Willow Brook residents share holiday memories

As COVID-19 evolves and impacts everyone’s lives, residents in nursing homes and senior living have been hit hard from the beginning. Consequently, places like the Willow Brook Christian Villages have been placed in isolation. Brynn is a server in the Courtyard Restaurant and knows the joy that fills the residents when they share their stories and memories. She and Andrew understand the importance of being able to share these stories and wanted to create a project where residents can feel listened to and connected with their memories of cherished holidays that look different from the ones they will be experiencing this year.

Brynn McGrail and Andrew Bourget

Photo of couple Phil and Mary Rees
Brynn McGrail

Phil and Mary Rees

Despite growing up miles apart with their own families before being married, early Christmases for Mary and Phil Rees shared some similarities.

“When we were little, it was during WWII, so what you got for Christmas was very limited because so many things were rationed or not available,” Mary Rees said. 

For Mary, she recalls a specific instance where looking back it is evident that the circumstances of the country made a big impact on everyone’s daily life.

“The only kind of underwear we could get was rayon,” Mary said. “They were horrible orange colored pants with black elastic in them.”

The availability of products wasn’t the only thing that was affected. Phil recalls how people would repair socks.

“You would take the sock and then you would weave a patch on the toe. Now, you would just throw them away,” Phil said. “Everything had to be fixed, repaired.”

As kids, they said they were thankful for what they were able to have, and it made their gifts a little more special.

“I asked for a bicycle in second grade before the war was over, and my father found a used one somewhere, so I did get my bicycle,” Mary said. “But it was a used bicycle. You could not buy a new one, it simply was not available.”

Today it’s common for people to drive or fly hours to spend Christmas with their relatives, but at the time, most people didn’t have that luxury. Phil had family on both of his parents’ sides in Chicago, for example.

“We didn’t see them at Christmastime, [because] it was too far away from Toledo…” Phil said. “People didn’t drive distances. They sometimes took the train but we never did…Many times you couldn’t spend money on gas because it was the early days of the war…it was rationed.” 

While the war limited what they got materially, they said they could always depend on their faith.

Both Phil and Mary attended church service on Christmas Eve as kids. For Phil, the end of the service meant more than just being closer to Christmas day.

“If we were lucky, we got to open one present or the stockings,” Phil said. “We got to look in the stocking if we already didn’t know [what] was in it…Of course prior to Christmas, we used to kind of look around the house. We knew certain closets and shelves where they kept stuff.”

Other memories they had revolved around family.

“I don’t have any first cousins [because] my parents were both an only child… but I have a bunch of second cousins, third, and once removed, and some of them lived not too far from us and they would come on Christmas Day,” Mary said. “We would exchange small gifts, nothing expensive or anything. The important thing was they came to see us.”

Moments with family were always special to the Rees, and a particularly memorable family moment was when they moved to California for a few years.

“Southern California really did big for Christmas. Everybody had outside lights, lots of lights. Even during the 70’s you could drive around and see all the decorated houses,” Mary said. “Our church had groups that went out and went caroling.” 

The scale of decorations wasn’t the only difference from Christmas in Ohio, either.

“Out there it was kind of a culture shock,” Phil said. “Some people, what they would do was to walk along the beach. That was a tradition they did.”

While their four kids may not remember their time in California, their parents are glad they got to experience it.

“It was a good experience I think, having our children see that the whole world doesn’t live like Columbus, Ohio. It’s important,” Mary said. “I always lived in the same place, went in the same school district all the way through school, but our kids know that you can pick it all up, take it somewhere else and you still have your family, you still have a home, and it’s all okay.”

But generally, in addition to the fun Christmas time brings, it also reminds Mary and Phil of key values they share.

“Baking cookies, wrapping presents, church. Singing and listening to a lot of Christmas music even when I was little…” Mary said. “It’s Christ’s birthday and for me, that is the important part and I think church makes it important.”

“Cold weather,” Phil said. “Music, especially, and each other.”

Photo of Marcela Helgeson
Brynn McGrail

Marcela Helgeson

Marcela Helgeson finds each of her roles in her family special as a mother of four sons, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.

Marcela had traditions in her childhood as well as her own with her husband and kids.

“On Christmas Eve, we always went to my grandparents that live in Wisconsin,” Marcela said. “[We] always had Christmas Eve dinner, which was oysters and Swedish meatballs.”

