The Gift of Giving
By Hope Saxton
Gram and Gramps lived on the other side of the country, and although we called and wrote often, it had been twenty years since I'd seen them in person. Their health was failing, and age kept them close to home. My responsibilities at home with a husband, two young children and a part-time job, kept me from visiting. I did make a point of going in March one year. I'd spoken to Gram and realized that, in their eighties now, they weren't going to be around forever - as much as I would like them to be. I made the arrangements and flew there for a week. The moment I walked in the door, I was home again. The memories from a childhood long past, immediately returned. The cookies baking in the warm oven, watching Gram ice the fairy-tale cake and letting me dig in the bowl of icing when she was done. The beautiful clothes she'd sewed, smocked dresses and shorts with pop-tops to match. As she often did in her letters, she told stories of what I was like as a little girl and how she'd given me Muriel as my middle name. I never told her how much I was teased as a child because of that name - suddenly, it was prettier somehow and its very uniqueness was so like Gram. Gramps talked of the two wars he lived through, and I told him how proud I was to know he'd served his country so well. He made me laugh, and I believe I made him feel young again, if only for awhile. In turn, he made me cry. He told me that he and Gram had given up on celebrating Christmas about ten years back. They were just too old. How can one let Christmas pass by unnoticed? I remembered best the Christmas as a child, when they lived with us. They loved the season and always went to midnight Mass. Gramps took my brothers, sisters and me to cut down the tree, while Gram baked every Christmas cookie imaginable, then decorated the tree just so. Our house had been filled with the love and togetherness I had always associated with Christmas. I couldn't believe they had stopped celebrating it. Gramps explained that they were too old to bother with a tree and their friends too old to travel to see it. Even shopping, now, was too difficult, and they had all of the necessities delivered. I wanted to cry for the joy they'd once had - and lost. That week remains one of the most joyous of my life. Knowing that it might be the last time I saw either of them saddened me, but I was determined to make it a happy visit. I took the two of them out to dinner - something they hadn't done in well over two years, since Gram had her hip surgery. I know they had a good time. Saying good-bye was difficult. Gramps, the brave, strong hero of mine, cried and Gram did her best not to. She never succeeded. I cried on the plane all the way home. As Christmas approached, I thought of them more than ever. I wanted to do something so they would know I was thinking of them. The idea came to give them back Christmas, and I set about to do just that. First, I found a small artificial tree and decorated it with miniature bulbs and fine gold ribbon. With this, I added colorfully wrapped presents for each of them; slippers, chocolates, a hand-knit scarf for Gramps and a pretty bed jacket for Gram. I made up a box of cookies and bars; many of the recipes were from Gram's cookbooks. Then I filled stockings for each of them with toiletries wrapped and tied with ribbons. In the card, I wrote that they had given me so many wonderful memories throughout the years that I wanted to give them some new ones. I asked both of them to promise to set the tree up in the living room and stack the gifts around it. My last instruction was, "Do not open 'til Christmas!" I mailed the parcel, barely able to contain my excitement. Gram called as soon as it arrived. She was crying and, this time, not even attempting to hide it. We spoke for a long time, reminiscing about Christmas past, and when I knew for certain they had the tree up, I promised to call Christmas morning. When my boys had opened every gift and were digging through their stockings, I made the long-awaited call. Gramps answered on the first ring. I thought he sounded strange, and we only spoke briefly, then Gram took the phone. "We were like two kids," she told me. "Neither of us got any sleep last night. I even caught Harry in the living room, shaking one of the packages and had to make him go back to bed. Honey, this is the first time in years we've been so excited. Don't tell your grandfather, but after he went to bed, I just had to rattle a few of the gifts myself." I laughed, imagining the two of them sneaking out to guess at the presents I'd sent. I wished there was more money to send more expensive gifts, and told Gram that maybe next year they would be better. "Your grandfather can't talk right now because he's too busy crying. He keeps saying, 'That's one heck of a granddaughter we have there, Muriel.'"