Patty’s Christmas Memory

Patty Nolan in 1927, age 17

My mother, Patty, showed me how memories from the past can enrich the present. Whether from her diaries, letters, or journals, be they sorrowful or sublime, she believed that memories were as precious as gold. During all the years since she’s been gone, I’ve treasured her memoirs. Their value enriches me, especially when I reread her Christmas Memory each December.

I was captivated by my mother’s stories of her childhood, and what it was like celebrating Christmas with 7 big sisters. Born in 1910, Patty was a talented writer who filled up diaries and journals, wrote poetry for Script– her high school writers’ club–and took to the stage. After she married my dad in 1931 and had her first daughter, she wrote about her childhood, typing out her Christmas Memory using onion-skin paper. She sent the story to her sister, Germaine, and I wish I could have been there as Aunt Jimmy read it for the first time. In the years to follow, they would move on from Christmas to tell amusing stories of sibling rivalries which I loved to hear, mainly because of their laughter in the telling which proved contagious.  

We were all at home—it didn’t seem crowded–just natural that we slept three in a bed, and I being the youngest smothered in the middle. From the day the first mysterious package was hidden away on Mama’s closet shelf we knew that Christmas was coming. 

On Christmas Eve the little church would be full to bursting. A spell was in the air when Santa Clause arrived to hand us each a little pictured box of candy. I wonder if Genevieve (her oldest sister) remembers one such performance when she played, “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” I remembered because I was one of the “so many children,” and had one line to say as I strung cranberries on the tree.

After we went home to bed, sleep overtook us, but only for a little while. Then, suddenly, we three awoke to a quiet, grey morning as we quivered under the covers and pinched each other. Teddy and Jimmy pushed me out of bed to run shivering into the hallway where I shouted, “Merry Christmas!” There was something of the Chanticleer in that –I felt that I, with my own voice, had startled Christmas into being. 

Oh Papa, I can hear you groan, “Great Scott! It’s only four o’clock, and Mama say, “Get up Will and light the tree.” We had to dress while this took place–long underwear, buttons all over, and those high-laced shoes. One of the things that we all loved, were tarlatan bags filled with an apples, oranges, nuts and candy, that mysteriously showed up in our bedroom on Christmas morning.

And then, that precious moment came when we were blindfolded by one of the older girls, and we made our way downstairs and lined up in front of the tree. When Papa said, “Now,” the blindfolds were removed. My awe, my joy, and my hopes were fulfilled as I gazed upon this twinkling tower of candles and tinsel, angels and icicles! For one brief moment, the gifts lay forgotten while my eyes, my very soul, drank in the beauty of this sight.

I’m glad I have a little girl, and my Christmas prayer is only this: that I may never forget the loving source of these precious memories, and perhaps in some measure give to my home and family the same spirit of love and happiness that shines through all the memories I have of home and Christmas.

Aerospace Live Interview with author Sarajane Giere

Join Aerospace Live and author Sarajane Giere as they sit down for a one on one conversation where Sarajane offers a uniquely intimate glimpse into the life of a military wife and talks about her life with fighter pilot husband, Bernie, a Vietnam Veteran who flew 214 combat missions in the Vietnam War and served 25 years in the Air National Guard’s world-class 106th Rescue Wing.

AEROSPACE LIVE INTERVIEW WITH SARAJANE GIERE

If you would like to check out this interview on Apple, here is the podcast link:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/aerospace-live/id1541790633

Thank you to 1st Lt Robert J. Roberts at Aerospace Education Live for providing us with a link to this interview.

Click here for more wonderful videos and interviews from Aerospace Education Live!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1fdEUjadIy2HygiLGnph3g

A Legacy of Letters

Letters from long ago intrigue me. Whether they be written by my pilot, from an alert- shack at a South Vietnam airbase in 1965, or one penned by my grandfather to my grandmother in the 1890s, the writers’ voices bring them back to life better than any other scrapbook could. Photographs talk, but letters shout.  

I’m a saver of old family letters and memorabilia.  My cousin once told me, “Sarajane, every family has an historian, and you’re it, kid.” I never met my maternal grandparents, Bill and Matea Nolan, so it was doubly satisfying to read his love letter to her, when on June 18, 1893, he wrote, “…I am going to a little stag party tonight. There is no pleasure in anything for me anymore except to be by your side. I have a great many more things to talk about but must wait until we meet again which will be soon. Then I am yours, forever. W.I. Nolan, Ergo Amo Te {I Love You}.”

My husband, Bernie, survived the Vietnam War and so did his many, detailed letters. As a 26-year-old fighter pilot, knowing there was a good chance he may not return, he didn’t rein in his emotions as he did later in life. His words spilled out and captured me, and I read them over and over. Just having his latest letter in the pocket of my robe made me feel close to him. One pilot I knew rarely wrote home. His wife seemed fine with it, but this baffled me. Once Bernie and I were together again, there were other ways to communicate. I stowed his letters in a tin box on a basement shelf, and didn’t revisit them until after he died, 47 years later. 

 When I reread Bernie’s war letters, that peppy, 1st Lieutenant came back to me, as did my memories of those turbulent 60s, and our adventurous marriage that began at the beginning of the decade.  I wanted my grandkids to see him as I once did, the grandpa they never knew as a young man, against the backdrop of a war they’d only read about in school.

 Stoked by my war letters, I harnessed my new-found energy onto the page in 2013 and began creating a memoir of our life together. As the recollections began to grow, chapter to chapter, so did my gratitude.  

 Seven years later, my memoir has become a reality, inspired by my pilot’s letters and my desire to soften my grief by creating something of value. 

My Pilot: A Story of War, Love, and ALS

The highly anticipated autobiographical memoir My Pilot: A Story of War, Love, and ALS from author Sarajane Giere is available today!

Within the pages of this unique memoir from a military wife’s perspective, Sarajane frankly recounts her life with her husband from the their marriage, through the Vietnam War, and ultimately to his death as a result of ALS.

This is a heart-warming story that clearly illustrates their bond through time and distance.

BUY YOUR COPY TODAY!

Cover Art for My Pilot is Released!

Imzadi Publishing is proud to present the new cover art for
My Pilot: A Story of War, Love, and ALS

Coming your way November, 2020!

“Through sickness and in health…”

Sarajane Giere offers a uniquely intimate glimpse into the life of a military wife as she tells the story of her fighter pilot husband, Bernie, a Vietnam Veteran who flew 214 combat missions in the Vietnam War and served twenty-five years in the Air National Guard’s world-class 106th Rescue Wing.

With searing love and explicit honesty, she recounts the terror of the Vietnam years and the lifelong sacrifices that affected her pilot’s life and death. In the telling she honors her husband, their family, and their extended military family, the community she holds dear.


This is a wonderful book, a monument to the authentic courage of a combat pilot who barely escaped the horror of imprisonment in North Vietnam, and his loving wife, who cared for him throughout the horror of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

— John G. Hubbell, P.O.W.: A Definitive History of the American Prisoner-Of-War Experience in Vietnam, 1964-1973