Meet our Team #VASuperheros

Mystery, Sadness, Hope, Loyalty, & Inspiration – a collection of holiday stories from our team

Every year at the holidays, I like to share a more personal story or anecdote within the company newsletter. This year, I reached out to the amazing team that I am blessed to have around me and asked them if they would like to share a story. Below, you will find a story of sadness turned to hope, one of loyalty and firsts, and one of mystery. I hope you enjoy them as I have. We all wish you a Peaceful Christmas that makes many lasting memories. ~ Denise

 Alone at Christmas ~ Deanne Duncan

The thing I remember the most about growing up at the Jersey Shore was the beach. It didn’t matter the reason or the season-true residents of the Shore went to the beach no matter when it was. Something about the salty spray, or maybe the fact that the seagulls never seemed to leave, or it could’ve been the lingering smells of summer in the coldest weather. There was always something magical or powerful about the Atlantic Ocean, and I truly loved it.

Christmas of 2003 was going to be rough for me personally. I was 17 and I felt like I was heading nowhere with my life. I had convinced my friend – who was only 18 at the time – to get an apartment with me at the Jersey Shore as the prospect of living alone wasn’t appealing. I was working at a pet store, and I absolutely LOVED my job. I got to work and take care of puppies every day. It was simply the best!

With Christmas on the horizon, the pet store I worked at was inundated with puppies. There were over 100 puppies in the store! It was crazy and hectic, but, honestly, adorable. Since I was alone, I volunteered to take the Christmas Eve and Christmas shift. I only had to come in, clean up, and give the dogs love and affection for a while on these days. I really needed the money then, but what I didn’t realize was how much I also needed the unconditional love.

Christmas Day dawned bright, clear, and icy. I walked in silence in the salty wind across the bridge contemplating my life and how I could get back on track. I missed my family and wanted nothing more than to not be alone. Approaching the door, I noted that one cage was open, and a HUGE Bernese Mountain puppy was tearing apart the store and causing havoc. I entered and grabbed her, and began crying. She had just made so much more work for me! I just wanted to hurry up and get my work done then go home. I was gripping her fur and noticed the softness. In this moment, this pup was something that loved me for being there. She was vibrating with energy and licking my hand. And I got a crazy idea.

Before I could think better of it, I opened ALL the cages. Yes, ALL OF THEM!  And I let the puppies roam the store. They crowded me, knocked me over, I was covered in wet puppy noses, puppy smell, and sloppy kisses. LOTS of kisses. I rolled around on the floor and played and cried and they licked my tears away. The loneliness in my chest eased, and I got courageous. I decided to use the store phone to call my family.

I called my sister and wished her a Merry Christmas. We cried and spoke, all the while puppies overflowing on my lap. I used their happy energy, their rambunctiousness, their love to bolster my courage. I called my Aunt and asked if I could come home. She said yes, and that made me cry even more. I sat there, surrounded with puppies, crying now tears of happiness instead of sadness. I would see my family, I wouldn’t have to be alone on Christmas. I got up, washed my face and hands, and did my job.

Later that night, I sat in front of the family tree and looked at my sister and my cousins. I was so happy we got to spend the day together. We ate, we joked, and for a moment, things were light and normal. I was happy. I thank that job and those puppies for giving me courage, for taking away my loneliness, and for helping me see things a bit more clearly. That Christmas was one of my happiest, even though I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I will never forget what those puppies helped me accomplish with reconnecting with my family. Their love, their affection, made me not feel so defeated. It’s truly a gift to have family and people you love around you at the holidays.

Then and Now ~ Andrea Braswell

It doesn’t snow every year in Charlotte, but it snowed the first winter in our new house. A stray gray cat in the neighborhood holed up under our shed, and went into labor just before the first flakes fell. Another cat, a small black girl that we had never seen before, came and stood guard in front of the shed. Not having cat food, we put pieces of hotdog and chicken out for the cat to eat. The black cat took the pieces of meat in her mouth and ducked under the shed to give to the pregnant cat. As the snow got worse, the black cat stayed in front, sitting on a snowdrift. Sadly, the kittens didn’t survive the freezing temperatures, and the gray cat soon left. The black cat stuck around, especially after we bought a bag of cat food, and three years later, this loving little cat has grown into a sweet adult that takes up the whole foot of our bed.

This year, 2016, will be my daughter’s first Christmas. My husband and I have tried to take her to as many holiday events as possible for the start of new family traditions. Before the first weekend of December we already attended to a tree lighting ceremony, a Santa workshop, the annual Christmas festival, and, of course, a visit with a mall Santa. When it was our turn for her to sit on Santa’s lap, my husband, my parents and I all stayed nearby as I placed her down. She turned her head and took one look at this white-bearded stranger’s face and burst into tears. All four of us tried everything – singing and cheering and making funny faces – but nothing quieted the wails nor slowed the stream of tears. She finally calmed down after she was safely back in my arms. Maybe we’ll get a smile next year!

Christmas Mystery ~ Norah Julmis

Back in the 90’s when I was a small child, I remember sitting with my family around our Christmas tree. My father started a tradition of filming our family unwrapping our gifts with a massive, over the shoulder VHS camera. Shortly after we were underway unwrapping our gifts, my mother noticed she was missing a slipper. Her remaining slipper was white and resembled a bunny. I recall her blaming both my sister and I, as well as the dog, for the disappearance of her slipper, thinking we had hidden it for fun. By the end of the day we still couldn’t find that slipper. For years, no one thought of the incident again.

Fast forward several years when I was in college. I had come home for the holidays and decided it might be fun to go back and watch old movies of when we were young. I collected the old VHS tapes from the past 20 plus years, and one by one went through them, relishing old memories. After a few hours, a familiar Christmas morning appeared on the screen. I watched as my family from 1994 appeared at the top of our stairs, dressed in our pajamas. My father asked us what day it was, and we shouted back “IT’S CHRISTMAS!” I watched as we bounded down the stairs and into our living room to the tree with presents all around. I saw the excitement as I opened a gift. It was a new dollhouse. At that moment, my father panned the camera over to my mother and sister sitting on the love seat. It was then that I recalled the incident with the slipper that Christmas morning. And now, from another perspective, I watched my mother pick up her slipper from the floor and toss it in a trash bag immediately after a handful of wrapping paper. Finally, after many years, we had found our answer to the missing bunny slipper.