The 2021 holiday season marks the return of many Christmas and Hanukkah traditions.
Last year’s festivities were…well, different.
The Observer caught up with Longboaters to ask a simple question: “What is your greatest gift of all?”
Heather Sellers, Longboat Key Turtle Watch and Save Our Seabirds volunteer
One of our favorite Christmas memories occurred just last year, 2020. My husband Ray and I started volunteering for Save Our Seabirds that fall. We mainly help with rescue calls, finding it not only rewarding, but it also further connected us to this beautiful island. Christmas week had arrived, with COVID-19 still wreaking havoc.
For Save Our Seabirds, they were running an extremely thin staff, with some days only a few people to care for the many resident birds, as well as injured rescued birds in their hospital. We offered to help on Christmas Day, suspecting the over-extended crew may need a bit of a hand.
We helped clean cages, so senior avian vet tech Jonathan Hande could feed and administer needed care for the birds more quickly. A few days prior to that, Jonathan asked if we could assist him with a release of an American white pelican. We jumped at this opportunity. Meeting early one morning, just a few days before Christmas, we helped Jonathan unload and release this beautiful bird to a nearby flock of pelicans.
At first, it wanted to stay with Jonathan. After a bit of coaxing, it made its way across the water. We couldn’t help but feel moved by this experience, flooded with deep appreciation for the tremendous amount of care and commitment Jonathan and others at Save Our Seabirds have for birds.
Ray often remarks, “Can you only imagine if SOS wasn’t here?” So that Christmas Day as we wiped out cages, we couldn’t help but feel gifted, grateful for this organization and its tireless efforts.
Lyn Haycock, Longboat Key Garden Club vice president
The best gift ever was a surprise party for my 60th birthday. My entire family and friends kept this secret for three months. My husband, Mike told me we were going to dinner at the French restaurant on the island, so we dressed very nice.
Before we go down to the restaurant, we walk over to our beach to watch the sunset. First, our daughter and her family who live in Lakewood Ranch show up at the beach, then our daughter and her family from Tampa walk over, then our son and his family from Charlotte show up.
By this time, I am crying and being hugged by all seven of our grandkids. The youngest granddaughter brings me flowers. Then our daughter and her family from Chicago show up. We left the beach for dinner and I felt so blessed and happy.
Only to my surprise, 95 of our closest friends and family are waiting. I open the door and cannot believe my eyes. Two of my grandkids had a speech and there was not a dry eye in the house. Family and friends are the best present a person can ever have and I have many. Give yourself to others and you will receive the most rewarding feeling you will ever have.
On Oct. 17, 1989, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit the San Francisco/Oakland area just before the start of the third game of the World Series being held at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
Immediately Red Cross volunteers and staff went into action. After volunteering for three weeks in December I finally made it home on Dec. 24 with an ice chest full of crab for our Christmas Eve dinner.
Christmas was always a special time gathering with our family. When we were 16. I received a white rabbit coat and twin sister Ann got a raccoon coat. We thought we were really slick. Probably not in vogue today.
Susan Phillips, assistant to the town manager
The greatest gift of all time? That’s easy — time with my happy, healthy, inspiring and loving father. He’s 93 and still completely independent.
He and I will share Christmas on Longboat Key together with family & friends. He brings me immense joy every single day.
(My husband) Clancy and I will celebrate our 60th anniversary on Dec. 27.
This has subsequently produced four wonderful children, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren, many of whom will be with us to celebrate Christmas and our 60th wedding anniversary. Who could ask for any greater gift?!
“Joan, would you please come to the office in the morning and do your blood work again? We need to check there hasn’t been some mistake with the results.” My platelet count was dangerously off the charts and thus began one of the most challenging journeys of my life.
Multiple tests followed the initial confirmation that there were, indeed, excessive cells in my system. My doctors ruled out leukemia, but after another series of tests it turned out to be mantle cell lymphoma, which rests about in the middle of the 39-range variations of lymphoma.
One of my husband’s associate pastors set up a group of ‘soul sisters’ to pray for me and be there for me in whatever way I needed—a real godsend! The associate guided me to an appointment at the M.D. Anderson Center in Houston, but the specialist I saw there advised me to go the University of Michigan for a stem cell transplant.
That diagnosis of lymphoma ushered in a period of watching and waiting for the right time to intervene.
The big issue was, would I be able to have a transplant using my own cells or those of a donor, the former offering far better prospects than the latter. Following a series of preparatory doses of chemotherapy, I was ready. My cells were harvested and stored. Then a massive regime of chemotherapy.
Then I was admitted to the University of Michigan Medical center until my body had recovered sufficiently to be able to receive the transplant. When it was decided my body was ready, my harvested cells were returned to my body on December 14, 2011. Would they take, or would they be rejected? It took several days—which included the smallest Christmas dinner I ever ate!—and, slowly my blood work improved and I was on the way to recovery.
The support of family and friends, the prayers of countless people across the world and the skill and care of a world-class team at the cutting edge of scientific research gave me my life back. Initially, another hospital had given me two years to live. Ten years later, gratitude and joy fill my holiday celebrations! There’s no better gift than that!
Michael Drake, Longboat Key Historical Society President
I guess good health living on an island of paradise. I’ve been able to live on Longboat Key now since 1986. Being able to live and work on Longboat Key for 35 years, I feel very blessed and grateful.
Chris Kopp, Longboat Key code enforcement officer
Community. It’s a simple answer, but it has so much meaning because community is your family, it’s your neighbors, it’s your friends, It’s everybody and everybody together, whether that’s close personal friends, whether that’s acquaintances, we all need community, no matter how big how small.
We’ve been doing it since we were cavemen. That’s how we’ve been able to exist for so long. And, as divided as our community may seem, we’re all the same. And once we start getting back to that, I think it’d be think it’d be great. But I mean, I need that. That is what I’m most thankful for.
My family, my friends, my coworkers, the town, the people that live here, everything. It’s community, no matter how big or how small.
Kay Thayer, Longboat Key Public Tennis Center manager
After what everybody has gone through in the past year and a half, I would say, not taking for granted your good health, and not taking for granted just our simple daily lives with our friends and families, which I think we take for granted. And, I think last year kind of reminded us when that was taken away…that it is something that we should be thankful for.
Terry O’Hara, Longboat Key Club golf director
My parents always said to be kind to people. It’s something that I’ve always followed… I mean, it’s my 13th year here… Obviously, I’ve got a wide range of people here, and a lot of different personalities. And, I think if you’re a good person, and you show that you’re a hard worker, and you’re kind, you can basically, you can go a long way in life. If we had more people that care and are kind, we’d have a much better world that we live in right now.
Cyndi Seamon, Longboat Key Turtle Watch vice president
A healthy family. We both have our parents still alive, so definitely. We’re treasuring the time we have with them. They’re both in their mid-80s, so both of our parents. We’re able to spend time with them as they are aging, and my parents are coming down for a couple months from Wisconsin. My parents live here. We see lots of friends and family who have lost their parents. We’re just trying to enjoy the time that we do have with them. And, COVID I guess has probably brought that to the forefront of a lot of people’s daily lives, so we’re just, we’re enjoying our time together.