With her kids, Marcela stayed home. She would cook dinner for them before they went to church.

“For dinner, they would request anything that’s Italian, they like Italian, or steak or Swedish meatballs…” Marcela said. “They liked all my cooking. We usually went to the midnight service at church, the high school choir usually sang and my youngest son [was in it].”

However, some of her favorite memories are more recent, mainly the times when she gets to have her family all together.

“All my sons live away, and they come home for the holidays. They live all over the U.S.,” Marcela said. “It’s so great to have them all home.”

When they’re together, they would play games and talk.

“Outside we toss the ball because they’re all older…” Marcela said. “They talk about their jobs and college days.”

About Christmas specifically, Marcela continues some traditions she had as a kid and with her younger family members to this day.

“We always have a nice Christmas tree and they have their favorite ornaments and we have outdoor lights…” Marcela said. “Then we have these luminaries…[When] everybody does it, it’s just beautiful.”

Marcela also recalls the Christmas parties she went to.

“The parents had parties, [my husband] was an engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and they usually had parties,” Marcela said.

Most of all, though, Marcela cherishes getting to spend time with her family.

“Having my kids all home at one time… that’s what I like, when the family can all get together,” Marcela said.

Photo of Nancy Jewett
Brynn McGrail

Nancy Jewett

For Nancy Jewett, Christmas time was most often a time defined by family and friends, church and fondly remembered traditions.

One memorable thing from her childhood was the socks they used for stockings.

“On Christmas Eve, I wore those long white socks…” Nancy said. “We hated them but we wore them. We would hang those on the arm of a chair on Christmas Eve and then we’d have an orange and little candy and nuts [the next day].”

Nancy has been involved in the church and said Christmas was always a special time.

“One time they asked me to help with the scripture for Christmas Eve, and I said I’d love to do it, but I couldn’t get up in front of people,” Nancy said.

At home, Nancy and her family enjoyed traditions around their Christmas tree, although decorating the tree has evolved for Nancy over the years.

We always had a live tree but then one year we got a silver tree…” Nancy said. “Nobody liked that, it had a revolving light on it so you didn’t decorate it as much. It was pretty but it was not a live tree.” 

Decorating the tree of course became a meaningful event as a parent for Nancy.

“We had nice decorations,” Nancy said. “The kids would make chains with colored paper, they did that. Popcorn, we did have that too.”

The decorations weren’t only homemade with her kids, though. Nor were they the only part of the tradition.

“I belonged to a mothers’ club for years and we always exchanged decorations and ornaments, so I had lots of different things from all my friends… so that was special,” Nancy said. “We always had a Christmas program for the December meeting [of the mothers club]. Somebody played the piano and we sang and had an exchange. Right now we’ve been together for 60 years and there’s still 10 of us.”

For Christmas dinner, Nancy remembers fondly what her mother would make and she carried on that tradition.

“My mom was a good cook and for Christmas, we always had sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, and I hated them, but now I love them…” Nancy said. “[For my family] we had about the same thing.”

One difference between her childhood and her adult Christmases are the presents. As a kid, they enjoyed minimal gifts, although still highly appreciated as a child.

“We got our stockings and then we got a couple of pieces of clothing and maybe a toy or two and that was it,” Nancy said. “The way kids get things nowadays, we didn’t know any different, it was just that’s just what you got.”

Come Christmas Eve, Nancy values her faith as well as time with family. 

“As our kids were growing up we always went to Christmas Eve service, always,” Nancy said. “We had a wonderful choir and a couple who sang ‘O Holy Night.’ That was special; they were excellent singers.”

Along with church, what her family did together around Christmas time was special too.

“When our kids were growing up we did play games…” Nancy said. “We always played Monopoly, any kind of cards, or [Go] Fish.”

Christmas for Nancy has always been about family and community,  and how she continues to spend Christmas shows their importance.

Photo of Marilyn Brown
Brynn McGrail

Marilyn Brown

For Marilyn Brown, Christmas has always meant a special time with her family, especially being the second eldest of eight kids. 

“On Christmas Eve, Mother always fixed hot cocoa for us in Christmas mugs, and we always had cookies and hot chocolate,” Marilyn said. “Dad always brought our cookies out to us. Mom wouldn’t trust him with the hot chocolate.”

“After we ate, Mother played the piano and we would sing Christmas carols, but we just sang songs the little kids knew,” Marilyn said. “It was fun and we didn’t have time to go to bed but we knew we would be up early in the morning the next day.”

