Kate’s Christmas Gift to Me

Posted on December 17, 2010

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For Brenda, who I’ve never met, but who I understand likes the stories about Kate….Merry Christmas!

Many years ago, on this date my grandmother – the real Kate – died.  The first Christmas without her was very hard, Being young and never touched by tragedy or death before then, I couldn’t understand how I could lose my grandma so close to Christmas – my favorite holiday.  The days preceding that Christmas were filled with funeral arrangements and her funeral, so we were all still feeling pretty sad when Christmas rolled around.

Kate wasn’t anything special by most people’s eyes, I’m sure.  She was a tall, lanky woman who nonetheless had a very particular grace about her.  Her eyes were soft and caring, but sometimes they still twinkled with mischief or merriment, as if she were still a girl.  

She wasn’t espcially well-dressed; she wore what they called ‘shirtdresses’ most days (with an apron), although they were always neatly starched and pressed.  When she was going to church, she dressed more eloguently – in suits that might be just a little loose on her as she had grown thinner as she aged – and she always wore a hat and gloves.  She was partial to scarves and it seems there was always one around her neck, whether she was wearing the shirtdress or the suit.  If the wind was blowing, or if the sun was hot, you’d usually see that scarf make it’s way onto her head where he long hair was neatly braided, twisted and pinned into a bun.

Kate was younger than my grandpa, who I never knew, by many years.  She’d married him, you see, despite him being older and was widowed early in life.  After he died, she lived on at their farm and leased it to a local farmer who worked the land and let her have her pick of any vegetables that grew there in the large ‘truck garden’.  There were also cows, pigs and chickens when I was very young – but those were dispensed with later, because it became too hard for her to keep up with them alone.

She was also a survivor of breast cancer – and it was only at night, when she was in her nightgown that anyone would have known that, for she never talked of it, nor the disfiguring surgery done upon her to spare her life.  She just accepted it, and went on.

She’d cared for many relatives in that big house on the farm off and on until they died.  Her own sister died there with her – and they were alone, but Kate never faltered.  She just went on.

She taught me to shell peas, to feed the chickens and gather eggs.  She taught me not to be afraid of the dark – or anything. She taught me how to cook and how to plant things in the earth that would grow.  She taught me equanimity for all people – that everyone was worth something, and to treat them the way I would like to be treated.  So many things she taught me, but the biggest one was about unconditional love and how it changes you, for the better.  She also taught me how to pass that along, to love other people in the same way that we had been loved and to never miss a chance to tell someone, to show them how you love them, for you may not get another chance because life is precarious and death is certain.

On the day that she died, my Pa uncharacteristically asked me early in the morning if I wanted to go with him to get my grandma and bring her to the doctor – which meant that I would skip school.  Believe me, it was weird that this man who so emphasized education and learning would offer me the chance to ditch school for a day to do something else.  Perhaps, being an only child – he had some sense of foreboding, I don’t know for sure.  I was in a school play and we had practice, which I didn’t want to miss, nor being with my friends – and so I turned him down and went on to school. Oh, how I have so often wished to have that day to do over again – to have one more talk with her, or be the lucky recipient of her hugs. But that wasn’t how it was meant to be – and I’ve long quit beating myself up about it.

Kate wasn’t acutely ill – she had emphysema and was going to the doctor just to get a flu shot as a preventative measure, she did it every year.  After that was done, she was to come to our house for Christmas.  Little did she know that I had heard my parents secretly making plans for her to come live with us, as they felt she was getting too old to be out on the farm by herself.  I’ve always wondered if she sensed that before or not.  Many years later, my Pa shared with me that as they drove away from the farm, she looked back wistfully and said, "I’m so glad that I’ve been able to live all these years in my home."

When I got home from school, my Pa was not yet back – but that didn’t really concern me, I thought he might have her with him at his office.  It wasn’t until around 4:00 pm, that he called my mother and she was the one to tell me that my grandmother had died – words that in fact, I at first rejected – though sure enough they were true.  My Pa had picked her up, and brought her to the doctor’s office which was in a small rural clinic – a little hospital.  While there, she started coughing and went to the door to get some cool air which usually helped.  She never made it, but collapsed there in the lobby.  Despite the best efforts of the young doctor, who had know her all his life and who scooped her up in his arms, carrying her to surgery thata way, she could not be saved.  My Pa had stayed in the little town making all the arrangements and didn’t get home until well after dark.  He had her luggage in the car – and brought them in, but no one looked inside until Christmas Eve – days later and after she was buried.

Inside her luggage, there was a little Christmas card – about the size of a photograph.  On the front was a beautiful nativity scene and inside, under the simple printed wishes, she had written in a shaky hand "I love you." and signed it "Grandma".  She’d tucked a little money into the card, because she couldn’t drive to go to town to buy a gift.  Well, that money is gone, but  I still have the Christmas card in a frame, along with her picture – a keepsake of one of the most wise and gracious women I ever knew, and to remind me that we must always keep Christmas – no matter what – in our hearts and share it with everyone.  

Kate knew that.  Despite living alone out there in the country, with no neighbors to speak of, she had in her home a little scrawny tree which I imagined she’d chopped down herself and decorated with Christmas ornaments of varying age with a beautiful star on top.  She couldn’t get to town to buy just the right present, but she put enough money in that little card and told me she loved me.  It was her best effort – and one of her last ones. It was and still is, everything to me.

I can tell you that I’ve had all sorts of Christmas presents in my life – little ones, big ones – ones that take your breath away and make you wonder how someone knew to get that for you, I’ve never had a more special nor lasting gift from anyone in my life than that little Christmas card with the nativity scene on the front, sealed with love and reminding me of the reason for the Christmas season – that we love and care for one another, despite anything and that even if for only a while, we try to establish a feeling of peace on earth and goodwill to all.

You see, my dear grandma, who wasn’t there to celebrate Christmas anymore, reminded me after she was gone that Christmas was all about love.  It’s about the love of God for all of us, but it’s also about us….learning to love one another that same way and never missing the chance to say so, for we may not have another.

When Christmas comes ’round now, I can still look at that little card, and feel Kate warming the inside of my heart, wishing me Merry Christmas all over and saying she loves me. I can smell the peppermint candy that she loved, and feel myself once again snuggled warmly next to her in her big feather bed in the middle of winter. That only spurs me on to carry forth the tradition she set so many years ago – of ‘keeping’ Christmas in the best way, one that lasts all the days of our lives.

Merry Christmas, Kate!  I still remember . . .

Last edited by katie on December 17, 2010, 10:46 am


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1 response to Kate’s Christmas Gift to Me

  1. The stories of the old days, the old folks… we need more of them.
    Well written as always, and thought provoking.
    Keep it up…

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