Skip to main content


Marcy O'Brien

Christmas Kindness Has No Expiration Date

By Marcy O'Brien

It’s been 18 years since we sent trail mix to Iraq.

My son, Bart, was a Marine pilot. He flew the Cobra gunship, an attack helicopter that protected the Marines on the ground. A nasty machine. Having been gone for months, his squadron was deployed to Al Asad, Iraq during Christmas, 2005. His third deployment in three years.

While making family Christmas at home, I was missing him terribly — even accepted that his seat at the Christmas dinner table would be empty. I couldn’t imagine listening to “White Christmas” while living in that hostile desert. And I was having trouble with the constant worry and our inability to do anything about it.

One night watching CNN, the headline zipper running across the bottom of the screen read “Two-man helicopter down in Fallujah.” Both his dad and I stopped breathing. We knew Bart was in Iraq. We didn’t know exactly where he was at any one time. There was no more information. And there was no sleep as every possible scenario played out in our over-hyped imaginations.

When the morning brought no updates, Tom started digging through news sources. He finally learned the crash was an Army Blackhawk. Breathing a sigh of relief, I also immediately thought, if the news is OK for us, it’s got to be unbearable for two other families.

Finally, all of my anxiety bubbled up into action. I decided I wanted him and “his guys” to have something from home for Christmas. That whimsy led to thinking about the whole maintenance group that worked for Bart — 89 of them. What could we do that would bring them a smile?

First, I checked with the post office to determine the last date of shipping to the APO (Army Post Office). The APO then delivers, worldwide, directly to the military. It was the beginning of December as I learned we had less than a week to ship on time.

Between buying and begging, and leaning on friends, we put together 89 packages. Whirley Industries of Warren donated their largest covered beverage mug with a snappy flag design. We packed the mugs with playing cards, candy canes, gum and zip-locks filled with homemade trail mix. We all baked chocolate chip cookie bars, figuring that ordinary cookies would crumble. I can no longer remember the rest of the mugs contents, but they were full — and as it turned out — heavy.

Bart had forwarded the names of all the guys, so each 20-ounce mug was personally labelled.

Everyone baked the cookie bars from the same recipe, although Suzie and her friend Luann, both from Sugar Grove, delivered double batches of goodies. Together in my kitchen, four of us packaged the bars, trail mix and stuffed the big mugs. Actually, I never met Luann — she was Suzie’s good and generous friend.

I added three huge cans of popcorn and pretzels, one to each of the three v-e-r-r-r-y large boxes. Box #1, labeled to be opened first, contained a note and a Santa hat. I have no memory of how I got them into the post office. I probably blotted it out.

Around the end of January, I received a picture showing Captain O’Brien in camouflage and a Santa hat. Grinning. The guys all clustered around for a quick group shot. “Aw gee, Cap’n do we have to?” Yes, they did.

A few weeks later, all the baking ladies received a new American flag in the mail. Boxed flags were routinely flown over Iraq during missions to thank supportive friends back home. They were accompanied by certificates of explanation and thanks. My baking friends were stunned.

I was reminded of this story last week as a lady purchased a book at one of my signing events. When I asked if she wanted it inscribed, she said, “Yes, please. To Luann,” and she spelled it. Then she leaned in a bit and said, “You know, I still fly the flag that your son sent me, every day the weather is good.” She is proud of it.

I replied, “Luann? You’re Suzie’s friend Luann?” I couldn’t believe it. She is THAT Luann. Of the double cookie batches. From 18 years ago.

After this Christmas, I’m going to grab her for some lunch and catch up.

Luann is now 92. Still baking, working at church, still involved. The type of person that when a stranger asked her friend for help, she volunteered, “Count me in, too.” The Marines should have recruited women much sooner.

— Marcy O'Brien

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Her new book, Rounding Third is a compilation of columns from many years of a well-lived life. Filled with wit, wisdom and warmth, her pages inspire a smile, outright laughter and even an occasional tear.

Previous Post

It's Great to be a Guy

Cries of "Happy New Year" fill the entire room and what little gray matter I have left between my ears. All three hands on the clock incriminate 12 as the reason for all the hoopla.

Read More
Next Post

Who's Publishing What: Happy Wife, Happy Life

Creators Publishing has released a collection of the top hits from Tracy Beckerman's syndicated column in a new book, Happy Wife, Happy Life: Confessions of a Suburban Mom.
Read More