September 1, 2011
-The lady at the other end of the phone was asking for ideas. The Incredible Christmas Place had a Dickens Festival coming up and wondered if I had some musicians or interesting characters they could use. I was about to close my small booking agency but told her I’d give it some thought. The Christmas Place has been a favorite of locals and tourists for years and the Inn has now been voted one of America’s best hotels!
My business had provided everything from Easter Bunnies in full costume to ‘hillbillies’ for individuals and organizations in or visiting East Tennessee. Since I didn’t want to be in the agency business any more, booking other acts and talent, could I come up with another character that I could do personally? One that would reflect the unique flavor of the establishment and have some sort of impact?
They already had a wonderful – and very popular - singing Santa Claus. People come year after year to visit with this particular Santa! They also didn’t need a Mrs. Clause or any elves. I mentally went through the Dickens characters, ruling them out. I know my limitations physically and as a performer. A sugarplum fairy? Not likely. At age 57, as I said, I know my limitations. A wind-up doll, perhaps. I had the robot moves down perfectly and had done that before. I would suggest that.
September 14th, 2011
- I was all set to suggest the doll and several other characters to the woman from Christmas Place but nothing I had come up with felt ‘inspired.’ Nothing felt quite right. I wasn’t enthusiastic about any of the ideas or suggestions from myself or others, but I was busy enough and didn’t really need this job.
In the past, I had an instinctive feel for what would ‘work’ in any given situation, as a performer and in marketing, although sometimes I was surprised. Actors often take chances and can sometimes ‘grow into a character.’ Maybe playing a doll would be fun, I thought to myself as I got ready for bed one night, but I still wasn’t excited about the idea. I was just trying to talk myself into it. “Well, if it’s supposed to happen, it will,” I thought to myself as I climbed into bed.
I prayed and during the night, I had a dream. In the dream I was reminded that I had played the part of an Angel in a children’s play I had written and directed years ago, while at the University of Wisconsin. I awoke knowing that I was again going to be an angel. Why hadn’t I thought of it before?? An angel would represent the real ‘reason for the season’ and was perfect. NOW, I was excited.
October 1, 2011
-The lady who originally called me loved the idea of an angel – as I knew she would - and I got busy designing a costume. With the help of Continuous Threads, a sewing shop in Oak Ridge, TN, we designed several looks, including a blue and white ’snow angel,’ but it was the luminous, baroque, gold-trimmed costume that captured the look of the tree-top angel and complimented the old-world theme of the Incredible Christmas Place. The lady who hired me, Kristy, was totally on board with the idea and made my ‘halo’ exactly as I envisioned; a crown of holiday greenery, with red berries and tiny, twinkling lights interwoven.
As an angel in the production so long ago, I had quoted the Christmas story as it is written in the Bible. Perhaps this time, I would be a silent angel, smiling down from above….or perhaps offering some sort of gift to people…? This would take some thought and planning.
They didn't discuss this on Career Day in high school...
October 24, 2011
-My first day as an angel.....Kristy, (the lady who hired me), another employee and I are talking when I 'feel' someone staring at me. I turn and a lone woman sitting on a bench inside the store is watching me intently. I am drawn to her. "Excuse me," I say to my companions and walk in her direction.
Introducing myself, I ask if she's been 'touched by an angel' recently.' She takes my hand, almost gratefully, but seems to be having trouble speaking and has tears in her eyes. Another woman, her sister, appears and tells me that they have both just recently lost another beloved sister. They tell me that Christmas Place was the departed sister's all-time favorite store to visit and that this third sister collected angels. They said that seeing me there was almost a sign, for them, that everything was all right....
I have a Masters Degree in Educational Psychology and some experience in grief counseling, so I spoke quietly with the two women, who left smiling. I hope it helped….
-One of my favorite things to do is talk to children. The littlest ones who might be somewhat afraid of Santa don’t seem to be afraid of me and many will eagerly approach me as they might a Disney princess. Some will break free of their parents to run and hug me. Some will stop dead in their tracks as they spot me. One little boy continued walking behind the adults but his eyes were glued to me. As the adults stopped, he failed to notice and ran into them. I suppressed a giggle and waved to him from my position on the landing.
