Every year at this time, my thoughts turn inevitably to my Grandma Collins. This week marked the 7th anniversary of her death, although, truthfully, I lost her several years before that, erased entirely from her memory – but hopefully not her heart – by Alzheimer’s.
Christmas was probably my Grandma’s favorite holiday. She loved its music, its excitement, and the joy of giving – she relished finding the perfect gifts for everyone she loved. She also loved getting Christmas cards and letters in the mail. Each night after my grandpa would get home from tuning pianos, I would sit down and read them all the cards, letters, and personal notes from their myriad of friends across the U.S. Each letter would bring a minute or two of reminiscing about that particular family.
In addition, she and Grandpa both loved to give of themselves as well. Grandpa was the president of the Idaho Council of the Blind, and so every Christmas season was filled with Christmas parties and caroling, and making sure that those who didn’t have much were taken care of. I remember one year we sang for inmates in the jail, and another where we sang carols for mentally under-developed adults who lived in a group home. After the singing, we handed out toys our group had bought. Never have I seen more excitement and appreciation as I did that day from those adult “kids”! The fact that my grandparents couldn’t see those excited faces didn’t matter. They could feel it…
Being blind, my grandparents didn’t have the luxury we take for granted of going shopping whenever they wanted, so Grandma would pick a day, and off we’d go to conquer the stores!
Probably my least favorite activity at that time was that annual Christmas shopping spree.
Someone, usually grandpa and his driver, would drop us off around 9:00 a.m. when the mall opened, and they’d pick us up again after dark, where we waited out on the curb, surrounded by "gobs and heaps" of packages, breath steaming in the cold air.
Feet throbbing in tempo to the piped-in Christmas tunes over the mall sound system, both of us carrying bag after bulky bag, grandma and I would trudge along, me in front and she at my elbow, through the vast halls of the Yellowstone Mall in Idaho Falls. Well, I should say I trudged – she was always still sickeningly chipper and practically floated along in her white tennis shoes. We’d been at it for at least 8 hours, but to me it felt more like days at that point…
We would hit Every.Single.Store in that mall, walking up and down Every.Single.Aisle as I described all the things we were passing. Toy stores were her favorite, and we always had to listen to the Tuneyville Choo-Choo train – a battery operated toy that played records as it chugged along – until the year my grandpa bought her very own as a surprise present. I don’t think it ever failed to produce her laughter.
After we’d combed every inch of that mall and exhausted all its treasures, we’d dash across the busy North Yellowstone Highway, playing a real-life version of Frogger, to hit the other mall - whose name I’ve long ago forgotten - where we’d repeat the entire process.
Finally arriving back at their home – Mad Manor my grandparents affectionately called it – she and I would lock ourselves in her bedroom and wrap and label presents for what seemed like an eternity, occasionally opening the door so my cousin Kenny and brother Forrest could haul out the latest batch to pile under the tree.
Today is December 18th, exactly one week until Christmas. Even though I’ve spent countless hours wandering aimlessly through stores, alone, as of now I still have not finished my Christmas shopping, written the family letter, addressed Christmas cards, done any baking or candy making, or even begun to think of what to do for neighbor gifts. At the rate I’m going, I may have everything finished around March, IF I really push it!
Both malls are gone now, as is she, but I’d give anything to have Grandma back beside me, hand on my elbow, scouring stores. I wish I’d known then and appreciated more what was really the perfect gift…
Merry Christmas, Grandma! <3