Beneath the Old Tree

 

Hawaiian Hau Tree

Hawaiian Hau Tree on Pearl Harbor Base

The cool trade winds rustled the leaves overhead, as the music drifted over the prestigious crowd. Laughter filled the air, while voices raised and lowered as the music kept its pace. No one paid any mind to the leaves overhead, or to the branches that wrapped themselves in braids high above their heads. Nor did they notice the disarray of branches weaving in and out of the iron latticed-cover of the pergola. But the tree, now weathered, and living longer than most of its peers, listened as he had so many times before to the crowd huddled below its lighted foliage. Times were different now of course, because he was older and wiser… but the conversations were the same as they had been for as long as he could remember.

Hau Tree canopyThe military officers in their finest uniforms stood in huddled masses discussing the latest military issue. While the wives shifted from one leg to the other giving rest to their weary feet. All about them caterers in crisp uniforms glided from one group to the other carrying trays of miniature entrees and desserts. Some nights were different of course. Some nights found the officers in Aloha shirts and slacks, but the women really never changed. Their hair piled high upon their heads or long and endless notified the tree of yet another decade now gone…faded like the sunsets over the ocean nearby. But still the ladies were the same, wearer of dresses, light perfume and a touch of lipstick to accentuate their lips.

Tonight the tree arched its branches towards the outer perimeter of the patio as if reaching to grab the musicians just beyond its reach. The IMG_0152music, his favorite, played across the crowd, bouncing back against the house and resting on each leaf, energizing them. If only his trunk were not grounded to the earth he would step gracefully across the patio as if he were the most famous dancer in the world. Instead he is placated by the sounds of South Pacific, and allow his leaves to sway in the breeze in unison to the notes floating through the air.

It wasn’t long ago that this music was new to him. He was half his size now, and there was a war going on around him. Life was so different then, so urgent and combustible. Those that met below his branches then were living for that moment alone, and had no time to think about the future.

A small tug on a branch, and the tree finds a man inspecting its thickness. If only the man knew the difficulty in maintaining his livelihood through the years. Like the old home that now had become his friend, he fought to live amongst the ever- changing world around him. There IMG_0154was always someone trying to cut him back, or redirect his roots so that they would not disturb the house or guests. But little did they know that his roots now held the pipes down of the old Admiral’s quarters, and his massive canopy was truly a blessing for guests on hot summer days when even the band struggled to sound upbeat.

The old tree didn’t mind the clinking of glasses from the bar below him, or the warming lights dangling precariously from his limbs. He didn’t mind lovers who leaned against his strong trunk, stealing kisses before returning to the dance floor either. For this is what he was meant to do, to record history as it was made beneath his branches. And so, on this glorious night below the stars, the old tree leaned into the gentle breeze and whispered thank you to those who could not hear him…those beneath the old tree.

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Hidden Gems of America

Colin Powell’s eyes looked up at me, his youthfulness spoke of another place and time. Beside him, his infantry nametag lay just to the left, made of wood and aged over time. Where was he when he used this carved out simple introduction? I scanned the room of the National Defense University Library and wondered if I had just entered the Colin Powell Room, or was this just another hidden gem that American citizens were unaware existed…

flag of National Defense University

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National Defense University Library

The real Colin Powell was somewhere else. But his life was spread out in front of me on tables and shelves full of photos and artifacts of years gone by. Those around me stood as I did, in awe of the enormity of accolades and achievements that this one person held in his lifetime.

We were the lucky few that would silently move among tables of curio cabinets that provided a glimpse into this distinguished general’s life. Most Americans would never see the gifts bestowed upon this great man, as we were seeing them now. There were so many.

I moved on, noticing that the room housed more objects of interests from other famous leaders of our nation. Behind me, there were oohs and awws, and discussions of the treasures housed in this quiet library room that only the leaders of America were allowed to tread…and their spouses, of course. This was just another hidden pearl of a room that most American’s had no clue existed. And why is that? What are these treasures?

gold statue

Found in the National Defense University Library

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NDU

A set of ivory swords, a castle made of gold, a set of ancient Chinese books, statues, paintings… they all are gifts bestowed on leaders of America. Leaders, who represent the United States of America, and can’t personally keep treasures from other nations and leaders. The gifts are graciously accepted on behalf of our nation, are turned over to lawyers, and then over to curators or historians to be cataloged and housed somewhere in one of the many national buildings across our country. There are hallways and office spaces that contain collections of priceless artifacts from around the world. It is said that the Department of State has one of the finest collections of gifts any nation as ever seen…Yet, no one visits this collection unless they have a top secret security clearance. It’s a shame really, so many remarkable relics to take in and enjoy.

