Christmas With Shelby and Friends

shelby bwWhen I first saw Shelby, he was taking a nap in a nice sunny spot. The temperatures were mild for December and Shelby looked perfectly content snuggled under a blanket his human had tucked carefully around him. The stout, copper-colored dog was snoozing so comfortably you almost didn’t notice the shopping cart he was tethered to, filled with clothing, blankets, and a plastic bag of dog food perched on top.

Shelby’s cozy form in the early light actually a painted a picture of serenity, though the dog was about the only creature enjoying a little peace and quiet at Iron Gate that morning. The rest of the place was buzzing with activity – volunteers preparing food and filling plates, a steady line of people passing through the serving line. Over in a far corner of the room, behind the swiftly filling rows of tables and chairs, was my station where Santa Bob (he just goes by Bob the other 364 days of the year!) and Jim were busy handing out little gifts and lots of necessities.

An amazing non-profit organization based in downtown Tulsa, Iron Gate’s mission is simple: Feed the hungry and homeless in Tulsa – every day. And that’s exactly what they do. Every single day, all year around, people in need can go to Iron Gate, in the basement of Trinity Episcopal Church, to enjoy a warm meal in a clean, safe environment.

Jim and I were first drawn to Iron Gate because it is also one of the pet food distribution points for Feeding the Pets of Tulsa’s Homeless. Every Wednesday morning, employees of our city animal shelter are stationed in the parking lot outside of Iron Gate handing out small bags of dog or cat food to anyone who needs it.

I was initially surprised to learn how many homeless or low income people do have pets. But the more time I have spent helping raise food donations for the group, the more it all makes sense. A dog is a loyal friend, not to mention a great little alarm system when a person has to sleep outside at night. Dogs don’t judge, they don’t question. If they receive affection and care, they give loyalty and love in return. In reality, homeless people often care for dogs or cats that are homeless as well – they are drawn to each other. They need each other.

Shelby’s owner told me how he found the dog injured and starving by a roadside. He worked to nurse the dog that no one else wanted back to health. Now he has a loyal friend and protector. Shelby was quite friendly in the setting outside of Iron Gate, but his owner assured me that Shelby took care of him just as much as he provided care for Shelby.

“No one messes with me or my stuff with Shelby there.”

I can honestly tell you that all of the dogs I have seen that belong to homeless people appear to be amazingly healthy.  I have found that the homeless are very devoted to their animal companions, so much so that they often put the needs of their pets ahead of their own needs.

One of the animal control officers that spearheads the Feeding the Pets of Tulsa’s Homeless program told me a story about a time he bought a sandwich for a homeless man he ran into outside of a convenience store. As he got into his truck, he saw the man immediately unwrapping the sandwich to feed bites to the dog sitting quietly by his side.

The dog ate before his human had a bite.

OK. See what happens when you get me talking…or writing…about dogs? I stray (yes, great word choice). Back to Christmas morning we go.

With lots of changes in my family and holiday routines in recent years, Jim and I decided that we wanted to start some new Christmas traditions of our own. So for our Christmas morning, we gathered up a bunch of goodie bags we had put together for kids, as well as some gifts for any dog friends that might show up, and headed downtown to Iron Gate to meet our good friend Bob. We expected a number of children to be at Iron Gate for breakfast, so we wanted them all to see Santa and receive something special for the holiday.

As it turned out – you can never predict who will show up at Iron Gate on any given day – there were very few children at breakfast that morning. But the place was packed with hungry people, and the regular volunteers created a cheery, festive atmosphere for their guests.

Santa Bob 2Instead of handing out our carefully prepared bags, we were given boxes of socks, blankets, gloves, woolly hats, and other essentials to distribute. And yeah, we raided the goody bags, gave out all of the candy, and sent toys and stuffed animals with anyone who said they had kids. Even a few people who perhaps didn’t have kids seemed to love receiving a toy or candy cane. Everyone loves a little gift on Christmas, right?

I will admit that the first 10 to 15 minutes in our little corner space were a bit overwhelming as people crowded around to see what we had, what might meet some of their needs. I was initially a bit of a deer in the headlights, but then quickly found my smile and hit my stride.

