Christmas Memories

I love these quiet days between Christmas and New Year’s.  It’s a resting place to review the old year and get ready for the new; a time for reflection and remembrance.

I think of my grandfather, Robert Sinclair Swanson, who died on his sixty-eighth birthday, Christmas Day, 1958. I was ten, so I remember it all clearly.  We called him PopPop. He had had a heart attack years before and was forced to leave his business and “rest.”  Nowadays he’d be given a treadmill and a Fitbit and told to get moving.  The forced inactivity was hard on him and even harder on our grandmother. 
But that Christmas Day all was well. The whole family met at Uncle Jack’s. There were piles of presents; PopPop always insisted that he be given both a Christmas gift and a birthday gift, but since he was delighted with a ball of string or a new pencil his wishes didn’t strain our budgets. There was birthday cake and singing. He carved the turkey and after dinner plucked the carcass clean, ready for the soup pot, and made packets of white meat and dark for each family to take home for sandwiches.  When the day was over and we got in our car to leave, my mother said, “Oh, wait—I didn’t say good night to PopPop,” and she ran back for a quick hug and a thank you for the wonderful day.  When we got home the phone was ringing.  Mom picked it up and said, before even hanging up,“Bob, get back to Jack’s—your dad’s had a stroke.” 

And that was that.  He had been sitting with my cousin John on his lap. He made a funny noise that my grandmother at first thought was to amuse John, then he put his head back and was gone.  It was sad for us and shocking but a perfect end to a life well-lived.

This is a picture from the day after Christmas the year before that one.  Santa had brought my brother Alan a set of trains and PopPop declared himself conductor in chief.  You can see he’s in his element with two little boys, my brother Robby and cousin Danny, on his lap and several big boys ready to do his bidding.  That’s me in the gray sweater, the boys are Alan’s friends.  Where’s Alan?  He’s upstairs asking Mom, “When is PopPop going home?” 
I recently asked Alan what he remembers about that day.  He said, “PopPop was a very grandfatherly grandfather and he loved to do boy things.  It was great to watch how he did it all so carefully, putting the tracks together and connecting the engines to the cars. Then we’d start it up, and then we’d stop at the station..start and then stop. It was great.  But slow. Eventually you want… well…there are two engines and what if we make them crash?”

Mom was always thankful that she went back to say good-bye on that last night. I think she was also thankful that she never told PopPop about Alan’s question.  She just told Alan to be patient. When I look at this picture I see a man having a wonderful time and I’m glad he had those moments.  I think Alan’s glad, too.

Gifts; Giving and Receiving

It’s the season for gift giving and I’m sorry that it’s often more of a chore than an act of love.  Lately it’s become an act of war, with people using pepper spray and trampling their fellow shoppers. What could Wal-Mart have that’s so precious?

Here are some of my thoughts on gifts and their complications.

In the Nativity story the Wise Men bring gifts to Baby Jesus and then it says “but Mary took these things and kept them in her heart.”   I always thought Mary was stealing Jesus’s birthday presents. It took me a long time to get over my suspicions about her and understand that there are gifts that don’t get wrapped in paper.

When I was eight I stayed with my  grandparents for a long visit.  They gave me some chores to do and I saved up the money I earned.  It was the first time I was allowed to walk around town by myself so I went shopping  and bought a present for my grandmother– a teacup with lilies of the valley.  That was her favorite flower, because Jesus was called the lily of the valley.  She opened it and shed a few happy tears and then my grandfather said “That’s a present for me, too.”

Uh oh.    Should I have gotten something for him, too?  Does he feel left out?  Is he mad?  Am I in trouble?

It took me years to understand that seeing me make her happy brought him Joy.  When you give a gift you don’t know how many people you’re actually giving it to.

 You know what they say about passing things on?  How you never know how something you don’t use anymore can be someone else’s treasure? This leads me  to my mother’s mink stole.

 

My father brought it home from work one day–he couldn’t wait for Christmas.  She was thrilled.  She danced around the living room and gave Dad a very nice kiss. She wore it for years and then stoles went out of style.  It stayed in the back of the closet until she wore it to a Hallowe’en party where a friend, Mrs. B, looked at the stole with longing and said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted a mink stole.”   And Mom said, “Here, it’s yours.”

The next day Mom ran into Mr. B.   “That mink stole!” he said.  “She came into the bedroom in the stole, her high heels and nothing else!  Ginny, thank you for a wonderful night!”

Then there’s the way we receive our gifts.  My mother and my grandmother and grandfather  knew how to accept a gift with joy, but I had another lesson in the way to appreciate a gift from a little baby.   That’s appropriate to the season, don’t you think?

We were visiting my friend Valerie to meet her son Ted for the first time.   Ted was about a year old, so we bought him a little wooden car.   We didn’t have time for wrapping so we made a big wad of the paper bag and gave it to Ted.   He was delighted with the gift of a big wad of paper and played with it until he discovered the little car and that was even more delightful!

May we always be just as delighted with every gift we receive!  As I said in my title, I wish you all the gifts of this happy season, and I wish you joy in both giving and receiving.