Growing up there was one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas designated as the day Mom and Grandma shopped for presents. They would leave the house at dawn and return at bedtime full of whispers and excited tiredness.
I grew into the ritual when I could be trusted with secrets and too old to sit on Santa’s lap. I got to join the ritual of sharing space with crowds of eager shoppers surrounded by twinkling lights and red-suited bell ringers.
Then I became a mother creating Christmas rituals for my own little girls –dresses of red and green, ornaments out of reach of tiny hands, bedtime stories replaced carols, gaily wrapped gifts and squeals of laughter and Grandma spending Christmas at my house and the shopping day at the mall to search for perfect gifts.
But Christmas had lost its magic for Grandma. Stiff with old age and arthritic bones she tired easily, and complained that we spent too much, bought too many presents, hurried too much. Endless complaints threatened to spoil the holiday.
I looked at twinkling lights and at Grandma - the day before Christmas - and find her the perfect Christmas gift.
I saw Santa’s Ginger-Bread House and said, “Let’s go talk to Santa, Grandma.” She mumbled something about being silly. I locked onto her bony arm steering her quickly towards Santa and his elves. “We want to sit on your lap and have our picture taken.”
Grandma hated having her picture taken but sat down reluctantly. Santa coaxed a rare smile from Grandma’s puckered, ruby-red lips. Afterwards I helped her from Santa’s knee and I tucked the Polaroid snapshot into my purse to show my little girls when we got home.
Christmas morning I pulled a small gift from a huge pile of boxes and bows. Grandma held it in her hands and shook it, still irritated at being pulled out of bed by the laughter of grandchildren eager to open presents. She gingerly removed the wrapping paper and fixed a puzzled stare at a transistor radio.
I came to her rescue attached headphones, placed them on her head, turned the dial on the side and watched her eyes for enlightenment. This was the perfect gift for Grandma; her favorite pastime was listening to baseball games, but she turned the volume up too loud. Not wanting to remind her of her deafness, I said “Now you can listen to your baseball games, Grandma, even when a storm blows out the power at your house.”
Grandma looked so sweet, sitting in the rocking chair Christmas morning, in flowered housecoat and fuzzy socks, hair flattened from sleep, holding a small black radio with wires in her ears. Her bright blue eyes sparkled behind wire-rimmed glasses and I saw a glimmer of a younger Grandma excited by a present bought just for her. I snapped the camera and she gave me the perfect Christmas gift—Grandma smiled and said “Thank you”.