Sunday, December 13, 2015


Joe as Santa Claus in 2004

I have always loved Santa, ever since the first time I met him.
It was Christmas Eve, 1952.  We were with our extended family, celebrating and feasting much like the generations before us.  (Well, mostly my sister and I were jumping up and down, way too excited to eat.)  Then there was a knock at the door. 

Daddy stood up, “Now who could that be?”  He headed for the door but stopped. 

“Why don’t you two get the door?” He was looking at my sister and me.

Now, I was the youngest person in the house and never allowed to get the door but he nudged me forward. “Go on, you get it.” 

The room grew quiet. We looked at Mother who smiled, nodding her approval. My sister and I opened the door and there he was, Santa.  I can still picture the scene; the beard, the red suit, the bag, a big hug, and just like the stories said, this jolly old man (who I now strongly suspect was my Uncle Cleo) instantly mesmerized me.

Some 50 years later, I recreated the same scene for some of our grandchildren.  Only this time Santa was Grandpa Joe, fully decked out in a suit I’d spent weeks creating. That year Joe donned Santa’s gay apparel for several holiday events.  He really rocked it with his deep baritone version of Ho, Ho, Ho

Joe still tells the story of a little blonde girl who spotted Santa from across the room, came running for him at full tilt, jumped onto his lap and hugged him.   He calls her little Janie when he recounts the tale, imagining me looking like her at that age.

The years have passed and now of course we spend Christmases with Al, “The Grinch”.  He isn’t into holiday festivities and doesn’t see the point of all the exuberance most of us exhibit.  His apathy and shrinking enthusiasm is like a virus, infecting our spirit and robbing us of the kind of joy we experienced in Christmases past.  Gone is the pleasure Joe once took in sneaking away to shop for the special gifts, those quirky, interesting and unconventional things that delighted us.
This lack of spirit isn’t just the normal fading of wonderment that sometimes comes with aging, the kind that can easily be cured with a little mistletoe, eggnog and the right company.   It’s deeper, down to the core.  Al has replaced jubilation with confusion, apprehension, and anxiety.  He’s made everything harder, more complicated.

“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!”

But this year, I’m fighting back.  We aren’t leaving anything up to Al.  We have a plan.   It starts with the tree and a few outdoor lights (we don’t see many of those in our senior community.)   Next, Joe and I will go shopping together and try to find unique and distinctive gifts that express the joy and thankfulness we feel for those we love.

I’ll bake cookies and Joe will help. Then we’ll deliver them to the neighbors.  I’ll break out the Christmas music and play all of our old favorites.   Even the Grinch should know the words to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.  We’ll move at a slower pace and maybe spread things out a bit but, this year there will be joy, even if we have to tie Al (that Grinch!) to the Christmas tree. 

Most especially, we’ll be thinking of all the other Alzheimer’s families struggling to hang on to Christmas and the ones they love.

Joe’s daughter and family joined us a few weeks ago for the Thanksgiving holiday.  While they were with us our son-in-law, the electrician, helped with a couple of small home improvement projects. This of course meant a trip to the local big-box hardware store.
As we entered the store, just inside the door stood Santa, the greeter.   Having never lost my love of Santa, I gave him a big hug, welcoming him back and telling him that we had missed him.  I think my son-in-law thought I had lost my mind.  But as I said before, I’ve always been crazy about Santa.
Christmas shopping together 2015

May the season bring joy and happiness to all.