My husband and our four children (three sons age eight, ten and twelve, plus a little girl, age three) and I had moved into our new home in Miami. I was prepared to make this Christmas a very special one. 1968 had been a very sad year: the war in Viet Nam was escalating, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated, and there were many race riots afterwards. It was also an election year, and protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago turned bloody. To make matters worse, the Hong Kong flu was gaining strength.
I don’t remember that the world changed a lot due to the flu. Christmas pageants were still held, and people were out Christmas shopping. I decided we needed to have a Christmas party for our new neighbors and old friends. A friend of mine came over to help me decorate the house for the Christmas party, and while decorating, I started to feel ill. By the time we were winding garlands around the staircase, I knew that I had to get to bed. By nightfall, I had a fever of 105 degrees, and I was taken to the hospital, where I remained for more than a month. I was diagnosed with Hong Kong flu. There went all my Christmas plans, but as ill as I was, I knew that I had to let it go.
Everyone was excited that Christmas season because we were sending a three-man team to orbit the moon. On December 21, Apollo 8 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the first manned mission to orbit the moon. I remember how awed I was. On Christmas Eve, from my hospital bed, I was able to watch the three astronauts traveling around the moon pointing their cameras to the craters, moonscapes, and one was reading Bible verses from Genesis. What a miracle it was to be able to see and hear those courageous men talking, reading, and giving a guided tour of the moon’s surface. The mission Commander, Colonel Borman, signed off with “good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas—and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”
God had to be with us. What a very special way to be celebrating the birth of Jesus. After all our country had been through, we had once more been blessed with hope and a new vision. And, as if an answer to my prayer, my doctor and the hospital let me go home on Christmas Day to spend two hours with my family. I had to return to the hospital, but that short visit at home was the best Christmas present I have ever received.
–Pat Alders, Resident