Holiday Gifts

During the latter years of my grandmother's life, after I had moved out to Maryland, my counterpart always made sure I made it back to her doorstep for Christmas. This is not out of any love for winters in Wisconsin, but out of genuine love and fondness for both me and her. To hear him tell it, she made him promise to do just that as a condition to agreeing to my moving so far away to begin with. I like to believe this as it fits with my concept of being her favorite grand-daughter. We shared a birthday, me and her, and I always felt that this set me apart from my siblings and cousins. When my grandmother met the man who would become my husband, I felt as if she let him into our special relationship.

And he made good on it. Every year until her passing he traveled with me back to spend Christmas with her. And, each year he cooked for her. Not just dinner, but three meals a day plus casseroles and soups that he portioned out and put away in her freezer for after we were gone. As she aged, she - like so many people - lost interest in food. Or at least in cooking. We would arrive to find little actual food on hand and her seemingly content with microwave popcorn. Gareth would run to the Piggly Wiggly (with her checkbook, at her insistence) and restock. And so, while I visited with my family, Gareth cooked, and my grandmother ate.

Food is nourishment, not only for our bodies but also for our spirits. Gareth's good hot food brought my grandmother back to life each year, made her feel valued and loved and a little more comfortable. Cooking - when done in a thoughtful and caring manner - is an act of love and one of the best ways to provide comfort.

This holiday season, while I remember those final Christmas visits with my grandmother, I am also pondering the very recent departure of another from that grand generation - Gareth's great uncle. Just 50 miles away from us, when he took a final fall that was ultimately fatal, we made several trips down I-95 to visit him and his children as they arrived, relatives so distant they were nearly strangers, yet so similar to my spouse they could only be his kin. In the face of the dying patriarch and his offspring, bewildered with impending grief, we brought with us food. And we were greeted with smiles, warmth, and embraces.

We served dinner and inspired conversation. Everyone keeping vigil in that tiny apartment began breathing again, if only for a few hours. With warm, home-made food in their bellies, the extended family appeared to gain the strength to continue. And when a few days later their father passed, we made one final journey with our last offering of comfort and carrot cake. And we were thanked profusely for both.

The passing of Gareth's great uncle highlights the memories of Christmas with my grandmother. They were both part of that generation who grew up during the Depression and came of age during World War II. They did not have those modern problems of wounded inner children and fractured marriages and prescription drugs and other modern ailments of my generation. They were kind and thoughtful and optimistic and very, very grateful.

So this is the year I give up cynicism. This is the year I stop categorizing "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard" as Christmas movies and embrace the hope and joy of "Holiday Inn". As I start my holiday baking, I will move with kindness and thoughtfulness and gratitude. I will give out my cookies with a little prayer of thanks for all the good people in my life, and for the time I spent with that older generation. May I carry their optimism forward in my life.