So, what did I do while I was attending a conference in this beautiful university? You guessed it. I began to take photos of these wonderful and unique gifts that Americans have not seen. Photos that show the unique friendship we have with nations like China, Mayasia, Australia, Germany, Russia…You get the picture. I wanted to show Americans that through these many wonderful gifts given to us, we are a nation valued and appreciated. The gifts are there to remind us of the friendships and treaties we have made with others to bring peace to our world… And every time a leader passes by one of these overfilled cabinets, he or she, will know there is hope….because we too have given gifts as well…and they are housed in capitols all over the world, as a reminder to foreign leaders that together we can make a difference. One day, perhaps all Americans will stand where I have stood, and be proud that we have rooms and rooms of such gifts.

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Hallways of National Defense University

Hallway of the Courthouse where Lincoln’s conspirators were tried.IMG_4242

Humanity in an Unexpected Place

Her aged hands shook as she focused in on the bottle precariously held in her left hand. A whisp of gray fell from her forehead covering her eyes as she sighed heavily. I couldn’t help but watch her with curiosity as I moved quietly around her in the theater bathroom. She placed the bottle down upon the counter and pulled out a folding cup from her weathered bag atop a brown battered suitcase. She paid no mind to me as I took longer than usual to wash and dry my clean manicured hands. Worn and full of story, her fingers found the capsule within the bottle and she placed it on her pale tongue. She moved with ease as she filled her cup half full with water and placed it to her dried lips, swallowing the pill without hesitation. I stared at the suitcase through the mirror as I pulled a small brush from my Kate Spade purse. It’s markings were from years of wear and tear, perhaps a discarded piece of luggage from someone no longer wanting it. Its wheels were battered and the material torn in various areas not accustom to being worn. The elderly lady tucked her cup and pill bottle away and from the front pocket of her suitcase, a small tub of tooth paste emerged along with a tooth-brush. I knew I shouldn’t stare, so I averted my eyes as I put my brush away and dismissed myself from the cold, brown walls of the theater bathroom.
What was this woman doing in the theater, I wondered as I stood silently in the lobby of the vacant entertainment hall? Could this woman be homeless, could she be traveling and just killing time before checking into a hotel? Curious, I stood looking at placards in the lobby waiting to see if the old woman would emerge from the restroom. She did. Rolling her bag behind her, step by step she shuffled her feet towards the vending area where she asked for water. The young man behind the counter smiled and asked how she was doing. She forced a smile toward him, trying to make him feel better as he place a cup of water in front of her. He turned slightly and pulled out a small container that housed a wrapped sandwich and a bag of chips.
“My mom made me an extra sandwich tonight. I thought you might like it later.” He pushed the food toward her with a slight hint of a smile. Her hands, those old dry hands, shook slightly as she placed them on the gift.
“You are so kind to me,” she said.
I turned away from the two at the counter and felt my heart-break. She was someone’s child, perhaps mother, sister, wife or grandmother. What was her story… what did it matter? It made me angry, angry at our society, government, families and myself! How could I let this go on and not lift a finger to do anything? I searched my purse for cash, any cash that I could graciously give to this frail eighty-plus year old woman. But I had nothing but a wallet full of credit cards that lay at my beck and call whenever I got the urge to shop. Shaking my head in annoyance, I looked up to see the counter boy looking at me. He smiled as if he knew what I was trying to do.
“Ma’am, your movie is about to start,” he called over to me, “You might like to take your seat.”
I looked at the kind smile that the little lady gave to me as she followed his words across the room.
“Oh, uh… thank you.” I replied hesitantly. I snapped my purse shut and slowly turned towards the movie theater door.
“I’m just going to sit over here for a while and rest my feet, if you don’t mind,” the feeble lady quietly said, as my hand pulled at the door to my movie.
“Not a movie tonight?” the young man responded, smiling and offering her a soft chair over the hard bench she was now resting upon.
“If you think there’s one I might like….” she seemed to perk up.
Quietly, the door I was holding shut behind me, shutting out the conversation I so longed to hear. I couldn’t bare to think that this little old lady was homeless, alone, and trying to find some shelter from the evening heat in this old theater.
The music sounded as I sat down upon my velvet red seat. My daughter smiled toward me and patted my hand as we began our mother-daughter movie outing. I was lucky and I knew it. I had everything I ever wanted in life… love of a great family, enough money to be comfortable, and a wonderful house to call home. As I squeezed my daughter’s hand, I prayed that the little old lady would find some peace tonight within the walls of the theater.
The door opened behind me, spreading light across the chairs and movie screen. Hushed whispers turned heads of patrons already watching the previews. I too, turned to see the late arrivals as they made their way down the darkened aisle. There she was, holding tightly to the counter boy’s elbow as he guided her to a seat just a few rows before me. He placed her food in her lap, and from his shoulder he pulled down a small throw blanket that he placed over her frail body, tucking its loose edges around her legs to keep her from catching cold in the air-conditioned room. I could feel my daughter’s stare as she watched the scene unfold before us. “Isn’t that sweet?” she whispered into my ear. “It must be his grandmother.”
A small tear slid down my cheek as I patted her hand… “It must be.” I whispered back, knowing the truth would break her heart. “She is lucky to have him in her life,” I whispered as the theater darkened and the movie began.
When we rose hours later to leave the theater, I looked over at the little old lady still resting on the red velvet seat. She did not stir, she made no move to leave…perhaps she was asleep or waiting for the boy to aid her…perhaps she found her final peace having felt the kindness of a generous counter boy. I will never know, but I wonder. I wonder every time I see an elderly lady on the street or in a grocery store, or when a homeless person quietly stretches their hand in my direction. They are a reminder that life is too short to be selfish and naive, and that now is the time for me to do something about it. This is for you my Little Theater Woman and counter boy.

