Why do things sometimes last longer than people… and vice versa in a way?
I swiftly picked up and inverted the clear sphere with my hand before replacing it on its ceramic base. It was a snow globe from my grandmother, many years ago. I observed the artificial snow, disintegrating mildly leaving a faded echo snowstorm of dust, and the bubble of air at the top growing. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Why do I still have this? Why do I get this, but not my grandmother? I know that people are eternal, and this stuff won’t always be mine, but right now, all I’d really like is to go to my grandma’s cottage on Christmas Eve. I’d like to walk up the shoveled path to the door, smiling at the star on top of the house, and the large chunky string of multi-colored lights adorning the eaves like a festive necklace, and push the sticky front door open, hearing the soft sound of small wooden balls hitting taut metal strings of that noise-maker I never knew the name for. My mother would be right behind me and my sister, probably carrying our younger brother from the car, coaching us already for the seasonal greeting that depended on the time of year. In this case, it was “Okay, when we open the door and you see grandma, don’t forget to say, ‘Christmas gifts!’ ”
You know, I’m not sure if that was my mother’s or grandmother’s convention, but perhaps it was a variation of the Easter Sunday greeting and response. My mother grew up Presbyterian, and that tradition became part of my Christmas experience too.
But when we saw grandma come to meet us, not even the midnight candlelight Christmas Eve service could capture our thoughts. We would shed our winter coats and gear, exchange pleasantries, gather embraces like warm blankets about us, and settle in to catching up. This meant grandma and mom mostly talked, and my siblings and I found toys or looked around the cozy cottage for something to do. My first stop was the Christmas tree to size up the gifts and find my name on a label in grandma’s fancy old-fashioned script. No matter what it was, it looked just right underneath that tree. And that was my favorite place in the world. I would find an angle out of the way of traffic to the kitchen and put my head where all the gifts were, as if I were a present just waiting to be discovered. It wasn’t a real tree, or even anything that fancy or attractive as far as artificial Christmas trees go, but I was enchanted by the flashing lights and shiny baubles for ornaments. There were other particular favorites as well- I loved the birdhouse ornament that had a place for a Christmas light to be inserted, or the antique-looking ones that appeared as though they could be from my own mother’s childhood. But even after inspecting and re-inspecting the tree from all angles, nothing was like staring straight up at it from its base, as if it were an exotic starry galaxy of nebulas and shooting stars, the planets eclipsed by light in the distance. I wondered if this was how God felt observing everything, or if perhaps this was anything like the fairies’ domain I read about in numerous children’s books my grandmother possessed. Regardless, I just watched, and felt perfectly content and safe.
The only thing that shook my concentration were the commands from afar: “Rachel! It’s time for supper!” or “Do you still want to go to the midnight service? We should leave soon.” The former meant a pot each of Chili and Oyster Soup were simmering on the stove as our traditional Christmas Eve fare. There would be a bowl of ranch oyster crackers and sliced cheddar cheese on the bright red or Christmas-plaided tablecloth, and we’d all settle down together to eat in the kitchen at a dining room table that was apparently limitless; it was seemingly supernatural how many people you could fit around it. No matter what the crowd, there was always more room, always a spare chair more procured from the study, or the bedroom, or even the garage. The numbers varied from Christmas Eve to Christmas Eve, but it didn’t matter. We were there, and so was grandma, and usually one of my seven aunts and two uncles. Can you believe my mother was the tenth and final child of that group? Well, what I can easily believe is that my grandma had two hip replacements for a reason, and that she was saintly for having raised that many children and still being around to be my grandma.
She was a very frank woman. My earliest memories of her involved her being annoyed at me for rearranging all the bills on her end tables and setting what I thought was appropriate order to her things. She was always correcting my grammar or criticizing my personal appearance. “That’s quite a rat’s nest you’ve got there. Go and fetch a comb off my dresser and fix that.” I can see why my mother, the youngest of everyone and characteristically not obsessed with her appearance, was sometimes flustered by her mother correcting her daughter’s offspring. What’s funny is that I find myself more and more like my grandmother every day. Not that I comment on hair regularly (though I have been known to do so), but my siblings know I play a similar role in my own household. And I’m going to be an English teacher. Grandma never went to college, but had a rich oral tradition and literary knowledge that could rival an anthology of poetry and other works. She used to love to read. My mother was much the same, and studied English in college. For me, literature and poetry were about as commonplace as brushing my teeth and making my bed.
I never realized how lucky I was to have my grandmother recite “The Night Before Christmas” for my first eighteen Christmases until the nineteenth rolled around, and she wasn’t there. She passed on in October of 2007.
I miss you, grandma. I can’t wait to see you again. I thank God for the time I got to spend with you 🙂