Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas in Omaha

Luminaria display in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Source)
From August of 1987 to December of 1991 I was assigned to Offutt Air Force Base. Home of Strategic Air Command Headquarters, SAC HQ if you will. Now this august (and sometimes scary bunch) are housed in Building 500 on the base. That being the actual headquarters building. There were a number of other units on the base, some belonging to SAC, some not. When we first arrived there, I didn't belong to SAC. My new unit, STRATCOMDIV (according to my orders), belonged to the Air Force Communications Command. (I have mentioned this before, here, if you must know.) I wasn't part of SAC, not yet anyway.

But, as you might have guessed, I digress.

The topic of today's post (in keeping with the spirit of the season, and I warned you that this month would be chock full of reminisces, memories, and old stories) is my remembrances of the Christmases we spent in eastern Nebraska. (The western part of the state is Shaun's territory. BTW, let's pray that his recent surgery went well.)

Four Christmases were spent in Nebraska, I don't recall seeing any white ones, though we did see a fair amount of snow in the winter. Just not on Christmas Day.

Now according to the United States Postal Service, who should know these things, we lived in Omaha. However, when I perused a map, it certainly looked to me that we lived in Bellevue, Nebraska. Not Omaha. A small point, I know, and just who am I to be arguing with the Postal Service? (Well, I have done it before and no doubt will do it again. I still get all of my mail delivered properly, well, I think I do...)

So when I sat down to write this post, I decided to check Google Maps for where it thought I lived in those days. What I found was the following, which is in reality two maps, one superimposed upon the other, the top bit showing the city limits of Omaha, the bottom bit showing the city limits of Bellevue. The big red circle is where we lived, in the Capehart Housing area, which belonged to the base. (When we first got there, I thought they said "K-Part." I thought "What an odd name for a housing area...")

Google Maps
Now that red circle encompasses most of Capehart, which the more discerning amongst ye might note, is surrounded by Bellevue, but not "in" Bellevue. Nor does it seem to be in Omaha. So truth be told, I guess the Post Office just decided to put us in Omaha, perhaps they couldn't figure it out either. Perhaps one of the readers can enlighten us upon this subject and the jurisdictional boundaries, territories, and the like of the Cornhusker State. Can't be any more confusing than Rhode Island. Which we'll discuss some other time. This digression is drawing us away from my Christmas story. (I know, I know, not your fault.)

So, Christmas in Nebraska. We were still a young family in 1987. I was a lowly Staff Sergeant (though soon to become a mighty Technical Sergeant), The Missus Herself, who seems ageless, was gorgeous (as she remains) and tolerant of my many idiosyncrasies, foibles, and faux pas. The progeny were as follows: The Naviguessor was 8, The Nuke was almost 5, and The WSO, the baby of the family as she was, is, and forever shall be, was 3. A very precocious lass of 3, as she would no doubt tell you were she here.

So young kids, squirrely Dad, and gorgeous Mom. We should have had our own sitcom, we, well the others, were certainly photogenic, talented, and intelligent. Me? I'll go with "well fed" and let's leave it at that, shall we?

It may have been our first Christmas there when someone (okay, it was The Missus Herself, she's the brains of the family, I just move heavy things when required) suggested that driving around the town and checking out the Christmas lights might be fun. Someone (maybe me, but probably her) thought it would be neat to listen to our Christmas tapes as we drove about and perused the holiday decorations.

I had a set of cassettes from Reader's Digest, called "Christmas Through the Years." The cover looked like this -

Now those cassettes contained an awesome set of carols and songs from a number of time periods, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and others. Just wonderful, wonderful music which reminded me of my own childhood, I hope the progeny remember the songs like I do. Here's one of my favorites...

So off we would go in the old VW Jetta, kids in the back all bundled up. The Nuke in her booster seat, The WSO in her full size car seat (anticipating her future occupation no doubt). Lots of Christmas trees, candles illuminating hundreds of windows, many houses outlined with strings of lights, but one of our favorites we discovered when we turned into this one neighborhood.

The entire street, every driveway and walkway were lined with what I now know are called "luminaria," simply put - take a paper bag, put a layer of sand on the bottom, place a candle in the sand, light the candle, and voilà, an instant and pretty sweet Christmas decoration.

We were struck by the hundreds of luminaria, the candles flickering, casting shadows upon the ground, the simple beauty and wonder of it left us in awe. I pulled over and stopped just to admire the effort which had gone into this display, Dozens of families all getting together and decorating their street like that. Even more fascinating and wonderful is that was not the only neighborhood decorated in that manner.

It was so beautiful, even the kids were quiet. For a short while anyway. But they liked it enough to request we do it again in the following years. So we did. I cannot begin to express the joy and heartfelt warmth those memories give me.

Many years later we repeated that experience, though not in Nebraska, rather it was in Virginia. I don't know if you're familiar with the Norfolk area, but the Norfolk Botanical Garden is always worth a visit. Especially at Christmas, at night. We did that one year with The Nuke and The WSO. It was like old times, Christmas carols on the radio, dazzling lights and decorations, and, more importantly, the warmth and comfort of being with loved ones.

It was magnificent.

God, I love this time of year!

BTW, you can check out Christmas Through the Years in its entirety at YouTube. Worth your time I think. Enjoy!


  1. As someone once said ( sang ): Thanks for the memories.

    Paul L. Quandt

  2. Is Col. Glenn's picture new or did I just not notice it until just now?


    1. New. I added him last night. Seemed to be the right thing to do. I admired him greatly as a kid.

  3. Brings to mind the oohs and ahhhs of my own offspring back in the day.

  4. Offutt AFB is in, and surrounded by, Bellevue. The rumor is that Gen Lemay wanted Offutt to be referred to as being in Omaha, because who knew where Bellevue, NE was? Isn't Bellevue in Washington state?!? So, for USPS, it is "in" Omaha. Legally, Omaha ends at the county line, which runs East - West along Harrison St., about 2 - 3 miles north of Offutt. Nebraska has one of those quirky laws that states that cities cannot expand across county lines. Offutt will never legally be in Omaha.
    We've been here since 1990. Started in the SAC Underground, then spent my last five years flying on NEACP/NAOC. Best job I have ever had, or will ever have.

    1. Alrighty then, I now feel better educated. Man, flying on NEACP must have been awesome.

      We enjoyed our tour at Offutt immensely. Great time, great people.

      Thanks for the info Steve!

  5. When we lived on the East side of the Rockies we would make a trip to the Denver Civic Center. Always a highlight of the season for us country yokels.

  6. Der Bingle had a pretty good cover of Christmas in Killarney, too. BTW, Glenn's picture is a nice addition.

    1. I remember his version from when I was a kid.

      Thanks Mike...

  7. Lovely. I clicked on "Christmas in Kilarney" and read it all with that playing in the background. I love tales of Christmases past and this was a swell one. Thanks so much!


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