We had hoped for a card or a letter of reassurance, but 13 years ago, the only communication we were likely to have was one-way; roughly a dozen "Family Grams" of 40 words or less, spread out over a 3-6 month deployment. My husband wouldn't get to respond to these messages that were sent along radio waves. And if the submarine didn't surface in time to capture our messages, they would disappear into thin air--literally.
But that was the way it was. It was never easy, but we accepted it. This very meager amount of communication was often difficult for a civilian friend or relative to comprehend. "What do you mean you don't know where he is or when he's coming home?!" And my husband's favorite: "Can't you call him?" His response was always, "Yes, of course. On the underwater phone."
So we finally got the word. We got down to the pier early to send Santa up the river on the tugboat to meet the crew of USS San Juan, with a giant lei to adorn the sail. We hardly felt the December Connecticut cold.
Our oldest daughter, Jessica, was ten, our youngest, Holly, was not yet a year. A band was playing and the excitement in the air was palpable. We watched for a submarine sighting with our dear friends, Meghan and Lee-Hannah, no one admitting their biggest worry. It could be postponed, somehow.
Finally, it was spotted by the lighthouse, entering the river from the ocean. Then there it was, with Santa riding at the very top in the sail, the crew standing at attention along the topside.
Then came the real waiting. It's no easy feat to dock a fast-attack submarine. We had to wait for what seemed like forever, hoping for a glimpse of a familiar face out of the identical outfits.
Then there he was coming toward us. I'm not sure who he hugged first, because Holly was crying her heart out.
She didn't know who he was. Her father was a complete stranger to her. She wouldn't stop crying and wouldn't let him hold her. A local news crew thought that would be a great story. (I have boycotted that particular station, ever since!)
Finally, it was Santa, himself, who came to the rescue. Santa with a candy cane. It was the only thing that would stop the tears.
It was a while before we all got used to each other again. But we will always remember that as the year Santa brought Andy home for Christmas.