Clean socks were a priority. Blankets went quickly. Many hoped for backpacks and I was sorry we had none. What I found was, for the most part, the people were polite, did not try to take more than what would meet their immediate needs, and they were grateful. I was thanked time and time again for being there with them on Christmas morning.

Jim, Santa Bob, and I worked from 8 to 10:30 a.m., digging through boxes to find one more hat, one more pair of gloves, as we helped people prepare for our soon-to-change weather. Though Christmas day was mild and sunny, the forecast promised torrential rain and dipping temperatures over the course of the weekend, with sleet and snow predicted for the start of the new week. A rough prospect for those with no roof over their heads.

Back outside, in addition to Shelby, two other dogs had arrived and were tethered to a fence while patiently waiting for their humans to return from breakfast. They weren’t stressed, they weren’t barking or pacing. They were just waiting and watching. There was no separation anxiety among these three. Just a seemingly quiet understanding that their people would be back soon.

Jim and I were, of course, very prepared for canine guests that morning. All three dogs got new, brightly colored coats to wear. All received goody bags filled with biscuits, a toy, and chew bones.

shelby and toyThe dogs were lovely. They were friendly and happy. I enjoyed a little break with Shelby while his owner was still inside. Shelby was dressed in a makeshift dog coat fashioned out of t-shirts and some sort of tube top. I was pleased that Shelby would now have a proper coat to wear, but he seemed quite comfy in his eclectic ensemble.

Back inside the Iron Gate dining room, people were finishing up last bites of a generous meal, gathering their belongings, and stopping to say thank you for our time there. I assured each person I spoke with that there was no place I’d rather be that morning. And I meant it.

After things at Iron Gate closed down for another day, Jim and I, suddenly famished ourselves, stopped at a convenience store for for a breakfast sandwich to eat on the drive back to Tails You Win Farm. At home, we celebrated our own little Christmas, exchanging fun gifts, watching the dogs compete for the best new toy (whichever toy another dog had at that moment), and just spending a little rare time relaxing together.

We had a really great day.

Christmas has always been a favorite time of year for me. I grew up with huge family celebrations and  now, as my family has changed through the years, I’m finding new joy in re-inventing our holiday, finding meaning in new ways and places. I think the joy and purpose that Jim and I found in our first-time experience volunteering at Iron Gate will spill over to many more days of the year beyond the holidays. That’s a pretty special gift to receive.

Mother Teresa once said that it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother and offer him your hand. What incredibly wise and meaningful words.

Shelby and JimI’m sure Jim and I will be returning to work with the amazing volunteer group at Iron Gate again. I’m very sure it won’t just be during the holidays. I’ve already started working to gather some backpacks, some warm coats, and other useful items. And I know I’ll always have pockets full of dog biscuits and some bright dog coats to share, because many of my “brothers” have four legs and wagging tails and they deserve a Christmas too.

Today and every day.

 

The Greatest Gifts…And It’s Not Even Christmas Yet.

Charlie bed

Handsome Charlie

This has been a joy-filled week. My heart has that feeling in it that you get when you are just beyond happy. I’ve always struggled to find the words to describe it. It’s a fluttery, excited, feeling that just bubbles up  from your chest to put a smile on your face and a light in your eyes.

Heart bubbles. Yes. That’s the best way to describe the feeling. Beautiful, shiny, floaty bubbles (not to be confused with indigestion or burps…I’m a step ahead of my wonderfully, hysterically sophomoric friends on that one!).

I made a promise to myself last week that I was going to have an amazing Christmas. I decided that the best way to ensure the success of that mission was to put out into the world exactly what I hoped to receive back.

Some years I get so rushed and panicky about last minute shopping (because apparently I don’t learn from year to year that Christmas ALWAYS comes in December and it’s ok to start shopping a month or two early) that I end up on the grumpy and stressed end of the holiday joy meter.

But this year I decided that it was all going to come together and that everything would be great. So I put it out there. Everyone I ran into, or talked with, or purchased something from, or spoke with on the phone got a heartfelt Merry Christmas. And it felt good to put my wishes out there. And the goodness bubbled up from my heart to put a happy smile on my face.

