Friday, December 9, 2011

How Christmas Got Its Shine Back

Doris Waud is one of the most remarkable people I have ever known. Born in 1920, she grew up in Aldershot, England. She was a young woman when World War II began and she lived through the war years in the military town where the troops were amassed for the D-Day invasion. She used to go up on the hill above the town and watch the Nazi bombs fall on London.

She met and married a Canadian soldier during the war much to her mother’s chagrin. Her mother said, “You could’ve married an English soldier or a Welsh soldier or a Scottish soldier or EVEN an Irish soldier. Why do you have to marry a Canadian soldier?” It wasn’t because the man was objectionable in and of himself. It was the thought of her dear daughter living so far away that bothered her. Godfrey Waud was a good man and he made sure that somehow, they scraped together the money for her to go back and visit at least once every five years while her parents were still living. That was quite a feat on their income.

Fifty years later, she was quite prosaic about the war and I always got the impression that it hadn’t fazed her that much. I was wrong, of course, but my grandmother always seemed to take life in her stride. Doris was my grandmother. I use the past tense because she is past now. I could fill pages with my memories of her and of her memories of her life. She would freely tell my sister and me about it, sometimes because we asked her to and sometimes just spontaneously. I am so glad now that she was so forthcoming with her memories because they are so precious to me now. My little English Gran (the diminutive favored by English children) left a huge hole in my life when she died.

My Gran loved Christmastime. After spending Christmas in England once, I truly understood why she loved the season so much. England does Christmas tremendously. The food, the music, the decorations and everything about Christmas in England is terrific. They celebrate good and proper and most of the country seems to shut down from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. We spent just about every Christmas I can remember with my grandparents and very often both sets of grandparents. They were friends before my parents ever got married and my American grandmother would often include them in all the holidays because they didn’t have much family in the United States.

I don’t really remember actual Christmas gifts from my grandmother. What I remember is going to the beautiful apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle and having Christmas tea on her best dishes. I remember the little artificial tree decorated with bird ornaments and eggs that had been blown out and decorated. I remember her Nativity set which I have always loved. It decorates my home now. I remember how much my grandmother reveled in the season. She loved the carols, she loved the decorations and she wouldn’t for worlds have missed seeing my sister and me in the Christmas play at church every year. Christmas had a shine on it for me because of her.

After her death, Christmas lost some of its bloom for me. I was in my twenties and single. I would still decorate the beautiful apartment on Capitol Hill where I now lived. I would still make cookies and candy and go see A Christmas Carol or The Messiah or The Nutcracker. I would still sing the carols and enjoy going to church and hearing the Christmas story. Each year that passed though, I seemed to be less and less enthusiastic about Christmas. Even now, this time of year brings a little heartache because I miss my Gran with every carol that’s played and every decoration I see.

How did Christmas get its shine back?

His name is John. We have known each other since we were children but five years ago he came back into my life. Four years ago, we were married. Christmastime has always been hard for him. His father died when John and his twin brother were about 8 and their brother Jeff was only 3. It was close to Christmas when they lost him because one of the memories John has of the funeral was that the Christmas decorations were up in town as they drove to the cemetery. Once I was in love with him, it became very important to me for John to have a Merry Christmas from now on if it was in my power to give it to him.

So now Christmas belongs to us. We got our first Christmas tree together the year we were engaged. When he cut the bottom off the Christmas tree's trunk to get it in the stand, he saved the disk of wood and made me a Christmas ornament the next year out of it. He has made one for me every year since. He takes the fresh cut and lets the disk dry out all year. The next year he sands it down, carves our names and the date in it. John drills a hole in it and I put a ribbon from one of our wedding or my shower gifts through it and hang it on the tree. We got a lot of presents for our wedding. Four years later, I still have ribbons from our wedding gifts.

I love to shop for his Christmas and birthday gifts. His birthday is right after Christmas. Like many born so close to the holiday, he has always felt a little cheated when it came to his birthday. I make sure I never buy “this is your birthday/Christmas” gifts. My very favorite thing at Christmas now is to surprise him with something he really wants but had no expectation of getting. He will grin from ear to ear, look at me with eyes that have tears in them and whisper “Thank You”. It makes my year and puts the shine back on Christmas for me.


Anonymous said...

Ah beautiful, Laurie! I feel honored that I knew your "Gran." I remember visiting her with you once, and she made brownies and put frosting on them. I had never known such decadence.

I'm glad Christmas is special for both you and John. Merry Christmas!

Northern Eve said...

So like you, Laurie, to discern & distill the essence of a thing - this time it happens to be Christmas. I too was blessed to know & love your "Gran". You're very like her - she could drill down to, and understand the heart of a matter. One never felt the pierce of that drill, only the comfort that comes from being touched in just the right heart spot. What a joy it was for me to read this!
Merry Christmas to you both!

Didi Dalaba said...

Laurie, your memories and heart felt emotions brought tears to my eyes!!

May God continue to Bless you and John for many, many more years of love!!