Red Bows and White Lights

There is no time of the year that I miss my grandmother more than this time right now.  When the weather turns cooler and the leaves begin to fall.  When thoughts turn to cozy fireplaces and warm comfort foods.  When stores begin to decorate and holiday music starts to play.  When the grocery store is full of sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and jugs of apple cider.  When the Fraiser firs begin their journey down the mountains and into our towns.  When I take out my little notebook for names and ideas.  When I do my holiday shopping and my hands are full of bags and I want to stop for a little snack or to check my list and my shopping partners aren’t with me.  This is when I miss her the most.

Nanny is Christmas to me.  She is red bows and white lights.  She is a large plastic Santa, a Frosty the Snowman, and a full Nativity set decorating the front yard up on the hill.  She is a wreath and a white candle in every window and garland on the porch.  She is a door hanging that plays Christmas songs when you knock and a crackling fire in the Buckstove thoutdoor_christmas_decorations_2at greets you when you enter.  She’s a candy dish with Turtles, peanut butter balls, and fudge.  She is a ten layer chocolate cake, Graham cracker crumb cake, lemon pie, coconut pie, coconut cake, Toll house cookies, and the most amazing brownies ever made.  She is the sound of an Elvis Presley vinyl playing on a console stereo alongside the dining room table covered in a red and white cloth.  She is stuffed Santas that sing when you press their gloves and a cradle full of baby dolls.  She is more presents than any one child ever needed all wrapped and stacked neatly beside the most perfect Christmas tree you have ever seen.

Her tree was covered in white lights with shiny red balls.  Over the years an occasional ornament with a hint of a different color could be found but not often.  To her, Christmas was red and white, and that was sacred.  Some years it would take her days to decorate that tree.  When she was done it rivaled something you would find in the Belk store window.  The white skirt laid around the bottom of the tree provided the perfect setting for the wooden creche that Granddaddy made for her.  Inside she placed Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.  Outside she placed the wisemen, a donkey, a shephard, and a sheep.  There were unspoken rules surrounding that tree.  You didn’t touch the ornaments and the nativity was not to be played with.  Presents were stacked separately and neatly for each child and never placed under the tree but were placed around the room and were not to be touched or shaken.

As I grew older and had children of my own, I watched closely as she worked her audience of eager little people on Christmas day.  Each child obediently found a place on the carpet, legs crossed, quietly waiting.  One by one, after she was satisfied that all of the children were paying adequate attention, she would pass out the presents, one stack at a time.  Slowly the quiet order was replaced by managed chaos as bows and paper were ripped away.  It was during this time that I would look over to see her standing in the middle watching the children with a huge smile on her face.  She was in her element.  One by one the children would jump up from their gifts and find their way over the wrapping to her leg.  They would squeeze her tight and she would rub their little backs.  I believe this was her favorite part of Christmas.

Over the years some things changed.  There were cakes baked that lacked ingredients.  There were presents purchased and forgotten that never made it under the tree.  The shopping ended and with it the ritual of the tree.  But what remains is the loving spirit she provided each of us.  The pure joy she felt for everything Christmas.  Yesterday at the grocery store I stopped at a display of wooden figures, snowmen, santas, gingerbread boys, and a christmas moose.  Nanny would have gotten one for each of the “babies.”  Today I’m going back to buy them for her.  Some things should never change.

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