Sometimes I'll offer folks a fluffy, white feather and I'm often asked to pose for a picture with a child or children. At times, I'll get down to their level and ask, wide-eyed, if they're angels too. Often I’ll touch the backs of their coats, pretending to be looking for ‘wings.’ Some will absolutely assure me that they are angels indeed. Often a nearby parent will beg to differ.
I also enjoy the teens. The teen-age years are such a roller-coaster, often involving way more questions than answers. So many adopt a jaded and world-weary attitude at such a young age that I worry about them. But I have been able to ‘engage’ most, through humor, direct eye contact and of course, the miracle of Christmas itself. Christmas Place celebrates the joy of the season all year long and that spirit seems to permeate and penetrate even the most hardened souls.
November 5, 2011
-Angel mischief; The corner where the Inn, the restaurant and the store come together features mannequin-like carolers, their air-brushed faces frozen in concert, holding their songbooks. They are grouped together facing the street, standing in their winter clothes.
Today I slipped in amongst them, standing stock-still, with my feather wings and gossamer garb. A group of visitors were approaching the corner to cross the street, paying no attention to the silent choir. When they came close, I stepped out and said hello. They all started laughing loudly, reacting to the unexpected. How fun! Now I'm occasionally doing this for the traffic stopped at the light on the corner! Surprise!
Inside the store, one of my favorite things to do is to 'hide' behind a free-standing display of merchandise. Standing still, I blend in from one side while people look at the music boxes, floral arrangements and ornaments in a row from the other side. Then they see my face or I'll wave at them, they realize that I am 'real' and have a good laugh!
As people enter the store, there is a large white tree draped with lights. There is a contest to see if anyone can guess how many lights are on the tree. As customers slowly gaze upwards, concentrating on estimating a number, sometimes they will see me looking back at them from my perch halfway up the stairs behind the tree! Sometimes someone will spot me first, then stand back and wait to see if the others see me or often they will point out the half-hidden angel above them. They all seem surprised and delighted! I love my job.
-It IS a job. Costumes can be hot – or cold - and cumbersome. I must constantly and unobtrusively hold the wings with one hand so they won’t fall awry, and to ‘guide’ them through the store without knocking down the fabulous displays. And keeping costumes clean and mended is a chore in and of itself, especially ethereal white ones.
Knowing how and when to pose effectively for pictures can be trying and often the requests for pictures come one right after another, very quickly. Sometimes I am bombarded. When it’s slower, I’ll offer to take pictures of the entire group with their camera, which is appreciated. (I’m a fairly good photographer!)
When I wave, it’s not the unfeeling, automatic, mechanical wave of the person holding the pizza signs out by the curb. I single out guests and look them in the eye until they wave back or at least smile (which is usually immediately). My goal is for them to come away with a little bit of that feeling of having been ‘touched by an angel.’
Staying in character and having enough improvisational skills to ‘entertain’ as well as converse at all age levels takes concentration, finesse and practice, but I enjoy it.
I rarely take breaks although if I need to, it is in my contract. I love what I am doing and feel that I should be present when the crowds are there. I have great stamina, relatively comfortable shoes and a strong bladder. The truth is that going to the bathroom or even sitting down is somewhat complicated while wearing wings and flowing sequined sleeves.
November 12, 2011
-Some people smile and say "You LOOK like an angel!" - and I wonder how they know...? How do they know what an angel really looks like? Have they seen a REAL angel? Or maybe this is what they have seen in pictures.... Or perhaps I resemble the one on the top of their own tree? My costume was conceived partly from pictures, tree-top angels and depictions that I have seen throughout the years. But Michael, the archangel would be ‘fierce-looking,’ wouldn’t he be? Sorry, I just can’t do ‘fierce….’ It’s not in my repertoire.
-Sometimes I 'light' on the landing just inside the main entrance to the store. Other times, I am on the balcony outside. As an 'angel,' I feel comfortable in these 'elevated' areas, but, often people don't look up. Some are so busy talking or in such a hurry to get where they're going that they see nothing except what's directly in front of them.
