by Monica Stern
When I was a child, my dad’s side of the family celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. It was my favorite day of the year! All the aunts and uncles and all 24 grand-children would be together in my grandma “Caukie’s” little two-bedroom home. There was no room for tables so all the kids would sit on the staircase to eat. It was great fun – incredibly loud and crowded, but great fun, especially for us cousins.
Now, Caukie was a practical and no nonsense, but loving grandmother. No child every left her home without a cookie and a pat on the head. She had little means with which to buy her grandchildren gifts; her husband had died before I was born, so she lived frugally. My immediate family also lived frugally, so we could only flip through the big Sears catalog and dream about the Easy Bake Oven or the GI Joe Footlocker. Christmas gifts were practical and limited, but we were excited all the same.
Our gift from Caukie was the same each and every year – we all received a sweatshirt from JC Penney. Every year, from the time we were babies until we were 18, we received a sweatshirt.
But, I always looked forward to opening the present, knowing full well it was a sweatshirt – because I eagerly anticipated finding out what color the sweatshirt was! Caukie always chose just the right color, and never did she give me the same color two years in a row. And when I thanked her for it, she always told me the reason she chose just that color, especially for me. I never noticed that another cousin might have received the same color, because Caukie chose that color for me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’m pretty sure that JC Penny did not offer sweatshirts in 24 colors back then.
I don’t remember ever hoping that the gift was something other than a sweatshirt. My bachelor uncle always gave us a completely impractical gift like the Easy Bake Oven or the GI Joe Footlocker. And while I always hoped for the latest gift from him, I never hoped for something else from my grandmother. Her gift wrapped me in love and warmth.