Guess what? People smiled back. They exchanged greetings with me. And gifts started coming back to me. I got some GREAT gifts this week. I don’t necessarily mean the wrapped-up-and-tied-with-a-bow kind. I mean gifts you can’t buy or package.

Here, I’ll share a few with you.

First, I got a visit from a special guy that lived with Jim and me at Tails You Win Farm for some time, but then found a happy home of his own. His name is Charlie and he is a handsome spotted fellow with a wagging tail. I hadn’t seen Charlie in probably a year or more, so seeing him walk into my business with his new owner – just to say hello and thanks again – was a wonderful surprise.

I immediately fell to my knees to say hello. Charlie was a bit distracted – there were a lot of dogs coming in to board with us over the holiday – so for about 15 seconds or so, he accepted my attention with polite indifference.

And then he noticed.

When he finally really looked at and got a good sniff of the woman scratching his chest, his tail started whipping wildly from side to side and I got the most wonderful, enthusiastic doggy hugs and kisses. We all laughed as Charlie obviously said, “OH! It’s YOU! I know you! HI!”

That was a pretty great gift. But you know what the best gift of all was? It was when Charlie calmed down from recognizing me and immediately fell back close to his new human’s side, looking up at her as if to say, it’s great to visit Nancy, but I’m still going back home with you, right?

Oh yes, Charlie. You are most certainly going back home with your people.

Charlie’s body language was so clear and so endearing. There is nothing more wonderful than when one of my former foster dogs is thrilled to see me, but even more focused on his new people. That means Jim and I did our job. We found a perfect match and it is a joy to see.

Oh, there go those heart bubbles again!

The next gift I received was incredibly special. If you have followed along with me here, you know that Jim and I have a wolfdog named Kainan. We took him in when he was found stray and terribly malnourished. We quickly fell head over heels in love with him. He is now a very permanent member of our family.

20140901_103907But we were not his rescuers. Nope. Kainan was first rescued by two ladies who were out for a walk on an August morning. Because our connection was through a mutual friend, I never actually spoke with Kainan’s first angels.

This week, Judi, one of those wonderful ladies, stopped by to introduce herself and say hello. What a pleasure to finally get to hug and thank the person who didn’t look the other way when she saw this young wolfdog following slowly behind her, struggling and in desperate need of help. Meeting Judi was such a special event to me that deserves its own story. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

A heart bubbling moment for sure.

11114095_10207000607237294_1910729615277641299_nThe next gift was, in part, a physical gift. A really special one. Earlier this year Jim and I took in a little speckled dog with huge, beautiful ears from an area animal shelter. Hannah was an absolute joy to have in our home. She was affable, sweet-tempered, funny, and loved to play with all of our dogs. It would have been so easy to  just keep her forever.

Ah, but we can’t keep them all – we have to repeat that statement to each other frequently – and we both had a feeling that Hannah really belonged to someone else. Almost from the moment she walked through our door, Jim felt that Hannah was meant to be our friend Sue’s new dog.

Long story short, we’ve known Sue for some time now and we have placed a couple of neat dogs with her through the years. She is a wonderful, kind, gentle person. Dogs who get to be a part of Sue’s family are beyond lucky.

Sue had recently lost a beloved dog and Jim and I knew it might be too soon to mention Hannah to her. So we just waited a bit and enjoyed Hannah ourselves. Then we tossed the idea of Hannah Sue’s way.

They met. Sue thought it over. They spent some time together. Sue’s heart was still healing and we knew this story needed to play out in its own time and own way. But through the process, we both just felt so sure that Hannah had come to us only as a stopover on her way to Sue.

Hannah ornament 2This week Sue, who has had Hannah for a few months now, stopped by with the most wonderful present for us. Wrapped in tissue inside a gift bag was an ornament – a white dog with speckles and huge, beautiful ears. A Hannah ornament!

I would not trade my Hannah ornament for all of the huge, lavish gifts in the world. This is my treasure. It’s just what I always wanted and continue to want. It represents another wonderful, deserving dog paired with another wonderful human.

Bubble, bubble, bubble!