They don't notice the bells ringing or the nativity or the toy soldiers. But, I think, if they looked up, and if they took notice of the world around them, they would be surprised. If they looked up, I would send a feather down to them. I would wave and smile. I would notice them and they would notice me - and maybe they would notice a whole lot of other things too. Maybe this is a metaphor for real life. Maybe we all need to look upward more often, and not just to find an angel but to look even higher.
Luke 21:28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.
-During a conversation with a lady, I told her I was going to look for some food. She asked me what angels ate. I replied “Angel Food Cake,” but in reality, I was going hunting for my stash of leftover Halloween Butterfingers. Just before I left this evening she brought me this handwritten recipe;
· 1 1/2 cups water
· 1 cup heavy cream
· 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, or to taste
· 3/4 cup uncooked white rice
· 2 cups crushed pineapple, drained
· 1 (10.5 ounce) package miniature marshmallows
· 1 (4 ounce) jar maraschino cherries, halved
Bring water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool completely. In a big bowl, combine pineapple, rice, marshmallows, cherries and about a tablespoon cherry juice. In another bowl, whip the cream until peaks form. Slowly add confectioners sugar (Or you can use Cool Whip) then fold whipped cream into rice mixture. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Thank you Mrs. Brendan from Cleveland!
November 13, 2011
-My parents came to visit me from Wisconsin. I like to have them be a part of my life and this job was something they couldn't quite grasp, so I had them come down to the store to see the angel 'in action.' The first thing they noticed was the number of people who wanted their picture taken with me - children AND adults. They saw eyes light up and the smiles from everyone. It was a warm night and later they decided they would wait for me on a bench outside. Normally I finish up the evening on an illuminated balcony just above the entrance to the store, facing the road and courtyard, waving to people and the traffic on the Parkway. Sometimes I ‘freeze’ in place as people take pictures.
As my parents waited below me, they could hear the comments and see the reactions. Their favorite? Two men passing by were arguing about whether or not I was real. I actually saw the two men stop, turn around and look up, pointing and talking. My mother heard one say to the other "It’s amazing how lifelike they can make them look now days!”
Those same men came back later and again were gesturing and looking up, just below me this time. I suddenly leaned over, waved directly at them and they laughed, exclaiming “She IS real! How about that!” as they went on their way.
--One of the great things about my job is the people I get to work with. Without exception, the employees at Christmas Place are wonderful. Helpful and friendly to all, they seem to be on a mission to offer the best customer service possible, even in holiday crowds of thousands. In my ‘other life’ or at least my other career, I specialized in customer service training and public relations and I am proud to be associated with this level of excellence. And they all seem to be as happy to see an angel as the customers are!
-My parents are sure that I do indeed have a guardian angel looking after me. Looking back on my life, they’re probably right. The close calls I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned had to be from a higher source. I wonder if we all have guardian angels, as some believe? At any rate, I have always felt blessed. I hope my guardian angel(s) are pleased with my portrayal…..Speaking of portrayals, I got to meet Charles Dicken's great-great Grandson this evening. He was at the store and will be presenting a one-man show at the Inn later. How exciting!
November 14, 2011
-During Winterfest, the City of Pigeon Forge offers something called the Trolley Light Tours, originating at the Trolley Office near the Old Mill area. This narrated evening tour lasts about 45 minutes and takes passengers around the main part of town to see the light displays which are put up by the city. People often bring their cameras and marvel at the most unusual and/or beautiful decor. The manufactured snow at the Titanic was a big hit as were the animated tigers atop the building housing the magic show.
The Incredible Christmas Place and The Inn at Christmas Place, with their elaborate decorations and unique lighting are always a standout and people stare out the windows of the trolley, looking both to the left and right, trying to take it all in. As I am standing on the balcony this evening, I see what I'm sure is a Trolley light tour, with snowflake lights blinking, in the left lane, cruising slowly by. As I wave, I can instantly see the flashbulbs going off inside the vehicle, like caged paparazzi.
