Yesterday was the day my granddaddy died, in 1989. I was in Italy and, knowing that he was sick, had to choose between going home to see him then, or waiting to go home at Christmas as planned, trusting that he would still be there. Making two trips was not an option. I chose to wait and trust, so I was with the family for Christmas.
He wasn't there.
Today was my grandmother's birthday. She was born in 1915 or 1916. The court records said one thing, but years later she found that the family Bible said another. It's hard to imagine the family Bible having the wrong date for a birth, so she accepted that she was probably a year older than she had always thought she was. Not an issue many of us deal with!
I never thought till just now about how both of their deaths connect in my mind with Christmas, which was their last name. With Granddaddy, it was the choice mentioned above. With Grandmother, the last time I saw her was when she came down for a Christmas concert that I sang in. I'll never forget how beautiful, if tired, she looked that day in her lavender mohair coat. She was beautiful, she always was, inside and out. And she was tired. So tired she had not gone to church that morning, very unusual for her. She had been sick. She died about a month later. But she came for that concert, and I wish so much we had sung something more listenable than what we did! We sang something impressive, but I wish it had been beautiful, like her.
When I was young, my classmates sometimes didn't believe me when I said I had "gone to the Christmases' " for Christmas. In our small town, no one had that as a last name.
But it was a good name for two generous people who gave more than either of them probably realized to the people whose lives they touched. Yes, they gave us shoes and clothes and books and piano lessons and cash sometimes, and many other tangible things.
But more than that they gave us a home to visit, a place to feel welcome, always a hug, and an example of perseverance, hope, faith, forgiveness, patience, strength....Not because their life was ideal. On the contrary, it was not, it very much was not, though I didn't learn that until I was a good deal older. But that is why the intangibles mean so much. What is strength or perseverance when everything is easy?
But when everything is not, when life is hard, and you still come out loving and beautiful and a blessing to all who know you, that is a real gift. In this case, a very real Christmas gift.