When I was 12 years old, my grandmother passed away during the first week of December. She was a large lady who wore calico dresses and was so big I couldn’t put my arms around her waist, but I loved her with all my heart. She bought my sister and I sodas and candy sometimes. Our parents didn’t buy us sweets like this, so it was a real treat. My grandmother cooked chicken and dumplings for us and always kept a great big can of peaches on the top shelf of her pantry just for us. Her house was clean and shiny and spotless and filled with light. I loved to take baths in her tub scrubbed clean with comet, and played with her sweet smelling ivory soap, that floated instead of sinking to the bottom of the tub. It was a pleasure just to be in her house.
I was devastated when my grandmother died unexpectedly after an operation. Our family hurried back to the panhandle of Texas for the funeral. Our grief was so thick it could have been cut with a knife. The emptiness was unreal and traces of her was still everywhere in their home, but her perfume especially lingered in her bedroom. I would sneak into her bedroom sometimes just to smell her perfume in the air and feel close to her. I couldn’t believe she was really gone.
My parents eventually needed to return to work, but did not want to leave my grandfather alone in the house. They left my sister and I with my grandfather for a while, so he did not have to be alone after the funeral. It was very sad. We tip toed around the house, eating leftovers that the neighbors had brought to us after the funeral. After a while all the donuts were gone and every trace of sweetness in life itself seemed to have left the house too. It was a still, barren place, with the wind whistling fiercely against the window panes and there was nothing outside to look at but dry, blowing sand against an almost endless horizon. The world looked pretty bleak, empty, and void of joy both inside my grandfather’s house and outside as well.
My 18 year old aunt left and stayed with a friend because of her grief over the loss of her mother, but she would come over every now and then and our grief felt even worse then. She was a fresh reminder that our grandmother really was gone.
One day, the sadness just got to be too much. It was two days before Christmas, surely children were not supposed to be this sad at Christmas? My sister and I looked at each other and realized that our grandmother would not have wanted this either. She would have wanted her granddaughters to try and get past this grief and somehow celebrate Christmas. We didn’t even have a Christmas tree though. The adults were still grieving too much to even think about it. So, my sister and I, and my 18 year old aunt started wondering what we could do about it since we had no money of our own.
We were sitting in the kitchen looking out the window, when a great big tumbleweed rolled by. The tumbleweeds were always everywhere you looked in this dessert environment, but this one was huge. We looked at each other and all three of us took off out the door, in the blink of an eye. We chased that tumbleweed down the street and came back out of breath but laughing our heads off. This was a good start for a Christmas tree, but how could we make it look like a Christmas tree?
After a bit, my aunt came up with the idea to spray paint it white like snow. It was good to see her get her mind on something besides her grief. So, the three of us spray painted the tumbleweed white, put it in the Christmas tree stand and sat it on a table in the living room. We stood around admiring our new creation but it did look pretty bare. We rummaged around in a closet and came up with some red shiny ornaments and some Christmas tree lights. The tumbleweed Christmas tree turned out beautifully. But, it still looked a little empty with no presents under the tree.
While we were putting the leftover ornaments away in the closet, we discovered a big sack. When we looked inside it, we found a whole sack full of wrapped Christmas presents that our grandmother had bought for us, before she died. We started crying. We didn’t care what was in them. It could have been handkerchiefs for all we cared. My sister, my aunt, and I put them under the tumbleweed Christmas tree and stood back and looked it. It finally felt like Christmas.
When our parents arrived on Christmas eve, we excitedly showed them the tumbleweed Christmas tree and the presents our grandmother had left for us. Our names were written on the wrapping paper with loving care. When everyone read their name on a present our grandmother had left for them, it was like she was there with us that Christmas. Our family’s grief was lighter and we went on and had a merry Christmas, just like our grandmother would have wanted us to.
Salem, Oregon, USA