Marilyn’s house in Jackson, Ohio had a coal furnace. One year, her mother decided to have a Santa Claus outfit made so she could tap on the window Christmas morning to surprise her kids while they were gathered around the tree.

“Well, my mother slipped and she fell down where they dumped the coal and she screamed for help, so my older sister, dad and I had to run over to the basement to get her out,” Marilyn said. “She had coal dust all over her and she couldn’t walk so we had to bring her upstairs.”

“Of course that was the end of Santa Claus for the little kids because they saw their mother as Santa,” Marilyn said. “We always laugh about that to this day.”

Usually, her family would gather around the tree Christmas morning and her dad would pass out gifts. They opened gifts one at a time so everyone could see all of the gifts, despite how long it took with how many kids there were.

“We always had a big Christmas; there were so many gifts that would get brought in but wouldn’t go under the Christmas tree until we went to bed and Mother and Dad brought it all out,” Marilyn said.

Marilyn grew up in a big home decorated with wreaths on the doors, a sleigh with empty boxes wrapped to look like presents on the front porch and several Christmas trees reaching the tall ceilings. 

The big tree where the family gathered Christmas morning was in the “blue room.”

“We were not allowed to go in the blue room; it was just for guests, but that’s where our Christmas tree was, so one night my sister and I were watching the kids and the little kids got behind the tree and knocked the Christmas tree over,” Marilyn said. “So we took all the decorations off, but Mother and Dad came home and asked why the tree was down. She said ‘we’re going to put that tree right back up.’ It [wasn’t] close to Christmas yet, but me, my mom and dad, and Lou helped decorate it again.”

“One year I asked my mother if we could decorate one tree in all blue and I thought that was pretty, but it didn’t go over well. She said ‘that’s nice, but we’re not going to do that anymore,’” Marilyn said. “I liked that blue tree.”

Even though the blue tree didn’t last long in Marilyn’s childhood home, she currently has a small blue Christmas tree set up in her apartment.

Typically, Marilyn’s family would decorate the tree with popcorn and cranberry string, garlands and icicle tinsel. Marilyn’s mother always fixed the decorating done by the kids to have it done right.

The family would go downtown Columbus to see the Lazarus Christmas decorations, an old department store that had a big display, and the Franklin Park Conservatory to see the poinsettias.

Marilyn’s interest in Christmas trees and decorations continued through her adult years. One year, she and her husband went to Florida and across the street was a gift shop with a Christmas tree with all kitchen-themed ornaments.

“I loved that tree and I would go over there everyday and just look at that,” Marilyn said. “After I got home, I called them long distance and said ‘you know that tree you have, I’d like to have each one of those kitchen ornaments.’”

So Marilyn had her kitchen-themed tree for years before giving it to one of her granddaughters. She loved that it was unique to everyone who saw it. Family and friends would buy her ornaments they found that fit the theme.

Marilyn’s love of Christmas decorations is limited due to space in her current residence, but she has found a way to share this love. She not only decorated the table outside her door with a poinsettia like the one she’d see at the Conservatory, but she decorated the tables of her neighbors in her hall.

“I ask every year, and I make sure that everyone on our floor has something out for decorations,” Marilyn said.

Sharing this joy of Christmas reaches far for Marilyn. For years she has helped an organization in Chillicothe that houses people who need help being taken care of. Marilyn would buy necessities for an individual and also donated all of her puzzles that her family enjoyed doing together when she was a kid.

“I think a lot of people forget the meaning of Christmas,” Marilyn said. “They mostly worry about buying gifts and spending money. But it’s about what we’re here to do for one another, what God did, and we want to celebrate that.” 

Marilyn’s family has always been close, enjoying time sledding on the big hill by their house, finishing Christmas scene puzzles throughout the season or card games with the whole family.

“We always had company for all holidays,” Marilyn said. “My dad’s people are from Columbus and they used to come. My older sister and I would be perturbed because we had to help cook and clean. We always had a houseful.”

However, Marilyn enjoyed having the family over and whether it was fleeting appearances or long stays, her family always emphasized the importance of togetherness for the holidays.

With eight kids in her family, there was always someone close in age to play with. However, according to Marilyn, they have all always been close.

“The one thing about us is we all got along growing up and even to this day we’re all grown and we’re all close still, even our spouses,” Marilyn said. “I think that’s an accomplishment.”

