmases past. This year, the first one in seven years, I will meet my son in Connecticut during the holidays. Unfortunately it won’t be until a few days after the actual day of Christmas, but I will hold on tight to my memories until I arrive and make new ones!

Holidays are hard especially when you are alone. You don’t want to go to parties just in case you get emotional, and of course, you don’t want to put a damper on anyone else’s good time. You don’t really want to stay home either, for you fear the walls will begin to close in around you. Last year as well as this year, I will spend the days with my animals – my five pet goats and two Labradors.  I will also be online, talking to others who are alone. The afternoon of Christmas Eve I will chill a pound of shrimp and cocktail sauce and make a huge antipasto, a tradition I started last year. The dogs and goats will receive their share and will open their presents – a fresh square bale of hay for the goats, and new toys for the dogs. Christmas Day will be spent much the same way, adding in a quick dinner with some friends. Then I will come home to relive the memories of the past as I curl up in bed with my Labradors, Holly and Bruno, and watch Christmas movies.

I look forward to seeing my family a few days after Christmas, but until then I have a lifetime of glowing memories to relive!

Arlene R. O’Neil
All Rights Reserved

 Biography of Arlene R. O’Neil:

“Writing is what lights me up,” states Arlene R. O’Neil. “Being a visual writer, I love seeing my work come to life: to take the reader with me on a journey word by word: to touch a reader whether through laughter or tears.” Her current book, “Broken Spokes,” refers to broken bones, broken bike, and broken spirit. It speaks to the reader of determination, of survival, of inspiration.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Mrs. O’Neil moved to South Carolina to work on her second novel, which will relate the roller coaster life of being the parent of a Soldier on active duty. O’Neil says, “My son, SGT Tanner O’Neil, is a member of the United States Army and the joy, pride, and love of my life. After five tours of duty to active war zones, I feel the need to share my experience with other parents in hope of lessening their fears.” SGT O'Neil has just recently returned from his 5th tour.

Currently Arlene lives with her two Labradors, Holly and Bruno, and her adorable pet goats, Paxton, JaeJay, Rupert, Patches, and Frosty. “These amazing characters have helped me through some incredibly difficult times and I love them dearly.”

Aside from writing, supporting her son while deployed, and caring for her animals, Arlene recently moved into her new home where she has three acres of land for her and her beloved animals to enjoy.

An author, editor and proofreader, Arlene R. O’Neil may be contacted at arleneoneil@aol.com
Thank you, Arlene for sharing your very personal thoughts and memories of Christmas. I, and I'm sure the Butterfly Phoenix readers, would like to send a personal note of thanks and gratitude to your son and his fellow soldiers for their service. THANK YOU and Merry Christmas. May you be safe, warm, and loved this holiday season.