By Pat Fenton
A Christmas Eve memory comes back to me, almost hauntingly in this crazy long night of the Pandemic, the Corona Virus we’re all living through. And it makes me think again of the importance of memory and how it brings us back so faithfully to the way we were.
I’m 20 years old, a young soldier from 17th Street in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. And I’m down in Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. And the furthest I have ever been from Windsor Terrace is Staten Island.
I’m marching cadence on the black Southern tarmac, singing to the count of a young southern Corporal: “Christmas Eve and we’ll be home drinking beer with lots of foam. Sound off, one-two, sound off, three-four, break it on down, one-two, three-four… “ And I don’t think I was ever happier than that moment in my young life. In the morning I would be going back home to Brooklyn on a two-week leave for Christmas before shipping out to Mannheim Germany on a troopship. So far away.
It was 1960 and I had just graduated from the Military Police Academy in Fort Gordon. The days down south in December would be hot and then when night came it would get winter cold sometimes.
Next to the old wooden barracks was a boiler room and I remember standing in there with four guys who were driving back to New York in the morning. I didn’t know any of them well, but we were all New York boys, Jersey boys. Someone brought in a brown paper bag of quart bottles of a southern beer called Double Diamond.
I don’t remember how it started, but as we stood in the shadows around the heat of the old boiler, talking about going home, the only light coming in from the open door, someone started humming “Silent Night” and we all joined in, and started singing it.
“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…”
As we drank the beer one of them asked me if I wanted to chip in for gas money and take a turn at the wheel driving through the south to New York. I told him I didn’t know how to drive. “That’s alright, chip in a few bucks with us for gas and we’ll drop you off in New York at the Port Authority building. “
I said I would and we drank some more of the Double Diamond beer.. In the morning I’d be going home to Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, driving up through southern towns I’d never been in, and then it got quiet for a moment and we started to sing Silent Night together:
“Silent night, holy night all is calm, all is bright Silent night, holy night all is calm, all is bright… Sleep in heavenly peace…”
It is a gentle Christmas Eve memory I’ll never forget as we push through the long night of this pandemic, heading into a New Year with the hope that the end of the pandemic is coming.
Pat Fenton grew up in Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn and worked as a court officer. He has written for a number of publications, including his popular piece on Farrell’s Bar for Irish America. He also wrote a play, “Stoopdreamer,” about the historic Irish saloon.