What a week of amazing gifts. I thank each of the people who thought to come by to visit and share gratitude with me. It’s a busy two-way street for sure; I am beyond grateful to them as well. Jim and I could not do the rescue work we do if there were not quiet angels helping along the way, and fabulous happily-ever-after stories, because yeah – chant with me – we can’t keep them all. We can’t keep them all. We can’t keep them all.

Now the actual holiday is less than 24 hours away. I can’t imagine it getting any better than it already has been. But let’s put it out there one more time…

Merry Christmas to all!  I wish you bubbles…hearts filled with lots and lots of bubbles.

 

A Different Kind of Merry.

Baby Nan and Santa Dad

Baby Nan visiting with the REAL Santa

Christmas. Just saying the word brings a smile to my face. I admit it, I love Christmas.

When I was a kid, my family celebrated in a big, festive, fa-la-la-la manner. We kind of had to because, in case you didn’t realize it, my father, who for 11 months of the year was Dr. John W. Gallimore, Jr., DDS, became Santa Claus during the month of December. I’m talking THE Santa Claus.

Santa Dad revNo, really. He was the real deal. He had the red velvety costume, the big black boots, the white beard, a booming HO-HO-HO, and the hat with the fluffy band. Ask any number of kids who sat on his lap to whisper their wishes in his ear. R-E-A-L.

Ok. The beard may have been fake.

But the twinkle in Dad’s eye? That was the real deal.

And together with his Mrs. Claus (aka: Mom for most of the year), well, our house was filled with shiny, sparkly, bow-festooned Christmas magic.

It’s not that our celebration was unusual, or outside of the box. If anything, our traditions were firmly IN the box. And it was perfect.

It kicked off a week or so after Thanksgiving when we would race around the corner lot to find that one perfect tree that begged to be ours…while also meeting Dad’s exacting expectations.  The tree had to be six feet tall, with still-soft needles, and a very straight trunk. You did NOT want to bring home a tree with a wonky, crooked trunk.

We always found our perfect tree. And sometimes the trunk was crooked. And Dad would grumble a little as he tried to get the tree into the stand, straight and tall. Sorry Dad.

But it was perfect anyway.

My sisters and I would decorate it with Mom’s  guidance. She liked red lights. She liked the ornaments spaced evenly around the tree. She liked the icicles placed carefully, one slender ribbon of silver at a time. No clumps. When she wasn’t looking, I would grab a handful of icicles and toss them into the air, letting them flutter down on the tree in a haphazard  manner.

Mom always said it was the prettiest tree ever.

Christmas Eve was feast time.  Our extended family would gather at our home, in festive holiday attire. I’d always ride in the car with mom to pick up Grandma Daisy and great-Aunt Elva. We’d take the long route home so we could admire all of the best Christmas light displays in town. Then Grandpa and Grandma, Dad’s parents, would arrive and I’d rush outside to help transfer Grandma’s amazing homemade pies from their car to our kitchen, maybe getting a small taste of meringue on my finger in the process.

There was so much food. Mom would worry that the turkey was dry.  There was a running joke about hovering over the gravy on the stove to stir, stir, stir so it wouldn’t be lumpy. There was a kid’s table. There was a lot of laughter. There was excitement and anticipation and lots of hugs.

My sister Terry would play the piano as we sang Christmas carols. We weren’t really a family of singers. It didn’t matter. We sang loudly and passionately. We might have digressed to silly at times. OK, no “might” about it.

My sisters and I did a mad rendition of We Three Kings. We even harmonized. Or at least we tried. If we were slightly off key, and I’m fairly sure we were, no one complained.

It was perfect. Our grandparents always said so.

Before bedtime each kid was allowed to choose and open one gift to whet the pre-Christmas appetite. There were cookies and milk to set out. Then it was off to bed to pretend to sleep while listening carefully as Mom and Dad shuffled around, working their Christmas magic.

Remember, Dad really was Santa Claus and Mom really was the jolly man’s missus.

And finally there was Christmas morning. First, there were filled stockings placed strategically at our bedside, presumably to give us our first little gift of the day, but in reality, I think, to allow the couple Claus just a few more minutes of peace and a first cup of coffee. Their calm before the Christmas storm.

