Archive for December, 2009

Many Happy Returns

Posted on December 26, 2009 3:25 pm under Grandma Tidbits
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My granddaughter wanted to go to the store today. My daughter explained that this wasn’t a good day to go anywhere near a store. When asked why, she explained that this was a day when lots of people liked to exchange the Christmas gifts they’ve received. This just raised another question.

Why do they want to exchange their gifts?

I don’t have an answer for that. I’ve never participated in the manic exchanges of this day. I don’t even understand them. Love it or hate it, I want the gift that I have been given.

Admittedly, there are very few that have fallen into the hate category. Perhaps the most disappointing were some exquisitely wrapped and very expensive gifts that I received from a friend one year.

We had exchanged gifts for over twenty years. Each year we decided on a day that would be set aside just for us. We’d begin with a special event – a movie, a Christmas concert, or a dinner out. Then we’d spend a couple of hours next to the tree. Listening to Christmas music, sharing our thoughts and exchanging the gifts we had selected. We knew each other well and our gifts reflected that knowledge.

My friend started her own business and for several years she struggled to make it a success. Some of my favorite gifts come from those lean times. Gifts from bargain stores, gifts made by hand, gifts that made me laugh, gifts that touched my heart. How precious to know that I had been in her thoughts throughout the year as she watched for special gifts for me.

Finally the business took off. Profits reached a million. She moved out of her parents’ basement and into a lovely home. She expanded her business staff and hired a housekeeper and a personal assistant. She devoted the saved time to making more money.

One December, my friend could not find time for our usual exchange. She asked if it could be postponed until January. That was okay with me. It was a special time no matter when it happened. Shortly before that day approached, she left me know she couldn’t get together until late in the day. Could we skip our special event and just do the present exchange? Again I agreed. When I arrived, there was no sense of relaxation and luxurious time to spend with an old friend. We got right down to business and started opening presents.

The presents were beautifully wrapped. The contents were expensive and disappointing. It was as if they had been chosen by someone who didn’t know me. Which was exactly what had happened. My gifts had been selected and wrapped by the personal assistant.

I didn’t like those presents and I never used them. But exchange them? What exchange could erase the hurt and sense of loss? I gave them to charity, I learned from them, I moved on.

Yesterday’s gifts were a happy contrast to the ones from that Christmas past. My heart was warmed by the love and thought that went into them.

I hope that you had a wonderful day. I hope that your gifts were filled with love. I hope that your gifts will never be exchanged.

The Best Of Times

Posted on December 25, 2009 1:41 pm under Grandma Tidbits
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I still remember the year we got flying saucer sleds for Christmas. Those wonderful saucers were made for flying through mounds of powdered snow. No runners to get bogged down in the white stuff. Perfect for the hilly fields of New Hampshire that were already hiding under a couple feet of snow. I don’t remember what was in my sock that Christmas, I don’t remember what I got from my grandparents. But under the tree were 3 shiny metal saucers with red bows. My brothers and I could barely be persuaded to partake of Christmas dinner. As soon as possible, we raced outside and spent the rest of the daylight hours flying down the white hills.

It was the best Christmas ever.

My mother also remembered that Christmas.

There was no money for Christmas. We were fortunate that your dad had found employment after losing his job when his father’s business collapsed. But it was an entry level position paying less than half of what he had earned. He moonlighted when he could find something, but times were tough for everyone. The savings were gone. In January there would not be enough money to pay the mortgage. We had nothing to give our three small children for Christmas. Grandparents had been asked to provide necessities as gifts – warm clothes for three growing children. But there was no money for toys. No money to fill the stockings.

Do you remember Mrs. Morse?

Sure I do, Mom. That nice old lady who lived at the end of the little dirt road that ran next to our property. We used to bring her mail to her every day. She always had a treat for us and always tried to give us money. We never took it. We would have been in big trouble with you.

That’s right. I worried about her living alone, but it would have hurt her pride to have me check on her each day. But she always enjoyed the visits from you. After her husband died, she rarely saw anyone else.

A few days before Christmas, she had you bring back a sealed envelope to me. Inside was ten dollars and a note. She begged me to accept the money and use it to buy my children a Christmas present. I couldn’t have accepted it for any other reason and I think she knew that. Flying saucers were the most popular toys that Christmas and cost three dollars apiece. I got one for each of you and went to the local Five & Dime store to get some stocking stuffers. With lots of fun toys at 5 cents each, a dollar went a long way. I filled the bottom of the stockings with big oranges, some nuts and some homemade fudge. I added the stocking stuffers at the top. The stockings seemed a little skimpy to me, but you didn’t seem to notice.

The flying saucers were the hit of the day. Once you saw them, I don’t think you thought about anything else. I’ll never forget the kindness of our neighbor. She let us bring Christmas to our children.

Your father and I did not have gifts under the tree from his parents. But it did hold a check that paid our mortgage for the next two months. And that was just long enough. Near the end of February, your father got the transfer and promotion that moved us to Vermont.

Times were hard that Christmas. I would never have picked it as the best. But perhaps it was.


