When I was a little girl my grandmother moved into our home. She was a nurse for the VA at the time and had been relocated to the small town we lived in, Roseburg, Oregon. I loved having her live with us. I could always count on her to say, "Yes, of course. That's a great idea."
She loved the first pair of red shoes I bought with my own money that my mother frowned upon because they didn't match anything I owned. She agreed that we had to be one of the first to try a new candy called "Skittles," after all, it was an opportunity to taste the rainbow, even if we did have to drive to five stores to find it. And yes, 8 is the perfect age to learn how to drive a car, just be sure not to mention this to your parents.
My grandma always had the best ideas. But perhaps, one of my favorite memories of my grandmother is the night she decided we must decorate an Elf Tree. What's an Elf Tree you ask? Good question. Well, according to my grandmother, it's a random tree in a public setting that you decorate in the hopes that it will bring Christmas cheer and joy to everyone who sees it.
You can imagine, at 9-years-old, I thought this was a fantastic idea! We began our adventure with a drive to Kmart where we bought plenty of red Christmas ball ornaments, gold garland, and three bottles of fake snow to spray on the tree. We threw our bags into the trunk of her red rocket, that's what we called her car back then, and were off like a flash.
Our search for the perfect tree to decorate took us along highways, but my grandma, using her sound judgment, thought cars whizzing past us at 55mph, might not be the safest so we continued our search. We traveled front roads, back roads, looking high and low for the perfect tree, but none were just right.
It seemed like we had been driving for hours when a light bulb went off, "Aha," she said. "I know the perfect tree. It's the one in your front yard. I'm sure your mother won't mind."
"Great idea, Gram. Mom and Dad will love it!"
In the dark of night, we set out like Santa's elves, determined to stealthfully decorate the tree in our front yard. We were careful not to be too loud as we sprayed fake snow on the tree and then decorated it for all the neighborhood to see. Awe, it was a sight to behold, in all its glory. It was indeed, a masterpiece, something Santa himself would no doubt be proud of.
We giggled with excitement as we snuck into the house and headed straight to bed. I slept with anticipation, waiting to hear the comments of joy from my parents and the neighbors as they gazed upon this gift from Santa's elves.
"Oh, my God! Mike, honey, have you seen our front yard?" my mom quite loudly exclaimed the next morning to my dad. "Who would have done this to our tree?"
My grandmother and I looked at each other and fought back our giggles. "I don't know, Mom." I said, as I winked in my grandma's direction, careful to make sure my mom didn't notice. "It looks like we've been visited by Santa's elves. We must have been pretty awesome this year."
"Pretty awesome, alright," my mother said as she muffled a swear under her breath.
My grandmother and I kept our "secret" for many years to come. That was the first and last time we decorated our infamous Elf Tree. As my grandmother nears her 90th birthday on December 18 of this year, I am finding myself thinking back on the many happy memories we have shared.
Growing up it seemed I could do no wrong in my grandmother's eyes. If I ever doubted myself she was there to encourage and believe in me.
She was born during The Great Depression, and I can remember her telling me stories of mustard sandwiches, struggling to make ends meet, and a fateful walk home one afternoon from school when she saw a man take his own life.
She was pro-unions and helping the underdog. She was well-known for giving what little she had to others, even when she herself may have been struggling to make ends meet. She had an amazing gift for nurturing lost souls and puppies back to good health.
She gave the best of herself to three husbands and six children. She saved my Uncles leg when he came home from Vietnam and the doctor wanted to amputate; it was her that refused. And when I lost a baby she knew just what to say to take some of the pain away.
Working at the VA she specialized in helping those struggling with trauma and addiction. One of the greatest gifts I inherited from her is a handwritten sign that hung in her office for years that reads, "Kindness Spoken Here." I guess it's no wonder her Patron Saint has always been St. Jude, the Saint of hope and lost causes.
Growing up I often felt like I didn't fit in, overly shy and awkward. My grandmother had a knack for making me feel perfect, just the way God made me. But it wasn't just me she shined her light on, in her life she has helped many with her love and kindness. She never tolerated prejudice and saw beauty in everyone. In fact she looked at the world through rose colored glasses, literally.
As the twinkle in my grandmother's eyes has begun to fade, it is these memories and simple lessons, I hold dear to my heart. No matter what challenges she may have faced in her life, and there were many, her faith always saw her through. Like our Elf Tree, she was, and always will be, one of a kind. Not afraid to stand up for what she believes in or stand out in a crowd. Throughout her life she has brought joy and happiness to many. She is a gift to me, and all who have had the good fortune to know her.
Happy 90th birthday, Gram. I love you.
If you are missing a loved one this holiday season this blog post is dedicated to you. May you hold their memory brightly in your heart now and forever.