East County residents share their holiday mishaps and memories
The Christmas holidays are filled with memories — good and quirky. Here are a few of both.
| 12:45 p.m. December 20, 2017
ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE
Christmas 1996, Palm Aire resident Terry Romine had a special present for his wife, Susan, a graduate and fan of the University of Notre Dame.
It was the kind of present you couldn’t wait to see someone open.
It was a Notre Dame football signed by all seven of the school’s (then) Heisman Trophy winners — Angelo Bertelli (1943), Johnny Lujack (1947), Leon Hart (1949), Johnny Lattner (1953), Paul Hornung (1956) and John Huarte (1964) and Tim Brown (1987).
"I was so excited," Susan Romine said, adding she grew up watching Paul Hornung, one of the favorite players of her father, the late Chuck Godfroy, of Bartow.
Susan Romine loved the one-of-a-kind gift, but Terry Romine’s mother, the late Betty Owens, apparently did not. Then in her 80s, Owens was visiting for the holidays.
“We overheard her on the phone later that afternoon telling a friend, ‘Do you know what Terry got Susan? A football!” Terry Romine recalled. “To mom, it was just a football. To us, it was a precious relic.”
A NEW FRONTIER
Lakewood Ranch’s Nate and Bethany Carr left Dec. 8, 2016 to pick up their new adoptive son, Ethan, from China. They met the toddler four days later.
“It was a bit of a rough start, as you would expect,” Nate recalled. “He had a rash that was getting worse as time went on.”
The Carrs purchased ointment at a Chinese pharmacy. It seemed to help, but the rash continued to spread around his body. They thought they could deal with the illness after they returned to the United States, but going through customs in Detroit became a problem. The couple spent hours talking by phone and exchanging photos with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eventually, the Carrs were allowed to take Ethan home, with the promise they had a doctor’s appointment already scheduled for the following day.
Ethan’s condition proved more severe than expected and he was admitted to Sarasota Memorial for treatment.
“Fortunately, they let Bethany sleep in the room with him and it was a good two days of bonding for him to seek comfort while he was in there,” Nate Carr said. “His condition improved rapidly and they discharged him right around noon on Christmas Eve. We even made it to church.”
That also meant Nate, Bethany and Ethan could join Ethan’s new brothers, Austin and Evan, for a first Christmas together as a family.
When Mote Ranch resident Meg Garo was 5 years old and living in Brooklyn, N.Y., she woke up at 5 a.m. Christmas morning, looked and saw that Santa had not come so she burst into her parents’ bedroom in tears.
“I was told that his sleigh broke down and he was late,” Garo said. “I was sent back to bed and wasn’t allowed to get up until 7 a.m. He had been there and gone by then.”
SPECIAL TO SANTA
Tara Golf and Country Club’s Vonda Johnson hopes her story will inspire others to believe in the “miracle of Christmas.” In fact, she recorded this story Dec. 9, 1995 as a testament of that for her grandchildren.
She remembered when, "I knew that Santa Claus would find me no matter where I lived. I was 7 years old when my little sister, brother and I went to live in a big house (orphanage) with many other children. In fact, there were so many children that I did not know if Santa Claus would ever know which child I was on his list.
"Christmas Eve arrived and when I was in my bed I closed my eyes very tightly and made a wish, oh so hard, that Santa Claus would bring me just one present. I didn’t care what he brought me as long as he remembered and would find me. Christmas morning came and the kind lady who watched over all the children, Ms. Muffin, told us there was a great surprise in the big kitchen. We all rushed around to put on our clothes and brush our hair and teeth. I ran down the stairs with all the other children.
"I could hardly believe the sight I saw! For there stood the tallest and most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever seen. Under the tree were beautifully wrapped packages, baskets spilling over with candy canes and sacks filled with oranges and apples. I saw with all the other children, my little sister and brother wide eyed in anticipation. I had to sit quietly and patiently as she began to pass the packages to each child.
"Finally it was my turn to receive the long awaited gift. I held out my arms and Ms. Muffin placed a long package in them. I slowly opened the package and there it was! The most beautiful doll baby, dressed in pink, with a soft blue blanket in which to wrap her.
"I knew at that special moment that Santa Claus heard my wish and he would always hear my wishes no matter where I lived. It was a very special Christmas.
UNEXPECTED HOLIDAY SWIM
In 2012, Lakewood Ranch's Robbie Seyler thought he would throw a Christmas party at his house in University Place.
Family and friends attended, and Seyler thought he would surprise his uncle, Pete Skouras, but instead, Seyler was in for a surprise of his own poolside.
"I went to push my uncle in the pool and he saw me coming toward him," Seyler said. "He moved out of the way last minute and I went into the pool instead."
PRESENTS AND A PRATFALL
Lakewood Ranch’s Tammy Jo Marek has one Christmas memory seared into her brain.
It was 1964, and Marek was 3. Santa Claus was her holiday hero. Someone in her family hired the man in red to visit the Marek household before Christmas so Marek could tell him what presents she wanted.
When he showed, Marek lost her mind.
He did the whole spiel, "Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas." He then sat on a wicker chair in the family’s living room — he tried to sit, anyway.
“We had these terrazzo floors, they were so slippery,” Marek said. “He sat on the edge of this chair, and over he went. He said, ‘Oh no!’ We said, ‘Santa, are you OK?’ We felt terrible.”
One leg of the chair smashed a hole through the room’s plaster wall. As terrible as the family felt, they also laughed hysterically once Santa assured them he was fine.
Marek never found out who was under the suit, but she will never forget his pratfall.
“Bless his heart,” she said.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
The Putnam family is preparing for their first Christmas as Lakewood Ranch residents, and they’re focusing on the giving aspect of the holiday season.
Jim and Alissa Putnam said that’s because they were blessed with kindness in the past. They have two children, son Drew, 15, and daughter Brooklyn, 12. Back in 2011, the family had moved from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Charleston, S.C. The move left them with less money for presents than usual, so the parents agreed to put the kids’ gifts on layaway at Target.
Alissa Putnam was the one who did the shopping. The Target employee she was dealing with was helpful, but Putnam sensed she was a little down. “You’re doing a great job, thank you!” Putnam assured the employee. That innocuous compliment seemed to lift her spirits immensely, Putnam said.
Two weeks later, Jim Putnam went to pick up the presents. Alissa got a call from him a few minutes later. She couldn’t believe what he told her.
“The presents were paid for already,” Alissa remembers. “It was totally taken care of, all of it.”
The Target had received large donations and put the money toward items on layaway, Jim told her. Alissa was in shock before realizing what happened. She went back to the store on her own.
She found the Target employee she had worked with before, and asked her if she was responsible for selecting the Putnam’s presents as ones to receive the donation.
The two hugged and thanked each other for the mutual kindness.