When I was growing up, Christmas always meant a trip to Grandma’s house in Missouri. We’d pull in late Christmas Eve, piled up like a litter of sleeping puppies. Drowsily, we’d drag our suitcases and presents into the house to be greeted by Grandma with warm hugs, cider, and whatever treats she’d been baking. Of course, Grandpa could take the credit for the roaring fire, but the tree, the decorations, and the presents were all Grandma’s doing.

But the first Christmas I can remember really appreciating all my Grandma did was the first Christmas she wasn’t there. Grandma died of cancer when she was fifty-nine. I was fourteen and couldn’t begin to comprehend how young fifty-nine really was, nor could I predict how much I would miss her.

I grew up the next Christmas. Grandpa couldn’t have us at his place—he could barely take care of himself—so he came to Oklahoma for Christmas. He appeared with the clothes on his back and seven identical brown paper sacks for his grandchildren, each holding a snow globe he’d purchased at the last truck stop before our exit.

For the first time, I cared more about the giver than the present. It really didn’t matter what was in the brown paper sack; I would make sure Grandpa knew that I loved him for trying, loved him even if he didn’t have the strength to try.

I remember his face as he sat amid the flurry of wrapping paper, his eyes blinded to the joy before him. They’d come into watery focus only when we hugged his neck, so we did it constantly. That year, instead of praying for everything on my Santa list, I only wanted that lost, bewildered look to be replaced with something more hopeful.

And it soon was. By the next year Grandpa had met Carol. A widow herself, Carol understood Grandpa’s loss and began taking care of him immediately. She was different from my grandma—younger, stylish, and a city lady. Carol had never had children, so Grandma’s afghans and cookie jars were quickly replaced by chintz sofas and silk flowers, but she made Grandpa happy. And I grew up a little more.

Grandma Carol has blessed our family more than we could’ve imagined. Since Carol came, Grandpa has never again felt alone. Even today, as he faces a decline that’s been heart-wrenching and frustrating for us all, Grandma Carol has remained with him, patient and caring.

God answered my Christmas prayer for Grandpa by bringing Grandma Carol. And Grandma Carol taught me gratitude, even for gifts that weren’t of my choosing.

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