Tag Archives: birthday Christmas day

Hysterical Historical Holiday Solution

Guest blog by my wife, Melissa

Kenzie & Helen

Kenzie & Helen

Every year, we celebrate Christmas with Tom’s daughters (Tovi & Lissi), their husbands (Ty & Chris) and the six grandchildren (Thomas, Patrick, Fisher, Livi, Kenzie & Tyli) between Christmas and New Year’s.  Tom and I really get into the planning and have created some fun traditions for “Christmas RVA” that we know are on the kiddos “must do” list each year.

Every morning starts off with a hidden clue as to the magic the day will hold.  And, once all the kids are awake, they look for the clue, decipher it and announce the day’s plans (ex: outdoor ice-skating downtown, hot chocolate at the Jefferson Hotel, The Tacky Light Tours, etc.)  And, each year, in honor of Helen, the kids help plan a birthday party for her and decorate the cake.  She’ll be 95 this year! As of last year, we had to stop using individual candles as we were awfully close to a fire hazard at the 93rd celebration!

And, each year, we try to continue Helen’s legacy and love of history by sharing some of the experiences we know she would create for her great grandchildren if she could.  Last year, we visited Mount Vernon and the year prior, Monticello.  This year, we were considering Williamsburg (Note: For those of you who know Helen, you can rest assured we haven’t waited this long to share her love of all things colonial …  we all know and love Williamsburg dearly, but not everyone has seen it casting its candlelight spell during the holidays.)

Last year, the stars aligned and we were able to celebrate together for 6 days.  This year, we’ll have to condense our plans into 3 days which we anticipate to be quite the challenge.  So, this past weekend, we drove down to Wilmington to celebrate Lissi’s birthday and help with Tovi’s move, so we decided to do a little research with the kids.  Which activities would make the cut?  Ice skating and opening presents tied for first.  The “historical” trip ranked low (although they all said yes to Williamsburg if we had more time).

On our last night, as we were gathered around a fire at the Heffron’s and were revealing the results of the kids’ poll with Tovi & Lissi, we shared our dilemma.  Tom and I would have to find a way to fit in the historical experience because we knew we had to make Helen proud.

As everyone considered possible solutions, Kenzie (age 9) piped up with a straight face, “Helen’s historical.”

All eleven of us looked over at her and busted out laughing in unison … problem solved!

A Birthday Name Game

2014-06-13 20.48.51A guest blog post by my wife, Melissa.

One afternoon this week after work, I walk over to visit Helen.

Just before I slide open the glass door on the back porch, I take a long, deep breath.

It’s not that I am apprehensive or feel uncomfortable … I’ve been observing caregiving situations for as long as I can remember.  My parents and grandparents have instilled in me from a very young age a sense of respect and responsibility for elders.

It’s that I need all the energy that I can muster when I’m with Helen.  At 94 (weeks away from 95), I’ve learned that, although at times she thinks that she is 6 and wants to marry my husband (her son), she has the fiercest instincts of anyone I’ve ever met.

She will shut you out or allow you in or lash out at you (accompanied by an occasional bite) in a matter of seconds.  I’m mindful of the energy I bring into most situations, but I am acutely aware of how critical the energy factor is when I’m with Helen. So, as I’m inhaling at the door, I assume the “me” that I have found to be most effective with Helen … it’s the positive (but not perky), the strong (but not threatening), the kind (but not weak), the cautious (but not afraid) and always respectful me that my mother-in-law needs to feel safe.  So, I take a deep breath and I assume that role … for her.

Helen is sitting in her kitchen at a beautiful pine table made by her husband, Fred (that if you don’t put a tablecloth over, she scratches obsessively and there are the indentations to prove it).  The kitchen looks all at once familiar, yet very different, as all around us are the new caregiver’s belongings and ways of organizing … essential and most appreciated, but seemingly out of place at Cheswick, Helen’s historic (circa 1796) home.

I never know when I start a conversation with Helen, whether I’ll encounter the quick witted and all-knowing Helen or the Helen that asks when someone is going to take her home.  But, thanks to a lot of practice, I’ve learned to be quick on my feet and meet her wherever she is.

Me:  Hi, Helen!

Helen:  Hi, girl!

Me (while hugging Helen):  Hi, Helen … it’s Melissa … I’ve dropped by to see you.

Helen:  I love you.  Your hands are cold.  Give me those.  (She proceeds to blow and kiss them until she deems them warm enough to let go of.)

Me:  Well, I have exciting news.

