For a long time, I was a “bah humbug” type during Christmas — in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way — seeking a quick laugh while suppressing painful childhood memories of Christmases past.
The holidays got better once I married and had my own family. During my Army career, my bride, son and I enjoyed five Christmases in Germany, three in Belgium and 12 at five different stateside bases. Christmas time got better, especially while overseas, but I still put on the “bah humbug” routine from time to time.
Sometimes, it takes a close call with death to fully appreciate the significance of Christmas. For me, this close call occurred on Dec. 15, 1996, a Sunday morning.
I was a Lexington County (South Carolina) deputy sheriff, a patrol deputy. It was the second day of a three-day 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift. The day prior, I had been notified that I would be promoted to sergeant. I retired from the Army four years earlier and had just finished the last of my course work for my master’s degree; no more final exams and I would graduate in May. Life was good!
At 1:50 a.m., two suspects, one armed with a shotgun, the other with a rifle, accosted two Papa John’s employees in the parking lot. Each suspect wore a pillowcase over their head to conceal their identities and ordered the employees back into the store.
The manager saw what was happening and quickly called 911 to report a robbery in progress. The disconnected call was transferred from central dispatch to the sheriff’s department without the important fact that a robbery was in progress.
It was a typical early Sunday morning. All of the other deputies were on two-officer calls, mostly domestic disturbances. I would respond alone to the 911-disconnect call.
I arrived at 1:59 a.m. As I entered the front door, I noticed that the business was scheduled to close at 1 a.m. I could hear a conversation in the back of the business, but could not discern the words.
I initially thought that this was a quarrel between the night manager and an employee, a common occurrence since such workers are often just a few years apart in age.
I walked around the front counter toward the back, still trying to decipher the muffled conversation. As I stepped behind the pizza ovens, I saw the two suspects across the room, their attention focused on the three employees, two men and a woman, lying facedown on the floor.
The muffled conversation had been one of pure horror as the suspects, awaiting the 15-minute floor safe delay, were terrorizing the victims with threats of death and rape.
One of the gunmen placed the barrel of his shotgun against the woman’s head as I was drawing my firearm.
During the ensuing gunfight, I shot both assailants twice. I sustained a shotgun wound to the left leg, ankle and foot. One of the suspects ran out the back door, and I held the second one at gunpoint until backup officers arrived.
Both suspects survived their wounds. A total of four defendants were convicted and served lengthy prison sentences.
For me, the aftermath of surviving that December gunfight has been one mountainous, continual, post-traumatic stress roller coaster ride. This circuitous journey saw me graduate from the Metropolitan Police Department academy at age 47 and eventually led me to the Boulder City Police Department. The end of that journey was a new beginning.
Christmas time in Boulder City is rivaled only by that final scene in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Bedford Falls has nothing on Boulder City. The tree lighting, the Christmas parade and the magnificent Christmas decorations throughout the neighborhoods are truly unique and inspirational. The sense of community and heartfelt warmness of the citizenry embody the true meaning of Christmas.
With each passing year, Christmas became a better time for me. My “bah humbug” routine transitioned to Christmas countdowns, much to the chagrin of some co-workers and friends. These countdowns sometimes start as early as Labor Day.
I retired from the Boulder City Police Department five years ago. But my love of Boulder City and Christmas has not waned one bit.
Christmas is a fresh start, a new beginning, the first chapter of another book. The birth of the Christ child gave us all of that, and more. He died for our sins, was resurrected three days later, and will return.
In the meantime, say a prayer for all first responders, emergency room personnel and dispatchers, all of whom keep us safe in a tumultuous world. Also, say a prayer for those service members worldwide, many of whom cannot share Christmas with their families.
Finally, Christmas is one week from Monday.
Dan Jennings is a retired Army captain and former Boulder City police lieutenant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.