The year I hoped and prayed and hinted for a Mrs. Beasley doll?  She was there, righ under the tree. The year my letter to Santa promised all sorts of good deeds in exchange for a Beautiful Crissy doll? She showed up to share my Christmas morning. The year my obsession with horses was at its peak? A blue cowboy hat and new boots were nestled in tissue inside the box with my name on it.

And the year I really, really, really just wanted a hamster? I named him Kris Kringle.

Santa didn’t disappoint. And, in the eyes of young Nancy, Christmas was pure magic.

Family christmas revAs I grew older, as our family grew to include grandkids,  and as I started to really watch, I realized the magic wasn’t in the gifts, but rather in watching my parents’ excitement as they helped the holiday unfold. The true joy of the season, I grew to understand, was behind the flying tissue paper and oooos and ahhhhs. It was right back to that twinkle in Santa’s eye.

Now, with the passing of time, a lot of things have changed. My family has changed. Those grandkids, my nieces and nephews, are all grown up and have families of their own. My grandparents are gone, and my sister Terry now answers to the name Grandma. I am great-Aunt Nan.

My oldest sister is gone.

My parents are gone.

Christmas looks very different now. Celebrations have shifted and rearranged. Family members come together some years, and go different directions on others. Some are near to us, some are near in our hearts.

Christmas is smaller. It is quieter. We create new traditions. Sometimes it’s just me and Jim surrounded by the dogs that are our family. And, you know, that’s perfect too.

The magic may have a different sparkle, but even with a softer glow, it still shines so beautifully.

This year we’ll celebrate a lovely Christmas Eve at home. Just two people and a herd of dogs. Maybe we’ll start the evening by taking some apples and carrots out to the animals in the barn. I think I’ll ask Santa for a clear, crisp night with a sky sparkling with stars and a bright, full moon.

Then maybe we’ll fix our own little Christmas Eve dinner with all of the trimmings. We’ll light a fire, we’ll turn out all of the lights leaving just the Christmas tree to glow–you know, the tree with the crooked trunk that begged to be mine. There will be classic Christmas movies; maybe we’ll watch White Christmas, or we might give the night a dose of laughter with a Chevy Chase twist. And we’ll each open just one small gift.

On Christmas morning, we’ll get up extra early to head downtown to help a different Santa hand out small gifts we have prepared for children gathering with their families to enjoy a warm, free breakfast. I think we might sing carols. I think we will sing loudly and passionately.

SANTA & NANCY rev

Our own little Christmas. Santa Jim!

And, like my dear Santa once did, I will have a twinkle in my eye that just might escape to trace down my cheek as I remember, as I honor, and as I embrace my new traditions. Different, yes, but still merry. Still wonderful. Still filled with magic.

Thank you, Santa, for this one lasting gift. You taught me well. It’s just what I always wanted.

And it’s absolutely perfect.

The Every Day is a Holiday Tree

Every day is a holiday tree
Small beacon
A surprise in the holiday night.
A bright reminder
in a pitch black landscape.
There to inspire wonder
that a Christmas tree
can glow in the middle of nowhere.
Now left to light the night
for as long as it will.
A perfect reminder that every day
is a day for celebration.

This is a follow up to my post, My Perfectly Imperfect Christmas. I had several people message me that they wanted to see a photo of the little magic tree so I put Jim to work to capture the image…tricky in the dark. The photo is zoomed in…the tree is actually just a little blue glow to the naked eye. I love it. It will stay there as long as those little lights care to glow…and as long as the horses, donkeys and mule will leave it alone! So far, so good. Merry every day!

My Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

Christmas treeWhen I look out into my back pasture right now, I struggle to see anything that is particularly beautiful. The landscape is dormant and basically monochromatic. The days have been gray and devoid of the sunlight that I desperately crave. I think the weatherman reported that we have seen only three sunny days since Thanksgiving. ACK!

This is the landscape that ushered in the holidays. A bunch of blah. Add to this the fact that everything I have ever really know to be “the holidays” has changed. Of course it has changed. My family has changed over the years.

That family in the grainy old photos has grown up. I’ve been through a parade of Christmas photo hairstyles. The 80s were particularly poofy.

My grandparents, parents, and oldest sister are gone now. Spouses joined the family, then some left. My nieces and nephews grew up to form families of their own. Adorable great nephews and an angelic little great niece entered the picture to breathe new life into the wonder-of-Christmas years.