The Two Brothers of Idar-Oberstein

courtesy wikipedia

courtesy wikipedia

It was in times of yore,

that this story did take fold,

High above the Rhine in

the town of Idar-Oberstein.

It is but said there lived two brothers

who never had a fight.

They lived within their castle ruin

both day and night.

Then one day the eldest brother

took for him a wife,

more beautiful than a flower was she

He would love her all his life.

But as fate would have it,

The two would soon be parted.

The husband would become a crusader

not to see his wife till much later.

So in his brother’s care

he did leave his wife

For he trusted his brother

and felt this would be right.

many years did go by and

the younger brother became a man

living with his brother’s wife

was too much for him to stand.

No word was sent to the castle

from the brother who had departed,

it was soon believed that he was dead

so his wife was taken to bed…

And through their union they did find

there love did grow just like a vine,

until one day when darkness struck,

the brother returned, life was amuck.

From his guilt the young brother did please,

for forgiveness for his misdeeds.

But his brother was not thrilled and thus,

the younger brother was killed.

Over the cliff he was thrown,

where he landed would forever be known.

For all the town could surely see,

how sorry the eldest brother had grown.

For where the body had laid,

a chapel was made.

Out of the side of the cliff it did perch,

and it was her that forgiveness the brother did search.

All in the town below did witness,

the sadness of their lives,

the love that had been lost

between two brothers and a wife.

            V. Smith  4/7/87

When I lived in West Germany as a teenager, I remembered how intrigued I was by this story and the castles…especially the church on the side of the cliff. In 1987…before the internet, I wrote this poem for a creative writing class. I just came across it and decided to look up the real story on the internet to see how close I was in my memory..here are the facts according to wikipedia:

The Legend of Idar-Oberstein

Felsenkirche (“Crag Church”), a legendary church and symbol of the town

According to legend, there were two noble brothers, Wyrich and Emich, who both fell in love with a beautiful girl named Bertha. The brothers lived at Castle Bosselstein, which stood atop a 135 m-high hill. Bertha was from a noble line that occupied the nearby Lichtenburg Castle.