-I try to pay special attention to children, the elderly and the infirm. There are those who are obviously ill, wheelchair-bound or walking with canes.
At the hotel on Saturday, a very pale, emaciated, middle-aged man was sitting in a wheelchair while a woman called his attention to me. His eyes lit up but I could tell he was in pain. She wanted a picture of the man and I together and I moved in close for the shot. Telling him that he had indeed 'now been touched by an angel,' we all laughed and I 'floated' back across the street to the store. Today, that same woman saw me in the store and tearfully told me that the man had stage four lung cancer and would soon be going to visit the 'real angels.' She thanked me, told me that the picture would be a real source of comfort to her after he was gone and she would treasure it. In that instant, I felt as though my job were not just a job, but almost more of a ministry.
I hope the man is at peace.
-More angel mischief; Today I casually stood behind an older couple, checking in at the hotel. I patiently listened to the clerk (who was having trouble keeping a straight face), while standing close. As they turned around and came face to face with an ‘angel,’ they both began laughing. I have also slipped in and stood by the side of some people who were getting some ornaments personalized. The counter is fairly high and I watched, elbow to elbow, along with these customers, while others in the store waited to see what would happen when they noticed me. I’m sure they thought I was just someone trying to ‘crowd them’ or butt in line until they turned and looked at me. Everyone in line lightened up at that point.
I also hid on the third floor of the hotel. From my vantage point, I could perfectly see who was coming through the front door but unless you looked up, you didn’t know I was there. Some saw me and some didn’t, but often the ones who saw me would alert the ones who hadn’t seen me.
A little boy spotted me immediately as he came in the door and I waved. He tugged at his mothers arm. I could tell that he wanted to show her the ‘angel’ but I quickly disappeared around a corner. Then I peeked out again. He again saw me and more insistently tugged at her arm, pointing in my direction. Again I hid. Then I went downstairs and ‘appeared’ directly in back of him, blending in with the family. His yell of sheer delight upon discovering me was almost as amusing as his gleeful gloating to his mother that he did, indeed, see an angel!
Perhaps some angels elicit awe or fear. Or confusion. This one elicits smiles.
November 19, 2011
The kids; I love interacting with children. Tonight, when I asked one little guy if HE were an angel TOO, as I often do, with a twinkle in his eye he loudly replied “NO – I'M a LITTLE DEVIL!” and ran off. (It turns out that’s what Mamaw calls him!)
Another slightly older boy, surrounded by family members at the hotel, announced to me that he “didn’t believe in angels,” but burst out laughing when I indignantly asked him “What do I look like - the tooth fairy??”
Sometimes I will peer into the candy shop through a window and wave at the patrons. When one person sees me, they will often point me out to others and I can get everyone to wave back. Last week at one point, only one little girl saw the ‘angel in the window.’ I waved but she didn’t react. I made some goofy faces while I had her attention but she still didn’t react, so I went on around the corner about my business. A few minutes later, I saw her staring at me again out the other window, making those same goofy faces back at me!
Tonight while looking in the candy shop, I saw a guy surreptitiously take some candy from the backpack of a little girl he seemed to be with, eat some, then sneak it back into the backpack, still munching. Just then, he looked up and saw me in the window. I quickly pointed at him and mouthed “I SAW that!” Laughing, he put his hands up in the air as though he were busted, but then showed the little girl the angel in the window.
I must cross a busy street – the Parkway - to go between the hotel and the store. Each time, the cars backed up at the stop light all wave and smile. Some will roll down their windows and yell “Hi Angel!, Merry Christmas!” or something friendly. Some just seem to desperately want me to notice and acknowledge them – adults as well as children, and I do. Tonight someone yelled “God Bless You!” and indeed, I do feel blessed.
Only 37 days ‘til Christmas.
November 26th, 2011
Yesterday was black Friday. Today felt like black Saturday. There were SOOO many people around. Christmas Place was doing something special for kids today – decorate your own cookies and free hot chocolate, I think, plus rides on the tiny train out front. There had to have been at least a million children at Christmas Place when I was there!