But for me…well…every Christmas is still compared to the old family routine. For a good portion of my life, Christmas was blissfully predictable. There was a big dinner with extended family at Mom and Dad’s house on Christmas Eve. Then it was a Christmas morning of fun, laughter, excess, and time spent together. It was day of jolly elfin magic and early morning gifts followed by a brunch featuring all of our favorite, decadent breakfast foods (so much bacon, so very much bacon). Kids snacked on surgery treats from stockings while adults likely enjoyed some spiked beverages that somehow made it into the breakfast category (you add tomato juice or orange juice and voila!).

And it happened like that every year. For years and years. The routine held steady. And then, bam!  It all changed.

Now, I’m not turning into a pouting child here, well, ok, maybe I am. I have a tad bit of trouble with change. But I have really been working on going with the flow. Creating new traditions. Finding my own special in the most special of holidays. I’ve also really started celebrating the heck out of Halloween. I’m all about the holiday that allows…nay, requires you to dress up as someone else.

But I digress.

Christmas is still about family, and celebrating together. It is. The routine has just changed. It just all looks different now. And I have to embrace different.

Last year, I embraced it by hiring a company to cover our house in lights. It was the first Christmas without my dad and the third without my mom. I needed some holiday sparkle and magic. It was nice. The house looked wonderful and welcomed me home every night. My spirits were lifted.

And it was expensive.

This year, we decided that hiring the lighting guys again was a bit like mixing money in with the hay we throw to the donkeys. We’ll do our own lights, we said. We’ll light the place right up. I had my doubts. The holidays tend to sneak up on us.

We’re often the people at the Christmas tree lot at the eleventh hour. Jim actually prefers to do his shopping on the day before Christmas. Every year we say we’re going to get cards out…and…well…did you get yours? No? Hmm.

So it was shaping up to be a pouting kind of Christmas. I was trying to get in the spirit, but the spirit was apparently flying around someone else’s house and skipping right over me. Bah humbug.

And then it happened. My little Christmas miracle.

Christmas treeI came home one night to my dark, decidedly un-Christmassy house. Bah. I unlocked the door and stepped into my living room where there was no sparkly festive tree. Hum. I looked out the back window and…hey, wait. Way out there in the pitch black version of the photo above (here, another copy so you don’t have to go all scroll crazy…now picture it all dark), was a little, blue, glowing tree. Bug, stand down! Stand down! I believe we have some Christmas happening out there!

Yes, somehow, way out in the middle of a pasture, where there is no electricity, there was a solo, tiny, perfect tree glowing blue. I am fairly sure that my horses and donkeys did not pull off this Christmas magic. Jim feigned ignorance, and though the hogs are pretty clever, I’m still betting that the only other human who lives out here deserves the holiday high five for turning my frown upside down.

Of course I’m kind of anticipating the day when the lights end up wrapped around a very disgruntled mule, but for now, every evening, as night turns out the lights, I know I can search the pasture to find my perfect little tree shining away.

If this were the perfect Christmas story, I would go on to tell you that the little pasture tree inspired the most profound, heartfelt, joyous Christmas in the history of Nancy, but that would be a tad too Norman Rockwellesque for us.

christmas pigJim did put lights on the house and trimmed some trees in the front yard. I put my glowing pig on the front porch (because nothing says holidays like a glowing pig), and did manage to decorate a tree. Then Jim and I both got the real-deal flu. Not the “gee, I kind of feel like I have the flu” flu. THAT IS NOT THE FLU. The real flu makes itself VERY known. There’s no “kind of” about it.

So on the scale of Christmases that take tradition and tuck it in bed with Tamiflu and unlimited Sprite on the side, this one was an imperfect 10.

And still, my Christmas was special. Every single time I looked out into the night, I was reminded that even the most seemingly imperfect Christmas was perfect in its own way. Yes Nancy, there is a Santa Claus. He looks a lot like a pale, coughing Jim.

