I hope you enjoy time with your family today. Have you ever spent Christmas away from your family? Nancy and I spent Christmas 1971 all by ourselves in sunny Southern California. It was the first time we had not been with our family in Lombard, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. I want to share that experience with you. I haven’t found any photos from that year.

As you will see in the photos below, for Christmas 1972, we were able to fly back to Chicago and spend it with our families there.

These Photos are from Christmas 1972, when we came back home to Lombard

It was 1971. Nancy and I had arrived in San Bernardino, California in early December for my first USAF assignment. (I wrote about our trip across America a few years ago: For Greater Happiness, Slow Down, Create and Enjoy an Experience.) We had secured a wonderful two bedroom apartment.

Christmas that year was unusual for many reasons. It was our very first Christmas alone, just the two of us. We also were in a place very different from the Chicago suburbs or Richmond, Virginia where we had lived.

We thought it was cool to be in sunny Southern California. We played tennis in the morning and skied at Big Bear in the afternoon. After all, where else in the United States could you do that?

That year I bought Nancy a brown knit dress at a local store. The young woman who helped me said it was the style for the year. I learned an important lesson about Christmas gifts for Nancy that has lasted until this very day: If she hasn’t tried it on, it really doesn’t matter how stylish the dress is. Nancy wore the dress and said all the right things about it, but I could tell it wasn’t her perfect gift.

Nancy also created a special treat for me. I had been introduced to “real” Mexican food at Lucy’s, a wonderful restaurant that became our favorite. Lucy’s is still in the same location, now 49 years later. In December of 1971, I ate my first Chile Rellenos that were part of a special combination plate at Lucy’s that cost $1.75 at the time and $8.75 today.

Hearing me rave about the dish, Nancy had bought a Mexican cookbook and surprised me on Christmas Eve with Chile Rellenos. Unfortunately, the cookbook did not include photos of the dishes.

When I looked at the plate, I knew there was something wrong. There were 12 of Chile Rellenos on the plate, 11 more than I had ever eaten at Lucy’s. They were small chiles, unlike the Anaheim chiles that Lucy used.

When I took my first bite, it was more spicy than anything I had ever eaten at the time. Instead of using Anaheim chiles, Nancy had used jalapeño peppers without removing the seeds. Since that time, I decided Nancy had inadvertently invented Jalapeño Poppers.

(PS: This was not our last Christmas disaster dining experience. In 1976, I decided to make Peanut Soup for our family. Nancy and I had eaten it earlier that month at the Hotel Roanoke.  I did not put enough stock in the soup. So, it ended up being only slightly thinner than peanut butter. Everyone ate it and when they finished they were so full that we had to wait several hours to serve the rest of the meal.  As only a mother would do, my mom thanked me and said she hoped I would serve it next year. Nancy had a far different view. So, I have not made the peanut soup ever since.)

I hope you enjoy your holiday with your family and friends.