The holidays really are magical. There’s the beautiful sparkling tree, the animals dressed as Santa, the boxes of Raisin Bran under the tree… It’s particularly tough to top the gift of fiber.
My paternal grandmother was a legend. She was… How can I put this diplomatically? She was a woman of many quirks. In my family, if you mention the name Grandma, one of two things happens. Family members either start grinning mischievously or they sigh and shake their heads. She had that effect.
There were a lot of unusual things about my Grandmother. She grew up in the Bronx where she had a live-in maid. My grandfather taught her how to drive and cook. Sorta. She was extremely creative, but her refusal to follow directions usually didn’t bode well. The woman could ruin just about anything, even something as simple as a salad. Naturally that didn’t prevent her from constantly trying to feed us; it was her way of saying I love you.
She also had this strange fascination with hair. Every time I saw her, she would rave over my hair, almost as though she had never seen me before. Then she would tell me how lucky I was to have such a thick head of hair. We had a lot of conversations about hair.
However, what was truly amazing about my grandma was her melodrama. From the time I was a wee lass, my grandmother was dying. This wasn’t based on scientific fact, illness, or even nihilism. She was a healthy eater, took daily walks, and never smoked. She rarely even caught a cold, but nevertheless, she was convinced she was on the brink of death for twenty years.
The years where she was truly convinced she was dying we would get awesome Christmas presents. She wanted us to have nice things to remember her, so we’d get beautiful jewelry, always with the price tag still attached. Leaving the price tag on the gift was key.
Sadly, we weren’t clever enough to use her hypochondria to our advantage, and most years we didn’t get nice gifts. More often than not, we’d get a savings bond from my grandfather, a box of cereal, and one small toy. Occasionally, she’d also re-gift, but we weren’t really offended by this. The re-gifted presents were usually the better loot. The worst was always when you were the one who unwrapped the box of Raisin Bran. Unless you haven’t eaten in two weeks, it’s truly difficult to fake excitement over Raisin Bran.
We tried though; we’d thank her as profusely as possible. Then we’d go home, and we’d write her another thank you. My mom was very big on good manners, regardless of the gift.
The year I was seventeen was pivotal. My grandfather had passed away earlier in the year, and we didn’t see my grandmother until after Christmas. We kinda knew we’d be getting re-gifted, but none of us cared. She ended up coming over on New Years Day with five packages. My sister got an umbrella for $5, and I got a small rhinestone pin for $8. My mom received a pair of orange kitchen towels on sale for $5.
My father was the last to open his gift. It was shaped like a cylinder, and inside was… A THIRD OF A SAUSAGE! Apparently she had tried it, ate a third of it, gave a third to my aunt, and saved a third for my dad. She didn’t think to give him anything else, and the sausage was room temperature from sitting out. Why did she give her only living son a third of a sausage for Christmas? Because is was just so good, it had to be shared.
After she left, my father walked over to the trash can and threw out the sausage. That year my mother told us we didn’t have to write Thank You cards.