I’m keeping my little magic blue tree shining in the pasture until next December, at which point I am officially calling do-overs for Christmas. Seriously. Watch for that card in the mail. If I start now…

Oh and if I forgot to say it, Merry Christmas. I know I’m late, but feel free to apply it to the 2015 Christmas. Help a gal out. Put me way ahead of the merry game. Thanks. And, hey, Happy New Year, while we’re at it.

house lights 2014

Category: Best Christmas. And the Award Goes To…

christmas lightsToday is December 26. The day after THE day. I am enjoying a chocolate truffle for breakfast (don’t judge) as I survey the aftermath of yet another great Christmas.

I could put gifts away. I could pack unused wrapping paper, gift bags, and boxes into well-organized storage bins to be ready for next year (made myself laugh with that one!). I could even start taking decorations down instead of leaving them up until Valentine’s Day. Instead, I grab another truffle (it is NOT time for New Year’s resolutions yet) and let my mind take a little journey with the ghost of Christmas past to see if I can answer a question that was posed to me a few weeks earlier, when the items on my to-do list still numbered greater than the hours left before the arrival of the magical day.

The question? I was asked to describe my favorite Christmas—the best Christmas I could remember.  Hmm. Good question. Perhaps another truffle will help me come up with an answer.

It’s a difficult question because I was a very lucky kid. Christmas was a big deal to my family, always filled with tradition and, frankly, excess. There were huge Christmas Eve dinners followed by the one-gift-on-Christmas-Eve allowance to whet our appetite for the mayhem that would ensue the following morning. There were cookies and milk placed carefully on the mantel just before three excited girls were ushered off to bed.

On Christmas morning, there were always stockings hanging carefully on our bedposts. Santa was very clever. He knew he could buy our weary parents a few extra minutes of peace if those same three excited girls were occupied with small gifts and treats before they even climbed out from beneath the covers.

Christmas trioAnd then there was the rush to see the tree, to find the gifts Santa had left. And oh that clever man! Santa always seemed to get it right—the perfect doll, the most popular game, the most beautiful sweater, a shiny bicycle, and, one year, even a bright blue cowboy hat (Yes, mine—it was a phase).

The Christmas of 1967 comes to mind as a standout. I was six years old and I remember it clearly. A television show called A Family Affair was at the peak of popularity. The show featured three children—twins Buffy and Jody, and their older sister, Sissy—who went to live with their bachelor uncle in his New York City penthouse after their parents were killed in a car accident. While the depressing premise doesn’t suggest it, the show was actually a bit of a sitcom as man-about-town Uncle Bill stumbled into his role as parent to the adorable children with the help of his ever proper butler, Mr. French.

Yes, tragically orphaned children foisted on their unwitting uncle was prime-time family fare “back in the day.” But trust me, it was truly a charming, light-hearted show. Really. The dead parents thing didn’t come into play too often. Ask my therapist.

The true star of the show, in the opinion of every little girl of that era, was Mrs. Beasley, the old-maid doll that was the constant companion to young Buffy. A seemingly unlikely choice, but trust me, it was the must-have doll of the year.

72.55.12.1-2I can still picture the moment when I ran to the tree that Christmas morning, searching for a package that was the right size. There it was…sitting toward the back on the right side of the tree. A box big enough to hold a 20 inch doll with short yellow hair, big blue eyes, black-rimmed granny glasses, and a soft, blue fabric body. OH how the wait for my grandparents to arrive before we could tear into the presents seemed eternal. I sat and talked to Mrs. Beasley through the wrapping paper and box, reassuring her that we would soon be together and that we would be very best friends. And we were. For the next few years, that doll was a fixture in my life. I still have her to this day. She is tucked away carefully, in well-loved, well-worn condition.

But was that my very best Christmas memory? Almost.

Actually, memories of Mrs. Beasley brought to mind another very special doll. But not my doll. To understand the best Christmas I have ever celebrated, we have to hit the rewind button to a Christmas that took place more than 75 years ago.

It was the 1930s and a talented young actress had won the hearts of America. Her name was Shirley Temple. Beginning in 1934, and through the rest of that decade, the perky cherub with the blonde ringlets swiftly became the idol of little girls everywhere, including two sisters living in Nowata, Oklahoma.

These two girls, who would become my mother and my Aunt Martha Lou, received coveted Shirley Temple dolls for Christmas. The must-have toy of their era, the sisters cherished their dolls and kept them into adulthood, much as I have done with my Mrs. Beasley.

