Gratitude: One Last Christmas Memory

My granpa Floyd Groves, in the early 1950s, standing in our front yard.

This year for some reason the memory of past holidays has haunted me. That would be haunted in a very good way though, because I started back through the years trying to figure out what made Christmas special. With the flight of all four sons from the family nest and the hatching of new traditions things are changing around here, and in some ways that makes me really sad. I am the original Christmas hound, if it will stand still I’ll slap a bow on it or make it a gift. Not make it into a gift, find a give to give to it. One thing I do know for sure the giving is so much more fun than the receiving in almost every single case. If I uncovered one lesson this season that would be it. Make your own joy and then share it.

I have saved one very special memory which I cherish because its mine and only mine, like a secret little sunshiny present that lights a little match of happiness in my heart every time I think of it. The year was 1955 and I was five years old, in kindergarten and stuck with a younger brother who got most of the attention around our house because of his medical issues. I love him dearly but I think to this day that’s why I grew up fairly normal and independent in an ark of crazy people.

I was thoroughly ignored for the most part, and it made me self-reliant from an early age, which is why the inability to tie my own shoes made me absolutely nuts and reduced me to blubbering frustration on a daily basis.

Granpa and Granma on the farm, Granma always looked worried. She worked as a cook until she was 83. I think cooking is genetic in our family.

That changed the Christmas I was five my and grandparents were visiting from Illinois. They came on the train, back then it was the Zephyr and I loved just saying the train’s name.  I didn’t love the snorting, steaming, screeching and belching train itself although it did burp up my grandparents and their blue suitcases, which made it worth the terror of waiting on the platform for their arrival. I adored my granpa Floyd. I don’t think anyone else did. He was a loud, crotchety, snarling, cigar chomping, yelling old Illinois farmer. He had dogs that hunted raccoons and he was once in the Paris, Illinois newspaper for bagging the most squirrels in one day. He was a small town uneducated kind of guy, a staunch democrat and completely set in his ways, but he loved me the most and we got along like a house afire.

Both my granmas in one shot, feeding the birds at San Juan Capistrano. Happy days.

Christmas morning I got a Toni walking doll with a red satin dress and a red bonnet, which tied under the doll’s chin. I couldn’t tie the bonnet and it reduced me to tears of cranky frustration. I will never forget my grandad calling me over to him and sitting me  in his lap. I had on black and  tan saddle shoes and they tied in a bow knot. I was careful to keep them that way because finding someone to tie my shoes was hard to do around our house. Granpa untied my shoes and then patiently and slowly with his big old farmer’s hands spent the next hour helping me learn to tie a bow knot. That was such a gift to me. He was probably just sick of tying Toni’s bonnet, but I would rather think he saw something I needed and he took the time to give it to me.

Granma Sylvia, Granpa Floyd in the white hat, Glen and Anita Rucker and Aunt Effie, she was my granpa's sister and well over six feet tall. Tall is also genetic in our family. I sometimes wonder if the girls in this family were allergic to bras...


I hope that along the road I have been able to do the same thing for other people from time to time. I think that’s why  I take such pleasure in teaching others to do what I do in the studio, its kind of like giving them a little piece of freedom too. The ability to say, “I can do it for myself” is empowering no matter how old you are, 5 or 65.

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