Helen:  What is it? (Helen loves excitement and has more energy at 5:30 p.m. after a full day at the adult day center than I did at 10 a.m. after my second cup of coffee)


It is officially the Laughon birthday season.  Are you ready for all the birthday celebrations?

Helen:   I am always ready!

Me:  Well, let’s play a game.

Helen:  Ok, I’m ready (she sits up straighter in her chair).

Me: I’m going to give you hints and you’re going to guess who is having a birthday on Sunday.

Helen:  This Sunday? Ok, I’m ready.

Me:  The first is on November 16thand it’s a boy’s birthday.  He’s funny, he’s handsome and he belongs to you.

Helen:  He belongs to me!?!

Me:  Yes, ma’am.  And, he’s a great singer.

Helen:  (says nothing, but closes her eyes in concentration and nods her head slowly)

Me: And his name starts with a “T”.

Helen:  A “T” …  hmmm … (more concentration and I think I see a little smile)

Me:  Do you know who it is or do you want me to tell you? (giving her this option balances out the fun of this game that she consistently finds engaging but gives her an easy out that she will often take if she’s not sure of the answer)

Helen:  I know who it is … can you guess?

Me:  I think it’s Tom.

Helen:  How’d you know! Tom Laughon, my boy!

Me:  Yes, Helen, Tom’s birthday is Sunday.  We should practice singing Happy Birthday!

I start singing “Happy birthday to you” at the exact time that Helen sings “Jesus loves me this I know” and I smile, give her a squeeze and join in “for the Bible tells me so.”  When we finish, I tell her after Tom’s birthday is Lissi’s (her granddaughter).

Helen:  Claps her hands together and says, “I know that girl!”

Me:  And, Ty and Patrick have birthdays in November.  And, after that … the next birthday is on December 25 … who might that be?

Helen:  Hmmm (closes her eyes again in concentration)

Me:  December 25 … Christmas Day

Helen:  Me … Helen Douglas Martin Laughon … my birthday is Christmas Day.


Mom’s 94th Christmas and Counting

Birthday Girl

“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.”– Alexander Smith

Mom’s 94th Christmas and Counting:

Counting the Christmas Day mom was born on.

Counting the number of Santa’s knees mom must have sat on.

Counting the number of Santa’s knees she took my sister and me to sit on.

Counting the number of Santa’s knees she took my two daughters to sit on.

Counting the gifts of loving, caring, sharing and giving she has brought to our family and to so many others that there are just too many to count.

Counting the memories and the smiles she magically creates for us all.

For a meaningful, wonderful, joyful Christmas, you can always count on my mom.

My mom, Helen Douglas Martin Laughon, was born on Christmas Day, 1919. I believe the old Timex watch slogan was really made for her … she “takes a licking and keeps on ticking”.

Our Santa’s Early Visit

When out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter,

It was a little too early, for the jolly red hatter.

Three days before Christmas:

It took me a few seconds to focus in on the car that had just pulled into mom’s driveway, but the second the driver opened his door, I knew it was “our man”.

When I say “our man”, I mean our very own Santa man was coming for his annual house call at mom’s … a ritual that started way back in the mid-eighties. And, although he was a few days early, I wasn’t one to complain. “Our man” had never missed a year since the day he started coming our way.

My kids grew up sitting on our Santa’s lap. They loved him and he loved them.

Our Santa loved our whole  family. He was devoted to us. He knew everything there was to know about us, and as far as he was concerned, we could do no wrong. There was no room for naughty in our home … only nice.

It started way back when he was the Santa at Regency Mall in Richmond. And, I have to give my mom and sister, Nel, all the credit. After first seeing him in action, they would visit him just about every day he was there and watch, mesmerized, how he interacted with parents, grandparents and kids alike.

To them, he was the Christmas spirit personified.

They not only watched him, but they praised him for the way he gave undivided attention to each and every kid who made it to his knee. No matter how long the line, he never made anyone feel rushed. He made you feel like you were the most special person in the whole wide world, and for that, my mom and sister loved, appreciated and respected him.

As a result of their support and encouragement, he continued to grow to become an even better Santa. A pretender might fool some of the people some of the time, but not my mom and sister. They knew that deep down inside that costume was the true heart of a real Santa.

From that love a bond was formed with our family and our Santa.

Our Santa didn’t get many cheerleaders, especially ones like mom and Nel, because he was expected to spread cheer, not receive it. Not many grownups or kids spend time thinking about how tough a challenge it must be to be him. We are too busy thinking about ourselves.

