I was, what I thought, a bright kid.  It never occurred to me that I was clueless about most of what was going on in the real world.  But as I have gotten older, I realize that I was being taught some of life’s lessons. And, although I didn’t know it at the time, some of it stuck.

This being the Christmas season, I thought it fitting to share a few experiences of my Christmas past.

As a kid, I had an electric train set.  The tracks were mounted on a large piece of plywood, and the trains came out at Christmas after the plywood was put in place. There was a new train on the market, and I was in love.  I didn’t ask for this train, but the way I drooled over the Lionel Catalog, it was obvious I had found a new love.

A few days before Christmas I woke up to find the board in place and my old trains occupying a spot on the near side of the board.  On the far side of the board was a lump with a makeshift tarp covering the lump.  Now, I was 11 years old at the time, and there was no way this lump could live in my house without some investigation.  I crawled very carefully across this board and lifted the tarp, and there was my dream train.

For the next few days I walked around with a smile on my face. Sam knew I had peeped, and I knew that he knew, but he never said a word. I guess the lesson was, “You learn to pick your battles.”

During my early years, Sam was in Chicago doing duty with the Defender.  It was close to Christmas and I was out of school.  I went out to Chicago to hang out with him until he was ready to come home.  He had been covering a Willy T. Ribbs (race car driver) wannabe and was dealing with eye irritation.  He bought this product (I can’t spell it, and Google couldn’t help) for his eyes.  You put it in your eyes at bed time, and washed it out in the a.m.  The downside was that it stuck your eyelids together and you couldn’t see until you washed it out.  I had to try it, and when I awoke I was blind. Panic set in, but Sam was there to calm me and help me through it. Whew!

In later years, during my stint in the military, I was assigned to a team to run a water survival school in Numazu, Japan. We taught the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) the use of a survival suit.

The pay was outrageous. The U.S. paid per diem and the JASDF paid us living expenses.  This was a boatload of cash, but the quest for a decent meal was challenging. Raw fish was the popular fare, and at that time sushi wasn’t on the gourmet menu.  There was no mess hall, so we made the best of what we could find.

We returned to base for the Christmas break, and it was only fitting to spend some of this cash on festivities.  I spent an evening drinking Akadama wine and Hermes gin.  As I left one location to investigate the party atmosphere in another dive, I suddenly went blind.  There was no Sam around to comfort me, but just before I hit full panic mode, a cloud uncovered the moon to let light shine through and all was well.