Neither brother was aware of the other’s feelings for Bertha. When Wyrich, the elder brother, was away on some unknown business, Emich succeeded in securing Bertha’s affections and, subsequently, married her. When Emich announced the news to his brother, Wyrich’s temper got the better of him. In the heat of the moment, he hurled his brother out of a window of the castle and sent him to his death on the rocks below.

Wyrich was almost immediately filled with remorse. With the counsel of a local abbot, he began a long period of penance. At this time, Bertha disappears from the historical record. Many romantics feel that she died of a broken heart.

As Wyrich waited for a heavenly sign showing that he was forgiven, the abbot suggested that he build a church on the exact place where his brother died. Wyrich worked and prayed himself into exhaustion. However, the moment the church was completed, he received his sign: a miraculous spring opened up in the church.

Wyrich died soon after this. When the local bishop came to consecrate the new church, he found the noble lord dead on its steps. Wyrich was later placed in the same tomb with his brother.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idar-Oberstein

The Chocolate Chip Monster

FullSizeRender-2When I was little I lived in a house with four boys. Life was always an adventure…even when it was quiet. And on days like today, when the house creaks in its stillness, I can’t help but think of one of my brothers who’d undoubtedly snicker at me if he saw what I was doing.

He was the second oldest child and probably the sneakiest. I’m sure he would disagree with me, but the truth be told, he was so charming that he could get away with murder and no one would ever know or care. So it should be no surprise when I say that he was notorious for raiding the kitchen when no one was around. Oh, he wasn’t one of those kids that were obsessed with food… he just had a craving for a particular item that would vanish in the night. He was clever. No one ever saw him taking the item out of the cabinet, nor eating it for that matter. But sure enough, whenever my mother reached for this sweet delectable, it was GONE. You could only imagine the horror on my mother’s face when a bake sale was looming and her chocolate chips were missing!!

Talk about an inquisition! Every child would be summoned to the living room where my father threatened groundings if whomever took the chips didn’t step forward. My oldest brother stood with his arms crossed glowering at each of us, as if to say, fess up or I’ll take you out. My youngest brother always piped up saying he wished he had taken them. And of course, I was the princess and we all know that princesses never take anything without asking. So that left child number one and two to battle it out as to who took the coveted chocolate chips.

FullSizeRender-1 Oh, I know what you are thinking right now… You’re probably wondering why chocolate chips were such a big deal. First, have you  seen the price of chocolate chips? Crazy, I know. You’d think they were produced in the Swiss Alps or something. Have you ever lived  in a house where dessert was a rare and unique thing? It was in my house. Can you imagine how many bake sales and classroom  parties my mother had to do with five children? Chocolate Chips were a BIG thing.

So back to my two brothers, sixteen months apart, standing in front of us denying any association to the chocolate delight.

“Just tell the truth,” my dad would plead. But both would stand their ground.

To this day I’m not sure what it really mattered. The chips were gone. It’s not like they were going to upchuck the little morsels and my mom could get back to her baking. The inquisition would usually end with my dad grounding all of us until someone came forward to tell the truth. Which, quite frankly, never worked. The reality of it was… we would drive our mother crazy grounded to the house, and she would finally kick us all outside and lock the door! (I don’t blame her.)

Then one day my brother got caught red handed. I’m not sure how it happened, but it did. He obviously was not on his game. He had to be seventeen years old and he stood in the kitchen with the bag dangling from his fingers. You’d think after years of taking them on the sly that he would have a better response then, “I felt like something sweet.” But no, he just stood there with his charming smile throwing my mom off her game. She laughed, he laughed and the gig was up.2015-01-26_1723

Fast forward to today…. You know, the quiet house and me? I had finished my workout and did my chores when a craving for something sweet took over me. What did I want? What could be left in my house of low carbs, vegetables and fruit? Ahh… You guessed it. CHOCOLATE CHIPS! Sweet little morsels of chocolate just calling my name. Why were they still here? Don’t laugh… but I’ve always bought more than I needed incase someone should become a Chocolate Chip Monster like my brother. So I paused inside the pantry as I argued with myself whether to raid the bag or not. And then a sly smile crossed my face as I thought of my brother and I said out loud, “I just feel like something sweet!”

Oh My Gosh… like brother, like sister… a Chocolate Chip Monster rises again!