Into her and her siblings’ adult ages, they would always come back to her mother’s home every Sunday and enjoy a big meal together, bringing families too. When her mother died, the kids found it important to continue coming together. Marilyn hosted these gatherings occasionally.

Marilyn's childhood home, painting
Painting by Sharon Becker, 1989. Marilyn Brown’s Childhood home. (Brynn McGrail)

The bond among siblings passed on to Marilyn’s two children, who states away still continue to exchange gifts for Christmas, just as the family did when they were younger. 

As for Marilyn’s siblings, memories together in the beautiful house they grew up in stay close to their hearts.

“There was a lady I knew who was an artist and I took this picture of my childhood house and asked if she could paint it,” Marilyn said. “So, one year for Christmas, I had eight small paintings made and framed for each of my brothers and sisters. They all have it up in their houses and they look at it all the time.”

Photo of Shirley Jackson
Brynn McGrail

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson feels the most important thing about the holidays is being together with family and loved ones. 

Shirley and her husband both grew up in New Jersey, but both their kids have moved. Their son lives in Pennsylvania, and their daughter moved to Ohio.

“Just being together was one of the reasons we came out here [to Ohio],” Shirley said. “Figured we’d like to be as close to our daughter and son as possible and we’ve enjoyed that very much.”

This year, things have been very different for Shirley and she was only able to visit her daughter through a window on Thanksgiving.

Usually for Christmas, Shirley would go to her daughter’s house for Christmas Eve and her son’s house for Christmas Day.

As the family has always been special to Shirley, she wishes to be able to be with her kids soon and since her husband’s passing has missed the full family.

“I miss my husband a whole lot, of course,” Shirley said.

Both being from New Jersey, Shirley recalls fond memories with him in high school and prep school. She would visit his family often and went to prom with him at his private school.

Christmas celebrations were always fun for Shirley’s family. While they played games, she also remembers the times just talking for hours with family. 

“Sometimes we played games, mostly just spent time with our family and my daughter’s family and we played some games after we ate,” Shirley said. “We enjoyed that very much.”

As a kid, along with the traditional turkey dinner for Christmas, Shirley remembers a game her mother used to have them play. They would try to drop coins into a milk bottle as a competition, and it was always fun.

The fun moments with her family in the different places she’s lived stand out. 

“We lived where we could see New York City from New Jersey and we used to bang pans and things out the window,” Shirley said.

While she said that recalling much from her childhood is difficult, the holidays have always meant a joyful spirit for Shirley and the thing she thinks most of is her family.

“I guess the most important thing is that we are free to be together,” Shirley said.

Photo of couple Warren and Lynne Shively
Brynn McGrail

Warren and Lynne Shively

With childhoods consisting of large get-togethers and giving, Christmas has always been a special time of year for Warren and Lynne Shively and for their relationships with family and their community.

“My mother and father had a table out that would seat 24 people and it was filled up and we’d have a card table for some of the kids,” Warren said. “My mother had a spread of food that didn’t end, it was always excessive. She had vegetables, jello, pineapple fluff. She had cake and pie, she baked a lot of cookies and made cookie sandwiches.”

Lynne’s mother loved cooking and also would prepare a big meal with turkey and pork roast, and she decorated lots of cookies.

“We always put the almond in the rice pudding, and there was a gift for the person who found it,” Lynne said.

Other traditions included searching for a pickle ornament in their big family Christmas tree that sat between the tall living and dining rooms. Whoever found the pickle would get a small prize, like an ornament, or a special little gift.

“I always knew where it was,” Lynne said. “But we would keep it there until we were told that we could look for it and I always stayed back because I knew where it was.”

Warren and Lynne continued many of those childhood traditions with their own kids.

“Every Christmas Eve, we would sit down as a family and read scripture of the story of Christ’s birth. We’d also read the ‘Match Girl’ and ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,’” Lynne said. “We did this clear through until they were high schoolers, and now if we’re all together we do it. They knew all the stories and they could tell us the story as well as we knew it,” Lynne said. 

They always emphasized their faith and signified the importance of Christmas being the birth of Christ. If nothing else, this was what they hoped their kids took away from Christmas celebrations.

From Lynne’s childhood, a tradition with involvement in the church continued after Lynne and Warren were married. Family members of people who sang in the church choir were invited to The Shively’s home for a Christmas meal, just as Lynne’s mother did for their church.

