NOTE: I wrote the column that's below in December 1995 when I was a reporter and columnist at the Cecil Whig. Granddaddy was still alive at the time. He died in November 2002. The Christmas tree photos with this post are from Christmas 1970 at Mammy and Granddaddy's house in Roxboro, N.C. The top photo is of their tree. The photo below is of: 1) me taking a present from Mammy to hand out; 2) Stephen's back as he waits for a present to hand out; and 3) Granddaddy as he sits in his recliner and holds Russell.
Published Dec. 21, 1995
Merry Christmas Mammy, keep watching over Granddaddy
As I finished wrapping a present for my niece and placed it under the Christmas tree, I thought of Mammy’s tree and how it would be decorated today. Mammy – my mama’s mama – never had bushy, thick-branched Christmas trees. She picked simple trees, young pines with just enough limbs on which to hang some decorations but not so many that you couldn’t see through to the other side.
I guess it was somewhere between a Charlie Brown tree and a Walton’s Christmas special tree. The decorations on Mammy’s tree were never very fancy. There were no $25 Austrian crystal St. Nick figurines and no limited edition, signed and numbered by the artist Christmas collectibles. And if any of the glass balls got knocked off the tree and broke, Mammy never got mad.
No, Mammy didn’t have the kind of tree that Better Homes and Gardens would feature on its December cover.
But what Mammy did have was a tree full of love for her family. She had decorations that would spin as the heat of the bulbs on the tree would rise. She had plenty of candy canes hanging on her tree to eat. She had Matchbox cars and little coloring books and crayons. She had tiny soldier figures and little dolls, all hanging on her tree.
Mammy had a tree that begged to be touched and enjoyed.
I looked at the tree under which I had just placed my niece’s gift and I wondered what Mammy would think. There were no Matchbox cars hanging on it, no dolls, no toy soldiers and no decorations that spun around in the heat of the bulb. There were no candy canes, either. It was a big bushy tree with plenty of needles and impossible to see all the way through.
It wasn’t like Mammy’s trees at all.
This will be the 15th year [in 1996] that Granddaddy will have spent Christmas without Mammy. In September 1981 after struggling with cancer, Mammy died and a part of our family’s Christmas died with her … but it’s time to change that.
Mammy made her tree a part of the family celebration during Christmas and that’s exactly what I want.
I picked up the phone and dialed Mammy and Granddaddy’s number in North Carolina.
“Hey Granddaddy. How are you?”
“Well hello there, Jeffrey. I’m doing just fine, just fine. How you doing?”
“I’m doing pretty good. I was just sitting here thinking about you so I wanted to call and see what you were up to.”
“Oh, I haven’t been up to too much. I’m settin’ here at the table putting a puzzle together and tryin’ to stay warm.”
“What kind of puzzle is it?”
“An old barn and some hills.”
“Is it a new one?”
“Naw, I put it together before but I think it’s gonna be just as hard this time. It’s 500 pieces.”
We spoke for a few more minutes about the weather and what all he’d done over the week.
“Well Granddaddy, I need to get to work. I just wanted to call and see how you were and let you know I was thinking about you.”
“I ‘preciate that Jeffrey. You take care of yourself …”
“I will Granddaddy. … And Granddaddy…”
“… I love you.”
“I love you too Jeffrey.”
Granddaddy’s voice choked up as he said those words. Tears rolled down my cheeks into my graying beard as I hung up the phone.
On my way home from work, I think I’ll stop by Walmart and buy some Matchbox cars for our tree.
Merry Christmas Mammy. Keep watching over Granddaddy for us.
ADDENDUM: Dec. 13, 2006.
Merry Christmas Mammy and Granddaddy and Grandma and Papa. Please keep watching over all of us …