Christmas at Dreux
by Douglass Donnell

Christmas Party At Kendrick's trailer
L to R Col Zahn, My Dad with sister Susie, Capt Lynn, Viginia Zahn, Charlie Kendrick, misc kids in background

Dreux Christmas Memories, 1961-62 We arrived at Dreux in the summer of 1961 and had certainly settled into on base trailer life by December. Dreux had come to life with the arrival of the Alabama ANG in October and there were lots of Christmas related activities on the base. At school (6th grade) we had a Christmas party with an actual Christmas tree (my, how times have changed). The base chapel, of course, was geared up for the Christmas season with special programs and, of course, Christmas music. Across the street from the chapel, the base theater featured a few Christmas oriented movies at the kids' Saturday matinee. As I recall, our little AFEX was woefully short of toys - the sort of things that you notice when you're 10 years old - but my parents were able to come up with a few surprise gifts. I think Santa must have made several trips to the Paris PX at the Bel Manoir Shopping Center.

My Family in front of the Christmas tree

We had a nice Christmas tree that we bought on base, although I can't remember who sold them. We put ours up in the lean-to of the trailer which served as our living room. Given the average temperature of the lean-to, the tree was certainly not dehydrating from too much heat. Christmas morning started as most stateside Christmas mornings, sitting around the tree and opening presents. But, there was the added step of cranking up the Aladdin heater so the temperature in the lean-to was bearable.

Christmas Morning in The Lean To

Among my gifts was a General Electric transistor radio which, by the way, I still have and still listen to every morning. Later in the day we visited with friends - did a lot of that at Dreux - and, of course, it was very important to find out what your buddies had gotten for Christmas as well.

Decorating the Christmas tree

Christmas 1962 was our second one at Dreux. That winter was a very cold one - as I recall it was one of the coldest in many years in northern Europe. We had snow in November that pretty much stayed on the ground through December and we had another large snowfall around Christmas. 1962 was definitely a white Christmas at Dreux. For kids, though, snow equaled fun and that we had plenty of. We made big snow fort in the field just to the south of the trailer park and had quite a few spirited snowball fights to augment the fun of sledding (although there weren't any hills on base) and building snowmen. As I said, it was cold - very cold - with nighttime temps routinely in the teens, but we all just bundled up for it and pressed on.

Santa was at Dreux

While many adults joke about "walking to school in the snow and freezing temperatures, uphill, both ways," I've told my kids that's exactly what I did (except for the "uphill both ways" part - no hills on Dreux). And, in those days, there wasn't even a thought given to mom or dad giving any of us a ride to school - you just put on a coat and walked! bearable.

One of my memories of Christmas 1962 was that I was able to set up my model train - trains and Christmas seem to go together. A small room was being added on to the back of our lean-to and the walls and roof had been completed. There was no heat, but that's nothing that a portable heater couldn't fix, so I scrounged a piece of plywood from somewhere and set up my HO gauge train. It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed it, but it took about 20 minutes to warm the room to the point where you wouldn't need a coat to watch the train go around in circles. But who cared? It was a train - something unheard of in the small confines of a trailer.

Decorating the Christmas tree

And it was fun. My uncle sent me a small tape recorder - remember this was 1962 and something like that was really unusual. Unfortunately, it required a "9 volt transistor battery," which, of course, I didn't have. Nowadays almost everyone has a boatload of these around the house, but I had never even heard of them back in 1962. My transistor radio from the previous Christmas took 6 "C" size batteries - I knew what those were. So, to use the exciting new toy I had to wait until AFEX opened up and see if they had a "9 volt transistor battery". I had already convinced myself that our PX probably wouldn't have one, but, lo and behold, they knew exactly what it was and were happy to sell me one.

Doug, Marie France, Susie, and Ziggy the cat
I don't suppose many of us remember our first encounter with a 9v battery, but I sure do. Once we got the tape recorder going, my buddies and I have countless hours of fun making our own radio plays and other things that were no doubt annoying to my parents. But, it was fun. As a side note, ever since I grew up and started giving presents to kids, I always include at least one set of batteries as part of the gift.

Sometime after New Year's Day, a truck came around the housing areas and picked up all of the Christmas trees. They piled them up and had a huge bonfire. Wish I had gone to see it - heard it was spectacular - but the thought of our beautiful tree going up in smoke just seemed sad, so I opted out. The only thing bad about the holiday season is that it comes to an end. The tree was gone. The New Year's festivities were over and everyone was back to work and school. The temperatures were cold and the days short. But, there was still plenty to do. We had the movies, library, snack bar, PX, Boy Scouts, crafts center, photo lab, etc. There was always something fun to do at Dreux.