“We would tell them to go with (the carolers) and then when you’re at our house, you stay there while the rest go and finish singing, and they’ll come back and we’ll all eat together,” Lynne said. 

They had a small 1,900 square foot home but would invite the whole town in.

Warren and Lynne were both in the choir but became less involved as they had children.

“Children were always the priority, and [Lynne] took care of her parents too,” Warren said. 

Lynne said she remembers her mother working hard to prepare food for the choir members and family. Her mother would always set out poinsettias as a centerpiece. They kept them long into the New Year, and it is still a special decoration for Lynne, reminding her of her mother. 

“Our youngest son for many years when he was in college and high school brought us a poinsettia every year that I would have on a table, then he got older and had other opportunities and I didn’t have a poinsettia,” Lynne said. “Then my husband bought one for me, and we just always enjoyed the poinsettias and flowers and everything to decorate with.”

This giving spirit is natural for the Shively’s, and in addition to hosting people for a meal, they were always enthusiastic towards gift-giving.

“We went overboard,” Warren said. “We were very fortunate financially and we’d have four, five, six gifts for everybody that came and the whole parlor around the tree was full of gifts.”

Showing people how special they are in their lives and being together with loved ones was always important to the Shively’s. As they were both in the Army, they still took opportunities to make it special.

“Lynne graduated nurses training in September or August, and I graduated electrical engineering in August,” Warren said. “We got married September 5 and I was drafted September 15, and after basic training, my father and mother brought Lynne in a house trailer to Georgia and we had Christmas dinner in the Army dining room. They had huge trays and enough food to feed a whole family. That was our first Christmas.”

For their second Christmas, they drove from Augusta, Georgia to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see Lynne’s family for Christmas. After having a baby born in September, they drove the whole way with their baby for the family’s first time meeting him.

“We ate in the car, and had a bottle warmer, and went nonstop for 30 and a half hours,” Lynne said. “We wanted to get home because we wanted to see our parents, and we got there eventually.”

The two have been to every state, some many times, and have traveled to 38 countries, learning many different traditions. But since being in the Army, they have always remained at home for Christmas to be with their family.

With kids and grandkids spread across the country, they said having everyone together for Christmas gets harder and harder every year. 

Recalling snowfalls that were always cherished when Warren and Lynne were growing up, they remember their daughter coming to visit from Florida there was a big snowfall. The first thing they did was build a big house out of snow. This was a fond memory of time with their kids coming home.

“Now they’re getting older and doing things with their families, but we always try to have someone over,” Lynne said.

Warren and Lynne agreed that their kids have followed tradition on spending time with their families, continuing traditions and values that their parents taught them, including the importance of their faith.

Photo of Bea Croston
Brynn McGrail

Bea Croston

Bea Croston’s early Christmases have the mantra of family and personally made gifts.

One of Bea’s favorite memories was with her older sisters.

“Because I was the youngest, my older sisters were married and so they would take me out to see the lights and decorations,” Bea said. “They were really good to me and they would always take me shopping.”

Before Christmas, they would decorate a tree from their own property.

“We would cut down a pine tree and make homemade decorations…we would make [paper] chains and wrap them around the tree,” Bea said. “We made some fancy wreaths out of pine needles and put them around the house.”

Come the day before, with the decorations up, they had another tradition.

My father was a deacon in the church we went to and so he would usually read us a story from the Bible on Christmas Eve,” Bea said.

For presents, her siblings would make gifts for each other.

“My sisters did a lot of sewing, so I got a lot of homemade things,” Bea said. “If I happened to have a doll at the time maybe I’d get new clothes for it.”

Because she was in 4-H and Girl Scouts, Bea too made gifts for her siblings.

“I started carving when I was older and would carve things like bracelets,” Bea said.

On Christmas day, Bea and her siblings would wake up to stocking and presents.

“They’d fill stockings for us. I know we always had an apple in the toe of the stocking and some walnuts and most always a candy cane,” Bea said.

Photo of Coe Huckabee
Brynn McGrail

Coe Huckabee

An unforgettable Christmas for Coe Huckabee was one she saw as their “pioneer Christmas.” 

It was the Christmas of 1946, after World War II had ended. There were no new houses built during the war for Coe’s family to move to when her father was transferred to Denver for his job. So, the family settled in a log cabin in the front range of the Rocky Mountains. 

