Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twas the night before Christmas

As a child, I remember arriving at my paternal grandparents house every year on Christmas day to find stacks and stacks of The Night Before Christmas books. My grandmother collected them, so she picked up copies during she and my granddaddy's travels and friends brought her copies from their own travels. As I got older, I remember scouring bookstores everywhere I went looking for an edition she didn't have to add to her collection. By the time she died on Dec. 17, 2003, she had close to 100 copies of the classic Christmas tale including versions in French and Spanish and a few other languages. They all have different artwork and slight variations on the text, but the message is the same.

When my dad and his two brothers came to me shortly after her death and asked if there was anything I wanted, I asked for a few pictures, but said that the only thing I really wanted was the Night Before Christmas collection. I'm not sure whether they gave me the entire collection because my birthday is Christmas Eve, because I was the first grandchild, or just because I asked, but shortly thereafter Dad arrived at my house with a huge gray plastic trunk with a burgundy top. The side read: Night Before Christmas collection.

My granddaddy had died exactly one week after grandmother - on Christmas Eve (my 25th birthday) - so to say I was still shell-shocked would be a bit of an understatement. I hadn't moved from the anger phase of the grieving process, so I did the only thing I could do. I put the trunk in the garage. And there is stayed, unopened, for seven years.

In the seven years since Dad delivered the trunk, I married my husband, buried two cats, added two dogs and another cat to our brood, and had two beautiful girls. The oldest is now 3 1/2; the youngest turned one on Dec. 16.

I'm not sure what changed inside me, but when we were getting the Christmas decorations out in early December and I saw the trunk, I grabbed it as well. I lugged the 60-70 lb. trunk off the shelf in the garage, though the kitchen and into the living room, where I'm embarrassed to say that I opened the trunk for the first time since it had been in my possession. I also announced a new family tradition. From here on out, we're going to read at least one of the books every night of December until Christmas Day. The best part is that we've actually done this.

Every night since then, Mark, the girls and I have snuggled up in the Squid's bed and read at least one of the books. The choice of the night varies in that we just pop open the lid and tell the Squid to grab one. So far, we've enjoyed the Cajun and Grandma Moses versions plus multiple takes on the original. Maybe tonight she'll pick a foreign language edition.

Surprisingly, the trunk contained more than the book collection. It also included a handful of stuffed animals that must have been my dad and uncle's childhood toys (need to send them pics to see if they want them) as well as my granddaddy's dress hat from when he served in the U.S. Merchant Marines.

Looking back, I wish I had opened the trunk sooner. I'm really not sure why I hadn't. I like to think that it wasn't because we don't have room or that we were worried that the dogs would drool on them, but that I was still going through the grieving process. Losing my grandparents within a week of each other was a truly unbearable experience for me. They weren't there to see me get married or meet their great-grandchildren. Though my grandmother's death was expected, my granddaddy's was not. The fact that it happened on my 25th birthday only made it that much harder.

I don't want to dwell in the past. The fact is that the trunk has been opened and my children now have the opportunity to learn a little something about two people who meant more to me than words can express. This is a good thing.

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