It's a good thing I saved those two extra days leave, because on Sunday, 2 March 1997, we received the sad news that Ellen's grandfather, PaPa Kelly, had died. I signed out on emergency leave shortly after midnight Monday, 3 March, and we drove straight through--16.5 hours--to Dothan, where we hurriedly changed clothes and went immediately to the Brown-Service Funeral Home for the family and friends visitation/wake. The funeral was the next day, Tuesday, and we left for Oklahoma again about 6:40 AM on Wednesday and arrived around 11:20 PM that night. I was back at work for physical training (PT) at 0600 on Thursday. This will be the first Christmas without PaPa's bellowing voice saying cheerfully, "Christmas Gift!" the moment he enters the door. We all miss him terribly.
In April, Amy went on a school trip with her American Studies class to Washington, DC. She had a real blast, though she was most nervous about flying for the first time. As it turned out, she LOVED flying and hopes to do it again soon. The only bad thing about that trip was that she loaded her film incorrectly and NONE of her pictures developed! Ah, well, at least she has a number of postcards to add to her growing collection.
In May, we all went back to AL for Annual Conference and a week's leave--eight days this time--and since Old Tabernacle UMC, near New Brockton in the Dothan District (my seminary appointment), invited me back to preach their Homecoming, we decided to leave Amy and Josh with Ellen's parents for two weeks until Ellen and I returned for the Homecoming the fourth Sunday in June. What a delightful time we had at Homecoming, too! It was such a pleasure to see them again, though several had gone on to be with our Lord since my departure from there.
Just before heading back to OK childless, however, we all traveled with Ellen's parents up to Huntsville, AL, for three days' visit with Ellen's sister, Linda, and her family, where we also took a one-day excursion up to Nashville's Opryland. It was quite an enjoyable vacation trip. We left for OK the next morning and made excellent time. If only we lived in Huntsville, we could cut our travel time down to about 13 hours! Que serra, serra. What will be, will be.
Upon returning to OK, life continued much as it had the past year: busy as ever. Amidst all that busyness, however, I still found time to write and submit an article for the AWFC Christian Advocate, marking the first anniversary of my ministry as an active duty Army chaplain, published in the September 1997, issue. You can also read it online from my personal web site. I'll give the URL address at the end of this letter.
In addition to everything else, we were expecting to get notice of availability of on-post quarters at any time, since we were told 14-16 months would be the average wait time when we arrived at Ft. Sill. However, we didn't receive our first notice until mid-October. We turned down that offer because we didn't like the lay-out of the quarters. We received our second offer on short notice (defined by the Housing Office as less than 24 days) in early November. We liked the lay-out of those quarters much better, and we were called to sign for them on the day before Thanksgiving, 25 November. We invited my supervising chaplain, CH (MAJ) Ed Macura, over for Thanksgiving lunch with us and had a very pleasant occasion. We arranged to have our household goods packed the following Monday on 1 December, and delivered on 2 December. I'll give the new address at the end of this letter, too. While we are still unpacking boxes, we are fairly well settled in now, and we LOVE our new home.
We have survived the myriad of Christmas functions and are actually looking forward to celebrating Christmas here, just the four of us. We mailed our gifts by Priority Mail last weekend, and they received them on Monday and Tuesday. Now, THAT'S fast! We received their gifts by Priority Mail this week, too. Ellen and Amy are out trying to finish their Christmas shopping even as I write this today, Saturday, 20 December. I'm attempting to complete this so I can include it in all of our Christmas cards when I mail them this afternoon. I hope they arrive before Christmas! Most of you will likely read it by email, however.
Well, I guess that just about summarizes the year 1997 in the life of the White family. I hope you all have had as good a year or better. Thanks for all your support, and be sure to keep in touch, either by snail mail or email or phone. Now, as one of my favorite characters, Tiny Tim, would say, "God bless us, everyone!" Have a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.
CH (CPT) Michael L. White
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Ft. Sill, OK 73503