The Keepsake I Don’t Have

If I could go back and change one thing, I would change what I chose from my Grandmother’s house after she died.

My maternal grandma, Grandma Jo, passed away from Alzheimer’s in January of 2001. After she passed and my mom and her sisters had gone through her things, the grandkids were allowed to go through before they had the estate sale.

It was the first time in a few years I had even been in my grandma’s house; she had been in nursing homes for some time. Nothing was where it should be. Everything was spread out because it had all been appraised and tagged for sale. My Grandma Jo was something of a pack rat.

Ok, she was totally a hoarder. The woman had lived through the Depression as a kid; she had lived on welfare after divorcing her useless husband. “Waste not, want now” was her motto. In fact, my mom often tells stories of having to wash bread bags so they could reuse them.

Her deep freeze was full. She lived alone.

We found jugs of prune juice that she had gotten from the welfare store when my mom was a kid.

She really never got rid of anything.

But that was also always the wonder of her house. She had so many interesting things packed away. As kids there were endless things to discover. Bur after she died, it was all hauled out into the open. How would I know where to start looking for anything? I hadn’t even thought about what I would want.

Almost 15 years later, I know exactly what I should have taken.

The holidays always remind me of my Grandma Jo. She is forever woven into Christmas for me: I hear her voice in Christmas carols, I taste her baking in the treats, I smell her perfume in church, I see her in the big, multi-colored lights on my Christmas tree.

On a Sunday after dinner, all my cousins, brothers, and I would get to help her decorate her way-too-fat-for-the-room Christmas tree. We danced around excitedly as she brought down boxes and boxes of ornaments, lights, and garland. An adult would string the lights–always multi-colored, mismatched, and tacky–and then wrap the tree in garland. Then it was our turn.

The first box would lose its lid and reveal balls and balls of napkins in which ornaments were hidden. Some fragile and antique, but most handmade and quite gaudy.

Oh they were wonderfully terrible! We would each open a napkin as if unwrapping a precious jewel and hold it high for everyone to see before placing it on the tree.

Grandma would get out other decorations too.

The one that I wish I had been able to get was by far my favorite. It was Christmas to me. Once Grandma had it out, it was Christmas. That was it.

It was a white plastic church that plugged into the wall. When switched on, a single clear Christmas light bulb illuminated the church, which had one stained glass (plastic) window. But the best part of this church? You could turn a small crank on the back to have it play “Silent Night”.

Every single Sunday leading up to Christmas I would crank that church. Christmas Even I would crank it many times until my mom told me to leave it alone.

What I wouldn’t give to have that plastic church.

I think of it every single Christmas and wish for my Grandma.

I bake all the treats she made. I decorate my tree in the tackiest way possible. I sing the Christmas carols. I put an orange in the toe of my kids’ stockings like she did for ours.

I don’t need the church to know she’s here, but I sure do miss her.

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