If Jesus had Army Men

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“Bang.” I heard his little voice say from the other room. “Step away from the manger.” My daughter asked a question and I was briefly distracted.

“ Move to the top of the hill and secure the area.” His five-year-old voice demanded again.

Turning to my husband I asked, “What is he doing in there?”

“He’s playing with his Army set.”

“Ahhh,” I said nodding my head with understanding.

My son continued to play well into the evening, entertaining himself with his little green Army men, and whatever he could find in the dining room, until he was ushered off to bed. It wasn’t until I was ready to go to be myself, and turning out the dinning room lights that I saw it.

“Honey,” I called out to my husband. “Can you come here for a minute?” As he entered the room a small smile crept upon his face as I held back a giggle.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?”

“No,” he chuckled, lowering his face to see more closely at our son’s strategic battlefield of Army men.

Before us sat the family Italian Nativity set that we placed in the house every year at Christmas. The kids had come to love the story of Baby Jesus, and couldn’t wait every day to move the nativity pieces closer to the manger. It was tradition to hide Jesus until he was born and on his birthday place him before Mary and Joseph. We talked about it every day.

But today ARMY MEN surrounded the nativity! They were atop the manger, lying before the shepherds and Kings, and hiding behind nearby candles.

The following morning I asked my son why he decided to place his Army men around the nativity… boy was I surprised.

“Mom, everyone knows that Baby Jesus is going to need protection. If he’d had an Army along time ago things would be different today.”

I stared at him for a minute and gave him a smile. Five years old and so smart…

“Well,” I said. “He had a different kind of Army… and they’re still around.”

His eyes grew wide. “Really?”

“Uh huh. They’re all the people who believe in Him.”

“Oh,” he said confused.

“Someday when you’re older you will understand,” I said, as I hugged his shoulder and we headed out to kindergarten.

But as I drove to school that day, I couldn’t help but think about all the countries that have gone to war over religion. I wondered what would have happened if Jesus had had Army men…

Author’s note: Each year when we put the nativity set out, I think of this particular Christmas and wonder, will the world ever stop fighting over religion?

Finding The Real Santa Claus….

It’s that time of year when everywhere you look there’s a Santa in a store, mall or town. Each looks a little different, but most have a red suit and white beard and seem happy to see children. But which one is the REAL Santa Claus? Oh, we know he’s out there. We’ve seen the movie Santa Claus and we know how it works. Santa’s not afraid to ask for help…after all, he is a man…a magical man, yes…but none the less…a mere mortal. So out of all these “helpers”, which is the real Santa Claus my children asked me one year.

They were both at the age where their friends were beginning to question the reality of St. Nick. I thought long and hard before I gave them an answer. I’ll be honest…it wasn’t the greatest answer but it seemed to satsify them for the moment. What did I say? I said in my most authoritative and knowledgable manner, “That the real Santa Claus will know things about you that only you will know. He will remember your last year’s gift and can tell straight off if you have been bad or good. He won’t even have to ask you like his helpers do. And yes, he will have a real beard and rosy cheeks and a tummy that will jiggle like a bowl full of jelly. But he might not wear a red suit because Santa is a person and he likes to change things up abit. I thought I did a pretty good job telling them about the real Santa…especially since I myself had not had the pleasure of meeting him all these years.

“Have you ever met him mommy?” my daughter asked all excited?

“Oh no, not me. I’ve tried to find him…but I think I only met his helpers.” My daughter smiled and seemed to have sympathy for me. Of course I laughed, but deep down inside I felt a little sad that I hadn’t met him in all my forty plus years.

The following year we planned a trip to Oklahoma to visit my parents for Christmas. It was an usual occasion, as we rarely left our home during the holidays. The kids were excited to see their grandparents, and the drive from Key West, Florida to Edmond, Oklahoma was long. When we arrived at my parent’s home we found it quite festive. The house was lit from the yard up to the top of the roof. Every inch of the house was decked out in Christmas decorations.The kids were so excited that it made my husband and I laugh.

It wasn’t long before we were sitting around the table talking about our plans for Christmas Eve and Day when the topic of Santa came up. I’ll never forget it, the look on my children’s face when my mom shared a secret.