That’s all right. As I have said before, I really enjoy interacting with kids. The only trouble was that I couldn’t get to all of them tonight; for pictures, to shake their hands, to wave….I was bombarded from all directions. I did manage to press my nose flat up against the window of the ice cream shop though, at one point, getting everyone inside to laugh.
And at the end of the night, as I was waving from the balcony, I was throwing ‘angel feathers’ down and kids would try to catch them, which was fun!
But I worked at another job today earlier, and my face is sore from so much smiling. My arm hurts from waving. Even though I’m wearing my most comfortable shoes, my feet are beginning to ache, but, the time goes quickly. It always does. And I know I wouldn’t trade this for anything. No matter how bad I might feel, I would do it all again for another four hours for just one little girl whose smile lit up the courtyard when she saw me.
Obviously thrilled to see me, she came bouncing over and I smiled back, taking her hand. She seemed perfectly comfortable, a little curious and somewhat chatty, but it seemed like she had something on her mind.
I asked if SHE were an angel too. “Well…not me…” she said, hesitantly, almost apologetically. She turned and looked momentarily at a woman standing nearby before continuing. “….but Nana is….and Papaw Blair is…and Grady….and ……”
She went on excitedly. “Could you give Papa Blair a message and can you tell Nana that we miss her – you might see her - and we love the flowers….and tell Grady …..” The messages went on but the lump in my throat was affecting my hearing.
This child had found a way to communicate with her loved ones who, most assuredly, reside in heaven. I listened intently, nodding, knowing that this was serious business and I had a lot to remember, in case I ran into them. She wanted to make sure I got it all but didn't want to take up too much of my time. Still, she was smiling so brightly and was so animated that I assured her that I would, indeed, tell them if I saw them.
And I will.
November 27, 2011
That little girl last night made quite an impression on me. Her faith was absolute and profound. How many of us know, with absolute certainty that there even IS a heaven? How many of us waver occasionally – because we are human? Those with unshakeable faith have even confessed to having had fleeting moments of indecision. Even John the Baptist had a ‘moment of doubt’ while in prison. But if, indeed, a child shall lead them, this child could have. What a blessing to have met her in this context.
December 3, 2011 - Upon Reflection
This is my last day as 'Joy,' the angel, here at the Incredible Christmas Place.
I go to the men’s lounge and ask if everyone there is ‘being good?’ They all reply in the affirmative, except for one man with a twinkle in his eyes. He tells me he’s growing horns instead of a halo!
I wave at the busy store clerks, whom I have come of think of as friends.
In the line waiting to see Santa, I ask the kids to tell Santa ‘Hello’ from the Angel and pose for pictures.
There is a children’s Christmas parade around the parking lot at the Inn, with Mickey, Minnie and other assorted costumed characters, led by none other than Santa! I hand out ‘angel feathers’ to adults and children afterward
My fingernails are golden – to match my angel costume. My false eyelashes have a special ‘sparkle edge’ to them or rhinestones affixed. My jewelry has been carefully selected to coordinate with my costume and my wig, flecked with ‘gold dust,’ was chosen to conceal the battery pack that powers the tiny lights in my halo.
In stage work, or with many other costumed characters, such detail is not always necessary. (It may not have been necessary here but I am known for going the ‘extra-mile’ and I wanted a very high quality for this character.)
In close-up work requiring direct interaction with guests, I think it is important to the illusion.
‘Joy’ is somewhat of a ‘high-maintenance’ character in that respect.
But playing this angel, where I was one-on-one with guests, and able to use everything I’ve learned in life so far, from counseling to teaching to customer service, not to mention theatrical techniques including costuming and improvisational skills, is one of the most memorable jobs I have ever held.
This job, more than any other, has reminded me to be thankful - and not just for my rather unique employment. It has also opened my eyes to the hunger we all have for beauty, humor, peace, a touch of heaven and more.
Most of all, it has touched the core of my own spirituality. I have been playing a character that I truly believe in – or at least all that she represents. It has been an honor and I’ll miss it.
But I hope I brought a little ‘JOY’ into the lives of the many I met this season and I want to thank Christmas Place for having me! Merry Christmas everyone!