In the second half of 1989, my family and I found ourselves at Fort Bliss so that my dad could attend a training course.
For those who have never been to Bliss, I’ll explain. Bliss is part of El Paso, but its physical location is into the desert. This meant that living on-base was, shall we say, rather interesting. Boil water notices were a way of life, as were cockroaches the size of your palm.
The “guest house” we stayed in at first wasn’t much to write home about. It was a dated apartment complex in which each group of two units shared a bathroom facility between them; if you needed the bathroom, you had to wait to make sure that no one else was in there and then lock both sets of doors. I recall us being glued to a single local television station at the time, and that station had re-runs of “Gumby” as part of its kids’ block; for a while, Gumby was the coolest thing in the world to us.
The actual housing we got was better, but still had issues. For example, one of the back bedrooms didn’t have any sort of lighting in it; we had to go to a home improvement store and buy our own. Or there was the fact that each house came with its own manual lawnmower, as the grass never got tall enough to warrant anything else. But in a way, we were lucky: we had the only tree on the block, and the elementary school I went to was within walking distance.
When it came to entertainment options, there wasn’t much. We’d just come from Ft. Sill, Oklahama, which had WGN Chicago and KTVT Dallas (both of which were independent stations at the time) on top of the local stations, meaning I grew up in a nirvana of 80s properties. Ft. Bliss? We had the live-action “Super Mario Brothers” show, “Thundercats”, and a few one-offs & mini-series. It should say something that the re-runs of the 1960s “Batman” TV series that the Family Channel (now Freeform) had were a huge deal on the playground.
As far as the schools themselves went, the less said the better. The on-base elementary school I went to wasn’t much to write home about, and the public schools my brothers went to were so messed up that the teachers were looking for excuses to leave town.
It’s perhaps because of how rough things were and how little there was to distract us that my parents were particularly generous that Christmas. The PX (re: on-base department store) had a blow-out on “G. I. Joe” product that fall, and so they stocked up. Between my brothers and I, we got all but three of the individually-released figures available that year and a number of the vehicles; I got the Joe space shuttle, one of the two largest items that year. I also got a full-on “O” scale train set and a number of other items, including some Joe product that apparently had been sitting around since ‘86.
As generous and distracting as this was, however, that wasn’t the year’s Christmas miracle.
No, there was a miracle that year which for a moment, made us forget everything. Yes folks, it snowed. It was just an inch, but it snowed. Snow. In the El Paso desert. Snow. The day’s haul could wait. Nature gave us something even better.
That’s the thing with Christmas, folks. It’s not so much what you get as it is what you take time to find and experience.
Merry Christmas, folks.