“Are you ok, Grandma?” Amy asked the elderly woman walking beside her.
“I’m fine,” Mildred replied pulling her coat more snuggly around her neck. “These 70 year old legs just don’t move as quickly as they used to.”
“Is your arthritis acting up, Grandma? Oh, I shouldn’t have brought you out in the cold; I’m sorry,” Amy said with concern while taking Mildred’s arm. Gingerly they stepped from the asphalt of the parking lot to the sidewalk.
“I’m fine,” Mildred assured her. “It was sweet of you to ask an old woman like me to accompany you on your shopping trip.”
“I love going out with you, Grandma. And you’re only as old as you feel,” Amy said while opening the door to their destination.
“Then I’m close to a hundred,” Mildred thought to herself. She was tired and tired of being tired. Though she’d rather have stayed at home, she couldn’t turn down this chance of spending time with her precious Amy during her Christmas break from college.
They stepped into the warmth of a quaint shop radiating the Christmas spirit with its twinkling lights, fine greenery, brilliant red poinsettias, and old fashioned Christmas trees. The holiday music softly playing in the background created a warm, cheerful atmosphere for assorted shoppers to “oooh” and “aahh” over unique and interesting treasures.
“I won’t be too long,” Amy said. “I just need a special something for a friend.”
“You take your time, Honey,” Mildred said. “I don’t have anything else to do.”
Amy went off to find the perfect gift while Mildred wandered among the displays. Just past a rotating rack of assorted Santa ornaments she spotted a chubby faced, curly haired toddler staring up at her. Mildred smiled and was rewarded with a shy wave and huge grin. A flood of memories washed over her, memories of her own children in days gone by. This little cherub smiling at her looked so much like Susan, her youngest daughter, when she was that age. Before Mildred had time to lose herself in memories, the child’s mother called for her and the enchanted moment was gone. She sighed. The holidays just didn’t seem right without little ones scampering around the house exclaiming over the tree, shaking presents, and begging for cookie samples while she baked. Oh, how she wished she could have bottled up just one precious Christmas past. She knew exactly which one it would be – 1954.
1954 was the year Joey, Rachel, Timothy, and Susan were 11, 9, 6, and 3 respectively. What a rambunctious group they were! Memories once again flooded Mildred’s mind.
1954 was the year her husband Robert bought a new Chevy pickup. The first new truck he had ever owned. Actually, it turned out to be the last new vehicle either of them ever owned. That Christmas he loaded the entire family in it to go out in the nearby woods searching for the perfect tree. Though Mildred usually stayed home wrapping presents and enjoying the solitude, this year she decided to join them. It was in her head to cut a holly tree for a change, and she wanted to make sure they got just the right one.
It turned out to be a wonderful day. She never knew it could be such fun traipsing through the snow with the children, having snow ball fights, and sitting on fallen logs sipping hot chocolate from thermoses. On top of that, they found just the right tree to suit her. Robert cut the holly along with a medium sized spruce which was standing nearby. Mildred couldn’t figure out why he cut the spruce too, but she wasn’t going to argue and spoil the magic of the day. Instead she just admired her holly tree and enjoyed being together. This yearly tradition would include her from now on.
Mildred was grateful for the spruce when, three days later, all the holly leaves turned black and fell off. Robert took one look at the mess, hugged her close and said with a smile, “Well, the ornaments show up real nice without all that leaf clutter.” The family had picked on her unmercifully every Christmas since. Even now, a smile hovered around Mildred’s lips in remembrance.
The children grew up, as children do, and though they stayed in touch, three had moved to various parts of the country. Thankfully Susan, Amy’s mother, still lived nearby. Her family always tried to make Mildred feel loved and included, especially this year. This was the year her beloved Robert died suddenly of a massive heart attack leaving her alone. Oh, she missed him so!
Amy interrupted her thoughts by calling, “Grandma, you’ve got to come here and look at this!” Mildred made her way slowly to where Amy was standing. In her hands was a replica of an old Chevy Truck, a 1954 model!
“Oh, my!” Mildred exclaimed with more excitement than Amy had seen in years. “It looks just like his! That looks exactly like your grandpa’s old truck. Oh, look! Remember, Amy, how he used to haul tomatoes to town everyday in it?”
“Oh, I can remember,” Amy exclaimed in mock frustration. “How could I forget? He had me out in the garden at 6:00 every summer morning picking those horrid things.” She stopped a moment to giggle. “He grew the best tomatoes in the county though. Everyone said so. I still miss those bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches.” She paused to glance at the toy truck, “Grandpa’s truck seemed a hundred years old.”
“It was,” Mildred laughed while lovingly stroking the replica. He spent more time fixing that old Chevy than it spent running.” She paused and sighed, “Oh, I wonder how much it is.” Slowly she turned over the price tag. $27.50. Her expression and tone changed as she turned the tag back over, took the truck from Amy, and replaced it on the shelf. “It is lovely, but you’ve got shopping to do.” Mildred was embarrassed to admit how badly she wanted the truck but didn’t have money enough to purchase it. Money was a precious commodity these days needed for medicine, food, and electric bills. She didn’t even have extra for presents this year. It would be foolish to spend money she didn’t have on such a thing, and Robert would surely turn over in his grave if she did. After one more glance Mildred sadly made her way to a comfortable seat near a fireplace to wait. She suddenly felt extremely tired. And old. And depressed. “One isn’t supposed to feel this way at Christmas time,” she thought wistfully, which somehow made it all seem worse.
Sensing her grandmother’s mood, Amy quickly finished her shopping. “One day,” she thought, “One day I’m going to come back and buy that for Grandma. Maybe I should tell Momma that’s what Grandma would like for Christmas.” She didn’t think it would happen though; her mother was very much like Grandpa. Neither could rationalize spending money on “frivolous” things. But Amy was determined that one day, when she was out of college and had a real job, she’d be able to spend more than a couple of dollars on gifts. Then she would come back for it.
Amy and Mildred were just leaving the shop when a stranger, about the age of Amy’s mother, approached. She had kind eyes and a gentle voice when she spoke, “Excuse me,” she said with emotion. “I know this may sound odd to you, but you remind me so much of my own dear mother. She passed away ten years ago, and I just wanted to give you this Christmas gift in her memory today. Will you take it?” The stranger thrust a Christmas bag tied with bright ribbon in Mildred’s direction rendering her speechless. How peculiar! Nothing like this had ever happened to her before. But it was Christmas, after all, the time for marvelous and miraculous things to happen.
Graciously Mildred accepted the gift and with a somewhat bewildered look expressed her thanks. The stranger slipped away unnoticed while Amy exclaimed, “Well, Grandma, open it. I’m dying to see what’s inside.”
Mildred pulled the paper back and gasped as a flood of tears drizzled down her radiant face. “What is it, Grandma? What is it?”
“It’s Grandpa’s truck,” she whispered in awe. “An angel just handed me Grandpa’s truck.”
Mildred didn’t see the stranger watching from behind a nearby Christmas tree, neither did she see the smile and tear upon the stranger’s face. As Mildred walked through the door with a new lightness in her step and sparkle in her eyes, the stranger’s eyes, too, took on a new twinkle. And somehow the stranger’s heart, burdened with unspoken griefs of its own, was also a little lighter as she glanced heavenward and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Mother.”
By the way, my Aunt Mary Llyn had a similar experience with a holly tree; something we still pick on her about. And my grandfather, Lloyd Day, used to grow the best tomatoes in Marion County, though he never had me up early picking them. (I don’t think he trusted anyone but himself with his prize tomatoes.)
© 2006 by Drewe Llyn Jeffcoat all rights reserved. No copying or printing without prior permission