My experience in Charleston so far has been nothing short of magical. Sure, I love traveling alone and I’ve been to Chucktown by myself several times. But there’s just something extra special about this trip. Maybe it was because the ride up was smooth and almost worry-free, save for the hotel being listed incorrectly and getting a bit lost. Maybe it was the fact that I was able to find a decent pair of shoes in six minutes flat at a giant outlet mall.
Then I realized that’s not it at all. It’s simply because I was able to spend time with my extended family that I haven’t seen in many years.
I arrived at the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s wine tasting event at Freshfields Village about 30 minutes ahead of them and was able to try about nine different wines. I tried one of the last tables first, just because it was the closest to me and found two of my favorite wines right off the bat: a crisp, fruity riesling and a sweet, smooth muscat canelli.
I was surprised and elated to realize that my Uncle Fleming and Aunt Lee McClinton were there with my cousins Melanie and John Richardson. I hadn’t seen my aunt and uncle in many, many years, and they looked just as I had remembered them. Seeing all of them brought back great memories of having slumber parties with Mel at her parents’ place. It was such a beautiful experience. Of course, all of Mel’s kids were an absolute joy. Kai was the unwitting star of the day and seemed to act like it, even though she didn’t know she would get her wish granted.
Little Kai was diagnosed while Mel was pregnant with a heart condition that only allowed three chambers of her tiny heart to work properly. At just three days old, she had her very first surgery. The countless hospital visits forced my cousin’s family to move to Charleston. She was put on a waiting list to receive a new heart and, at just five years old, she had a heart transplant. She is now doing really well and is able to keep up with her three brothers.
We all grabbed food and started doing some more wine tasting. I realized that this was the first time in about 20 years I had one-on-one time with my cousin Melanie and the first time ever I had with John. It was absolutely fabulous. One vineyard owner must have noticed the attention the Richardsons were getting from the Make-A-Wish folks and stopped by, grabbed our glasses and said “We are changing lives one glass at a time.” Oh, how right he was. He poured a private label “Disney World” wine called Abrazzia Magicale Brachetto. It was a sparkling red and it was absolutely divine.
Then the wish-granting presentation began. The family gathered in front of the stage and I joined the “paparazzi” in the front row. For the most part, the children were calm and, I think, a bit in shock as they realized that they would be going to Disney World the first week of summer vacation. They will have a special meet-and-greet with Princess Tiana, Kai’s favorite from “The Princess and the Frog.” Little Kai received, as part of her wish to be a princess, a Tiana costume. However, the balloons she received were her favorite part of the gift.
As I reveled in this moment, I was reminded of the importance of appreciating not only the gift of life but all of the small things that make people happy.