BarbPeople are asked to remember their best Christmas, most memorable gift, or greatest holiday memory. That’s easy for me – they are all wrapped up in one year.

My youngest brother and best friend had left for basic training in the U.S. Marine Corps in the summer of 1969. He and a couple friends enlisted right out of high school. I missed him terribly and looked forward to the occasional letter from him throughout the fall. He was scheduled to come home on leave for a few weeks before heading to Vietnam but we didn’t have any idea of when that would be.

On Christmas Eve afternoon my mom and I were sitting at the dining room table when the phone rang. We were so happy to hear my brother’s voice. We were concerned about him spending his first Christmas away from home all alone. He reassured us that he would be spending Christmas Day with a nice family he had come to know and that he wouldn’t be stuck in a dreary barracks. In fact he was looking forward to a visit from Santa Claus.

We weren’t able to talk long – it was 1969 and long-distance phone calls were expensive back then. We said our goodbyes with words and tears of love.

About 3 a.m. Christmas morning, my mom and I were startled awake with a ringing doorbell and loud banging on the front door. As we rushed to find out who the crazy person was making all the racket, I remember telling my mom that “Who in the world is this at 3 in the morning. I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore.”

We opened the door and there stood my brother. We were shocked but oh, so happy. Hugs, kisses, and tears of joy abounded.

Once we settled down he told us that he had made the phone call the day before as he was getting on a plane in California to come home. “I told you I was going to spend Christmas with a really nice family and here you are,” he quipped.

It was my best Christmas, having him home was my most memorable gift, and it’s a holiday memory I’ve carried for years.

Yes, it was much better than Santa Claus.