Tim Curran figures to spend the better part of Thursday in line, waiting to make his free call home. He'll pray in chapel, assault rifle at his side. Then he'll wolf down something that passes for a holiday meal before heading, as he puts it, "back to the dirt."

He's making the most of his second Christmas in Iraq.

The 21-year-old corporal wrote from Anbar province after Thanksgiving, wondering whether newspaper readers would be interested in learning what a Marine from Philly was up to over there.

He ended his pitch, "Not sure on your opinion on the war, but I hope that doesn't matter."

Doesn't matter at all, I assured him. I told him I'd be curious to know about what life is like in Iraq today.

Was it what he expected? What did he miss? What didn't he miss? And how about those Phillies?

He started me off with a weather report. "Iraq has four seasons, just as the U.S. does," he began. "However, it does get much warmer during the summer with temperatures in the upper 120s. With full gear on, the temperature will feel like 145 degrees to the average person."

Then he moved to social studies. "Iraq has its deserts but also has cities. It's very rich in history, and what's left of it is a sight to see. Its culture is like no other, aging thousands of years before the West was populated. The people here are generally welcoming and have an odd but amusing sense of humor."

By odd, he explained, he meant childlike. "They don't crack jokes, they just make faces or imitate slapstick humor, like the Three Stooges."

Curran was writing from an air base where the jets are so loud he feared he was losing his hearing. He has access to a computer and e-mail.

"The Internet is sometimes slow, but the technology is not what you would expect of a third world country. They may be behind us a few years, but they play Xbox and PlayStation, and probably use things such as MySpace as well."

Curran grew up in Tacony and Mayfair, and the day after graduating from Northeast High School in 2005, he headed for basic training at Parris Island, S.C. He was 17. He sent a picture, a bull in camouflage, holding an M-16 A4 that's almost as long as he is.

His unit is Marine Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron 2. They're attached to the Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C. This is his second tour of Iraq. He reenlisted before Thanksgiving around the time he first wrote.

"I can already notice a difference from my last deployment to Iraq," he observed. "The people are in better spirits and things seem to be going smoother."

A party in spring

He expects to be home by June and has been assigned to Willow Grove. He's counting the days.

"Leaving family has got to be the hardest thing, especially knowing that you may not see them again. It's lonely, but the men and women that I serve with keep my spirits high. The things I miss the most are my family and friends. I miss the traditions associated with this time of year."

For instance, he hated not seeing Northeast's traditional Thanksgiving Day football game with his buddies, many of whom he hasn't spoken to in three years.

"I miss the busy shopping season, rushing around to find the perfect gift for that special someone, and seeing their face light up even before they open it. Seeing the leaves fall or walking on freshly fallen snow are some things that I haven't done in a while. And of course there's all the things specific to Philadelphia that will always be missed: cheesesteaks, pretzels, THE PHILLIES. . . ."

He asked whether I knew a place where his family could throw the party when he comes home. That's a celebration I'd like to see.

Then he signed off. "Got to take a ride," he said.

Be careful out there.