Sail Away Into the Holidays
Some years it’s easy to say good-bye and sometimes it is breathtakingly horrible. I think we all agree that 2020 was one for the books. As we crawl towards the finish line, hoping to make it through with our health and sanity, I can truly say that the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation has found grace and support as we continued to reach out to the at-risk children, Marines, and Vets who have become part of our family. We have not had many sandy toes and achy bodies from pushing our athletes into the waves, but we have been able to reach out on land through our virtual Ocean Therapy sessions. In the fall, we returned to Camp Pendleton and added a great group of Vets from Warrior Foundation Freedom Station in San Diego. We have stayed in touch with all of our agencies and they are all hoping to return to the beach with us, as soon as it is safe to do so. I am so honored that our volunteers found new ways to help, by sending notes and letters to our military participants, and by cleaning their closets and donating wetsuits, boards and all things surf. When we get back to the beach, we will have new equipment, larger boards and wetsuits for all!
As I sit down to write this, I wonder how this year would have affected Jimmy. Like most of us, he would have searched for surf and probably found an exotic place to stay. But he would have returned home for the holidays, as he loved this season of family and giving. Below is a little collage of our last holiday seasons.
We took a magical trip to Puerto Escondido that I shared with you in an earlier blog. Jim truly adored that family vacation, and when he came home, decided he would pursue a new skill. He was teaching himself to paint and he began painting like a man possessed. Whenever I would call, he would grab the phone and excitedly describe what he was working on. That last Christmas, I was told I couldn’t just stop by his compound on Franklin Street in the weeks preceding the big day. It was a busy time, so I didn’t give it much thought.
When Christmas Eve finally arrived, we made plans for Jimmy to come to our house the next morning. Not too early. However, we knew he would be up most of the night….because he never lost the childish wonder of waiting for the first light of morning and turning on the Christmas music, while he opened his stocking. We always asked Santa to put a lot of fun stuff in his giant red stocking, so it would give us a few more minutes to sleep before he came bounding up the stairs to let us know it was time to open all the presents. And, at 34…he still arrived early and ready to roll. As Jeff, Jim, my mom (the Booster) and I stumbled down the stairs, he seemed especially excited to get going. We ate our bacon and sweet rolls, and followed our tradition of handing one gift at a time to each person, and then we all watched as we opened our presents. As the number of gifts dwindled, I noticed that no-one had opened a present from Jimmy, and thought to myself, “that’s strange.”
Sure enough, when the last present had been opened, he excitedly announced, “ And now is time for my presents to you,” and we all piled into his huge red beast (I can’t remember the make of the giant truck he had just purchased online, perhaps you do! Maybe it was a Suburban?). Mom and I sat in the front with Jimmy. Jeff and Jim, sat squished in the back seat.
As we approached El Segundo, Jimmy was singing carols and was as excited as could be. We parked in front of the house, went up the stairs through the decorated patio, ablaze with lighted surf boards and poinsettias, and he threw open the door.
His apartment was sparkling and he had decorated a great tree with some of our old ornaments: the silver snowflakes with our names on the back and ones that he hand-made in the past years. The first thing I noticed was a brilliant painting that captured the sea, the sun and the giant sailfish I caught on our last vacation, with a teensy bit of help from Jimmy. The sailfish was jumping straight out of the water, towards the sun. On the bottom of the painting, the word MEXICO was splashed in the brightest yellow print. He also wrote me a beautiful letter with a vivid description of our adventure.
It’s funny, but I can’t remember what anyone else got that morning, because I was so touched by his rendering of one of the most magical moments we ever had together. Jimmy was a man of so many talents and passions. When he wanted to do anything, he threw his whole being into learning and creating and sharing. What a gift.
Jimmy was gone by the following Christmas, leaving a hole in our hearts and souls. So many unanswered questions.
I look at that painting every day. I can feel his arms around me while firmly helping me maneuver the fishing rod while I slowly reeled that magnificent sailfish to the boat. We let it run, while patiently bringing it closer and closer.
“Tranquilo, mom,” he would say. When he finally helped me reel the fish on to the deck of the boat, he said a little prayer for its life. Then, we headed to the distant shore to share our fish with the villagers who waited on the beach to see each day’s catch, and barter to buy the prized delicacy. We shared our bounty with the villagers and had the best holiday meal ever!
We said good-bye to 2004 in a daze of disbelief and sorrow. We will say good-bye to 2020 with relief. The years between have been challenging, wonderfully inspirational, trying, and yes, eventually so filled with love and accomplishment for a shared mission in Jimmy’s name. As always, I will end by saying we could not have made it through the ups and downs of this life, without all of you. You keep Jimmy in your hearts each time you share the passion for surfing and surprising our participants with the many gifts of the ocean.
Happy Holidays! Enjoy this collage and perhaps go out and paint a fabulous picture for someone you love. Gifts from the heart are the best gifts of all. There is no better way to start, than just do it!
With so much love this holiday season. With faith and belief that 2021 will bring health and healing to all.
** Congrats to Chris and Laura Brown on the birth of Taylor James Brown.
**RIP sweet April 28th. Jimmy’s birthdate rescue kitty