Month: September 2015

Joanie’s Ornament

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Woman gives parcel in post officeRed And White Christmas Candycane Isolated on White Background.


By Larry G., South Philly, PA (Joanie’s story is true — but her name has been changed.)

Each Christmas when making her rounds delivering mail at the office Joanie would drop off a small candy cane to everyone she saw. It was her way of saying “thank you” for a great year. Every year I took that candy cane and hung it on the tree. It came from Joanie. It was special because it came from the heart.

Joanie had been working in a large office building in the mailroom for about 12 years. It was a job she loved. It gave her a chance to have fun with her co-workers, have regular office chit chat, and enjoy an 8-hour day. Joanie was a remarkable young woman. Overcoming a learning disability and other challenges as a person with some special needs.

She was bright, personable, competent and appreciated by everyone she came in contact with. The mailroom was her home. It was the place she worked and the place that gave her an identity. Joanie loved the mailroom.

She had challenges but none so outstanding that it stopped her from going on vacations. Or concerts. Or sporting events. Or doing her job in the mailroom.

And each year she gave everyone a candy cane.

To everyone’s surprise, one year Joanie announced she was retiring. She was still young — not quite 40 years old. And she loved her job. But her dad had passed away. She lived with him, her mother and brothers and sisters. And her dad left her an amazing amount of money. Her siblings got the same.

So Joanie decided to retire from working. That’s what most of us would probably do. She was going to take a vacation. Again, something that most of us would do.

And then you know what?

She was going to donate some of the money to a charity that helps people like her. People who need a little extra help. Or a someone to give them a break. The people who have so much to offer if only given a chance. An opportunity. They can show you what they can do. How they can achieve.

She was also going to volunteer helping people with challenges just like she has. Telling them her story and how they can succeed. That they are able. Yes, they have to try harder. Yes, they may need someone to take a chance on them. But they can achieve. They can succeed. They are just as important and inspirational as anyone else. Anywhere. Period.

Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas. Giving yourself. Helping those who need that little extra. Here is a young woman who understands the challenges and who wants to help those in the same situation to succeed.

Joanie is an inspiration. And there are Joanie’s everywhere. God has blessed us having her touch our lives. And a simple candy cane hanging on the tree says more about the human heart and the human spirit than any other ornament.

Have you heard about Santino’s Dragons? It is the magnificent story a young boy with Autism who started drawing dragons on t-shirts. The t-shirts have caught on and for sale. And Santino has said he wants to donate a percentage of the earnings to The Center for Autism so that “they can help more kids like me.” You can support Santino’s Dragons by visting


You can learn more about autism at

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Agnes and Henry

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By Monica S., Philadelphia, PA

Her arthritic hands slowly peeled the bubble wrap and paper protecting the 60 year old Christmas ball. It was gold with red holly leafs spread throughout and it had the words “First Christmas Together 1947” in red script adorning it.

Agnes gently hung it near the top of her Christmas tree. It was something she and her “Hank” had made to signify their first Christmas as husband and wife. They would unwrap it every year and place it together on the tree in the most prominent of places for all to see.

Hank and Agnes met shortly after World War II at Wagner’s dance Hall on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. Wagner’s was as famous as it got in the immediate post-war era and servicemen still fresh from the battle would attend the weekend dances mostly to get acquainted with the young ladies.

Hank was dressed in his Navy whites, the Lieutenant Commander stripes standing out on his spotless uniform. It was like something out of the movies as he looked up and saw Agnes across the dance hall. Their eyes met and Hank tipped his hat, took it off and in a sweeping motion of his arm bowed toward Agnes. He then extended his hand toward her. She was smitten and glided across the floor. She took his hand and they danced to Glenn Miller’s “In the mood.”

A year later they were married. Then came the children. And grandchildren. Their life was ordinary. Their love growing stronger each year, through each of life’s passages, the good, the bad, the expected and unexpected.

During their 50 plus years together they always managed to smile and hold on to each other. The classic case of two becoming one.

And through it all they danced. They were naturals together. Slow dances, the Cha Cha, Waltzes, jitterbugs. All dances. All the time. They were the envy of every family member at weddings, christenings, parties. You could always count on Agnes and Hank to be the first to hit the dance floor and last to leave.

Each year they hung the ornament together and said the same thing, “Can you believe another year has passed?” They would kiss using the ball as mistletoe and dance to “In the Mood.” But time moves on and it caught up to Hank first. Melancholy, but with a loving memory of Hank, Agnes would hang the ball every year and listen to “In the Mood.” It was their song. It was their ornament. And Agnes would continue to keep up the tradition for as long as she could. She missed Hank. She missed the dancing.

This year, as she hung the ball on the tree she sat down in the chair facing it. Maybe it was the angle of the sun or something else, she couldn’t tell. The ball began to glow and a soothing light surrounded the room. Then Agnes heard the music, “In the Mood.” As she squinted she saw a figure coming out of the light.

