Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Christmas Full Of Memories

My husband and I got married in October of 2005. Christmas arrived quickly that year and we decided we were going to go cut down a tree.  Here’s something I didn’t know, a tree in the wilderness may appear smaller than it actually is. We were living in a two bedroom condo at the time and my husband wound up having to cut the tree on our tiny little deck in order to just fit it in the door. Fun times. The neighbors must have loved us.

Once we got the tree inside I realized I didn’t really have any ornaments to decorate it. So I did what anyone would do. I rushed out to Target and stocked up on a bunch of cheap, but pretty enough ornaments so that our poor, cut up tree would look like an actual Christmas tree. Once the lights were on, our tree looked great. Lights fix everything. I had three nice ornaments on the tree. Two of them we had bought on our honeymoon and one of them I had made at the local mall for our “first Christmas” together. I decided that by the following year I would have a real grownup tree. You know the type of tree I’m talking about. It’s the one in all the magazines. It’s the one that Martha did herself. It’s the one you pin for future reference. It’s usually color coordinated. Spoiler alert it is not the tree I have.

My plan had been to go out at the end of the Christmas season and stock up on the expensive ornaments that would surely all be on clearance. Only I didn’t do that, because well the best laid plans as they say. Before I knew it Christmas was over and winter turned to spring. Who thinks about their Christmas tree in the spring? Not this girl. Summer arrived and in a blink fall followed, as did our anniversary. We went away for the weekend and I decided to buy an ornament in a local shop. What I didn’t know then is that with that one ornament I would begin a tradition that would carry on for our family, making our tree what it is today.

In the years that followed, I began buying an ornament on every vacation or special trip we took together. I went back to the same place I had bought our “first Christmas” ornament and had one made when we got our dog, then again when our oldest son was born, and again when our youngest was born. They closed after that and I’m so happy I was able to get all of our special ornaments from them before they did.

When we go away somewhere my husband knows that I will not leave until I find a shop that sells local ornaments. I have an ornament from our first trip with our oldest. I have one from my husband’s fortieth birthday. I have many from our summers in Lake George. I always write the year on it before packing it away.
Every year when it comes time to decorate the house for Christmas I am completely stressed. All I can think about is my long list of things to get done. I imagine my family grows pretty tired of hearing me talk about how much I have left to do when we literally just finished our Thanksgiving turkey. I can’t help myself. I’m one of those people who complain when I feel overwhelmed. I will admit it’s not my best quality. I try to surround myself with people who are the “glass is half full” type because when my glass is empty I need someone to help fill it up a bit.

This year wasn’t any different. My list is long and my patience was running thin. I spent a good deal of time telling my husband it was never going to all get done. “I’m only one person. We don’t even have a tree yet. When I am getting all the shopping done? Do people really need a card from us?” He’s gotten pretty good about just nodding along and ignoring my Christmas induced insanity. We finally went to get our tree. He put it up the next day and got all the lights on it. He took all the boxes of ornaments down from the attic and suggested I decorate the tree in peace and quiet the next day while they were all out of the house. I agreed.

The next day I opened the first box and pulled out our “first Christmas together” ornament. Suddenly I was brought back in time, eleven years ago, before our kids when we were newlyweds cutting down a tree together that would wind up being way too big for our condo. I started laughing just thinking about it.
 The next ornament was one from Hawaii and I remembered our blissful honeymoon and how eleven years has certainly aged us but I wouldn’t change a thing. Next it was an ornament from Lake George 2015 which was the last summer my grandmother was with us for that trip. I cried thinking about how much I miss her, but I smiled thinking about all the wonderful memories we have with her. 

Ornament after ornament brought me somewhere back in time. They are all representations of a time that has passed, but each and every one of them mean more than I ever thought they would when I bought them. It is amazing how the sight of something as small as a Christmas ornament can bring up so many emotions. As I picked up each one I instantly had a picture in my mind of the trip. I saw my oldest at two playing in the sand of Cape Cod.
I saw my youngest at two beaming with excitement on his first steam boat in Lake George.
I saw my husband and me holding hands as we walked the Cliff walk together in Newport Rhode Island.

I moved on to all the homemade ornaments my kids have made over the years and I was reminded about just how fast time moves. My grandmother always used to say “Don’t blink Jen. It goes faster than people tell you.” I blinked. She was right. My oldest is eight now. Looking at his little face on a gingerbread man that he made when he was three reminded me just how fast time is moving. I remember him giving it to us. I remember laughing and telling him it was adorable.
My youngest is five and I remember the Santa face ornament he gave us for his last Christmas in preschool.
The ornaments with their faces on them are my favorite. They are frozen in time. I may never get another one of my eight year old at this point. So I cherish the ones I have. They are worth more to me than the most expensive ornament on the clearance shelf. The same can be said about the Popsicle stick ornaments and the toilet paper roll snowmen. They are priceless.

When I was done decorating the tree I realized just how lucky we are.  My stress was gone. If nothing else gets done that’s okay because everything we need to celebrate Christmas is represented on our tree. I will never have a Martha tree and I’m good with that. I don’t need a tree meant for the magazines. I want a tree meant for our life. I will continue to buy an ornament everywhere we go and date it accordingly. One day when I blink and the kids are out of the house starting their own traditions, I will have the ornaments to bring me back in time, to bring me back to days that might not have seemed big at the time but will surely be worth remembering.  I will always enjoy Christmas and I will forever cherish looking back onto Christmas pasts. After all Christmas is about making memories with those we love and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that than with a tree full of memories. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Saying Goodbye To Santa-In Memory of Ray Beesley

Do you remember the magic you felt as a child at Christmas? There was so much to love about this time of year you undoubtedly sported a permanent grin from Thanksgiving to December 26th.  After all, you were a kid so Christmas was stress free and chock full of excitement. When I think about the things that made me happy as a kid I quickly remember baking cookies with my mom and sister, visiting relatives and playing with my cousins, watching Christmas movies in my footy pajamas, neighborhood parties, school parties, and ripping open every new delivery of Christmas cards from friends and family.  I loved all of it.

