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Omaha Magazine

Holiday Greetings from a Farmhouse in Gretna, Japan

Feb 22, 2019 11:59AM ● By Tamsen Butler

Gretna native Jennifer Bromm has endured a whirlwind of assignments since joining the Army in 2013. After spending a year in South Korea, she spent three years in Germany and then moved on to Camp Zama, Japan.

“I have become somewhat accustomed to being far away from home and am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had,” says the active-duty member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. 

Speaking from her current residence southwest of Tokyo, Jennifer admits to missing home and family. The holidays can be particularly tough.

“Before we embarked on this military life, we did spend all holidays with our families,” she says. “My husband and I have been together for roughly 13 years, so we have had a lot of joint holidays. Our normal tradition was Christmas Eve with his family and Christmas Day with mine. We would either go to church with the Bromms in Wahoo on Christmas Eve or in Gretna Christmas morning.”

Christmas afternoons were usually spent at her parents’ home in Gretna, opening gifts and enjoying a traditional turkey dinner complete with cheesy potatoes, bean casserole, and an abundance of desserts.

“Oh, those cheesy potatoes,” reminisces her father, Chuck Arbaugh. “Those are one of Jennifer’s favorite side dishes. They are pretty simple: cubed hash browns, Velveeta cheese, and corn flakes.”

When early November rolled around in 2018, Jennifer and her husband, Jason, couldn’t help but think about the upcoming holidays. It had been some time since they had been home for Christmas. “A couple years, at least,” her father says.

Now that Jennifer and Jason have a baby girl, it’s easy for everyone in the family to feel their heartstrings stretched painfully over the more than 6,000 miles separating Japan from eastern Nebraska.

Around this time, she heard that Teleflora—a U.S.-based florist company with affiliates around the world—was looking to talk to military members who had been away from home for some time.   

“A JAG colleague of mine knew the producer making this mini-documentary, and they put out a request to any JAGs spending a lot of time separated from their families asking them about their personal situations,” Jennifer says. “Since we have spent so many years separated, they were very interested in our story and asked to set up a call with us. On the call, we were told that it was to be a short documentary for Teleflora about separated families over the holiday. Jason received some more details than I did, but I was led to believe I was just doing an interview with the crew about my service and separation from family.”

What Jennifer wasn’t aware of, however, was the clandestine preparation going on behind the scenes.

“After we were interviewed, Teleflora asked me to put them in contact with both sets of parents to work on the details and coordination stateside,” says Jennifer’s husband, Jason. “It was a tremendous effort by Teleflora and their team to put this whole thing together and keep it from Jen.”

In a group effort involving Teleflora, Jason, and both sets of parents, Jennifer was about to enjoy a holiday meal “at home.”

The scene opens with Jennifer and Jason walking into a room they believed was a room where interviews would take place for what they thought was a documentary. With her baby in her arms, Jennifer realizes that she’s just walked into an authentic recreation of her parents’ home in Gretna.

“I was in complete shock and disbelief!” Jennifer says. Her stocking from her childhood hung at the mantle, and her mother’s chinaware was set on the table. The holiday decorations weren’t casually placed—the producers had painstakingly decorated based on photos sent by Jennifer’s parents that demonstrated how their home would be decorated.

“They had us take pictures of everything,” explains Chuck. “So we took pictures of all the decorations for Christmas at different angles and even sent a rough blueprint of the house.” A few days prior to filming, producers visited the Arbaugh home in person to ensure their recreation in Japan would be authentic.

As Jennifer marveled at stepping into what looked and felt exactly like her parents’ home on the opposite side of the globe, she noticed the large screen at the head of the table. On the screen was a live feed of her family in Gretna sitting down to a holiday meal.

“I walked in and saw the whole family on the screen waiting for us,” Jennifer says.

For the first time in years, Jennifer was sitting down for a holiday meal with her Nebraska family.

Not surprisingly, Teleflora supplied beautiful centerpieces for both sides of the table in Japan and Gretna. “The centerpieces they made to coordinate the tables were gorgeous,” Jennifer says.

Something else was on the table, too: a casserole dish filled with steaming hot cheesy potatoes. The producers obtained the recipe from Jennifer’s mom and cooked the dish.

They all knew it would be some time before Jennifer and her family can all be in the same room together for a holiday meal, but until then, this moment was the next best thing.

The video documenting their unexpected reunion, titled “The Teleflora Table,” has been viewed more than 13.4 million times on YouTube.

This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.