It was Hank in his Navy dress whites — just like the first time she saw him. He tipped his hat, took it off and in a sweeping motion of his arm bowed toward Agnes. He then extended his hand toward her. Agnes reached out and took it. They looked into each other eyes and began to dance to “In he Mood.” It was dance that would go on forever.


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Pop’s Gift

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Sad and lonely senior man with nurse

By Al L., Philadelphia, PA

“Smile for Mommy. C’mon Emma, smile for Mommy,” Maggie called to her four month old daughter. As if she understood her mother, baby Emma smiled. It was probably gas. Maggie clicked her cell phone to get the picture.

She would add it to a special ornament. It was silver ornament in the shape of a gift box, with a silver bow on top. Each side of the box had a space for a picture. On one side was the grainy black and white of her grandmother as a child. On the second side was her mother in washed-out 1960’s era Kodachrome. On the third side was her picture, a true Kodak moment as a child of 7 showing a wide smile with no front teeth. On the fourth and final side would be Baby Emma’s picture.

Four generations represented on one ornament.  The perfect gift for her grandfather. Even though it had been years since Pop’s dementia had started and his slow spiral from “sharp as a tack” to “not knowing people’s names” was complete, it was still worth it to help Pop put the ornament on the tree.

Maggie put the baby’s picture on the final side, grabbed her coat and Baby Emma and headed to her mother’s house. After her grandmother had died, Pop had moved in with her mother and father when he started to fail. He was a guest in the house, not knowing that the woman and man who lived with him and who he saw every day were his daughter and son-in-law.

He just accepted that they were there, not really knowing who they were. Never really engaging in conversation. Just sitting in his chair watching TV. Most days he just smiled at them and said nothing.

It had been several years since he called any family members by their names. But each Christmas Maggie and her mother would unwrap the ornament and point out the people and tell Pop who was on the ornament. Maggie would start the conversation, “This is Rachel, your wife, when she was a child. On this side is Mary, your daughter. And this is Maggie — that’s me. And guess what Pop? One day when I have a baby — your great grandchild, I will put her picture on the other side.”

Pop would just smile and repeat the names with Maggie, more of a rote response rather than showing an understanding. Each year Maggie would go through the same ritual and together they would hang the ornament on the tree. She would kiss Pop and hug him, holding back a tear.

Her mother opened the door for Maggie when she arrived, grabbing Baby Emma and joyously almost squeezed the life out her granddaughter. Maggie put down the diaper bag, the snap-in car seat, the bag with bottles and what seemed like a hundred accessories for the baby, not even having time to take off her coat. She went over to Pop who was sitting in the easy chair with his feet up staring at the TV. She put the ornament on the table next to Pop and lovingly kissed his head.

Sostegno e aiuto a persone anziane

“Here mom, let me bring the baby over to Pop.” Mary reluctantly let go of the baby.

“Here she is Pop. Emma. Your great granddaughter.” Maggie gently placed Emma on Pop’s lap.

“Hello beautiful baby,” he said to her. Baby Emma looked up at Pop and smiled. “Oh, what a lovely smile you’re giving me.” Pop caressed the baby’s cheeks with his well worn hands. “You most certainly are a beautiful baby.” Pop then lifted his finger to his lips, kissed it and then placed his finger on the baby’s lips.”This is for you, Emma.” The baby stared at Pop and reached up and grabbed the finger that was still on her lips. “What a beautiful baby,” Pop repeated. His face was glowing. A look that neither Mary or Maggie had seen in years.

With the Baby Emma holding his finger, Pop looked at Maggie. “Where’s the ornament Maggie? Is it time to hang it up?” he asked.

Stunned, both Maggie and Mary, wide-eyed and mouths open, exchanged excited looks. ” Think it would look good just below the angel?” Pop asked. Pop looked at his daughter and granddaughter and great granddaughter staring at him in amazement.

“Maggie. Mary. Where do you think? Where we should put the ornament?” He looked at pictures on it. “All of you, in one place. Rachel, Mary, Maggie and Emma.”

Mary took the baby from Pop’s lap while Maggie took his hand to help him out of the chair. “Let’s hang the ornament Pop,” she said. Together Maggie and Pop placed the ornament at the highest branch of the tree, right under the angel.

“That’s a great spot you thought of Pop.”

“Yep, looks good. A great place for me to see all my girls.”

Pop sat in his chair and looked at Mary holding Baby Emma.

What a beautiful baby,” he said. “Baby Emma.”

Maggie and Mary both began to cry. Pop looked at them.

“What a beautiful family,” he said.

The two women hugged and kissed him while he held Baby Emma.

Four generations.

“Oh, Pop. Pop I love you,” Maggie said.