“We had heavy snowfall and we had to shovel snow off the roof of the house and garage so the weight of the snow wouldn’t collapse the house,” Coe said. “The breeze came right in between the round logs so we had to stuff newspapers, and old rags and socks to try to keep out some of the cold.”

Her family spent a full year in this home, with her parents, 8-year-old brother and 10-year-old Coe. They learned the perks of their unique living situation and spent time with each other since there weren’t any other families nearby. 

They played games together regularly and went sledding in the mountains. Her mother became skilled on the woodstove. Coe and her brother went with her dad and cut out big pieces of ice from the creek to put them in their ice box. They accommodated their surroundings to create a cherished Christmas together.

“Santa found us, and I know it was Santa because we put out hot chocolate and a cookie, and when we woke up the next morning, they were gone,” Coe said.

They enjoyed a chicken dinner and a typical dessert of their family: a fruitcake sent from her grandmother. 

On Christmas morning, Coe’s mother made her and her brother drink a glass of orange juice to ensure some nutrition before opening their stockings.

“We always got an orange in the stocking, and for my parents when they were young, it was kind of a big deal, but for us, we were a little underwhelmed,” Coe said. “There were also nuts in the shell in our stockings, so part of Christmas was sitting around with the nutcracker, cracking the nuts and eating them which was pretty fun.”

As an adult with her own kids, Coe carried on typical Christmas traditions, but the meal she cooked for her family was a unique staple to their celebration. 

Prior to teaching at Hayes High School in Delaware, Coe taught in New Jersey and had just started teaching back in 1973.

“It was hard getting back to teaching full time while having kids, so I said ‘I know I’ve been distracted with all this working but I will fix for you whatever you want for Christmas dinner’ and they all three said tacos,” Coe said. “So I did, and that has become our family tradition and we love it. It’s a meal that everyone can help make. Lots of times when the family gets together for other things, we’ll have tacos as well.”

While Christmas dinner has changed for Coe, the traditions of togetherness haven’t. Her family always spends Christmas enjoying quality time with each other.

“We never lived in the same state as any [other] family, so Christmas was a small, intimate family time,” Coe said.

They played games, went for walks or went sledding, listened to the Morman Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert on the radio, and sang carols together.

“We sang carols informally, so we sang while setting the table,” Coe said. “With my own children, I’d play the piano and they would gather around and sing.”

Gifts from Santa weren’t wrapped for her kids, they were just under the tree. What the parents gave and what everyone gave to each other were wrapped. Coe recalls the excitement of setting out gifts to surprise the kids.

“My kids would negotiate what time we were getting up, usually they talked us into about 7 a.m.,” Coe said. “It’s such a wonderful excitement, that childhood Christmas.”

That childhood Christmas excitement is very familiar to Coe.

“I remember one Christmas, [when] I was about eight, and we were living in Fort Worth, Texas and my window to my bedroom looked over the hospital where my dad was working and they had a big star on the tower,” Coe said. “I don’t think I slept that entire night. I kept getting up and looking at that star against the sky to see if it was getting lighter out. I’m sure I did sleep but I didn’t feel like I had.”

That light meant Christmas morning was coming soon and embodied the excitement of a child on Christmas. The light that Coe sees today still sparks joy around Christmas, for a different reason.

“Your life is kind of like a play, three acts or five acts,” Coe said. “There’s the excitement of children, the laughter, squeals, but I don’t have little children now, I don’t even have family living in the state right now. Different things appeal at different times, and I would say for me right now, what I really love are the Christmas lights.”

“People put them in their window or out in the lawns, or maybe it’s just a candle in the window, but this is a dark year we’re living through and the light somehow brings an obvious brightness and brings a kind of hope,” Coe said. “It really feels to me like [they’re] a gift to everyone and that those lights are there for everyone to see.”

For the past fifteen years or more, everyone in Coe’s family has gotten together at a retreat in Loveland, Ohio to stay together for five days around Christmas. The only time they get to spend together in the year is a memorable time for Coe, but this year their family decided to not get together. 

While this Christmas isn’t preferable for Coe or anyone, she’s looking at it as postponed rather than canceled and is hopeful that if everyone does their part in handling the pandemic, we can all have our postponed family moments like hers.

“Christmas is really my favorite holiday,” Coe said. “And I think with the emphasis of peace of earth, and my big word being kindness, and the fact that we are all in this pandemic together points out that we really are connected.”

“We need to take the feeling and message of this year with us every day moving forward,” Coe said.