Quietly but with no less joy, a Columbia family celebrates Christmas while son serves in Afghanistan

Thursday, December 23, 2010 | 4:03 p.m. CST; updated 6:06 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 23, 2010
Andrew Gordon, left, is shown with his sister, Mandi, and their parents, Lisa and Mike. The 19-year-old is a graduate of Rock Bridge High School and is a military policeman in the 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment now on duty in Afghanistan.

COLUMBIA — Christmas is quieter this year for the Gordon family — no less joyous, but quieter.

“I struggled to even bring this small tree out," Lisa Gordon said, nodding to a 3-footer parked on a wide window ledge in the great room of their southeast Columbia home. “We usually have lights all around outside of the house, but Drew wasn’t here to put them up this year."

For families seeking support

The Military Support Group of Central Missouri is for people who have loved ones currently serving in the military. The group meets the second Monday of every month at Marine Parents, 3208 Lemone Industrial Blvd.

For more information, contact Anita Sanderson at 446-3815 or Tammy Wulff at 268-8499.

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Nineteen-year-old Pfc. Andrew Gordon, a graduate of Rock Bridge High School, is a military policeman in the 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment now on duty in Afghanistan. Drew, as his family calls him, has been deployed there since June and will be training the Afghan National Police through the holidays.

“When he is in a room, you just know it,” Lisa said. “He’s so boisterous, sweet and loving.”

Drew’s girlfriend of two years, Sadie Turnbull, said no one can be in a bad mood when Drew is around. It's that smile, she said.

Sadie, a freshman at Moberly Community College, is like one of the Gordon family. She's at every event and often at the house. On Tuesday, she gathered with Lisa, an insurance underwriter, Drew's father, Mike, a pipefitter, and his sister, Mandi, an MU senior, at the kitchen table, laughing and talking about Drew.

This is the first Christmas he won’t spend with his family. Mandi said that when she and Drew were young, they would hurry to get up Christmas morning to get their gifts. “Ever since he was little, he was always the one trying to find the presents our parents hid from us,” she said.

The tone of the homey gathering changed when each thought about what made this Christmas the hardest. Everyone had tears in his or her eyes, and the banter between Mandi and Sadie turned solemn.

“I can’t imagine how hard it is on him not to be here with his family,” Sadie said. “No matter how much you prepare yourself, it’s still hard, but you know you’re going to get through it — you have to.”

Acutely aware of Drew's absence, the Gordons remain in pretty good spirits, and they credit that to the love and encouragement they've received from extended family and friends.

“I get overwhelmed by how supportive everyone is sometimes,” Mandi said.

Drew's father, Mike, a former Navy boiler technician, sat quietly, occasionally joining in to agree with his wife and daughter. Close to his heart he wore a blue star pin, which matched one behind him on a large window. Many families have them, a symbol of a loved one serving in the military.

Mike’s side of the family has not been celebrating Christmas much this year because a nephew, Daniel, and Drew are fighting in Afghanistan.

“Things are much more subdued and low-key than ever before,” Lisa said.

Someone from home sends a care package to Drew every week. Sometimes it comes from the Gordons or their extended family, sometimes from Sadie's family or Drew's friends.

"The boxes we all send Andrew are usually gone within an hour," Mike said. That's normal, because everyone in Drew's unit shares, Mike explained; they are "Army family. "

“Care packages are so important this time of year," Sadie said. "They feel the love once they open that box, and it’s like a piece of home.”

Right now, there are a stack of boxes in the Gordon living room waiting to be sent. Drew has the happy problem of being so flooded with them that he has no room to handle more. “We’re very well off, there are so many families that are doing much worse,” Lisa said. “We don’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. No family of a soldier at war should.”

According to the website, Drew is one of 17,184 people on active duty in the military from Missouri and one of 51,510 total military personnel from Missouri.

The Gordons celebrated an early Christmas in late October when Drew was in Columbia on leave. “It was more for him to celebrate and be together with his family because we care so much about him,” Sadie said.

Next year, she hopes to visit Drew when he is stationed in Vilseck, Germany.

And Lisa hangs on to a promise she made to her son: “I told him if he comes back safely, we’ll go zip-lining together, even though I am scared of heights.”

Something that is helping them get through the holidays this year, however, is social media.

“Facebook has made things much easier,” Lisa said. “We communicate with him every day. I’d probably be crying all the time without it. It’s been a lifesaver." 

Although Drew was not present at the extended family’s Dec. 19 Christmas celebration, a life-sized “Cardboard Drew” was there. Drew’s cousin had one made for her wedding this year. “Cardboard Drew” is featured in some of the family photos the Gordons post on Facebook for the real Drew to see.

The Gordons feel incredibly grateful.

“One thing we’ve always tried to teach our kids is we have it good," Lisa said. "The men and women overseas are doing what they are doing so we can be here to celebrate Christmas.”

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