Friday, December 25, 2009

The Greatest Gift of All

My children asked me last week what I wanted for Christmas. My immediate response was that I wanted them to grow up healthy, happy, and successful in their lives. That's my honest heart's desire.

They didn't like that answer. They wanted to know what material things I wanted. I tried to think of something that I really wanted. Nothing came to my mind. I'm not a materialistic person anyway but I'm content with what I have, also.

It made me think of gifts I've received throughout my life. And I realized that what I had told my daughter was true.


My thoughts brought me back to my childhood and to Grandma. Let me tell you about her......

Grandma was the most beautiful woman who has ever walked this earth. Her eyes danced when she laughed. Her laugh! It sounded like wind chimes tinkling in the breeze. The most wonderful sound I've ever heard. Her smile made the worst days more bearable.

I spent countless hours and days by her side while I was growing up. Watching her every move. Mimicking her mannerisms. Learning how to be a homemaker. Learning to cook and clean. Listening to her words of wisdom. Tucking every moment away deep within my heart.

When I reached my preteens, my parents divorced. It was then that she became my refuge. My dad had custody of us and threw his responsibilities onto me. I was the constant caregiver to my younger two siblings while he either worked or went 'out for coffee' with his buddies or on dates. I cleaned the house, cooked their meals, did laundry and had to take them on babysitting jobs. I wasn't allowed any time alone to spend with friends or be a normal child.

My dad and I would fight often for this and other reasons. I'd get so angry that I'd hop onto my red 10-speed bike and ride out to the country to Grandma's. I was always welcome at her home with no questions asked. My heart found peace and safety with her. She would say, "fighting with your dad again?" I'd nod my head, close to tears. "When you're ready to talk, I'm right here." And she always was. I'd lay my head down on her lap and just listen to her talk about her day and family gossip. Her voice, her smell, her touch....all meant safety to me. No one and nothing could hurt me when I was with her. She wouldn't allow it.

When I finally was ready to talk about the incident, she would listen. That's it. Just listen until I was done telling my story. Then she would offer advice or correct me if I had been at fault. A lot of the time, she would get angry. Not at me, but FOR me. She would say, "You have the world on your shoulders at such a young age. Responsibilities you shouldn't have. Life has dealt you a hard hand." I remember many times when she would call my dad and yell at him because of all the things I was required to do. "You need to take care of your responsibilities! Those are your children, not hers. She should be allowed to be a child!" She was my advocate.

She taught me the value of hard work and not wasting the day away. Many hours were spent in her kitchen while she taught an awkward teenage girl how to bake cinnamon rolls from scratch or make potato dumplings with sauerkraut. She taught me the value of having a clean house and exactly how to do it. To this day, I love the smell of Pinesol and think of her every time I use it. She instilled in me that as a wife and mother, it is a duty and an honor to make a home for your family. She taught me that no matter how ugly, old or battered your things or home are, that you should take care of them as if they were new. That you should take pride in what you have even if you have little.

I remember working in her garden with her when she was healthy enough still to do it. The food we harvested from it was the best tasting food ever. We canned and froze it. Later on in the winter, she would put some corn on the table for lunch. After I had taken a bite, she would say, "Remember that corn? That's the corn we grew. Tastes wonderful, doesn't it?"

I could write pages and pages about my Grandma. She was my cornerstone. My refuge. My mentor. She shaped me. When she died 5 years ago, it left the biggest hole in my heart and life.

Even though she is gone, she gave me the Greatest Gift I've ever received. The gift of herself.

She loved me unconditionally. Believed in me. Cheered me on. Corrected me. Held me up. Just held me. Gave of her time. Placed her wisdom and love and bits of herself deep inside my heart and life. She was my advocate. My refuge. My friend. My critic. My teacher.

There are days that I still cry because I miss her. But I know she is right here with me still. She's reflecting in the freshly hand washed kitchen floor. She's beside me holding my hand when I repeat one of her Pearls of Wisdom to my children. She's the sun shining down onto my garden helping my vegetables to grow.

And every time I hear a wind chime, I hear her laughter dancing on the breeze.

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