Posted on December 24, 2009 12:57 pm under Grandma Tidbits
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When I moved south, I dumped most of my belongings. Some to friends, some to charity, some to trash. What I kept fit into my subcompact car. Among those things were my Christmas ornaments.


I don’t have any insights into this behavior. Sure they had memories attached. But so did many things that I ruthlessly discarded. It wasn’t the cost of replacement, there was little monetary value. I just knew that I wasn’t going to throw them away.


An online course for a graphics software package led to my favorite retirement pursuit. Given my love of ornaments, it’s not too surprising that I’ve spent a fair amount of this holiday season creating virtual ornaments.


I have no insights for these either. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them. But today I’m giving you a peek at my virtual ornament obsession. You may love them or you may hate them. No matter. I’m not going to throw them away.

Let It Snow

Posted on December 23, 2009 11:58 am under Grandma Tidbits
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I grew up in northern Vermont where snow was almost a constant.  Spring waited until May, followed by a brief summer and briefer fall.  By October, snow regained it’s rule. Roads that were snow-blocked for days and drifts as high as power lines were common parts of that winter experience.  Some  loved it.  They strapped on their skis or climbed onto their snowmobiles and went out to enjoy their winter wonderland.

I hated that white stuff.  I had no interest in winter hobbies.  I hated wading through it, shoveling through it, driving through it.  I don’t claim to be a fast learner.  I spent most of my first half-century coping with it, accepting it.  Until the November day when I climbed on a plane headed for Georgia.   The world was white and the temperature was 6F, when we took off.  Two hours later, I arrived to fall leaves and temperatures in the 60’s.   Sure I’d known it was warmer in the south, but the concept had seemed surreal.  Reality arrived that day.  Six months later, I had a home and job in Atlanta.

Snow no longer reigns.  Long fragrant springs are followed by hot summers that bake the arthritis out of my bones.  Fall arrives late and winter has only a couple of weeks to make it’s presence known.  “It’s Snowing!” means that a few flakes are falling from the sky.  Anything that accumulates on the ground is considered a blizzard, even if it melts off before noon.

I was surprised when someone asked  if I’d  had trouble adjusting to the climate.  Sunshine and warmth require little adjustment.  But once a year, just about this time, a small pang of loss creeps into my heart.   Just for a minute, I dream of snow-covered hills and trees, caroling in the winter night, a world filled with pristine white. 

Just for a minute, I’d let it snow.


Paper Or Plastic?

Posted on December 22, 2009 12:59 pm under Grandma Tidbits
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Sorry, that’s not right.  Cloth or Disposable?  No that’s not it either.   Real or Artificial?  That’s the one.

Interesting how simple decisions can turn into major debates for some folks.  Paper or plastic was an easy one for me.  The plastic ones have handles and that beats  bags breaking out of my hands on rainy trips to the car.    Cloth or disposable was settled by the pediatrician.  The disposables put an end to my baby’s diaper rash.  But real or artificial is a decision I still struggle with.

High on my childhood memory list are trips through our woods to pick a Christmas tree.  About a week before Christmas, my dad would take my brothers and I on the quest.  Acres of sweet, heady pine trees drenched in clouds of pure snow defined the search area.  The perfect tree was always an hour away.  My brothers and I would point to this one or that  But Dad said we should keep looking.  Just when we thought we could walk no  longer,  he’d point to a tree.  We’d sit on fallen logs or brush snow off a makeshift rock chair and watch him cut the tree.  Afterwards,  we’d gather up that last of our energy for the trip home.  Mom had hot chocolate and Christmas cookies waiting for us.  She’d give Dad a smile and nod her head.  I always assumed it was her approval of the tree.  Years later I learned the true meaning: “Yes, I got all the presents wrapped.”

When I left home , I could still count on my father to bring a tree.  Until a new job took me hundreds of miles away.  A lot tree lacked the charisma of those from childhood, but it was a beauty nonetheless.  There was a moment of panic when the entryway appeared too narrow, but then the branches bent and the tree was in my apartment.   Up and decorated, it outshined any from my childhood.

Unlike my parents, I’d set up my tree early in December.  Why not enjoy it for the entire holiday season?  But over the next couple of weeks, my tree lost some of it’s lustre.  A visiting friend suggested I put some water in the tree base.  You water trees after they’re cut down?  Oh!   Too little, too late.  The day after Christmas found me rushing to remove an expired tree from my home.   Branches that had gracefully bent to accommodate my entryway were gone, replaced by unyielding sticks that snapped and cast hoards of brown needles into the carpet.    The memory of hours on my knees picking needles out of the carpet stayed with me.  The next year I got my first artificial tree.

My daughter was four that year.  Needless to say, she does not remember real trees.  My granddaughter only knows  artificial ones too.  Her excitement when we purchased a new tree this year was certainly equal to mine on childhood tree searches.  The tree is beautiful and perfectly shaped.  It requires no maintenance. It’s branches will never turn brown.  A tree hasn’t been killed  A fire safety hazzard has been avoided.  This should be an easy decision.

Still, I remember.  And I struggle.