As Carl Morgan gazed at the homes trimmed in Christmas lights, the gleam in his eyes seemed to be powered from within, suggesting a youthful energy at the heart of the old Navy veteran.
Morgan, 96, of Lake Forest was one of four hospice patients offered a tour of holiday lights by limousine in Orange County as part of an inaugural program called Holiday Lights and Limos offered by 24/7 Care At Home, a hospice provider based in Westminster.
The occasion gives patients a chance to take a tour of intricate holiday house displays for free in a limousine with their families.
Before the tour Monday night, while seated in a chair in his Lake Forest home, Morgan recounted his younger days in the Navy during World War II.
With the help of his daughter Chris Mantey, Morgan told about being on a ship in the Pacific that was damaged after colliding with another ship that was attempting to evade bombs dropped from a Japanese fighter.
As he told the story his eyes welled with moisture.
The electricity was damaged in the ship and Morgan, an electrician first class, needed to revive the power. The ship also took on water at an alarming rate, measuring hip-deep at one point.
It took a week or two to repair the damage, Morgan said.
After the story, it was time to enter the limousine.
Volunteer carolers lined up on Morgan's driveway belting out Christmas tunes while Morgan slowly ambled toward the limo with the aid of a walking stick and his live-in caregiver, Ping Agapito. A small red carpet was rolled out for the occasion.
Morgan was helped into the limousine and seated next to healthcare professionals in case of an emergency. Mantey and her family sat opposite Morgan.
Then the limo was off to tour the lights of select neighborhoods in Mission Viejo, Laguna Hills and surrounding areas.
Morgan was incredulous throughout the trip at the thought that the entire event could be in his honor. He hadn't been in a limo since his Navy days.
"Whoever thought of this is my pal," Morgan said.
Bundled in a University of Southern California (his alma mater) Trojans blanket, Morgan's expression warmed at the sight of homes festooned in lights despite the cold gripping at him from the open window.
"Boy, look at that one, gee whiz," Morgan exclaimed at the sight of a particularly well-decorated home.
"I'll be darned" and "holy cow" were also uttered.
Neighborhood children gaped at the limousine.
"They think you're famous, Dad," Mantey said.
A smile fixed itself on Morgan's face.
Family also shared stories and anecdotes about Morgan, like how he used to make $78 a month in the Navy and sent all but $10 back home to his mother, or about growing up with 10 brothers and one sister.
At the end of the tour, Morgan was ushered back into his home for family photos to commemorate the event.
"This was more than special for me," Morgan said.
Niece Nardini, human resources director for 24/7 Care At Home, said she started the limo program in 2008 while working for a hospice in Minnesota.
During the six-year lifespan of the program in that region, it grew from a handful of rides to 25 in its final year. Due to its success, she decided to bring the idea to Southern California.
The program is volunteer-run and based on donations, including the limousines.
"Once someone is diagnosed, it's really difficult for families to take them out for a joyful event without the fear of something going wrong," Nardini said, pointing out that the goal of the event is to offer patients an evening of joy.