What did you have for lunch yesterday? Now that’s a question to make us smile when we attempt to come up with the answer. Sometimes we know, and sometimes we do not. If we happened to go out for lunch, we can state what we had for lunch, and we even know what others at the table ordered.

What was for lunch on December 25, 1942 at the Fort Riley Kansas Cavalry Replacement Training Center? Well I know that. For I have a copy of the menu. And it made me laugh.

Oh how I wish I would have talked to my Dad a bit more and asked him questions about his childhood and growing up years. I really want to know what the holidays were like in his home with his parents and 11 siblings. Were the holidays any different from other days? What was a normal day like at their home?

I want to know random things. I want to know if Grandma made lye soap. And I want to know where they bought their shoes. How often did he get a new pair of shoes? Maybe all he ever knew was hand-me-downs. I do remember Dad told us that receiving an orange for Christmas was a big deal.

An orange. That was a big deal. I have three organic oranges in my fridge right now. They’ve been there for a while.

I wonder if ‘Army’ food was good or not. Dad was 23 years old in 1942 when he stood in line with his soldier friends and loaded his plate with roasted turkey, baked ham, and hubbard squash. Although there is a chance the meal could have been served family style. Or maybe someone else spooned the food onto his plate – like in a chow line? Would Dad remember?  

It took a few things to happen for this little booklet to land in my hand decades after lunch was served. Dad took the booklet back to his room after the meal.  He saved it. Did fellow soldiers save the booklet – or did they toss them?

According to Dad’s hand-written notes, he was home in February of 1943 – so the booklet traveled in his suitcase from Kansas to Ohio. I found it interesting to read trains would make stops in small towns just to drop one soldier off in their hometown. I have found a few black and white photos of Edgerton’s train depot.

He probably showed the booklet to his younger brothers, and Grandma and Grandpa, and told them about his Christmas day.  

Dad was not discharged from the service until November of 1945, and he married my mom in 1947.  So Dad brought all of his military papers to the house he eventually raised his children in, and I unpacked the little booklet 78 years after the meal was served.  

The Christmas menu was typed in a beautiful font on the first page of the program, and the food was probably good, as most likely there were some talented chefs in the kitchen. I couldn’t help but smile when I read the three items at the bottom of the page – cigars, assorted fruits, and cigarettes.

If a Christmas day prayer was said at that noon-time gathering – who said it? And what was said? Do we tend to remember any words from any prayer?

At the top of page two, we read the Commanding Officer was Colonel E.M. Barnett. Second in line was Lieutenant Colonel J.T. Minton. I wonder what they look like. I think there is a book somewhere with pictures of the men who were at Fort Riley with Dad.

They never would have guessed the daughter of one of the Corporals would be wondering about such things, and digging through books, and writing about it well after the turn of the next century.

There were 14 veterinarians listed in the booklet, and I wondered why so many were needed. How could the place need 14 veterinarians? My brother Ed said it was a huge operation – but the horse cavalry was soon to be a not-needed branch of the service. A few days after telling Ed about the little program, I found a 1941 Fort Riley book on a shelving unit in my parents’ home.

And I found a cigar box full of black and white photos my dad took while he was in the service. A few of the pictures have writing on the back.

My dad experienced short-term memory loss in the last years of his life. Had I realized there was a little box of photos in their home, I could have spent some time with him and let his long-term memory go to work as he told the story of his military days. He stayed in contact with some of his army buddies over the years. He could have told me more about those in the photos.

My guess is his Army buddies kept pictures of my dad and later of the Kimpel family when they exchanged annual Christmas cards. When his friends talked about him, they would say ‘Yeah, my friend Vernon from Ohio, he has eleven children now.” And if they were a save-everything kind of family, they have letters and photos from my parents. I wonder if they pieced the story together any better than I have.

I could have asked Dad if prayers were said before meals when he was in the service. Sometimes we hear prayers that are so meaningful we remember them years later. I did find a picture of an Army chaplain in my newly discovered 1941 Fort Riley book.

Steven often says our meal-time prayer at family gatherings, and he leaves us with a smile as we hear the words ‘family’ and ‘food’ several times.

One particular memorable prayer Steven said was a ‘spilling of the beans’ type of prayer. He and Mom had been told a new baby would be arriving in the fall of that year. Steven was told he needed to keep the news of the arrival of the new baby a secret. But he traveled to the family gathering where he said the prayer. In front of his brothers, and sisters, and nieces, and nephews – he thanked God for the new baby. He said the names of the parents within his prayer. Some of us caught it. Some of us didn’t.

I clearly heard the news, and I remember looking at my nephew Josh who also figured out the words Steven had just spoken. We knew he had told us something we were not supposed to know – at least not for a few more minutes.

After the prayer was over the new parents made the announcement, knowing Steven beat them to the punch.

The baby is now 7 years old, and she probably doesn’t know she was formally introduced to the family through a prayer offered by her great Uncle Steven. He asked for good health for her. He thanked God for her, and for family, and for food. And I know our new little baby started feeling the love a family, large or small, has to offer.

No one remembers what we had for lunch that day – but I know it was a pot-luck meal back in the spring of 2013. I know we had lunch at my house and the only thing most of us remember is Steven’s prayer and the fact we were together.

My brother Ed is also a saver of stuff, and he admits his family will someday need to spend a fair amount of time together to sort through his saved memorabilia.   

It seems every family should just decide to enjoy the time it takes to read and sort – for it will be after they read, and after they sort, when they realize a lot of reading took place and not so much sorting.  

Ed’s family will find the little booklet their father kept with his journaling of the funny things his children said during their growing-up years, and they will undoubtedly laugh and tell others what Grandpa Kimpel wrote in the little wire-bound book.

They will find movie stubs, and newspaper articles, and little calendars. And most importantly, they will laugh when they find out what was for lunch on December 25, 1969 in Vietnam – for they will have the menu in their hand.

Starting at the top left, we can read the menu on Christmas day in 1942. A fruit cup and cream of tomato soup. Pickles, celery hearts, and olives. One of the meats was roasted turkey with giblet gravy, oyster dressing, mashed potatoes, and hubbard squash. There was baked ham, creamed peas, cranberry sauce, buttered corn, and green salad. Hot rolls and assorted breads were available. Any one who had room left for dessert would find apple pie and cheese, ice-cream, chocolate layer cake, and cookies along with coffee and nuts. Cigars, assorted fruits, and cigarettes were listed on the bottom line.