A few years and a score ago, my family experienced a Christmas as no prior. It was to be the first Christmas without my Grandmother, Opal. My mom’s mom, she was an angel who walked the earth and Christmas wasn’t Christmas without her bigger than life presence amongst the family order.
Throughout my childhood, I could always count on her to BE the holidays. When we walked in her house, the smell of the season permeated the air; evergreen from the freshly cut tree, scented candles, pumpkin & mince pies, gingerbread, roast, biscuits, and the balance of the scents of their warm and friendly manor filled the air. It was the most glorious time of year for a youth with all the dreams of what was to come buzzing around the room and between my ears. One could barely sit still with anticipation and I would trade fifteen circus days for one Christmas at Nanny’s.
I am an extremely fortunate man as the first 25 years of my life, I never experienced a Christmas without her divine presence mingled with all the holiday fixings. None the less my 26th, was not to be the same. We had lost her earlier that year to cancer and now the magical season of the glow and magic was dark and forlorn.
Nanny wasn’t more than five foot nothing and tipped the scale damp a bit over a hundred. Pound for pound, I would put her up against anyone I knew when it came to working manual labor around a house. She was a twister on steroids. My Great uncle used to say, just put a broom in her hand and she’ll be happy. He couldn’t have been more right. The only time she set still during the day was to watch ‘her’ show, General Hospital. Audrey & Steve Hardy we’re the order of the day when three pm struck and no matter what was in the wash or on the counter, it could wait. General Hospital was sacred.
When it came to kids or wildlife, she had no peer when it came to care giving. I recall as a young child visiting Nanny & Bill’s home in Tacoma, them taking in a neighbor girl who was younger than me for the day. She was home with the ‘babysitter’ and had found her way to my grandparents home and be on the receiving end of warm milk and cookies. She then slept for the better part of the afternoon much to my grandparents dismay as the sitter never once sought her out. They were besides themselves and thought the sitter, mother, father, aunt, uncle and whoever else might remotely be in charge, should be incarcerated for neglect.
My grandmother fed the squirrels, Stellar Jays, neighbors animals, and anything else with feathers or fur that happened into the yard. She even had a pet crow for crying out loud. Fed him every day at the same time as you could set your watch by his arrival.
About the only thing that didn’t belong in this world as far as Nanny was concerned was a snake, slug or mouse. Other than that, all was part of Gods and her world and she would do whatever it took to ensure they made it to another day with a full belly.
Getting back to the holiday season and the gingerbread memories, were her special gifts. I’ve told you the aforementioned, but now I’m referring to the ones we unwrapped. There was always something no matter what the year that was so incredibly special, you couldn’t anticipate. It was always perfect and fit with every passing year as a sweater or jacket you had sought out but could never find. It was truly a special gift of hers and I never figured out exactly how she ‘knew’ exactly what would bring the ahh moment when nestled around the tree. It was truly truly a special gift on oh so many fronts.
This Christmas though would be different. There would be no smells, joy and laughter, mince and pumpkin pies, waiting anxiously by the tree for Nanny to finish up the dishes and appear, or that special gift. It was as though the air was completely sucked out of the world and I was completely alone for the first time in my life.
My parents had made other plans this year and were going to be away. My sister lived in California and was staying put. It was unspoken amongst us but it was the loudest din imaginable with a resounding scream of we can’t be together as it would just be too incredibly painful to attempt the unimaginable. A Christmas without Nanny.
To compound matters, I was travelling for work a considerable amount leading up to the holiday break. I recall vividly flying into Seattle the last few days before Christmas looking out the window at the black and lifeless city. It was the most empty feeling I had ever experienced. I prayed the plane would never land as I couldn’t bear the thought of walking in the cold and damp to my empty car and driving home to a listless and holiday free house.
Before leaving Los Angeles, I had the where with all to go to the cash machine and withdraw my Christmas gift money as I had yet to make a single purchase. Again, prolonging the inevitable and avoiding all aspects of the season to its final and unbearable moment. For this one action, I felt good as I knew with all of the emotion stirring, the fewer activities required once I got home, the better.
As I approached my dark and empty house, I stopped at the mail box and gathered a weeks worth of holiday mail. It was stuffed with every imaginable flyer to gobble up the cash I had previously garnered. An absolute mess was strewn upon my the kitchen table as well as the contents from my travel pockets. I went to bed, closed my eyes and pretended the hurt wasn’t real.
The next morning I set out to do my shopping and attempt to put myself in the holiday spirit. It was short lived. I couldn’t find the cash I had procured the day prior to streamline my shopping efforts. I literally tore the house apart looking for it. Under the cushions of every seat, every room, every pocket, the washer, dryer, I even looked in the oven. No cash, it was not to be found. I screamed at the utter top of my lungs in frustration and still, no cash fell from the sky. I was toast and only proved to add insult to injury as I headed out and shortened my list and scaled back.
For the next week I sulked. The only break in the sulking was to rampage the house one more time in a fit of rage trying my dam nest to locate my lost funds. I knew they had to be there somewhere as I didn’t lose things, let alone money and I knew I had it when I walked in the house when I came home from my trip.
I sat in the chair in the living room staring out the window when suddenly I was filled with rage. I leapt from my chair, throwing the cushion against the wall and cursing God at the top of my lungs for being so unjust! How could He not only take the most beautiful person of this world, a living angel, in the most painful and excruciating way but heap the pain and despair upon me at this most sensitive time of year. And on top, not even my special gift…‘I hate YOU God Dammit, I HATE YOU!’ I cried. My rage transcended into sorrow and I wept uncontrollably for what seemed to be forever.
A knock appeared at door and snapped me to consciousness. I walked by the window, looked out and saw a dilapidated Volkswagon Bug in the driveway. It had no front fenders, was two toned (as in primer gray & yellow) and was missing a passenger side window. It was replaced with saran wrap.
When I opened the door, before me stood a young man in his late twenties, unshaven, long dirty blonde hair, holes in his jeans and a long sleeved long underwear undershirt with the sleeves rolled up. I looked at him with disdain as I had no idea what this guy wanted from me but whatever it was, I was certain I wasn’t interested. I barked behind the screen door, “Yes, may I help you?” He looked me straight in the eye with his dark sunken lids, reached in his pocket and pulled out my cash that I had been seeking the past week. He simply stated, “Did you really want to throw this away? I’m your garbage man and I found this in your garbage. I thought you might want it.”
For the most part I was speechless but I did have the wherewithal to offer him a reward for returning it. The nameless person looked at me deeply, smiled and said, “No, my reward is being able to return this to you.” And he walked to his car, started it up, and puttered away. I never saw him again.
The next few hours I spent on my knees begging God for forgiveness. I realized in that time I had so little faith in HIM I was ashamed. I knew better but in my moment of agony forgot all the goodness that I had learned over the years. A true miracle had presented itself and I couldn’t help but believe my grandmother played a huge part in creation and lobbying with God. She had sent me my gift.
Miracles are all around us every day. All we have to do is be open to them and allow them to be recognized. According to the doctors, I’m not supposed to be here writing this story. That’s a miracle in and of itself. Living your life as though you have cancer will open your eyes to such occurrences.