The Ghosts of Christmas Past
When I was a child at Christmas, my sisters and I would await the arrival of my Grandparents with baited breath. Together, we would sit at the front window and get so excited when we’d see their pale blue Oldsmobile pull around the corner. Every year, we’d throw on our boots and coats and run out to the car to greet them and help them with their bags. When Grandma and Papa arrived, Christmas arrived with them, in every sense of the word.
It wasn’t just that the back seat and trunk of their car were filled with presents (hidden under a blanket), it was, quite simply, their presence. While I certainly remember the abundance of their generosity, what continues to fill me to this day was the abundance of their love. Their joy was found in our joy, our smiles brought theirs.
Grandma was a world champion shopper, and loved nothing more than finding the perfect gift (especially if it was on sale). Papa’s job was to do the wrapping. He loved excessively taping boxes so that opening your gift was akin to breaking into a bank vault (one of the many kind-spirited ways he pranked us). On Christmas morning, when we’d wake to find that Santa had indeed visited, in fact, he had two other names: Helen and Fred.
When I listen closely, I can still hear their voices. I hear Grandma talk about how her father used to invite a homeless person to Christmas dinner every year, to share a meal and stories. I hear Freddy telling us tales of Christmas on the farm in a time before electricity, when gifts were wrapped with paper pulled from catalogues, which doubled as toilet paper in the privy. I hear Grandma wish us a ‘Merry Chitmas’, as she did every year; an inside joke I never learned the origin of.
When I look carefully, I can see Freddy sitting in the old pink chair, under a pile of wrapping paper that we’ve thrown at him. He wears a bow on his forehead. I see Grandma cradling Noah in her arms at his first Christmas, shining her love upon him; I see myself reading children’s Christmas stories to Freddy, in one of the last years he was with us; I see my whole family dancing to Christmas carols in the living room; I see my mom, sisters and I breaking bread for stuffing with my Grandma while Dad prepares the turkey. Grandma broke bread with us every year until her very last Christmas.
I hope one day, when I am old and grey, my grandchildren will ask me questions about Christmas when I was a little girl. As my Grandma and Papa did before me, I will summon stories of magical tales of their ancestors, and tell them of laughter, pranks, and cherished traditions of generosity, warmth and family. And, I will tell them that far more valuable than any present they bought us, my Grandparents gave my sisters and I the most wonderful gift of all: their boundless, unending love.
Thank you to my Mom, Adrienne Gilbert, for all of the beautiful pre-digital photos in today's entry, including the banner image. And because she was always behind the camera and never in the photos, here's one with her: