July 22 10:10 AM

Caught off guard catching the Christmas spirit

December 26, 2007
So I go to TSC to check out the animals that are visiting for photos with Santa and kids last weekend.

I'm in somewhat of a hurry because like everyone else at this time of year I've got a million things to do and have to budget the time to avoid being in such a huge hurry to get on to the next gig.

I'm there before anyone else arrives, so I just sort of hang out and hope it's really going to happen. Potentially I need the photos for the front page—something cute and Christmassy.

I find out where the action is supposed to take place—in a little area carved out near the cash registers. Walled off by clothes racks and Santa's rocking chair, I wonder how the animals will fit into such a tiny space.

Soon enough, I have the answer. I look up and see two tall, fuzzy heads nodding forward gracefully with each step. Atop their fleecy heads are those crazy reindeer antler headbands little kids like to wear.

It is a strange and funny sight—large animals walking through a retail store as if they belong there.

The llama and alpaca are dressed for the occasion. Along with the reindeer antlers, they're donned in Christmas capes (tree skirts) and wreaths round their long, slender necks.

They look sort of like happy camels and kind of like cute, fuzzy long-necked deer. They're as quiet as church mice, as docile as stuffed animals and plain old too cute for words.

Like magnets they draw kids and adults to the little area. Owners Darrel and Deb Verbeke of Funny Face Alpaca Farm in Attica remind the curious onlookers that the animals like to be petted on their necks. They invite the little ones to give it a try and like magic their faces light up with those delightful, unselfconscious grins that are exclusive to childhood bliss.

I shoot off a few frames. I want to stay. I want to pet the alpaca and llama like one of those kids. I want to take the alpaca and llama home. If Santa shows up that's what I'm going to wish for, I tell myself. For the first time in a couple of years, I actually feel a little hint of the Christmas spirit. It feels pretty good, kind of fuzzy and warm like the animals.

As much fun as it is, I have to move on so I do. Walking out to the car I say to myself 'I wish Dawn (my sister) lived closer. She could come out here for this and bring the kids. They'd really enjoy it.'

It only takes about two minutes for me to burst out laughing at myself. Seems the Christmas spirit swept me up in a dreamy cloak of holidays past. Dawn's 'kids' are 24, 21 and 13—a little past the age where they'd have a blast petting farm animals and sitting on Santa's lap.

It gets me thinking about the times with my own little sisters—when all of us believed in Santa—then just a few of us, then just one of us. How we went through the magical motions even when we realized we'd never catch a glimpse of the jolly old elf and his flying reindeer. It was important to all of us to hold onto the magic. It was great fun...

...After thoroughly pigging out on a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner at my Nonni Rossi's house, we'd usually fall asleep on the ride home to Livonia from Detroit. With bellies full of frito misto (fried vegetables) and fish—calamari, bakkala—and fruit and nuts and of course torrone (nougat candies that come in really cool boxes but taste like a cross between a communion wafer and I don't know what), we were sleepy and satisfied.

Still, once inside the house, tree lights glowing, manger scene on the mantle lit up by my dad, we'd get all excited again in anticipation of the next day. Always thinking—and of course trying to hedge things in our favor just in case—we'd ask the folks what we should leave for Santa and the reindeer.

"I think Santa would like a salami sandwich and a beer," came the reply. "Maybe a few cookies for the reindeer."

Obviously, after midnight it was okay for Santa to indulge in a little bit of meat. We'd make the sandwich just so. Pull a cold one from the fridge and set it on the fireplace mantle, hearts full of hope.

Along with presents under the tree, Santa always left a kind note saying how delicious the sandwich was. This thrilled us almost as much as the presents...

...The little trip down memory lane does me some good. I realize that the 'Christmas spirit' truly does live in the heart...all year long.

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Castle Creek
07 - 22 - 19
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