“I  love you too, Maggie.”

Nobody said anything for several minutes.

It was Pop who broke the silence. “This is a beautiful baby. What did you say her name was?”


“Oh, yeah. I forgot?”

A silence crept into the room.

“Baby Emma, you say?” Pop asked.

Maggie shook her head. “And .. are you her mother?”

“Maggie, Pop. I’m Maggie.”

“Oh, OK.”

“And who is she?” he asked pointing to his daughter Mary.

“That’s your daughter Mary,” Maggie answered, holding back her tears.

“And who is this beautiful baby?”

Maggie and Mary began to cry. For one moment, one bright Christmas moment, they had their precious father and grandfather back. It was a moment they could hold on to. And every year Maggie and Baby Emma  continued the tradition and went back to the house to hang the ornament. Pop would hold the baby while Maggie would point to each picture on the ornament and tell Pop who everyone was.

And Pop would smile and say “What a beautiful baby.”


“A World Without Alzheimer’s Disease.”  Can we reach it in our lifetime? Find out more and see how you can help by visiting the Alzheimer’s Association website at

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Just a Little Taste of Sambuca

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As told by Brittany, South Jersey

It really wasn’t an ornament — it was actually a tiny bottle of Sambuca — empty of course. The kind of small sampler that they sell in the State Store. (That’s a liquor store for all you non-Pennsylvanians.) Or is served on an airplane.

The ornament reminds me of my Uncle Jim. He wasn’t my “Uncle” in the traditional sense, but he was my father’s best friend and my Godfather. He called me “his pixie” and was about the best Uncle anyone ever had — giving me money, buying special gifts for every birthday and holiday – fun gifts like games and toys – not clothes.

Every Christmas Eve, after my brother and I had fallen fast asleep, Uncle Jim and my dad would spend the night putting together those special toys from  my mom and dad. Let’s say that Dad and Uncle Jim made sure that a real full-sized bottle of Sambuca was consumed as they worked through the night.

They put together doll houses. And little kitchen sets. And BIG kitchen sets. And trains for the tree. And forts for my brother.

One year they put together a bike for me. It’s all I wanted that year. Yep. They put it together. Aided by a lot of Sambuca. Then Christmas morning I woke up and screamed a joyous scream as only an 8- year old can scream. It was my bike! The bike I had wanted!

Who cared about all the other gifts. My bike was here! I jumped on it and began to ride around the house. You know how tight it is in a South Philly rowhome? Not much room to zoom around a 14-foot wide house where we had also crammed in a large Christmas tree, mechanized figures of Santa’s elves and a dozens of gifts waiting for the rest of the family to open – but I was loving every bike riding minute of it.

Forget the other gifts that Santa had left. They didn’t matter this year. This year I had the bike! Dad took out the big movie camera with the bank of lights lighting up the whole house so they could capture every excited look on my face showing off my bike and gap-toothed smile.

And then they caught something else on film. My complete shock when the training wheels fell off my bike causing me to crash to the ground. I felt myself falling… tumbling … crashing. I reached for anything to break my fall. That’s when I grabbed the first thing I could reach…..

…the first thing…

…that would be the Christmas tree. And it didn’t help keep me up on the bike. Or stop my fall.

The beautifully decorated tree — garland, tinsel, ornaments, lights —  followed me to the ground as I fell, hitting with a loud thud and crash. I screamed. My mom screamed. My baby brother screamed. I got up crying, “Look at my bike! Look at my bike!”

Ornaments broken. Garland unraveled. The bike half on me, half off.

My mom rushed to see if I was OK. Dad — well Dad dropped the camera and was on the phone in seconds to Uncle Jim who only lived a few blocks away. “Jim, we need you at the house — the bike is broke and the tree fell down!”

Uncle Jim came over in a flash with only his PJs and a weather-beaten robe. He took a quick look at the situation.

“Looks like we can fix this up,” he said. And then his perfect follow up, “But first — do you have any Sambuca?”

That was just the thing to get Mom and Dad smiling. The bike was fixed. The tree was put up — the holiday was saved. And as a special remembrance of that Christmas Uncle Jim had an ornament made of an empty Sambuca bottle.

We don’t get to see Uncle Jim that often anymore. He moved to Nevada away from the chilly Philly winters. He said he wanted to be near his money which was lost in the sports betting parlors in Las Vegas. But we do toast the Christmas holiday with Sambuca every year.

Now that I have a family and a tree of my own, my parents passed that Sambuca ornament to me. I hang it on the tree every year and remember Uncle Jim and the crazy Christmas when the bike broke and the tree came down.

Each year the U.S. Marine Corp does a fantastic job with its Toys For Tots effort — collecting and delivering toys for those children who may not otherwise receive anything for Christmas. See how you can help by visiting


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