Of course the most excitement came from knowing that Santa Claus would be coming soon. Every year my parents brought us to take pictures with Santa and the whole way there in the car I would practice what I was going to say when he asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I would inevitably get nervous and only remember one of the things I had practiced, but either way I left there full of excitement. It was pure joy. It was innocent, magical, and a time of never doubting in jolly old Saint Nick. As we all know, that innocence sadly fades with time and age. Last week I posted a great story on Facebook about my friend’s son starting to doubt Santa. An amazing man named Bob, who just happens to look exactly like Santa, stepped up and took a picture with her elf to show her son. He had only been there to service the furnace but he left there restoring her son’s belief and giving her one more year of magic.

Everyone loved the story. A couple of days later sad news hit a local garden center. The Santa from the garden center, who everyone had loved, had passed away.  Facebook was flooded with story after story about Ray Beesley better known to most as Santa, and his amazing heart. My friend forwarded me a story from a friend of hers, and as I read it with tears rolling down my face, I just knew I had to share it.  We wound up connecting on Facebook and she gave me the go ahead to share her story. Get a tissue and be prepared to feel the magic of Christmas all over again.  This is Amy’s story.
Anyone who knows me knows my sincere affection for this man. He was more than "Santa" he was a genuine, gentle, sweet, compassionate human being. I have to share the reason why I fell in love with Christmas again after I thought I never could.
When my son Zach was diagnosed with Autism in 2004, I fell into a
deep, dark depression. The holidays were especially hard. Seeing the magic of
Christmas through your child's eyes is one of the joys of being a parent. I didn't have that magic. Zach didn't care about Christmas, didn't care about receiving presents, and he didn't care about the Christmas tree or any decorations. 
One day while shopping at the Wayne Town Center, Santa was just coming back from break, and there were no lines. I decided to have his picture taken, purely for a photo op. He wasn't able to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas or tell him if he was a good boy. It was strictly a “What the Hell” moment. I thought maybe I could get a cute picture. I wasn't feeling the magic of Christmas at all. When his session was over, Santa stood up and hugged me real tight. I will never forget how he told me in his sweet gentle voice, "God gave him to you, and he wanted you to be his mom.  You are a special mom. Santa loves you, God bless you Mom.”  
It was almost like he knew! There I was sobbing in the middle of the mall hugging Santa so tight I thought I was going to break him while Christmas music was playing. Ray Beesley saved me that day; he gave me back the magic of Christmas. We went back every year. He always remembered us. He never let us wait on line, always waved us to the front. He always remembered Zach's name. I knew he was ill in the spring so last week, I stopped at the religious store and bought him a Saint Jude coin to give him when we saw him this weekend. Sadly, we never made it. This man will never be forgotten. I only wish he knew what a huge impact he had on our lives. To everyone else he was Santa, but to me he was a blessing!
Rest in the sweetest of peace "Santa."

Amy's son Zach and Santa

I realized after reading Amy’s story that the magic of Christmas doesn’t fade as we get older. We somehow just lose faith in all of it. We have so many other things in our lives to deal with that we struggle sometimes to find the joy in the simple spirit of the holiday. Ray gave that spirit back to countless people. Amy’s story is only one of thousands that have been popping up on social media. This man was undoubtedly the real Santa. When I think of Santa, I think of a kind, gentle, giving person who listens when someone needs him and knows exactly what people need. He didn’t need Amy to tell him what she wanted for Christmas. He knew. He knew she just wanted to feel the joy of Christmas with her son. She wanted him to feel the excitement. She wanted to feel the magic. Ray gave her that. He didn’t rush her and her son Zach through a line of crying kids. He stood up and looked at her when she needed it most and told her she mattered. He told her she was more than good enough and he hugged her.  

There are real Santas all around us. Bob showed me that last week, and Amy’s story further proved it to be true. You see Santa is real. He is the kindness we find in a person we don’t know. He is the joy we see in our children. He is the spirit of Christmas. Christmas is not about stressing out trying to find the hottest sold out toy. It’s not about getting your kids to smile perfectly for your overpriced card (guilty). It’s about finding time for people. It’s about finding time for love and kindness. It’s about letting those around you know that they matter to you.

Ray Beesley taught us that every year. There was a reason his lines were so long, and it wasn’t just because he did in fact look like the most perfect Santa. It wasn’t just because every child on that line believed he was Santa. It was because every parent believed it too. It was because, if only for a moment the stress seemed to lift and we were able to once again feel the magic. We walked into that building as adults full of stress thinking about our long lists and all the things we had left to do, but we left feeling the magic and joy of the season. We left not only full of joy as we watched our children smile and skip to the car. We left remembering the child we once were, and even if only for a couple of hours the innocence of the holiday returned to us.

Ray left us all too early, but I for one just know that he is somewhere else bringing the joy back to so many who have missed it for all too long. Ray “Santa” Beesley had bigger things to do, and there is no doubt that he is doing them as only he could. Thank you Ray. Thank you for reminding us about the true meaning of the Christmas season. Thank you for allowing us to Believe
My boys with Ray "Santa" Beesley