She said, “I’m going to take you to see the real Santa Claus!” Oh boy, I thought. I sure hope he wasn’t one of Santa’s helpers because I’m sure my children would tell their grandmother the truth!

“Are you sure he’s real?” my son asked eagerly.

“Oh yes, I’m certain. He comes every year around this time at this one particular mall. Then he leaves and his helpers fill in.” I gave my mother a look of caution, but she ignored me and smiled at the kids.

“Can we go tomorrow?” my daughter asked.

“Of course! We don’t want to miss him!” Grandma said excitedly.

That night as the kids went to bed all they could do was to talk about Santa…finding the real Santa.

The mall was huge…but the kids didn’t seem to mind that we walked seventeen football fields to find the “real” Santa Claus. We found him in the dead center of the mall in a mock Christmas Village all set up for photos and visits. The line was not long and so we quietly waited until it was our turn. I could see it in their eyes…the excitement and pure joy of meeting St. Nick in person. My son tugged on my sleeve, and so I lowered myself down to hear his whisper.

“He’s wearing different clothes…”

I looked up and took note of my son’s observation. “You’re right!” I replied with a smile on my face.

The children in front of us did not take long talking with Santa. They posed for a picture, told him what they wanted, took their candy cane and off they went. But when my children eagerly approached the jolly man something magical happened. Instead of taking one child at a time, he asked them both to sit upon his lap. Now I will say that what happened next was perhaps hard to believe…I’ve tried to rationalize it all but still…. well… let me tell you what happened…

The children gingerly sat upon the old man’s lap as he gleefully said he was so happy that they had traveled so far to see him. He asked my son how long it had taken.

“Two days,” my son piped up.

“All the way from Key West!” my daughter beamed.

“Well, I’ll be. I thought that was you standing in line…but I thought how could it be when you live so far away. I bet you are here visiting your grandparents!” Santa said smiling.

The kids were stunned. “Did you like the Barbie I brought you last year?” he asked my daughter.

“Uh huh!” she answered.

“I hope you don’t mind that it was one of Barbie’s friends.”

“No… I love her. She was different than all my friends,” my little girl giggled.

“And you,” he said to my son.”How’s the sports coming along?” My third grader’s eye grew huge.

“Great sir. Thanks for the new bat last year.”

I stood off to the side as I watched and listened to Santa talk with my children a good ten minutes. The line grew but he didn’t seem to notice. They talked about how they had always wanted to find him…that who knew that Oklahoma would have the real Santa. They thanked him for always finding them since they moved every two years. If ever there was a time to have a camcorder…it was then. Finally realizing they were taking too much of Santa’s time, they took a picture, gave him a hug and promised to leave out apple juice and cookies for him…since milk was just too heavy to drink in Key West.

OH MY GOSH….the excitement was just too much…too much for all of us. We could hardly get through the little bit of shopping we had to do without talking about finding the real Santa. After several hours we managed to work our way back to our car, passing above Santa on the second floor. That’s when we heard him…

“Samantha and Tanner!” he bellowed.

The children ran to the rail of the second floor and waved down to him.

“Don’t forget to leave me some apple juice and some fresh water for my reindeer next year…they will be hot down in Key West!”

“We will!” They both hollered back with excitement.

His eyes twinkle up at them as he waved so long. WE had found the real Santa Claus… Oh my Gosh!!! Oh My Gosh!

That night as I and my husband said good night to the kids, my son hugged me hard and thanked me for bringing them to Oklahoma.

“Mom,” he said. “He really was everything you said he would be.”

I really didn’t know what to say.

“Mommy,” my little girl’s voice excitedly said. “He knew what Barbie I got and knew about Tanner and sports.”

“He knew we traveled far to find him,” my son added.

“And…He already knew you were both good children!” I said smiling. “Now go to bed. He’s watching and will be here in a few days.” They quickly closed their eyes and pretended to sleep. But they were too excited to sleep and we heard them whispering to each other long after we had left their room.

On Christmas morning the children arose to find that their favorite man in red had come and gone. They had left Santa a note with apple juice and cookies and he left them one back… 

See you next year in Key West or wherever your daddy takes you next…I promise! Santa

Lying next to his note was the picture of the three of them… They had done the impossible… they had found the real Santa Claus and would never forget that very special day.