My mother hails from a large family. Twelve children large to be precise. A five boys and seven girls journey which began for my grandparents in their teens with the last being born when my grandmother was in her early forties. My mother is the youngest of the girls and second youngest of the 12.
In stark contrast, I’m an only child yet I’m grateful for our large family. Some of my fondest early childhood memories are at the hands of this bunch. Growing up surrounded and supported by family is inexplicable. Lessons learned through family support and love (regardless of size) mold and shape us.
Of the 12 children there was one daughter who was ‘different,’ later called mentally retarded and by her later years ‘mentally disabled.’ I beg to differ. Her name was Elaine. A name of Greek origin, which we are not. A name which means sun ray, which my grandparents did not know or care about at the time of choosing a name. In their day you ... just named babies. Ironically it was a name which suited her perfectly.
My Aunt Elaine was one of our most prized family gifts. She was loving, caring, talented and loved each of us without judgment. Her smile was radiant. It served as a tremendous looking glass into her heart and genuine soul.
But this is not intended to be her eulogy or a mini ‘life of.’ This is about belief and how one ‘disabled’ adult taught a twenty-something a lifelong lesson.
My Aunt Elaine embodied the word we see most often at this time of the year: ‘Believe.’ She was a ‘believer’ in all things. Whether it be the kindness of man, the charisma of Elvis Presley or Santa Claus … She was a believer.
When my grandmother passed each of the sisters became stewards and caretakers for my Aunt Elaine. For a set amount of time she would move in and live with each family. This is when I came to learn most that one label was indeed most accurate. My aunt was indeed special.
One year at Christmas she had caught this blasphemous rumor that there was no Santa Claus. She was living with my mom and I at the time and had not mentioned this gossip which was plaguing her mind.
That is of course until I took her shopping … at the mall.
It is one of my fondest Christmas memories and a day I not only learned about the magic of Christmas, but was fortunate enough to live it firsthand.
As she and I ascended up an escalator at the Arden Faire Mall, my Aunt looked over her shoulder, smiled, looked at me and said, “Sheila is a liar.”
Shocked. I quickly corrected her. Reinforcing the lessons of our family. The lack of kindness and understanding in such a harsh statement. Followed by, “What makes you say that?”
To which she confidently replied, “She said there is no Santa Claus and here he is. Right here at the mall.”
As I looked at her face, her huge smile, that feeling of confidence in knowing the truth I couldn’t help but chuckle.
Yes, there he was right here in the Mall. Good ol’ Saint Nick, the Spirit of giving alive and well. I was barely 20 years old at the time, yet to this day I still well up thinking about that moment.
Later that night I shared the story with my mom. Much to my surprise, tearing up as I did so. My mom being older and wiser simply stated, “That’s why you ‘believe.’ The moment you stop, you lose these moments. Aunt Elaine is blessed, because even when someone tries to take them from her, they can’t. See?”
From that moment forward I never again gave thought or question to the Santa Claus debate. That day on that escalator I was given my greatest Christmas gift by my special Aunt. I was literally shown and taught the meaning of ‘believe.’
Sure, there is also the biblical reference and all that entails on a whole other level. The beauty, the lesson of this moment is that ‘believe’ is truly an all-encompassing way of choosing to simply live. The Holiday season heightens the presence of the word; the gift lies in making it a piece of your everyday life.
The word Believe is defined as: to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so.
And there it is ... it’s truly that simple. Believe does not rely on science, story books, or dream crushers. Believe simply relies on you. That’s powerful.
Merry Christmas and Ho Ho Ho.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.