December 16th, 2013
The Story of Carmen, The Joseph Family Christmas Camel
Pappy rarely left the Wheeling area. Other than when he was in the army, he only traveled outside of the Wheeling area to visit my aunt and cousins in Arizona or pick them up from the Pittsburgh airport when they would come to visit. During one of his last visits to Arizona, they took a brief trip to Las Vegas and, while there, visited Caesars Palace which had live camels on display that day. To put it mildly, the live camels amazed him. Well, the following Christmas my mother found a four-foot tall stuffed camel at a local hobby shop while Christmas shopping. That camel was my grandfather's Christmas gift that year and became my grandfather's favorite gift ever not only because of its meaning to his heritage, but because of the joy he experienced playing with his grandchildren and that silly camel. My cousins, Krista and Kellie, now each the mother of two, were little and named the camel Carmen. We have no idea where they came up with that name, but Pappy was not going to change it. I can remember the joy on his face while they dressed her up and played with her.
We lost my grandfather to lung cancer a few years after Carmen joined our family. She went to live with my cousins after his death, eventually retiring to my aunt's attic once the kids lost interest in her. One thing was for certain though, she was never going to leave our family. I was supposed to take custody of her while I was living in Charleston, but she never made the trip. She recently came out of her retirement home to help my aunt celebrate "hump day" at her office. Instead of going back to her former-retirement home, Carmen came to live with me and is currently keeping me company in my office and reminding me of what Christmas really means.
Christmas is not about shopping and parties and gifts. Christmas is about family and memories of times past and beloved family members lost. While I think of Pappy daily and miss him more than anyone could imagine, Christmas-time brings special memories. I only spent one Christmas away from my grandfather while he was on earth. That year, my grandparents decided to spend Christmas with my cousins, Travis and Chad, in Arizona and I was, to put it mildly, devastated. On Christmas Eve my mom told me I could call my grandfather to get his special salad dressing recipe while she ran an errand. She was gone for about two hours. Imagine her surprise when she got a long-distance phone bill for the entire time she was out when the call shouldn't have taken longer than 5 minutes. If I couldn't be with Pappy, I was going to talk to him as long as I could. I will also never forget my first attempt to bake Christmas cookies on my own. My snickerdoodles came out hard as a rock and were virtually inedible. Pappy, however, ate every single one because I had made them. Pappy also had a way of sneaking away after Christmas Eve dinner to help make Santa's job that night a little easier. Pappy would do anything in his power for his grandchildren and loved them more than words can express.
I was the most fortunate of my cousins because of the length of time I had with Pappy and the amount of time we spent together. Because he had just retired, he became my primary after-school caregiver when I started school. We lost Pappy the November after my high school graduation. My youngest cousin was not even an idea at the time and his sister was only six-months old. I hate the fact that half of my cousins have only vague, if any, memories of him but I know without a doubt that he is bursting with pride watching them from heaven. My mother and I talk often about what he would have thought of his grandchildren's accomplishments and activities. That first-generation American who worked as a laborer the majority of his life has nine grandchildren, all of whom have graduated (or will soon graduate) from college, several with post-graduate degrees. He already has eight great-grandchildren who, if early signs are any indication, will far exceed the accomplishments of the earlier generation. His legacy lives on in his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all of whom, whether they know it or not, mimic him in their ideals, values and actions.
Carmen, the Christmas Camel, is a symbol of my grandfather, his strength, his integrity and his legacy. She reminds us of what is important - family, honesty, integrity, hard work and valuing the simple things in life. I feel honored to have been entrusted with her care and will make sure she is around for the Joseph family's future generations so they can know Michael Nimon Joseph. While she will eventually go home with me, she is hanging out at Bordas & Bordas for a little while reminding me of my grandfather and the values he held dear and reminding all of us of the values we should strive to implement daily. (Plus, she's looking forward to the perfect opportunity to help Bordas & Bordas celebrate "hump day.")