“The most romantic experience in my life until now came from my
best friend’s Christmas miracle. Her fiancé, Jeremy, stationed on a Navy
ship in France, hoped he could get leave for Christmas. Shirley joined us
in Germany in hopes he could get that far.
“Jeremy’s assigned ship, an aircraft carrier, in the Mediterranean Sea,
represented an impossible distance from my friend, Shirley, who
attended college stateside. Jeremy’s naval service during Vietnam kept
them apart. Only letters provided communication, and they traveled
painfully slow. Often letters crossed.
“However, a plan emerged. Derek and I lived in Germany in a
small, garret apartment off base. If Jeremy could get leave over the
Christmas holiday, Shirley would fly to Germany and stay with us. The
plan had challenges, nebulous at best. First, as the most junior man in his
division, Jeremy knew the officer in charge would not promise him
leave until the time approached. Coupled with the slow mail deliveries,
Shirley never knew for sure if or when he would be able to make it to
Germany. On faith, Shirley got her passport and plane ticket and joined
“On December 21, Jeremy’s ship pulled into Cannes, France for the
Christmas holiday. The Navy granted Jeremy a four-day pass with
written permission from the Executive Officer to travel to Germany.
On the 22nd, he had day liberty and took a train to Nice and the nearest
airport. A Christmas Eve flight to Germany might work for him the first
day of his leave. December 23 represented a ship workday. He got ready
so he could get off the ship as early as possible the next day.
“Christmas Eve day arrived. Traveling military personnel in Europe
were required to wear the uniform for identification. They were
allowed to cross boarders without a passport if they carried the proper
documentation. By 10:00 a.m. at last, Jeremy had permission to leave
the ship and take the boat ride to fleet landing. Once ashore, it did not
take long to make it to the train station for the short ride to Nice.
“Shortly after noon, a flight headed north to Bern, Switzerland.
There he suffered the frustration of a long wait in the terminal for the
next connecting flight. Switzerland as a neutral country behaved equally
suspicious of servicemen from any country. An official told him and the
other servicemen who were also traveling that they had to wait in a
special roped off area. Jeremy saw Switzerland as a seat in a designated
“Finally, he boarded the next plane to Stuttgart, Germany. On this
short flight darkness arrived as they flew over the Alps. In Stuttgart after
a short layover, the same plane would go on to Frankfurt. When he
touched down in Frankfurt, the darkness and quiet felt like a
mausoleum. Everything stops for the Christmas holiday in Germany. All
native Germans were home celebrating. He found a pay phone and
managed to call for a taxi for the airport and the train station.
“Forty miles north of Frankfurt, reaching Butzbach required a train
or car. At the nearly deserted train station, Jeremy saw a train and one
worker. He approached and still remembers what he said, “ Ist das der
Zuge geht zu Butzbach?”“Ja, ja. Shnell, shnell” replied the worker.
Jeremy ran and jumped aboard. No sooner had he climbed the steps to a
passenger compartment than the train began to move.
“He breathed a sigh of relief and sat near another service man that
happened to be on the coach. In a little while, a conductor came by
asking for tickets. Jeremy had no ticket; but with a little negotiation in
his broken German, he paid double the cost of the usual fare.
“Except for the ghosts, an uneventful train ride took him the rest of
the way. The train stopped at two small stations. At each, a few bare
light bulbs illuminated an old wooden platform. Imagining German
soldiers in uniform saying good-bye for maybe the last time as they
headed to battle occupied Jeremy’s stressed mind. The quiet eeriness of
those stations made such visualization effortless.
“At last the conductor announced, “Butzbach!” The Butzbach
station had a small platform and no visible terminal building. However,
Jeremy had directions as to how to find the apartment where Shirley
would be staying with us. A short walk from the train to the center of
the town took him back at least five hundred years.
“Built around a cobblestone square with the remains of the old well
in the center, Butzbach looked like a picture postcard with buildings
trimmed in gingerbread from a Brothers Grimm fairytale. All around the
square, the steep roofed buildings were all fashioned of timber and
stucco. Off the square to the right, a narrow alleyway led to the Piccolo
Bar with a small neon sign over the door, the landmark Jeremy needed.
“He entered and found the tavern room filled with mostly American
soldiers drinking noisily. One loud mouth wanted to pick a fight with
Jeremy just because he wore a Naval uniform. Fortunately, when he
heard that Jeremy had traveled a long way to visit an Army friend, he
backed off and went back to his drinking.
“The woman behind the bar, the owner and the mother of my new
German friend, left the bar and took him up the three narrow flights of
stairs to our apartment and knocked. No answer. They returned to the
bar again. A young German fellow standing at the bar suggested that
maybe we were at the Kirke. They could see it not far away.
“Around a few corners and down a little way, there stood the old
Lutheran church, by far the largest building in the town. The German
Lutheran Church, a 17th century building with exquisite high spires and
stained glass windows had a high stone wall around the outside with a
wrought iron gate.
“Jeremy’s new German friend took him to the door, and they
peeked inside. People filled the sanctuary with no room inside. He did
not see us. The next best thing, he stood by the gate. When the
Christmas Eve service ended, everyone would pass through the gate.
Jeremy waited. In a short time, bells rang out for midnight. People
poured from the church, walking four and five abreast. The full moon
clouded over briefly as huge white snowflakes began drifting down,
sparkling like new diamonds.
“Shirley had been in Germany for three days already. She had heard
nothing from Jeremy and anxiously waited for his arrival. In church that
night, she enjoyed the music but could understand nothing of the rest of
the service. So, she prayed. As she prayed, she found peace within
herself. She came to understand that if Jeremy could not make it to
Germany, everything would still turn out as God intended, her thoughts
as she left the church.
“Then Jeremy spotted Shirley, a slim figure in her blue wool coat
and tan beret. The ancient gate, decorated by the drifting snow, framed
Jeremy in his dress blues. He let out a yell and grabbed Shirley around
the waist, lifted her off the ground and smothered her with kisses. The
crazy sailor and dark-haired American girl were a strange sight to the
German parishioners passing by, but Jeremy and Shirley did not care.
Christmas had begun!
“Big, white snowflakes covered the wall and the ground; yet, even
with the snow falling, the moon still peeked out enough to spread more
diamonds across the glistening snow. The best white of all, however,
perched on top of Jeremy’s head, framed in the gate, as he swooped
Shirley into his arms. With a wave to us, they disappeared toward the
station for his bags. In true German tradition, we left to haul home our
already purchased Christmas tree.
“By the time Jeremy and Shirley arrived, freshly lit candles on the
Christmas tree spread a warm glow across our tiny apartment on the
third floor above the Piccolo Bar. The Christmas tree decorations
included carved ornaments from German craftsmen. The best glow,
however, came from the faces of the engaged couple whose faith in the
Christmas season had seen them through the anxiety of finding each
other on the moonlit night, the first snowfall of the season and a
Christmas miracle to remember.”
* * *