The next stop in our journey to my favorite Christmas memory takes us to the early 1950s. Here we find my mother with my oldest sister Cindy, home alone together while my father was away serving in the Korean War. My mother, naively indulging her firstborn, let toddler Cindy play with the delicate Shirley Temple doll. This did not go well. Not well at all. Cindy was none too gentle with poor Shirley.

Now hit fast forward to 2004.  My mom and dad were packing up their house to make the move to a smaller home in a retirement community. My mother was in the early stages of dementia and she and Dad had made the decision that they needed to live where assistance was available should they require it. It was a bittersweet process as we sorted through boxes of memories, deciding what would make the move and what would not. It was then that I found Shirley. She was sealed in a shoe box, and stored on a shelf in my mother’s closet. Shirley, having fallen victim to young Cindy some fifty years earlier, was missing an arm and her remaining limbs were detached from her torso. Her yellow curls had been clumsily shorn. She was dirty and had no clothes. It seemed a sad existence for a once-cherished treasure.

I asked my mother if I could have the doll and then did a little research on eBay. I quickly found that there was a lively market for old Shirley Temple dolls…even dolls in poor condition like the one I had. I decided to list her on the site thinking that if I sold her, someone would take her and restore her, or use her for parts to restore another doll. At least that way, she would not go to waste. She would go to a collector who would care for her.

The doll sold very easily. I carefully packaged her parts and sent her on her way. She was heading to California to a woman who restored antique dolls. Oh Shirley, off to the left coast for a little cosmetic surgery. Typical celebrity.

After sending Shirley away, I must admit I suffered a little seller’s remorse. And then it hit me…if Shirley could be revived, why shouldn’t she be returned to my mom? I contacted the buyer and she told me that my Shirley was actually in decent condition and that she did plan to restore her and sell her again. I didn’t hesitate. I told her about my mother and asked if I could buy Shirley back after her transformation. It was a done deal. We were both very thrilled at the prospect of reuniting my mother with her precious doll.

After months of waiting, the fully restored Shirley finally arrived.  I carefully wrapped her up and placed her inconspicuously beneath my parent’s Christmas tree. I must admit I was nervous. My mother’s dementia played games with her memory and I wondered if she would even recognize this doll as her own.

Shirley 2On Christmas morning, our family gathered at my parents’ house. Gifts were passed out, wrapping paper was torn away, tissue paper floated through the air. Then someone handed my mother the box…my present.

I just sat back to watch. Why I didn’t think to raise my camera to preserve the moment, I don’t know. All I know is that my heart was pounding in anticipation of returning this must-have doll to her rightful owner.

My dear mother opened the box and immediately gasped a quiet little, “Oh.” Tears immediately filled her eyes as she gently lifted Shirley from the box. Tears immediately filled my eyes, too. I knew that despite the fog that often clouded Mom’s memory, she immediately recognized her childhood friend.

Once the moment of surprise passed there were many “how, when, where” questions, lots of laughter and a few more tears. My sister Cindy reached for Shirley to take a closer look and we all cried, “NOOOO,” immediately teasing her for the acts of vandalism her younger self had committed so many years before.

More laughter followed with Mom holding Shirley out of Cindy’s reach, with Cindy finally gingerly holding Shirley to admire her new hand tailored dress, and then with Mom hugging Shirley to her chest in silent thanks. It was the best Christmas morning I had ever experienced and it was all thanks to a recycled doll that had finally come full circle.

We had no way of knowing it, but this would be the last Christmas we would all be together. We lost our dear Cindy the following spring, and then lost Mom a few years later. Shirley is back with me now, safe in my display case awaiting her next Christmas debut. That will be the day when Shirley is wrapped in Christmas paper for the third time and presented to a precious little girl who never met her grandmother Cindy, and does not likely remember much about her great-grandmother.

My great-niece, Elizabeth, does not yet know about Shirley and her history with Cindy and “Gram,” but there are stories to tell. There is this story to share. Then, someday, when she is old enough to care for her, the pretty little doll will travel through time once again to create another treasured holiday moment.

In reality, the best Christmas ever, may be the one still to come.