But, it never fazed our Santa, he was always up for the challenge, always Mr. Ho, Ho, Ho.

He was genuinely interested in what his little admirers wanted or needed. He never complained that no one asked what he wanted or needed … how he was feeling … how he was doing … what it must be like having to meet the tall order expectations of every kid in the world … or, how were the elves, the reindeer,  Mrs. Clause … or what was it like living in the always ice cold North Pole.

Sure, he got tons of cookies and milk … but how many real  thank you notes? Or just good, old fashion how are you doing questions, especially off season.

This is where mom and Nel fit that bill. They were more than Santa’s helpers, they were his supporters, his friends and his cheerleaders. They kept him going and growing!

As pay back, Santa started visiting our entire family on Christmas day … every Christmas day, the entire time my girls were growing up. And, now he spends time with their kids as well, when they come to mom’s for Christmas and her birthday.

His most recent visit marks the 17th consecutive year.

On our Santa’s off days, he plays the role of a mild mannered postal worker (I think all superhero types play mild mannered folks on their off days).

He will be retiring at the end of January after 35 years.

I think being a postal worker has had its advantages in terms of helping him deliver gifts to everyone in the world on one Big Day (This is no place for Post Office delivery jokes  … just remember the rain, sleet or snow part).

When my sister passed away a few years ago after a horrific battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, we held a memorial service for her at a little, old country church where many of my relatives lay at rest, including my dad.

As I stood before friends and family who had come from near and far, I noticed, three rows from the front, our Santa, dressed as an ordinary, everyday man. I remember his tie making him look a bit uncomfortable.

I literally stopped what I was saying, pointed to him and said, “Look, it’s Santa. Thanks for coming our way, Santa.”

It seemed everyone looked in the direction I was pointing at once, to get a glimpse of this unexpected, world famous celebrity visitor.

Without a word, he raised a finger  to his lips. It was the universal signal for, hush. He didn’t want to confuse any of the kids, or compete in any way with the sole purpose we were all there for.

I got the message loud and clear and went on with our celebration and commemoration of my sister, Nel.

A couple of weeks ago, my eleven year old granddaughter, Livi, left a message on my mobile.

“Hey Daddy Daddy, this is Livi. I was just wondering, was Santa Claus really at Nel’s funeral? ‘Cause that’s what my mommy thinks. And … I hope to see you soon. Bye.”

I really thought hard about my response before returning her call. I didn’t want to blow Santa’s cover, or my granddaughter’s beliefs. Livi was at Nel’s memorial service, but must have missed my “special introduction” all together.

When I got her on the phone, I got right to the point, “Livi, your mom was right. Santa, well …”

Before I could regroup, Livi interrupted, “Daddy, Daddy, it’s all right. I know Santa was there, because he loved Nel. And, he was in disguise because he didn’t want anyone to notice him at her funeral. That was really nice that he came, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, Livi, that was really nice. Really nice.”

After hanging up, I put my finger to my lips.

Then, I wiped my eyes.

Born Christmas Day. First Name Starts with J.


My mom, Helen, is going to have a birthday this month! She will be 92!

Although her birthday is Christmas day, I thought it would be fun to start getting her excited about it now.

The following conversation occurred this morning in the car on the way to Circle Center, mom’s adult daycare provider.  

Tom: Mom, there are two people who were born on Christmas Day that you have known your whole life. Who are they?

Mom: I don’t know. Who are they?

Tom: Mom, one of them was born in a manger and has a first name that starts with a J.

Mom: Jim!

Tom: Nope.

Mom: Joe!

Tom: Nope. It was Jesus, mom. Jesus was born on Christmas day!

Mom: Oh. I was going to guess Jane.

Tom: And, who was the other person who was born on Christmas Day that you have known your whole life?

Mom: I don’t know. Does it start with a J?

Tom: It starts with an H.

Mom: Well, I don’t know anybody who has a birthday on Christmas with a name that starts with H, but I know plenty who have one that begin with J.

Tom: Who, mom?

Mom: Jim, Joe, Jane and what’s-his-name.

Tom: No, mom. It’s you.

Mom: Nope. It’s Jesus! My name starts with an H.

Tom: Mom, you and Jesus have a birthday on the very same day … Christmas Day!

Mom: I don’t know about that, but I sure do know who Jesus is.

(Mom starts singing and clapping her hands)

Jesus loves the little children,

All the children of the world,

Red and yellow, black and white,

They are precious in his sight,

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

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